The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (short story)
|"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"|
|Author||F. Scott Fitzgerald|
|Media type||Print (magazine)|
|Publication date||May 27, 1922|
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and first published in Colliers Magazine on May 27, 1922. It was subsequently anthologized in his book Tales of the Jazz Age, which is occasionally published as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories. Development rights to the story were held for years by the late Hollywood mogul Ray Stark. Stark retained those rights until his death in 2004, when they were purchased from his estate and used for an adaptation of the story as the 2008 film of the same name, directed by David Fincher. The story entered the public domain in 2010.
In 1860 Baltimore, Benjamin is born with the physical appearance of a 70-year-old man, already capable of speech. His father Roger invites neighborhood boys to play with him and orders him to play with children's toys, but Benjamin obeys only to please his father. At five, Benjamin is sent to kindergarten but is quickly withdrawn after he repeatedly falls asleep during child activities.
When Benjamin turns 12, the Button family realizes that he is aging backwards. At the age of 18, Benjamin enrolls in Yale College, but is sent home by officials, who think he is a 50-year-old lunatic.
In 1880, when Benjamin is 20, his father gives him a control of Roger Button & Co. Wholesale Hardware. He meets the young Hildegarde Moncrief, a daughter of General Moncrief, and falls in love with her. Hildegarde mistakes Benjamin for a 50-year old brother of Roger Button; she prefers older men and marries him six months later, but remains ignorant of his condition. Years later, Benjamin's business has been successful, but he is tired of Hildegarde because her beauty has faded and she nags him. Bored at home, he enlists in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and achieves great triumph in the military, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He retires from the army to focus on his company, and receives a medal.
In 1910, Benjamin, now looking like a 20-year-old, turns over control of his company to his son, Roscoe, and enrolls at Harvard University. His first year there is a great success: he dominates in football and takes revenge against Yale for rejecting him years before. However, during his junior and senior years he is only 16 years old, too weak to play football and barely able to cope with the academic work.
After graduation, Benjamin returns home, only to learn that his wife has moved to Italy. He lives with Roscoe, who treats him sternly, and forces Benjamin to call him "uncle." As the years progress, Benjamin grows from a moody teenager into a child. Eventually, Roscoe has a child of his own who later attends kindergarten with Benjamin. After kindergarten, Benjamin slowly begins to lose memory of his earlier life. His memory fades away to the point where he cannot remember anything except his nurse. Everything fades to darkness shortly after.
Fitzgerald, in his introduction to the story, remarks that he came across a similar plot in Samuel Butler's Note-Books several weeks after publishing Benjamin Button.
A story with a similar plot was published in 1921 by the Austrian author Roda Roda in Die sieben Leidenschaften (The seven tempers; Rikola Verlag, Vienna 1922) under the title "Antonius de Padua Findling".
In W. P. Kinsella's 1986 novel, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, the character Marylyle Baron tells a tale about "strange happenings" in Johnson County Iowa: "The Backwards Plague" struck in the early 1900s. Young men and women in their late teens to early twenties suddenly started losing body mass. Eventually, they regressed to their birth weight, looking like new born babies. At that point the plague stopped, and its victims began to grow again.
In T. H. White's "The Once and Future King", an Arthurian fantasy novel published in 1958, Merlin the magician is depicted as growing younger.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released as a motion picture late in 2008 starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and directed by David Fincher. The screenplay differs greatly from the short story. Only the title, Benjamin's name, and most aspects of the aging process are retained in the screenplay.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald (2008). The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-310549-3.
- The Complete Short Stories: Volume 1, pp. 345-361
- The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, pp. 69-71.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Full text of the story online at The University of Virginia
- Full text of the story online at Feedbooks.com
- Tales of the Jazz Age at Project Gutenberg
- Complete recording of original unabridged version of the 1921 short story at Archive.org