|Author||F. Scott Fitzgerald|
|Published in||The Saturday Evening Post
collected in Taps at Reveille
Short Story Collection
|Publication date||February 21, 1931|
"Babylon Revisited" is a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, written in 1930 and first published on February 21, 1931 in the Saturday Evening Post and free inside The Telegraph, the following Saturday.
The story is set in the year after the stock market crash of 1929, just after what Fitzgerald called the Jazz Age. Brief flashbacks take place in the Jazz Age. Also it shows several references to the Great Depression and how the character had to adapt his life to it. Much of it is based on the author's own experiences.
"I heard that you lost a lot in the crash."
"I did," and he added grimly, "but I lost everything I wanted in the boom."
"Babylon Revisited" is split into five sections, and the short story begins with Charlie Wales sitting at Ritz Bar in Paris, he is having a conversation with the bartender Alix. While in conversation with Alix the bartender, he inquires about his old friends whom he use to drink and attend parties with. He leaves the bartender with an address to where his friends might be able to find him, later on he realizes that as a mistake. During the years of the Roaring Twenties, Charlie Wales spent his days drinking and partying and seemed to not have a single care in the world. At the time the story is set, Charlie sees the world differently as he is no longer consumed by the extravagant lifestyle of the 1920s he once lived. He was a frequent drinker and party goer but now only allows himself to have one drink per day. He eventually leaves the bar and observes the streets of Paris with a sense of nostalgia now that the party days are over but also acknowledges how much his previous behavior and lifestyle has impacted his life in negative ways.
During the Roaring Twenties, Charlie had lost everything from money to his family. He now is in Paris to reclaim his rights as a father to his daughter Honoria who is currently under the care of Charlie’s sister-in-law Marion Peters and her husband Lincoln Peters. Honoria is now in custody of her aunt Marion because her mother Helen had died during the party years and Marion blames Charlie for the death of her sister. Charlie and Helen were frequent party goers and as the story progresses, the reader learns that one night Charlie got angry about his wife kissing another man and left her out in the snow. The story indicates that while Honoria’s mother might have had some issues with her heart, he also was recovering from alcoholism at a rehab and their relationship might have been toxic. Marion blames Charlie for the death of her sister and constantly sees him as a bad person. The story reveals that she has this grudge against him because she hated that her sister and Charlie were out spending so much money on unnecessary partying while she and her husband Lincoln were barely getting by. He fears that Marion will put ideas in Honoria’s head and turn his daughter against him because of her beliefs about him.
Charlie has frequent lunches with his daughter and spends time with her at the Peters’ to show Marion that he is indeed a good father and to show her that his drunken party days are behind him. His main priority is his daughter, and he wants her to live with him in Prague. Honoria even begins to question him about why is it that she is not living with him. Marion, seeing his efforts, has finally changed her mind and has decided to let Honoria live with her father. The same afternoon, Charlie is at the Peters’ home with his daughter when all of a sudden there is someone at the door. On the other side is his old friends Duncan and Lorraine which he had asked the bartender Alix about. His friends are very obviously drunk and keep insisting that Charlie go to dinner with them, he turns down their offer two times until they finally go away not happy with him. Marion observing this, after dinner, completely takes back her offer to let Charlie take his daughter back to Prague with him for she fears that he is not completely over his drunken days.
Charlie feels devastated and sees his efforts have gone down the drain. He then goes back to the same bar The Ritz, he thought he would run into Lorraine and Duncan there but instead he finds another bartender he knew very well from his partying days. They have a short conversation, and then Charlie continues to reminisce about his old partying days and about all of the bad times in his marriage with Helen. He is consumed with thoughts about the 1920s, where people were so careless, drunk and on drugs all the time. After some time, he calls Lincoln and questions if he really can’t take his daughter back with him. Lincoln informs him that he cannot because Marion is far too upset at what happened and that he is going to have to wait another six months to try to get his daughter back. Charlie upset at Lincoln’s response, goes back to the bar and sits. He feels trapped and excessively thinks about how much time will have to pass until Marion stops making him pay for his former lifestyle and mistakes. He keeps thinking and was certain that Helen would want him to be with his daughter and not alone.
A major theme of the story is of time and the inevitability of past mistakes resurfacing. Due to Charlie’s incapability to cope after the stock market crash, he tries to make up for all of the years that he missed out on during Honoria’s childhood by proving his sobriety to his sister-in-law Marion. Charlie recognizes the mistakes he made in the past that caused him to lose his daughter in the first place, and his constant longing for a future with her results in his past coming back to haunt him.
Dislocation and alienation
During the modernist literary movement during which this story was written, a common theme was that of dislocation and alienation. After losing his wife, and then eventually his daughter, Charlie feels an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Following the Great Depression and the stock market crash, he is confronted with the consequences of his foolish and incautious past, causing him to find the motivation to win custody of his daughter to ease the pain of his miserable solitude.
Absurdity and guilt
Especially present in this story is the theme of absurdity and incongruity as well as immense guilt. Charlie made his life better for himself and then had his goals and dreams taken away from him by the failure to take his daughter back under his own wing. Charlie’s past experiences caused him to fail in achieving Honoria’s custody despite hard work and dedication to remaking himself to become a better person and a better father. He is burdened with guilt because of his past mistakes that caused him to lose his daughter, even though he made a valiant effort to rebuild his morale.
Hopefulness and disappointment
Throughout the story, Charlie builds an enormous amount of hope for the retrieval of his daughter. Charlie’s euphoria continues to grow as he becomes more and more hopeful of this preferred outcome. At the end of the story, he is faced with the disappointment of losing this chance to rekindle the relationship between himself and his daughter.
Basis in real life
The story is based on a true incident regarding Fitzgerald, his daughter Scottie, his sister-in-law Rosalind and her husband Newman Smith (a banker based in Belgium, who as a colonel in the U.S. Army in World War II would be in charge of worldwide strategic deception for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff), on whom Marion and Lincoln Peters are based. Rosalind and Newman had not been able financially to live as well as Scott and Zelda had lived during the 1920s, and they had always regarded Scott as an irresponsible drunkard whose obsession with high living was responsible for Zelda's mental problems. When Zelda suffered a breakdown and was committed to a sanitarium in Switzerland, Rosalind felt that Scott was unfit to raise their daughter and that Rosalind and Newman should adopt her.
- Sarah Churchwell (28 Jan 2011). "Babylon Revisited: When the money runs out". The Telegraph.
- Lauter, Paul (2013). The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing; 7 edition (January 1, 2013). ISBN 1133310257.
- Turner, Joan (Summer 1990). "Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited". The Explicator. 48: 282–83.
- Mayper, Theresa (2001). "An existential study of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work". ProQuest Dissertations and Theses: 54–63.
- Gross, Seymour (November 1963). "Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited"" (PDF). College English. 25: 128–135.
- Holt, Thaddeus (2004). The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War. New York: Scribner. p. 286. ISBN 0-7432-5042-7. Retrieved November 15, 2012.