Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

The Damnation of Bryan Dalyrimple-And Theron Ware: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Debt to Harold Frederic

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

The Damnation of Bryan Dalyrimple-And Theron Ware: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Debt to Harold Frederic

Article excerpt

F. Scott Fitzgerald's debt to the fin de siecle American naturalists is well known. Princetonian Amory Blaine gives the most famous suggestion of the influence in This Side of Paradise when he finds himself "rather surprised by his discovery through a critic named Mencken of several excellent American novels: `Vandover and the Brute,' `The Damnation of Theron Ware,' and `Jennie Gerhardt'" (209). Henry Dan Piper notes that "Fitzgerald wrote this particular passage during the summer of 1919, when he revised his novel for the last time. It is likely that he had heard about all three books very recently" ("Norris and Fitzgerald" 395). That is not to say, however, that Fitzgerald did not come upon the novels of Norris, Dreiser, and Frederic at an important time in his literary formation. On the contrary, he discovered them just as he was writing--for the third time--This Side of Paradise ("Norris and Fitzgerald" 393); and although by then, as Piper suggests, it was too late for them to have much of an influence on the first novel (Portrait 88), they did play an important part in the conceptualization of the second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned. In fact, Fitzgerald's interest in the American naturalists was so intense and influential that it kept him from getting on with his second novel (84).

While Frank Norris's important influence on Fitzgerald has been carefully observed,(1) the influence of Harold Frederic has been overlooked--an oversight somewhat surprising in light of Fitzgerald's avowed appreciation of the upstate New Yorker's work. His respect for Frederic was reflected in April 1922, when Fitzgerald suggested that Scribners start a reprint series to compete with Modern Library and Lambskin Library. The outline that Fitzgerald sent to Charles Scribner named 18 novels, among which is The Damnation of Theron Ware (Bruccoli 154). Likewise, the reading program that Fitzgerald planned for Sheilah Graham, recounted in her College of One, includes Theron Ware by "Fredericks" (sic) in the "Substitute List of Good Novels" (206). Most significantly, however, in a letter to Sinclair Lewis on 26 January 1921,(2) Fitzgerald states, "I want to tell you that Main Street has displaced Theron Ware in my favor as best American novel" (Turnbull 467). Fitzgerald's statement reveals that, despite the novel's displacement, for a time The Damnation of Theron Ware held preeminence in his literary imagination. Referring to that letter, Mark Schorer comments, "It is surprising to discover that Fitzgerald, whose own work was so different from that of both Sinclair Lewis and Harold Frederic, should have held such regard for The Damnation of Theron Ware ..." (275). To share Schorer's surprise, however, one must agree that Fitzgerald's work is so different from Frederic's--a judgment that is less than settled.(3)

Possibly more fully than any other author, Fitzgerald arranged the paradigm for an American Adam disillusioned by the realities of materialism, a type he develops most thoroughly in The Great Gatsby. But it is important to note that Jay Gatsby's prototype appears in the early short story "Dalyrimple Goes Wrong"--a story that shows the clear influence, both idiosyncratic and fundamental, of Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware.

In the formal opening paragraph of "Dalyrimple Goes Wrong," Fitzgerald promises the reader the story of a young man's disillusionment--and he fulfills that promise. Bryan Dalyrimple returns from the war a hero, but a month later he is forgotten, and he goes to the local financial magnate, T. G. Macy, for a job. He is given a position in the stock room with a promise of promotion, but he learns from his more worldly colleague, Charley Moore, that his job is in fact a dead end: unless he has "drag" with Macy, he will stock shelves forever. Realizing not only that this observation is true, but also that his meager salary is insufficient to pay his bills, he decides to take advantage of every situation. …

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