The Rich Boy
|"The Rich Boy"|
|Author||F. Scott Fitzgerald|
|Published in||Redbook Magazine
collected in All the Sad Young Men
Short Story Collection
|Publication date||January/February 1926|
"The Rich Boy" originally appeared in two parts, in the January and February 1926 issues of Redbook.
Fitzgerald wrote "The Rich Boy" in 1924, in Capri, while awaiting publication of The Great Gatsby. He revised it in his apartment at 14 Rue de Tilsitt in Paris the following spring, at what he described as a period of "1000 parties and no work." By May 28, 1925, he wrote his literary agent, Harold Ober, that the story was "at the typist." Five weeks later, he sent his editor Max Perkins a proposed list of stories for his third collection, describing "The Rich Boy": "Just finished—serious story and very good."
The Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Bruccoli describes the story as "an extension of The Great Gatsby, enlarging the examination of the effects of wealth on character." The story of Anson Hunter and his love for the "dark, serious beauty" Paula Legendre, Fitzgerald modeled the Rich Boy of his title on Princeton classmate Ludlow Fowler, who'd stood as best man at Fitzgerald's wedding. Fitzgerald sent Fowler the story before publication, explaining, "I have written a 15,000 word story about you called 'The Rich Boy'—it is so disguised that no one except you and me and maybe two of the girls concerned would recognize, unless you give it away, but it is in large measure the story of your life, toned down here and there and simplified. Also many gaps had to come out of my imagination. It is frank, unsparing but sympathetic and I think you will like it—it is one of the best things I have ever done." Fowler requested excisions that Fitzgerald made before the story was collected in All the Sad Young Men the following year.
Fitzgerald's friend the writer Ring Lardner—dedicee of All the Sad Young Men—was such an admirer he told Fitzgerald he wished he could have expanded the story to novel length. Fitzgerald wrote Max Perkins, this "would have been absolutely impossible".
"'The Rich Boy' is a key document for understanding Fitzgerald's much-discussed and much-misunderstood attitudes toward the rich. He was not an envious admirer of the rich, who believed they possessed a special quality. In 1938 he observed: 'That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy's school; a poor boy in a rich man's club at Princeton...I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works.' He knew the lives of the rich had great possibilities, but he recognized that they mostly failed to use those possibilities fully. He also perceived that money corrupts the will to excellence. Believing that work is the only dignity, he condemned the self-indulgent rich for wasting their freedom."
Bruccoli also notes the story contains Fitzgerald's "most promiscuously misquoted sentence: 'They are different from you and me.'" Fitzgerald's actual passage runs,
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.
The story's first lines are also, as Bruccoli points out, among the author's most famous:
Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created--nothing. That is because we are all queer fish, queerer behind our faces and voices than we want any one to know or than we know ourselves. When I hear a man proclaiming himself an 'average, honest, open fellow,' I feel pretty sure that he has some definite and perhaps terrible abnormality which he has agreed to conceal.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald and Matthew J. Bruccoli, ed., The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Rich Boy," New York: Scribner's, 1989. p. 335.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald and Matthew J. Bruccoli, ed., A Life in Letters: A New Collection Edited and Annotated by Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Scribner's, 1995. p. 114.
- Andrew Trumball, "Scott Fitzgerald," New York: Scribners, 1962. p. 154.
- Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, ed., A Life in Letters, p. 114.
- Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, ed., A Life in Letters, p. 121.
- Bruccoli, Matthew Bruccoli (1981). Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: the Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Harcourt. p. 227.
- Trumball, Andrew Trumball (1962). Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Scribners. p. 168.
- Bruccoli, Matthew Bruccoli, p. 230
- Matthew Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: the Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Harcourt, 1981. p. 228.