John Cheerer’s “The Swimmer” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited.”

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Last updated: March 6, 2019

It is natural that in returning to a place where one has once lived, one should revisit familiar haunts, and Charlie spends the first scene of the story in a bar. From this we learn that Charlie has had a problem with alcohol (we suspect he still does), and that this is a situation all too common in his social circle. It is through Charlie, and his description of his world, that we come to understand the sad dissipation of his life.

The opening paragraphs establish that he has been away for a while, and much has changed. He describes what his old haunts are like now, alluding to the fact that the bar used to be busier; that many of his friends have gone away, or gone to the dogs, or gotten sick; that no one has the kind of disposable income that they used to; that he used to drink excessively, but has disciplined himself to one drink a day. We see that Charlie is sincerely trying to re-invent himself, and we think he deserves a chance.In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” the protagonist Charlie Wales has come to Paris to try to get custody of his daughter Honoria from his late wife’s sister Marion, to whom the child was entrusted after Charlie fell apart several years before. In order to get Honoria back, he needs to present a facade of being much more “whole” than he really is; but he is fully aware of the split between the fantasy he has created and the reality he lives.Where as John Cheerer’s “The Swimmer” story takes place in the affluent suburbs of Westchester County, New York, and focuses on Neddy Merrill, who despite being middle-aged, wants to retain his youth and believes that he is a vibrant individual.

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He marvels at his trail-blazing idea of “swimming the county”. At the beginning of the story, Neddy is at a cocktail party at the Westerhazys’ and realizes that by following an imaginary chain of private and public pools in his affluent community he can literally swim home. Next we have a succession of similar scenes, as Neddy enters the backyard of his neighbors, sometimes bursting into a party, sometimes engaging in conversation, and most of the time having a drink – but always swimming the length of their pool. Soon it becomes clear to the reader that something has gone awry.At first Neddy is well-received in the backyards and pools, but after finding a dried pool and waiting for a storm to pass in a gazebo, he starts to feel tired and disillusioned with his idea. Although he is still determined to go on, he can hardly remember the excitement he first had at the Westerhazys’. Neddy is terribly upset to find out that the Welchers’ pool was dry, in fact their house was up for sale.

He recognizes that his memory must be failing him or he is repressing unpleasant facts for not remembering what had happened to the Welchers. At the Biswangers’ he is received as a gate-crasher and even their barman treats him with disrespect. He overhears Mrs. Biswanger saying that someone, possibly Neddy himself, showed up one day asking for money since he went bankrupt. Further on, Neddy’s former mistress Shirley Adams, whom he cannot even clearly remember having an affair with, tells him that she won’t “give him another cent”.

Several signs indicate that time is passing more rapidly than Neddy realizes. He slowly observes that each pool is significantly colder and much more difficult to swim. He notices that some of the tree leaves are already yellow. Being midsummer, he tells himself, “they must be blighted”. At one point he smells wood smoke in the wind, wondering who could be building a fire at that time of the year. At the Sachses’, Neddy asks for a drink, but Helen Sachs tells him they don’t have any alcohol in the house since her husband Eric had undergone a massive heart surgery three years before – something that Neddy has no memory of. By the end of the story, Neddy is unable to recognize the constellations of the midsummer sky, implying a change of season. The story’s conclusion Neddy reaches his own house.

As he looks inside the locked and deserted home, he wonders where his family has gone.This study delves into “Babylon Revisited,” its biographical origins, its wealth of textual matters, its critical scholarship, and Fitzgerald’s screenplay version of the story. “Babylon Revisited” is uniquely suited for extensive study as far as Fitzgerald’s (or anybody else’s) short stories go because of the wide variety of approaches one may take to the story.The plot recalls the 1920s, the Jazz Age as Fitzgerald had christened it, and the Depression that followed, eras, which Fitzgerald’s own life paralleled. The story has extensive biographical origins, which are not only revealed in documents of Fitzgerald’s life before the composition and revision of the story, but also after, prompted by a continuance of the circumstances that originally suggested the story for Fitzgerald and his later work on the screenplay version. The textual matters of “Babylon Revisited” indicate Fitzgerald’s craftsmanship as an author, but also betray how external circumstances sometimes affected that craftsmanship. These textual concerns have caused, it seems at times, an inordinate amount of textual criticism of the story, with much of it occasioned by those external circumstances.

Overall criticism of “Babylon Revisited” has often been responsive to and argumentative with studies that have come before, and that tradition continues here. And Fitzgerald’s unique circumstance of being hired to write a screenplay of his own short story opened up an entire new area in the study of “Babylon Revisited.”In this study of “Babylon Revisited,” then, I first present a comprehensive essay of the biographical origins. I next examine all textual concerns by presenting a full study of the textual connections between the story and Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is the Night, an involved study of the revisions Fitzgerald made in the story for its inclusion in Taps at Reveille, a look at the typescript, an evaluation of the text found in the latest volume of Fitzgerald’s stories, and a study of textual problems. All of the above mentioned areas greatly expand and supersede all previous studies.

Extensive annotated bibliographies are presented here as well: the bibliography found in Chapter 1 notes the biographical origins; the bibliography in Chapter 2 concerns textual matters; Chapter 3 is a bibliography of critical studies; and the bibliography in Chapter 4, which also presents an overview of Fitzgerald’s screenplay, centers on Hollywood and “Babylon Revisited.” The appendix contains listings and a discussion of variations and errata found in the published texts of “Babylon Revisited” in Fitzgerald collections.;

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