Citation info: Goldberg, Lina. "F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited' Revisited" linagoldberg.com Feb 06 linagoldberg.com
by Lina Goldberg
''Babylon Revisited'' is widely considered to be the apex of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories, of which there are more than a hundred. Like many of his works, ''Babylon Revisited'' was loosely based on Fitzgerald’s own life.
Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896 in Saint Paul Minnesota. He was named Francis Scott Key, after a distant relative, and the writer of the American national anthem. Fitzgerald spent his childhood years in the United States—Buffalo, New York, Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Hackensack, New Jersey. In 1913, he entered Princeton University, although his performance by all accounts was mediocre. In 1917, he dropped out of school in order to enlist in the United States Army, which had recently entered World War I. While in officer training in Alabama, Fitzgerald wrote his first novel. Soon after, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre, a flamboyant flapper and the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court justice. The two quickly became engaged, but in 1919 Zelda broke their engagement due to concerns about her future husband’s ability to support her financially. This spurred Fitzgerald to advance his writing career and revise the novel he wrote while in the Army, which was accepted for publication and resulted in the resumption of his engagement with Zelda.
The two were married in March of 1920 in New York City soon after the publication of This Side of Paradise, and they quickly emerged as the poster children of the wild, extravagant lifestyle that defines much of the 1920’s. The couple had their first and only child in October, 1921, Frances ''Scottie'' Fitzgerald, a daughter. Parenthood did little to slow the Fitzgerald’s tumultuous lifestyle, or their drinking. Fitzgerald and his family spent much of the 1920’s in Europe, primarily in Paris, during which time Fitzgerald wrote what may be his most acclaimed work, The Great Gatsby as well as dozens of short stories for magazines. Simultaneously, Zelda pursued her interest in ballet, developing what many considered to be an unhealthy obsession. In addition to the literary fame that Fitzgerald experienced, the 1920’s were also filled with periods of financial instability for the Fitzgerald household, and the deterioration of Zelda’s mental health.
Fitzgerald was a member of the ''lost generation,'' a term that Gertrude Stein used to describe the group of American authors, including Fitzgerald, that lived in Paris during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. The era, which Fitzgerald called the ''jazz age,'' was known for debauchery and excess and largely ended with the stock market crash of 1929. In 1930, Zelda Fitzgerald was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she suffered the first of many mental breakdowns. This, in conjunction with his own depression and numerous financial problems, marked a particularly low point in Fitzgerald’s life, and was when he wrote ''Babylon Revisited.'' The story was published in the Saturday Evening Post on February 21, 1931, and had many parallels to Fitzgerald’s own life, both personal and historical. Like Charlie Wales in ''Babylon Revisited,'' both Fitzgerald and his wife struggled with alcohol abuse, and he was a binge-drinker and an alcoholic. At the time, Fitzgerald, like his protagonist, was the father of a 9-year-old girl, and struggling to cope with the dissipation and waste of the 1920’s boom.
The 1930’s saw the decline of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1932, Zelda had another breakdown, and was subsequently hospitalized for her schizophrenia. Although she later became an author in her own right, Zelda remained confined to institutions for the rest of her life. In 1934 Fitzgerald published his novel Tender is the Night. The next year, when his daughter Scottie was fourteen, Fitzgerald sent her to boarding school. In a significant parallel to Charlie Wales’ daughter Honoria in ''Babylon Revisited,'' the functionally motherless Scottie found a surrogate family in the home of Fitzgerald’s literary agent, while Fitzgerald himself maintained contact with her primarily through letters. During this period, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood and began working for MGM as a screenwriter in order to salvage his financial debts. Although he was making a large amount of money for the time, he was unable to save or maintain financial stability. He also began working on a novel set in Hollywood.
Fitzgerald is often said to have been the spokesperson for his generation and helped to define American culture post World War I. However, Fitzgerald never received the literary acclaim that he would later receive posthumously. His reputation for debauchery overshadowed his literary work, and he died in 1940 at the age of 44, with his last novel left unfinished. It was only after his death that Fitzgerald was recognized as one of the greatest American authors.
''Babylon Revisited'' tells the story of Charlie Wales, who after enduring the death of his wife and his own battle with alcoholism, returns to Paris, the setting of his dissolution in order to try and regain custody of his daughter from his sister-in-law.
The opening scene of ''Babylon Revisited'' takes place in Paris, in the Ritz bar. It is after the stock market crash of 1929, and that the world is in the midst of the depression. Charlie Wales, a thirty-five-year-old American, speaks to Alix the bartender, and we learn that Charlie previously lived in Paris, but is now in Prague on business. He is returning to Paris after a year and a half in order to try and regain custody of his nine-year-old daughter, Honoria. We learn from Charlie’s conversation with the barman that Charlie has struggled with alcohol in the past, and may, in many ways, be struggling still.
Charlie leaves his address with the barman to give to his old friend Duncan Schaeffer, and he leaves to go to his sister-in-law’s house, for it is she who has custody of his daughter. Marion and Lincoln Peters are Americans living in Paris, raising Charlie’s daughter Honoria as well as their own children, Richard and Elsie. Helen, Charlie’s deceased wife, had given Marion guardianship over Honoria before her death while Charlie was in a sanitarium trying to recover from alcoholism.
Honoria and Charlie have an enthusiastic reunion, but Marion’s reception of Charlie is tepid at best. Marion is cold and angry towards Charlie, and her dislike for him is evident in every word that she speaks. Charlie leaves to explore Paris, wanting to see how it seems now that he is sober. He recalls his drinking and the large sums of money that he wasted. Charlie is disgusted by his old haunts, and starts to recognize the dissipation that both he and Paris experienced during the boom.
The next day he takes Honoria to lunch, where they have a conversation in which they pretend to be strangers, and Honoria is a grown-up woman. On the way out of the restaurant, they run into Lorraine Quarrles and Duncan Schaeffer, two of Charlie’s old drinking buddies. They enthusiastically try and make plans with him, but Charlie brushes them off and takes his daughter to a vaudeville show. There, Honoria tells Charlie that she would like to live with him.
Charlie returns to Marion and Lincoln’s house, and tells them that the purpose of his trip is to regain custody of Honoria. Marion questions Charlie about his alcoholism, and he explains that he only has one drink each afternoon now, although Marion appears skeptical. Marion recalls a time during which Charlie was drinking and he locked his wife Helen outside in the snow. Charlie continues to enumerate the advantages he can provide Honoria with, and finally Marion angrily confesses that she blames Charlie for her sister Helen’s death. Marion finally relents, although with reservations, and Charlie’s reunion with his daughter seems certain. Charlie leaves to go home and dreams of Helen.
The next day, Charlie prepares to take Honoria back to Prague with him. He has lunch with Lincoln Peter, and they reminisce about the old days before the stock market crashed. Lincoln admits that he and his wife found it difficult to watch Charlie waste so much money during the boom, because they themselves had never been able to profit off the stock market.
When he returns to his hotel, Charlie finds a note forward from the Ritz bar from Lorraine. In it, she reminds him of a time that the two of them stole a tricycle, and asks if they could get together. However, instead of meeting Lorraine at the Ritz as she requested, he goes to buy presents for the Peters family, and returns to their apartment. Charlie attempts to make amends with Marion, but she cannot forget what she views as his poor treatment of her sister.
Suddenly, Lorraine and Duncan show up at the door of the Peters’ apartment, inebriated and boisterous. Charlie is shocked, and does not remember that he left the address at the Ritz bar for Duncan when he first arrived in Paris. Charlie finally gets them to leave, but not before their drunken debauchery horrifies Marion. Marion storms out of the room and Lincoln cancels the dinner they had planned. Charlie leaves, knowing that he will now not be able to take Honoria. In his anger, he goes directly to the Ritz bar where he hopes to find Lorraine and Duncan, but when he sees that they are not there, he sits at the bar to have a drink.
Charlie is again overcome with memories of the time before the stock market crashed, when his wife was alive and they were members of the gay party-going crowd of Americans in Paris in the 1920’s. He can only remember the horrors of this time, however. He calls the Peters’ apartment and speaks to Lincoln. Lincoln tells Charlie that Marion is sick, and that she will not be able to discuss the guardianship of Honoria for at least another six months.
Charlie refuses another drink, and plans for the future when he will be able to finally get his daughter back. He thinks that Helen never would have wanted him to be so alone.
Charlie Wales – A thirty-five year old American, and the protagonist of ''Babylon Revisited.'' We see the events of the story through Charlie’s eyes, and although troubled, he is ultimately a sympathetic character. Charlie is attempting to right the wrongs of his past, namely, his alcoholism and perceived mistreatment of his now-deceased wife in an attempt to regain custody of his daughter. Charlie’s struggle with alcoholism and the challenge of having to deal with his past in order to rebuild his future is the crux of the story. Charlie’s love for Honoria is palpable, and his willingness to remodel his life in order to be with her sparks the reader’s compassion.
Alix –The barman at the Hotel Ritz bar in Paris. Alix is Charlie’s first contact with his old, wild life in Paris. Alix serves as a reminder to Charlie of days past, and fills him in on the fates and fortunes of all of his old acquaintances.
Paul – The head barman at the Hotel Ritz bar. During the boom before the stock market crash, Paul arrived at work in a custom-built car. Paul serves to show the extreme wealth that even an ordinary man could attain during the boom. He also acts as a sympathetic ear for Charlie when he returns to the Ritz bar.
Honoria Wales – Charlie Wales’ nine-year-old daughter. Honoria is a loving little girl who, although happy with her foster parents, wants to be back with her father. She is depicted as beautiful and intelligent, being near the top of her class in school (and far ahead of her cousins). She is mature and serious, and at times, shows flashes of remarkable insight.
Marion Peters – The sister of Charlie’s deceased wife, Helen, and his foil in this story. Marion was granted custody of Honoria while Charlie was in a sanitarium, so it is she that he must battle for his daughter’s custody. Marion has an ''unalterable distrust'' towards Charlie, and cannot forgive him for the death of her sister, for which she blames him. Marion is Charlie’s nemesis, and has an angry, critical personality, and behaves coldly towards Charlie is such a way that her dislike for him is obvious.
Lincoln Peters – Charlie’s brother-in-law, and Marion’s wife. Lincoln represents the kind of man that Charlie perhaps would have been had it not been for the stock market boom and subsequent crash. Lincoln did not invest in the stock market, and therefore is living quite moderately; his small income in comparison with Charlie’s fortune may be cause for Marion’s resentment. Lincoln is kind and loving, and has created a warm, American home in Paris for his wife and children. He is sympathetic to Charlie’s plight, and it is almost certainly only because of his influence that Marion even considers releasing her guardianship of Honoria.
Elsie Peters – Marion and Lincoln’s daughter. Elsie and Richard are barely shown in the story, but serve to show the warm, American home that the Peters have created for themselves in Paris.
Richard Peters - Marion and Lincoln’s son. Richard Peters is Honoria’s favorite of the Peters children, and at the bottom of their class in school.
Duncan Schaeffer – An old college friend of Charlie’s who has stayed in Paris and is still living the high life that Charlie has left behind. Duncan’s behavior gives us a sense of what Charlie was like when he was drinking, Lorraine Quarrles – An old friend of Charlie’s from his alcoholic days in Paris. Lorraine is a ''lovely, pale blond of thirty,'' who is living without her husband, who is still in America. She is escorted by Duncan, who she refers to as ‘Dunc,’ and the reader can infer that they are having an affair. She is capricious, perhaps due to her excessive drinking, and vacillates between being gay and ebullient and angry and unpleasant. It is due to Lorraine and Duncan’s appearance at the Peters’ house that Charlie ultimately loses his chance to regain custody of his daughter.
Helen Wales – The deceased wife of Charlie Wales, and younger sister of Marion Peters. Although Helen has been deceased for more than a year and a half at the time that this story takes place, she has a central role in the story. Charlie often remembers how intensely he and Helen loved one another, until their alcoholism fueled fights and abusive behavior. After speaking to Marion and Lincoln, Charlie has a dream of Helen, wherein she tells him that she believes that she believes that he is right, and that he should have custody of their daughter.
Charlie is a man who has made many mistakes in his life, and in this story, he is attempting to rectify that fact and regain custody of his daughter. In order to do so, he must prove his reformation to his sister-in-law, Marion. We learn about Charlie’s character from his current, admirable behavior, and through his harrowing flashbacks and Marion’s pointed recollections of the past. During the boom, Charlie was making a great deal of money and did not need to work, and soon began drinking alcoholically with his wife Helen. His behavior was childish and reprehensible, and during this visit to Paris, Charlie realizes this. He mentions that he now saw the ''catering to waste,'' which he used to so enjoy was ''on an utterly childish scale.'' Likewise, when Lorraine reminds him of when they had stolen a tricycle together in order to ride it, he felt that this puerile act was representative of much of behavior when he was drinking. He believes that his behavior before he went to a sanitarium to recover from alcoholism was utterly irresponsible, but that he has reformed.
Since leaving the sanitarium, Charlie has found a high-paying well-compensated says that he has this drink each day deliberately, in order to test his resolve and keep ''the matter in proportion.'' However, Charlie still struggles with the ghosts of his past. Despite giving up drinking, Charlie’s old haunt, the Ritz bar is the opening and closing scene of the story. Charlie’s memories of Paris are haunted by his memories of his dead wife, and by his licentious friends who have not given up their old ways. Despite these concerns, the reader is given reason to believe that Charlie will one day regain custody of his daughter. His love for her is sincere, as is his regret for the mistakes of his past. Charlie recognizes that he must pay a price for his missteps, and he accepts this fact resolutely.
Marion Peters is the deceased Helen’s older sister, and in a sense, Charlie’s nemesis. Marion is a tall woman, described as once having possessed a ''fresh American loveliness'' that we can infer has faded, perhaps due to the loss of her sister Helen, and her anger about it. Marion was granted legal guardianship over Charlie’s daughter Honoria while Helen was dying of ''heart trouble,'' and during which time Charlie was in a sanitarium recovering from alcoholism. Now, as Honoria’s guardian, Marion’s role is in opposition to that of Charlie. Marion disliked Charlie from the beginning, and since her sister’s death, her dislike has hardened into a distrust that is unalterable. She blames Charlie for her sister’s death, and doubts that his sobriety will last, or that it is genuine. Marion is angry and critical, but this appears to be directed primarily towards Charlie. Her coldness is not apparent in her relations with the children, and she has provided a warm and loving home for them.
Marion’s anger towards Charlie stems in part, from her resentment about his financial largesse. During the boom, Charlie was earning such a large amount of money that he was able to not work, and throw money around exuberantly and without thought. Even after the crash, Charlie quickly righted himself and still has an income double that of the Peters. The Peters, on the other hand, were never able to spare enough money to invest in the market during the boom, and therefore never reaped its rewards. She begrudges all those who made money during the boom, as she shows when referring to the fact that she is glad that most Americans had left Paris, because their reputation for affluence had affected all Americans living abroad. Lincoln tells Charlie that Marion begrudges the fact that while they struggled, Charlie was able to grow richer and richer without working. His irresponsibility with this money only heightened Marion’s bitterness. Her anger towards Charlie precludes her from making an objective assessment of his ability to responsibly care for his daughter.
In trying to regain the custody of his daughter, Charlie is not only trying to secure her guardianship, but his own reputation. Charlie’s daughter is an allegory of Charlie’s honor—when he lost her, it was when he was at the lowest point in his life, a prisoner of his own dishonor. Charlie agreed to Marion’s guardianship soon after his wife had died, while he was in a sanitarium for alcoholism. Because of the recent stock market crash, he had also lost his fortune. At that time, when women were not traditionally part of the workforce, a man’s honor was intertwined with his ability to provide for his family, and to be a good husband and father. After the crash, Charlie was quickly able to regain his fortune, but his status as husband and father were not so easily reclaimed. In Charlie’s eyes, his daughter represents more than just his flesh and blood, but the honor that he feels that he has lost.
Charlie explains to his in-laws that he now is financially successful again, and that he plans to bring his sister to Prague in order to keep house for him. Charlie is attempting to reconstruct his pre-crash life, one in which he needs Honoria to complete his family. This time, though, Charlie believes that he will not destroy the portrait of domesticity is attempting to create. When Charlie takes Honoria to dinner and role-plays a mock suitor with her, he is attempting to court her in order to regain the roles that he has failed at; he is being a good father and provider, the very picture of an honorable man. It is this bourgeois construction of manhood that Charlie values, and is trying to recreate. The allegory that Fitzgerald has created in Honoria is especially noticeable in her name, which is very similar to the word honor. The name has classical overtones and evokes images of a world where issues of honor were more important than anything else, much as Honoria is to Charlie.
When Charlie arrives in Paris, he is completely certain that he has turned his life around and this Marion’s misgivings are utterly without foundation, but the narration of the story fosters doubt in the reader. The narration of the story is in the third-person, and is from Charlie’s point of view. However, there is a disconnect between Charlie’s point of view and the reality of the situation, which the narrative allows us to see in parallel during some crucial scenes. This disconnect raises questions in the reader’s mind about Charlie’s reliability to see his own situation clearly. We know that Charlie is confident in his ability to stay sober, but the narrative starts in his old drunken hangout, the Ritz bar, which is apparently the first place that Charlie goes upon his arrival in Paris. There we see Charlie leave his address for Duncan Schaeffer, an old college friend, and a member of Charlie’s riotous past. It is hard not to question the veracity of Charlie’s sobriety when we first meet him in the Ritz bar, and this decision to start the narrative there is a conscious one of Fitzgerald’s to foster doubt in the reader.
After Charlie leaves his address for Duncan, he does not acknowledge this action again, and distances himself from it. When he sees Duncan later, when Charlie is with his daughter, he seems distressed rather than experiencing the happiness one would expect to experience upon running in to an old friend. The reader can see his attitude shift—he feels one way when he is in the bar and another when he is with his daughter. The narrative acknowledges this shift as well. When Charlie received the note from Lorraine, the narration states that the note had been forwarded from the Ritz bar, ''where Charlie had left his address for the purpose of finding a certain man.'' The use of the words ''a certain man,'' is deliberate, for although the reader knows that Charlie has left his address for Duncan, it shows that Charlie has already started to separate himself from this action. This estrangement from his own actions that Charlie experiences climaxes when Duncan and Lorraine arrive at Marion and Lincoln’s house. Charlie is ''astounded,'' he has no idea how they ''ferreted out the Peters' address.'' Charlie is completely unaware of the fact that he has given them this address himself, and it is only the narration that allows the reader to see that Charlie is, in large part, the cause of his own downfall.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is often cited as one of the great Modernist writers, a literary movement that gathered force in the aftermath of World War I. Writers began experimenting with form and ideas, and rejecting traditional writing techniques and subject matter that were popular during the Victorian era. American Modernism was exemplified the work by a group of ex-patriots living in Paris during the 1920’s and 30’s, including Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Although their work was often drastically different from one another’s, they had many similar themes. Modernist literature reflects a growing disillusion with society, especially in response to World War I which was the cause of death of millions of young men. In the aftermath of the war, society began a major shift, wherein more and more people were moving to cities and urban environments and the literature of the time reflected this shift.
''Babylon Revisted'' epitomized many of the characteristics of typical Modernist writing. Although many Modernist pieces such as James Joyces ''Ulysses'' were more experimental in nature, Fitzgerald’s use of the vernacular in his work was surprising and experimental at the time. Fitzgerald writes in an informal style, in the lexicon of the day. Unlike many of the more traditional works being written in his generation, ''Babylon Revisited'' seems current in its language even today. He wrote about dark themes that reflected the disenchantment being felt by young people at the time. The themes of dissolution, alienation, and alcoholism seen in ''Babylon Revisited'' are reflective of this. Fitzgerald’s informal use of language was one of the reasons he was not taken seriously as a writer during his lifetime. It was only after his death that he was recognized as one of the great writers of Modernism.
We often do not realize the consequences of our actions until much later, when we are forced to pay for them in one way or another. Although Charlie has attempted to turn his life around, he is still facing the consequences of his actions and behavior during the boom. Although Charlie seems to recognize the inevitability that his reform will not be fully accepted for some time, Fitzgerald draws the reader to believe that Charlie should have his transformation immediately embraced, and the custody of his daughter restored to him. However, the conclusion that is ultimately drawn is that Charlie’s suffering is something that Charlie has brought upon himself. Despite the earnestness of his reform, his prior behavior was dreadful, and even he recognizes this. He made his bed, Fitzgerald seems to say, and he now must lie in it, at least for the time being.
Despite making a decision to change his life, Charlie struggles both in enacting that change, and convincing others of its sincerity. After losing his wife, daughter and wealth, Charlie begins to gather the remains of his life and begin anew. The most significant of these changes is his sobriety. However, remaining sober is not easy. His old drinking friends, Lorraine and Duncan, try to lure back to his old haunts and behavior, and his sister-in-law Marion expresses incredulity about Charlie’s newfound sobriety. The temptation that summons him to his old life is always there: in the bottle, in his prior Parisian haunts, and in the appearance of his old friends. Despite being on opposing sides, both Charlie’s old friends and Marion seem to be more comfortable with the Charlie that they are used to, rather than his new, upright self, and they reject his assertions that he is now different. Convincing them that he has changed is not easy, and in fact, Marion does not believe that Charlie’s new behavior is permanent. However, Fitzgerald gives the reader the sense that one day, Marion will accept the change that Charlie has made in his life and relinquish guardianship over his daughter.
Drinking and alcoholism are mentioned constantly in ''Babylon Revisited,'' and both the opening and closing scenes of the story take place in a bar. Charlie’s drinking, we learn, has paralleled the stock market, only becoming a problem during the peak of the boom, and ending around the crash. He now considers himself sober, and has a single drink a day, he says, in order to make sure that he has his alcoholism under control. However, his mind still operates much like an alcoholic’s, in that he in some way relates alcohol use to most of his observations and all of his memories. Further underscoring his alcoholic tendencies is his desire to have a drink during the painful conversation with his in-laws. Indeed, he grips his chair, giving the imagery of an alcoholic who ''white-knuckles'' his way through sobriety. Charlie clearly believes that regaining custody of his daughter will stop him from returning to his alcoholic behavior. Therefore, when Charlie is denied immediate guardianship, Fitzgerald leaves open the question of whether Charlie will be able to remain sober. Problematic drinking was also a motif in Fitzgerald’s life—he had a much publicized drinking problem and struggled with until the end of his life.
Charlie’s trip to Paris is filled with imagery of vice, both in what he sees now through his new, sober, lenses, and in the memories that Paris conjure up for him. This serves to not only show Paris as a city riddled with the opportunity for transgression, but it also allows Charlie to juxtapose his old, alcoholic life with his new, altered life. The changes that Charlie has made to his life are underscored by his disgust at the places he used to go and the things he used to do. ''You must be damn drunk,'' he thinks after peeking his head into a club he used to frequent. The contrast between his past, where he embraced these sordid haunts, and his current, cleaned up life is made clear in lines like these. Charlie also expresses regret at missing so much of Paris due to his wild lifestyle, like the ''five-course dinners [for] four francs fifty.'' Even his old friends, in their still-drunken state hold no appeal to him. It is clear that Charlie is genuinely remorseful of his past, and that his desire to change is sincere.
The doll that Charlie presents Honoria with upon his return to Paris is, in a sense, representing her, and the bond of parenthood. He has made this trip to Paris solely in order to try and regain custody of his daughter, which he hopes his sister-in-law will give him. His gift of this doll, who Honoria claims is her daughter, is symbolic, for it is what he longs that Marion will do for him. In the scene in the restaurant, Honoria is no longer the child. She is the mother, and the doll is her baby. In this way, Charlie and Honoria, have, however obliquely, recreated a familiar family scene of a father, mother and child—much like their life before the crash. Whereas Honoria has been the baby prior, now with the doll and her imagination, she is grown up. This foreshadows the growing up that she will likely have to do if Charlie, a sober alcoholic, does one day get custody of her.
In literature snow often represents feelings of loss, emptiness and death. This is certainly true in ''Babylon Revisited,'' where Charlie’s memories of the snowy scenes of his previous life haunt him. The snowstorm in ''Babylon Revisited'' is the catalyst that represents the death of his life as it was then, the death of his wife, and the destruction of Charlie’s self-image. Even though they reconciled, the night when he locked Helen out in the snow was the beginning of the end of their relationship. It was that night, and Charlie’s actions during the snowstorm that Marion blames for Helen’s death and the reason that she is keeping his daughter from him. Not only does Marion believe that she lost Helen that night, but she says that since then, Charlie has ceased to exist to her as well. And although Charlie’s actions were not malicious, for he did not intend to harm Helen, his view of himself changed. It is only after this night that Charlie decides to seek help for his drinking problem and begins to confront his own behavior.
The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money.
Charlie’s visit to Paris has allowed him to see how money and alcohol affected his life, and distorted his view of reality. Drinking, he claims, had never been a problem for him until his last year and half in Paris, which was at a time that the stock market had risen higher than it had ever been before, and Charlie was unequivocally wealthy. Money was amassed at a previously unheard of speed and men began to believe that they were invincible—that they could use this wealth to bend reality to their will merely because they were rich. They existed under the belief that nothing could touch them, and Charlie’s few examples of his behavior (stealing tricycles and locking his wife out in the snow) during this time underscore this belief. However, it is only in the cold light of the depression and sobriety that Charlie realizes that all things come at a price, and this flamboyance surrounding money and alcohol has left him bereft. For as it turns out, the snow was real and his decision to lock his wife out of the house is one that he can’t compensate for with money.
"Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds; they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material.''
In ''Babylon Revisited'' Fitzgerald explores the experiences of scarcity and abundance, primarily in Charlie’s ordeals after the crash which are juxtaposed with his memories of life during the boom. Charlie’s suggestion that there is not ''enough material'' to bridge the gap that has developed between himself and Marion parallels his experience of emotional and spiritual scarcity during the boom. Now, during the depression, although Charlie is doing well financially, he has lost is wife and his daughter. He believes that Marion’s lack of compassion, and perhaps understanding, for him that prevents her from being able to heal their rift. If there were just more love and tolerance between them, he implies, they could reconcile, and the custody of Honoria would not be an issue. Marion is described as cold and angry, and it is clear that Charlie believes that it is this scarcity of warmth and compassion on her part that is to blame for his problems. However, the imagery of a split in the skin that is unable to heal implies scarcity on both sides, and Charlie is unable to see this.
"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."
"Something like that."
This conversation between Paul the barman and Charlie serves as a double entendre, representing both the economic and emotional loss that Charlie experienced during the late 1920’s. Paul is speaking merely in economic terms, but Charlie is not—their conversation exists in parallel, and while Charlie understands Paul’s meaning, it is clear that Paul does not grasp what Charlie is referring to. The period before the stock market crash was incredibly prosperous, even for working men like Paul. Paul’s ideas of loss center solely around finances, and the only possible loss he can imagine would be due to the riskiest form of stock trading, namely, short selling. For Charlie, however, the loss he refers to is not financial, it is the emotional burden he bears from the death of his wife and the loss of his daughter. These tragic events occur near the end of the boom, and consume Charlie in a way that his monetary losses do not. For Charlie has been able to recover from his financial defeats, but is still searching for a solution to his spiritual and familial mistakes.
Copyright Lina Goldberg. All Rights Reserved.
Citation info: Goldberg, Lina. "F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited' Revisited" linagoldberg.com Feb 06 linagoldberg.com