The Bridal Party


The Bridal Party

written by Fitzfan

“The Bridal Party” (which was featured in the Saturday Evening Post, August 9, 1930) is a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Based on Ludlow Fowler’s brother’s, Powell Fowler, May 1930 Paris wedding, it is Fitzgerald’s first story dealing with the stock market crash, and celebrates the end of the period when wealthy Americans colonized Paris.1

Plot Summary

The story begins in Paris, sometime around May. The main character, Michael Curly, is introduced, along with the news that his ex-girlfriend, Caroline Dandy, who he dated for two years, is engaged and will be getting married in Paris. It explains that the two broke up because of Michael’s lack of money. He was devastated and could not let go, evident by his insecurity and the fact that he carried around photographs of her. He also stayed away from other girls, hoping that she would do the same with men. One day outside of a shop, he encounters Caroline and her fiancé, Hamilton Rutherford. Rutherford invites Michael to a string of events, including his bachelor dinner, a party and tea. As they talk, his feelings for her resurge. As they parted ways, Michael feels he will never be happy again. At his hotel, the concierge delivers a telegram, which states that his grandfather passed away, and that he would be inheriting a quarter of a million dollars. Because of his newly found fortune, he decides he will try to win Caroline back.

When he attends one of the parties, he meets Hamilton’s father, and as more people arrive, he feels increasingly inadequate. When he finds Caroline, he is reluctant to tell her about his inheritance. They eventually dance together, and she explains how she is over him and that he should do the same. She says she feels sorry for him, and that she needs someone like Hamilton to make all the decisions. Gathering enough nerve, Michael writes to Hamilton to confront him about his intentions and asks him to meet in the bar of a hotel. Michael arrives and overhears Hamilton talking to another man about how easy it is to control a woman, and that you cannot stand for any nonsense—adding, there are hardly any men who possess their wives anymore and that he is going to be one of them. Michael becomes outraged and questions his out of date attitude. Hamilton strikes back, saying that Michael is too sensitive. Eventually Hamilton leaves.

Michael attends the next party with nice, new clothes. A woman, Marjorie Collins, shows up and demands to speak to Hamilton, threatening to cause a scene. Michael avoids the drama and goes to see Caroline at her hotel. They argue about how Hamilton treats her, and Michael eventually confesses his love for her. Caroline does not seem to care, as she notices he has new, expensive clothes, at which point, Michael tells her about his inheritance.

Hamilton returns from the party and explains that the woman tried to blackmail him. As he opens a telegram, he discovers that all of his fortunes are gone, because he had stuck with a mistake for too long. At the point when Caroline could decide to stay with Hamilton, or leave him for a newly rich Michael, she surprisingly chooses Hamilton. Michael attends the ceremony, and he learns from an acquaintance, George Packman, that a man had offered Hamilton a substantial salaried job right before the wedding. As the reception carries on, Michael realizes that he has not thought of Caroline for hours, and that he was cured from his inability to move on. He is no longer bitter, and the story concludes with him wondering which bridesmaid he should have dinner with that night.

Historical Context

The Jazz Age represented a break with tradition, due to the feeling of disconnect created by modernity. It was the “decade of prosperity, excess and abandon, which began after the end of World War I and ended with the 1929 stock market crash.”2 Fitzgerald was included in the Lost Generation, a group of U.S. writers who grew up during the war and created their literary reputations in the 1920s. They were “lost” because in the postwar world, the values that were passed on to them seemed irrelevant. They possessed a spiritual alienation from a country that appeared to be “provincial, materialistic and emotionally barren.”3 As James L. West, Penn State Fitzgerald scholar, said, “He [Fitzgerald] saw with considerable accuracy, the excesses and gaudiness of American society in the modern era—but he saw the great willingness of the heart that’s also deeply American.”4

Critical Theories

Biographical Criticism

If readers understand an author’s life, it can help them better comprehend the work. More often than not, an author’s experience influences what he or she creates. This is no different for F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though highly acclaimed, he has been criticized for being too “unimaginative” because his fictional stories were written from real-life characters and events. In The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, John B. Chambers argued that previous Fitzgerald criticism had almost unanimously regarded the young Fitzgerald as an “emotional rather than a conceptual thinker” who “could write movingly of experiences…without possessing an intellectual understanding of them.” Chambers believed that consistent ideas were apparent in all of Fitzgerald’s novels, and that the ideas could only be appreciated if we cast aside false biographical explanations and make an “objective study” of the content and technique in the novels themselves.5 While one could agree, one cannot disregard the impact Fitzgerald’s life has had on his novels.

It seems writers today could only hope for as much inspiring writing material as Fitzgerald was able to derive from his life. One life event relatable to his work, The Bridal Party, occurred when his then-fiancée, Zelda Sayre, broke off their engagement because of Fitzgerald’s poor economic status.6 However, after his novel This Side of Paradise was published, it provided him with almost instant success, and a week later he married Zelda. Around 1930, he was drinking “heavily, when Powell Fowler was married in Paris—there was a round of parties from which he never sobered up.”7 Like his life at that time, The Bridal Party focuses on themes such as the Great Depression, and whether one should marry for love or money. Although this was one of the earliest examples of biographical correlations found in Fitzgerald’s work, his novels This Side of Paradise, Tender is The Night, and many others contain more similarities to his life—particularly the tumultuous relationship he had with his schizophrenic wife Zelda.

For instance, in Tender is The Night, Dick Diver, the main character, and Fitzgerald used their wives’ vulnerabilities for monetary and career purposes (as both women were affluent schizophrenics). Fitzgerald even plagiarized some of his wife’s private letters to him for the story and publicly exposed her sickness, with little concern of how she might have reacted. In a 1936 letter to their fellow expatriate friends, Gerald and Sara Murphy, Fitzgerald described Zelda, “She was always my child…I was her great reality, often the only liaison agent who could make the world tangible to her.”8

Like Dick, Fitzgerald increasingly turned to alcohol to escape his problems. Furthermore, Fitzgerald’s father died in 1931, and he returned to America for the funeral.9 Dick experienced a similar situation in the novel as well. Realizing his world was collapsing, Dick got into a fight and was imprisoned; much like Fitzgerald was in 1924 after he fought with a taxi driver and policeman.10 These are only a few examples. While some readers and critics do not appreciate Fitzgerald’s redundant, life-based stories, it cannot be denied that his eventful life has had a profound effect on his subject matter. To some it adds realism and emotional intensity to his fictional characters.

Gender and Sociological Criticism

Like biographical critics, it is not difficult for gender and sociological critics to find passages to analyze in The Bridal Party either. In fact, many of the stories that Fitzgerald has written emasculate women, and cause them to look weak and dependent or crazy, even if they triumph such obstacles in the end. This story presents a range of issues, from the attitudes and reasons for marriage, to the relationship between men and women in general. The Bridal Party may have been more relevant to people of Fitzgerald’s time, the Jazz Age, because women were becoming increasingly independent and “masculine” by cutting their hair, drinking during Prohibition, and wearing short skirts whereas now, it is not so avant-garde or shocking. Before the roaring twenties, women, for the most part, were expected to stay home and raise the children. Though one could argue this still occurs today, many women married men for financial stability. Men control many of Fitzgerald’s female characters in a paternal way, reminiscent of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.”11

For example, on page 58 of Tender is the Night, Fitzgerald described Rosemary, “like most women she liked to be told how she should feel and she liked Dick telling her what is sad or ludicrous.” He demonstrates though, that some women have more control over their own lives than the reader might think. In The Bridal Party, Hamilton says, “I saw what happened to most of my friends, and I decided it wasn’t going to happen to me. It isn’t so difficult; if you take a girl with common sense, and tell her what’s what, and do your stuff damn well, and play decently square with her, it’s a marriage. If you stand for any nonsense at the beginning, it’s one of these arrangements—within five years the man gets out, or else the girl gobbles him up and you have the usual mess.” Then to Michael he says, “Women aren’t so darn sensitive. It’s fellows like you who are sensitive; it’s fellows like you they exploit—all your devotion and kindness and all that.”12 In previous times, men probably were not worried about such a situation because women were more likely to keep quiet and “obey” their husbands. During this time period though, there is obviously a type of role reversal taking place, like many people feel there is now. Men are becoming more empathetic and willing to become stay at home dads with verbally abusive wives, and women can practically wear whatever they want, date or marry whomever they want, go to work, drive automobiles, smoke, and whatever else they put their minds to. Though sexism and discrimination are still present, they are much less of a problem than they were seventy years ago. Ultimately, Caroline chooses Hamilton even though she knows he has no more money, proving that she is not marrying for money like one expected.

Because F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for writing novels concerning themes such as wealth and society in the roaring twenties, parties, and despair, one may not know that he created many less celebrated texts that stray from these themes. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a great example of one of those stories. A touching yet hilarious tale, it turns fantasy into a reality. It begins in 1860 with the birth of a man who is about eighty years old. It follows his life events as he ages in reverse, from going to war, running a business, having kids, going to college after being teased, then to kindergarten and so on. During this time period, he is able to see remarkable changes take place in society with the automobile and other modern technology created in the 1900’s. He falls in love at fifty, with a woman in her thirties because they preferred each other at that age, but things are not the same once he starts to act younger, and she loses her attractiveness with time.13 This age difference provides humor in the story and parallels situations today because at one point she appears to be a gold-digger, and a “cougar” at another. Since it deals with different stages of life, it is relatable to audiences of all ages.

Mark Twain’s quote in William Phelps’ Autobiography with Letters, is said to have inspired the short story: “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.”14 However, aging backwards is not as grand as it may seem. This notion is proven in the story by an embarrassed father who forces Benjamin to dye his hair in order to look younger, and having to call his own son “uncle” because he looks so young that his son feels like his dad when guests come over. His wife wants him to control his aging but he obviously cannot. She states with a hint of jealousy on page 175, “If you’ve made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don’t suppose I can stop you, but I really don’t think it’s very considerate.” To which he says, “But, Hildegarde, I can’t help it.” And she replies, “You can too. You are simply stubborn. You think you don’t want to be like any one else. You always have been that way and you always will be.” On the page before that, however, one discovers Benjamin “had hoped once he reached a bodily age equivalent to his age in years, that the grotesque phenomenon which had marked his birth would cease to function”—and he shuddered because it had not.15 Many people probably shudder once they realize that they will never stop aging, and one can easily see how these progressive steps towards death could trigger a midlife crisis—complete with hair dye and a sports car.

The aspect that is slightly ironic about the whole situation is the similarity between being old and very young. For example, unfortunately, some elderly people slowly lose their memory, become bald, and in diapers with no teeth, need to be taken care of just like a child. The story implies that the middle years are when people are able to do most of the enjoyable things in life, because they are not restricted by the social norms of what is acceptable for a certain age. Fitzgerald reveals such limitations in the story, such as how one cannot smoke until he or she is of a certain age, or how it is unusual when one is mature and trying to obtain a college degree.

This short, easy read forces the reader to think about their own mortality and to appreciate the time he or she has to experience life. Mr. Button is afraid of getting too young, similar to the way in which aging people do not want to get old and decrepit. They want to be able to see what events lay ahead for their family and society. Even though the story was written in 1922, is still relevant because almost everyone is concerned with aging and with how they feel on the inside versus how he or she looks on the outside.16 All of these stories prove how most of the themes Fitzgerald writes about cross generation gaps, and reveal perpetual cycles in our society.

Historical Criticism

Growing up during the Great Depression and between world wars, Fitzgerald provides a romantic and economic parallel in The Bridal Party. Michael Curly’s statement, “I don’t want to live—I used to dream about our home, our children,” accurately reflects the mindset of American people during and after the Stock Market crash of 1929.17 For those who lost their homes, life savings and notions of the American dream, it was hard to find a way out of their predicament. The turning point for the protagonist in this story can be seen as the sunlit door from which his newlywed ex-girlfriend exits, “forward to the future.”18

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story, The Bridal Party, is his first that touches on the dramatic effects of such a devastating event as the stock market crash. Though other themes are evident throughout the story, such as the effects of wealth on society, and excessive parties set in the roaring twenties, the relationship between Mr. Curly and his ex, Caroline can easily be compared to the stock market crash. The news of her engagement delivers a sudden grim reality to Michael, much like the Great Depression itself. It is assumed that Michael and his ex-girlfriend had a great relationship before their separation, but the reader finds that he “lost her slowly, tragically, uselessly, because he had no money.”19 This must have been how stock traders on Wall Street felt as they watched the value of stocks decline and tried to sell them in a panic on Black Thursday, October 24, 1929.20 When he discovers that she is going to marry another, richer, man he pessimistically thought, “I will never be happy at all any more.”21 However, it is obvious that he is overreacting to horrible news and did not know what to think about the situation. Even Michael’s view of Caroline’s appearance as “strained and tired—shadows under her eyes” is reminiscent of Dorothea Lange’s documentary photographs from the Great Depression.22 Her subjects, like those seen in Migrant Mother, are abandoned and desperate with little hope in their faces. Caroline later says that she feels sorry for the way they were, but she was over him, and he should move on as well.23 His depression was intensified by feelings of inadequacy, due to a lack of money. Seeing his ex with another man only made his misery worse. His situation is similar to that of Americans during that time because neither had experienced such widespread economic failure.24

As pompous and misogynistic as her fiancé was, he rightfully says, “your affair was founded on sorrow, it seems to me that a marriage ought to be based on hope.”25 Perhaps the same hope that people needed during the thirties to recover from the Great Depression. Luckily, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plans for a New Deal and the economic resurgence provided from World War II pulled the country out of its rut. After Michael “floats in an abyss of helplessness”, he finally gains the ability to let go. A simple change in his attitude causes the “bitterness to melt out of him,” and he is finally able to move on.26 Though Michael is initially heartbroken, his “New Deal” is finding inner peace by realizing how happy the two are and that he would not be able to have a good future by dwelling on the negative past. While this story possesses significant ties to the stock market crash and Great Depression, it is relevant today because of the current concerns about recession.

Other Works

Novel Publication: The Romantic Egotist, re-titled as This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and Damned (1922), The Great Gatsby (1925), Tender is the Night (1934), The Last Tycoon (published posthumously, 1941)

Story Publication: “The Ordeal,” revised as “Benediction” (Nassau Literary Magazine, 1915), “Babes in the Woods” (The Smart Set, 1919), “Head and Shoulders” (Saturday Evening Post, 1919), “The Debutante,” “Porcelian and Pink,” “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong” (The Smart Set, 1919-1920), “Myra Meets His Family,” “The Camel’s Back,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” “The Ice Palace” and “The Offshore Pirate” (Saturday Evening Post, 1920), “May Day” (The Smart Set, 1920), “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (The Smart Set, 1922), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Collier’s, 1922), “Winter Dreams” (Metropolitan Magazine, 1922), “How to Live on $36,000 a Year” (Saturday Evening Post, 1924), “Absolution” (The American Mercury, 1924), “The Sensible Thing” (Liberty, 1924), “The Rich Boy” (Redbook Magazine, 1926), “How to Waste Material: A Note on My Generation” (The Bookman, 1926), “The Scandal Detectives” (first of eight-story Basil Duke Lee series: Saturday Evening Post, 1928), “The Freshest Boy” (1928), “The Last of the Belles” (Saturday Evening Post, 1929), “The Bridal Party” (Saturday Evening Post, 1930), “First Blood” (first of five-story Josephine Perry series: Saturday Evening Post, 1930), “One Trip Abroad” (Saturday Evening Post, 1930), “Babylon Revisited” and “Emotional Bankruptcy” (Saturday Evening Post, 1931), “Crazy Sunday” (The American Mercury, 1932), “Ring” (The New Republic, 1933), “The Fiend” (1935), “The Crack Up” and “Afternoon of an Author” (Esquire, 1936), “Trouble” (Saturday Evening Post, 1937), and “Pat Hobby’s Christmas Wish” (first of seventeen-story series: Esquire, 1940).

Play Production: The Girl from Lazy J (1911), The Captured Shadow (1912), Coward (1913), Assorted Spirits (1914), The Vegetable (published but failed at New Jersey tryout in 1923).

Collection Publication: Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Tales of The Jazz Age (1922), All the Sad Young Men (1926), Taps at Reveille (1935), The Crack Up and The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (1945)27

About the Author: Timeline

September 24, 1896- Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (named after distant relative Francis Scott Key, who authored The National Anthem) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.

September 1911-He attended the Newman School, a Catholic preparatory school in New Jersey.

September 1913-He enrolls at Princeton as a member of the class of 1917, but was not the most dedicated student.

1917-He joined the army and received commission as infantry 2nd lieutenant.

1918- He reports to Camp Sheridan in Alabama. It was there that he fell in love with eighteen-year old Zelda Sayre, who was an Alabama Supreme Court judge’s youngest daughter.

1919-Zelda did not want to live off of his meager salary, so she ended their engagement. 1920-His first novel became a success, the two married and began their life in roaring twenties fashion: drinking, parties, trips around Europe, and so on.

1921-Their daughter Frances Scott (Scottie) Fitzgerald is born October 26. His drinking increased, and he and Zelda frequently fought.

1924-Zelda became involved with a French naval aviator, and her odd behavior increased. Over the years, the two would return to, and leave, America for Paris, the French Riviera, Italy, and even northern Africa.

1930-Zelda has her first breakdown, and she was treated at various Swiss clinics. Fitzgerald was forced to sell short stories to help pay for her costly bills. She improved, but suffered yet another breakdown in 1932 and basically spent the rest of her life in sanitariums. Their daughter, Frances Scott (Scottie), stayed with a surrogate family and Fitzgerald communicated with her through mail.

July 1937-He eventually went to California to do contract work (for the third time) for Hollywood film companies. Though he occasionally visited his wife, he fell in love with movie columnist Sheilah Graham.

February 1939-Fired for drunkenness. He was hospitalized in New York.

Summer 1939-He began his last novel, The Love of The Last Tycoon.

December 21, 1940-Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in Graham’s apartment.

March 1948-His wife Zelda, perished in a fire at Highland Hospital.

November 1975-Fitzgerald and Zelda finally buried together in Rockville, Maryland.28

Notes

1Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Bridal Party.” The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection. (New York: Scribner. 1989), 561. 2 “F. Scott Fitzgerald Criticism.” http://www.enotes.com/short-story-criticism/fitzgerald-f-scott (accessed July 24, 2008). 3 “Lost Generation.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. 4Blackwell, Jon. “1920: Fitzgerald’s Own ‘Paradise’.” http://www.capitalcentury.com/1920.html (accessed July 26, 2008). 5Derrick, Scott. “Review of John Chambers.” American Literature. Vol. 63. No.2, June, 1991, Duke University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2927185 (accessed July 25, 2008). 6“A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.” http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/biography.html (accessed July 23, 2008). 7Larson, Thomas. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Babylon Revisited: A Long Expostulation and Explanation.” http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tdlarson/fsf/babylon/chap_1.htm (accessed July 24, 2008). 8“Fitzgerald Chronology.” http://www.zeldafitzgerald.com/chronology/chronology.asp (accessed July 25, 2008). 9“A Fitzgerald Chronology.” http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/chronology.html (accessed July 23, 2008). 10“Fitzgerald Chronology.” http://www.zeldafitzgerald.com/chronology/chronology.asp. 11Kennedy, X.J. and Dana Gioia. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. (Pearson Longman, 2007),1054. 12Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Bridal Party.” 568. 13Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection. (New York: Scribner. 1989), 159. 14“Age.” http://www.twainquotes.com/Age.html (accessed July 16, 2008). 15Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” 174. 16Ibid, 159. 17Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Bridal Party.” 571. 18Ibid, 573. 19Ibid, 561. 20 “Great Depression.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. 21Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Bridal Party.” 563. 22Ibid, 565. 23Ibid, 566. 24“Great Depression.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. 25Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Bridal Party.” 568. 26Ibid, 576. 27 “A Fitzgerald Chronology.” http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/chronology.html 28“Fitzgerald Chronology.” http://www.zeldafitzgerald.com/chronology/chronology.asp

References and Links

“A Fitzgerald Chronology.” [http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/chronology.html (accessed July 23, 2008).] “A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.” [http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/biography.html (accessed July 23, 2008).] “Age.” [ http://www.twainquotes.com/Age.html] (accessed July 16, 2008).Blackwell, Jon. “1920: Fitzgerald’s Own ‘Paradise’.” [http://www.capitalcentury.com/1920.html] (accessed July 26, 2008).Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Bridal Party.” The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection. New York: Scribner. 1989.Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection. New York: Scribner. 1989.Derrick, Scott. “Review of John Chambers.” American Literature. Vol. 63. No.2, June, 1991, Duke University Press. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/2927185 (accessed July 25, 2008).] “F. Scott Fitzgerald Criticism.” [http://www.enotes.com/short-story-criticism/fitzgerald-f-scott] (accessed July 24, 2008).“F. Scott Fitzgerald Image.” [http://www.sheilaomalley.com/archives/fitzgerald.jpg(accessed July 26, 2008).] “Fitzgerald Chronology.” [http://www.zeldafitzgerald.com/chronology/chronology.asp] (accessed July 25, 2008).“Fitzgerald Image.” [ http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americannovel/timeline/fitzgerald.html] (accessed July 26, 2008).“Great Depression.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008.Kennedy, X.J. and Dana Gioia. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. Pearson Longman, 2007.Larson, Thomas. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Babylon Revisited: A Long Expostulation and Explanation.” [http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tdlarson/fsf/babylon/chap_1.htm] (accessed July 24, 2008).“Lost Generation.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008.

Additional References

Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. "Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald". 2nd Rev. Ed. South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. 2002.

Milford, Nancy. "Zelda: A Biography". New York: Harper and Row. 1970.

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