Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America's most gifted story writers. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a witty and fantastical satire about aging, is one of his most memorable stories.
In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins aging backward. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse.
This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature.
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About the Author
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1896. He attended Princeton University, joined the United States Army during World War I, and published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920. That same year he married Zelda Sayre and for the next decade the couple lived in New York, Paris, and on the Riviera. Fitzgerald’s novels include The Beautiful and the Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. He died at the age of forty-four while working on The Last Tycoon. Fitzgerald’s fiction has secured his reputation as one of the most important American writers of the 20th century.
Date of Birth:September 24, 1896
Date of Death:December 21, 1940
Place of Birth:St. Paul, Minnesota
Read an Excerpt
As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anesthetic air of a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a hospital. Whether this anachronism had any bearing upon the astonishing history I am about to set down will never be known.
I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge for yourself.
The Roger Buttons held an enviable position, both social and financial, in ante-bellum Baltimore. They were related to the This Family and the That Family, which, as every Southerner knew, entitled them to membership in that enormous peerage which largely populated the Confederacy. This was their first experience with the charming old custom of having babies Mr. Button was naturally nervous. He hoped it would be a boy so that he could be sent to Yale College in Connecticut, at which institution Mr. Button himself had been known for four years by the somewhat obvious nickname of "Cuff."
On the September morning consecrated to the enormous event he arose nervously at six o'clock, dressed himself, adjusted an impeccable stock, and hurried forth through the streets of Baltimore to the hospital, to determine whether the darkness of the night had borne in new life upon its bosom.
When he was approximately a hundred yards from the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen he saw Doctor Keene, the family physician, descending the front steps, rubbing his hands together with a washing movement as all doctors are required to do by the unwritten ethics of their profession.
Mr. Roger Button, the president of Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware, began to run toward Doctor Keene with much less dignity than was expected from a Southern gentleman of that picturesque period. "Doctor Keene!" he called. "Oh, Doctor Keene!"
The doctor heard him, faced around, and stood waiting, a curious expression settling on his harsh, medicinal face as Mr. Button drew near.
"What happened?" demanded Mr. Button, as he came up in a gasping rush. "What was it? How is she? A boy? Who is it? What "
"Talk sense!" said Doctor Keene sharply. He appeared somewhat irritated.
"Is the child born?" begged Mr. Button.
Doctor Keene frowned. "Why, yes, I suppose so after a fashion." Again he threw a curious glance at Mr. Button.
"Is my wife all right?"
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Here now!" cried Doctor Keene in a perfect passion of irritation, "I'll ask you to go and see for yourself. Outrageous!" He snapped the last word out in almost one syllable, then he turned away muttering: "Do you imagine a case like this will help my professional reputation? One more would ruin me ruin anybody."
"What's the matter?" demanded Mr. Button, appalled. "Triplets?"
"No, not triplets!" answered the doctor cuttingly. "What's more, you can go and see for yourself. And get another doctor. I brought you into the world, young man, and I've been physician to your family for forty years, but I'm through with you! I don't want to see you or any of your relatives ever again! Good-bye!"
Then he turned sharply, and without another word climbed into his phaeton, which was waiting at the curbstone, and drove severely away.
Mr. Button stood there upon the sidewalk, stupefied and trembling from head to foot. What horrible mishap had occurred? He had suddenly lost all desire to go into the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen it was with the greatest difficulty that, a moment later, he forced himself to mount the steps and enter the front door.
A nurse was sitting behind a desk in the opaque gloom of the hall. Swallowing his shame, Mr. Button approached her.
"Good-morning," she remarked, looking up at him pleasantly.
"Good-morning. I I am Mr. Button."
At this a look of utter terror spread itself over the girl's face. She rose to her feet and seemed about to fly from the hall, restraining herself only with the most apparent difficulty.
"I want to see my child," said Mr. Button.
The nurse gave a little scream. "Oh of course!" she cried hysterically. "Upstairs. Right upstairs. Go up!"
She pointed the direction, and Mr. Button, bathed in a cool perspiration, turned falteringly, and began to mount to the second floor. In the upper hall he addressed another nurse who approached him, basin in hand. "I'm Mr. Button," he managed to articulate. "I want to see my "
Clank! The basin clattered to the floor and rolled in the direction of the stairs. Clank! Clank! It began a methodical descent as if sharing in the general terror which this gentleman provoked.
"I want to see my child!" Mr. Button almost shrieked. He was on the verge of collapse.
Clank! The basin had reached the first floor. The nurse regained control of herself, and threw Mr. Button a look of hearty contempt.
"All right, Mr. Button," she agreed in a hushed voice. "Very well! But if you knew what state it's put us all in this morning! It's perfectly outrageous! The hospital will never have the ghost of a reputation after "
"Hurry!" he cried hoarsely. "I can't stand this!"
"Come this way, then, Mr. Button."
He dragged himself after her. At the end of a long hall they reached a room from which proceeded a variety of howls indeed, a room which, in later parlance, would have been known as the "crying-room." They entered. Ranged around the walls were half a dozen white-enameled rolling cribs, each with a tag tied at the head.
"Well," gasped Mr. Button, "which is mine?"
"There!" said the nurse.
Mr. Button's eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he saw. Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partially crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-colored beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window. He looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled question.
"Am I mad?" thundered Mr. Button, his terror resolving into rage. "Is this some ghastly hospital joke?"
"It doesn't seem like a joke to us," replied the nurse severely. "And I don't know whether you're mad or not but that is most certainly your child."
The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button's forehead. He closed his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again. There was no mistake he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten a baby of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the crib in which it was reposing.
The old man looked placidly from one to the other for a moment, and then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient voice. "Are you my father?" he demanded.
Mr. Button and the nurse started violently.
"Because if you are," went on the old man querulously, "I wish you'd get me out of this place or, at least, get them to put a comfortable rocker in here."
"Where in God's name did you come from? Who are you?" burst out Mr. Button frantically.
"I can't tell you exactly who I am," replied the querulous whine, "because I've only been born a few hours but my last name is certainly Button."
"You lie! You're an impostor!"
The old man turned wearily to the nurse. "Nice way to welcome a newborn child," he complained in a weak voice. "Tell him he's wrong, why don't you?"
"You're wrong, Mr. Button," said the nurse severely. "This is your child, and you'll have to make the best of it. We're going to ask you to take him home with you as soon as possible some time today."
"Home?" repeated Mr. Button incredulously.
"Yes, we can't have him here. We really can't, you know?"
"I'm right glad of it," whined the old man. "This is a fine place to keep a youngster of quiet tastes. With all this yelling and howling, I haven't been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked for something to eat" here his voice rose to a shrill note of protest "and they brought me a bottle of milk!"
Mr. Button sank down upon a chair near his son and concealed his face in his hands. "My heavens!" he murmured, in an ecstasy of horror. "What will people say? What must I do?"
"You'll have to take him home," insisted the nurse "immediately!"
A grotesque picture formed itself with dreadful clarity before the eyes of the tortured man a picture of himself walking through the crowded streets of the city with this appalling apparition stalking by his side. "I can't. I can't," he moaned.
People would stop to speak to him, and what was he going to say? He would have to introduce this this septuagenarian: "This is my son, born early this morning." And then the old man would gather his blanket around him and they would plod on, past the bustling stores, the slave market for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately that his son was black past the luxurious houses of the residential district, past the home for the aged....
"Come! Pull yourself together," commanded the nurse.
"See here," the old man announced suddenly, "if you think I'm going to walk home in this blanket, you're entirely mistaken."
"Babies always have blankets."
With a malicious crackle the old man held up a small white swaddling garment. "Look!" he quavered. "This is what they had ready for me."
"Babies always wear those," said the nurse primly.
"Well," said the old man, "this baby's not going to wear anything in about two minutes. This blanket itches. They might at least have given me a sheet."
"Keep it on! Keep it on!" said Mr. Button hurriedly. He turned to the nurse. "What'll I do?"
"Go downtown and buy your son some clothes."
Mr. Button's son's voice followed him down into the hall: "And a cane, father. I want to have a cane."
Mr. Button banged the outer door savagely...
Copyright © 1922 by P.F. Collier & Sons Co.
BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR
"Bernice Bobs her Hair" was Fitzgerald's fourth Saturday Evening Post story (1 May 1920) and provided the subject for the dust-jacket illustration when it was collected in Flappers and Philosophers. It occupies an important position in the Fitzgerald canon as a witty early treatment of a characteristic subject that he would later examine more seriously: the competition for social success and the determination with which his characters especially the young women engage in it. The story was based on the detailed memo Fitzgerald wrote his younger sister, Annabel, advising her how to achieve popularity with boys: "Cultivate deliberate physical grace." (See the complete letter in Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 15-18.) Fitzgerald had some difficulty bringing "Bernice" to salable form; he cut some three thousand words and rewrote to "inject a snappy climax."
After dark on Saturday night one could stand on the first tee of the golf-course and see the country-club windows as a yellow expanse over a very black and wavy ocean. The waves of this ocean, so to speak, were the heads of many curious caddies, a few of the more ingenious chauffeurs, the golf professional's deaf sister and there were usually several stray, diffident waves who might have rolled inside had they so desired. This was the gallery.
The balcony was inside. It consisted of the circle of wicker chairs that lined the wall of the combination clubroom and ballroom. At these Saturday-night dances it was largely feminine; a great babel of middle-aged ladies with sharp eyes and icy hearts behind lorgnettes and large bosoms. The main function of the balcony was critical. It occasionally showed grudging admiration, but never approval, for it is well known among ladies over thirty-five that when the younger set dance in the summer-time it is with the very worst intentions in the world, and if they are not bombarded with stony eyes stray couples will dance weird barbaric interludes in the corners, and the more popular, more dangerous, girls will sometimes be kissed in the parked limousines of unsuspecting dowagers.
But, after all, this critical circle is not close enough to the stage to see the actors' faces and catch the subtler byplay. It can only frown and lean, ask questions and make satisfactory deductions from its set of postulates, such as the one which states that every young man with a large income leads the life of a hunted partridge. It never really appreciates the drama of the shifting, semicruel world of adolescence. No; boxes, orchestra-circle, principals, and chorus are represented by the medley of faces and voices that sway to the plaintive African rhythm of Dyer's dance orchestra.
From sixteen-year-old Otis Ormonde, who has two more years at Hill School, to G. Reece Stoddard, over whose bureau at home hangs a Harvard law diploma; from little Madeleine Hogue, whose hair still feels strange and uncomfortable on top of her head, to Bessie MacRae, who has been the life of the party a little too long more than ten years the medley is not only the center of the stage but contains the only people capable of getting an unobstructed view of it.
With a flourish and a bang the music stops. The couples exchange artificial, effortless smiles, facetiously repeat "la-de-da-da dum-dum," and then the clatter of young feminine voices soars over the burst of clapping.
A few disappointed stags caught in midfloor as they had been about to cut in subsided listlessly back to the walls, because this was not like the riotous Christmas dances these summer hops were considered just pleasantly warm and exciting, where even the younger marrieds rose and performed ancient waltzes and terrifying fox trots to the tolerant amusement of their younger brothers and sisters.
Warren McIntyre, who casually attended Yale, being one of the unfortunate stags, felt in his dinner-coat pocket for a cigarette and strolled out onto the wide, semidark veranda, where couples were scattered at tables, filling the lantern-hung night with vague words and hazy laughter. He nodded here and there at the less absorbed and as he passed each couple some half-forgotten fragment of a story played in his mind, for it was not a large city and every one was Who's Who to every one else's past. There, for example, were Jim Strain and Ethel Demorest, who had been privately engaged for three years. Every one knew that as soon as Jim managed to hold a job for more than two months she would marry him. Yet how bored they both looked, and how wearily Ethel regarded Jim sometimes, as if she wondered why she had trained the vines of her affection on such a wind-shaken poplar.
Copyright © 1989 by Charles Scribner's Sons
THE OFFSHORE PIRATE
"The Offshore Pirate" (29 May 1920) was Fitzgerald's third Saturday Evening Post appearance during that month and demonstrates his rapid development as a versatile fiction writer. It is the first story that develops Fitzgerald's recurring plot idea of a heroine won by her lover's performance of an extraordinary deed.
The story had originally ended with the weak explanation that it was all Ardita's dream. Fitzgerald rewrote the conclusion to emphasize the storyness of the story: "The last line takes Mr. Lorimer [the editor of the Post] at his word. Its one of the best lines I've ever written." "The Offshore Pirate" was collected in Flappers and Philosophers.
This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colorful as blue-silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children's eyes. From the western half of the sky the sun was shying little golden disks at the sea if you gazed intently enough you could see them skip from wave tip to wave tip until they joined a broad collar of golden coin that was collecting half a mile out and would eventually be a dazzling sunset. About half-way between the Florida shore and the golden collar a white steam-yacht, very young and graceful, was riding at anchor and under a blue-and-white awning aft a yellow-haired girl reclined in a wicker settee reading The Revolt of the Angels, by Anatole France.
She was about nineteen, slender and supple, with a spoiled alluring mouth and quick gray eyes full of a radiant curiosity. Her feet, stockingless, and adorned rather than clad in blue-satin slippers which swung nonchalantly from her toes, were perched on the arm of a settee adjoining the one she occupied. And as she read she intermittently regaled herself by a faint application to her tongue of a half-lemon that she held in her hand. The other half, sucked dry, lay on the deck at her feet and rocked very gently to and fro at the almost imperceptible motion of the tide.
The second half-lemon was well-nigh pulpless and the golden collar had grown astonishing in width, when suddenly the drowsy silence which enveloped the yacht was broken by the sound of heavy footsteps and an elderly man topped with orderly gray hair and clad in a white-flannel suit appeared at the head of the companionway. There he paused for a moment until his eyes became accustomed to the sun, and then seeing the girl under the awning he uttered a long even grunt of disapproval.
If he had intended thereby to obtain a rise of any sort he was doomed to disappointment. The girl calmly turned over two pages, turned back one, raised the lemon mechanically to tasting distance, and then very faintly but quite unmistakably yawned.
"Ardita!" said the gray-haired man sternly.
Ardita uttered a small sound indicating nothing.
"Ardita!" he repeated. "Ardita!"
Ardita raised the lemon languidly, allowing three words to slip out before it reached her tongue.
"Oh, shut up."
"Will you listen to me or will I have to get a servant to hold you while I talk to you?"
The lemon descended slowly and scornfully.
"Put it in writing."
"Will you have the decency to close that abominable book and discard that damn lemon for two minutes?"
"Oh, can't you lemme alone for a second?"
"Ardita, I have just received a telephone message from the shore "
"Telephone?" She showed for the first time a faint interest.
"Yes, it was "
"Do you mean to say," she interrupted wonderingly, "'at they let you run a wire out here?"
"Yes, and just now "
"Won't other boats bump into it?"
"No. It's run along the bottom. Five min "
"Well, I'll be darned! Gosh! Science is golden or something isn't it?"
"Will you let me say what I started to?"
"Well, it seems well, I am up here " He paused and swallowed several times distractedly. "Oh, yes. Young woman, Colonel Moreland has called up again to ask me to be sure to bring you in to dinner.
Copyright © 1989 by Charles Scribner's Sons
"May Day," Fitzgerald's first great novelette published during his first year as a professional writer appeared in July 1920. Fitzgerald presumably sold it directly to Smart Set editors H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan without offering it to the Post, or any other magazine, because the material was too strong or realistic for the slicks. "May Day" was the most successful work inspired by Fitzgerald's temporary interest in the school of naturalistic or deterministic fiction. Although it was read by the people Fitzgerald wanted to reach, The Smart Set paid him only $200 for this masterpiece.
"May Day" drew upon Fitzgerald's feelings of failure during the spring of 1919 when he was working for a New York advertising agency. He provided this comment when the story was collected in Tales of the Jazz Age (1922):
This somewhat unpleasant tale...relates a series of events which took place in the spring of the previous year. Each of the three events made a great impression upon me. In life they were unrelated, except by the general hysteria of that spring, which inaugurated the Age of Jazz, but in my story I have tried, unsuccessfully I fear, to weave them into a pattern a pattern which would give the effect of those months in New York as they appeared to at least one member of what was then the younger generation.
There had been a war fought and won and the great city of the conquering people was crossed with triumphal arches and vivid with thrown flowers of white, red, and rose. All through the long spring days the returning soldiers marched up the chief highway behind the strump of drums and the joyous, resonant wind of the brasses, while merchants and clerks left their bickerings and figurings and, crowding to the windows, turned their white-bunched faces gravely upon the passing battalions.
Never had there been such splendor in the great city, for the victorious war had brought plenty in its train, and the merchants had flocked thither from the South and West with their households to taste of all the luscious feasts and witness the lavish entertainments prepared and to buy for their women furs against the next winter and bags of golden mesh and varicolored slippers of silk and silver and rose satin and cloth of gold.
So gaily and noisily were the peace and prosperity impending hymned by the scribes and poets of the conquering people that more and more spenders had gathered from the provinces to drink the wine of excitement, and faster and faster did the merchants dispose of their trinkets and slippers until they sent up a mighty cry for more trinkets and more slippers in order that they might give in barter what was demanded of them. Some even of them flung up their hands helplessly, shouting:
"Alas! I have no more slippers! and alas! I have no more trinkets! May Heaven help me, for I know not what I shall do!"
But no one listened to their great outcry, for the throngs were far too busy day by day, the foot-soldiers trod jauntily the highway and all exulted because the young men returning were pure and brave, sound of tooth and pink of cheek, and the young women of the land were virgins and comely both of face and of figure.
So during all this time there were many adventures that happened in the great city, and, of these, several or perhaps one are here set down.
At nine o'clock on the morning of the first of May, 1919, a young man spoke to the room clerk at the Biltmore Hotel, asking if Mr. Philip Dean were registered there, and if so, could he be connected with Mr. Dean's rooms. The inquirer was dressed in a well-cut, shabby suit. He was small, slender, and darkly handsome; his eyes were framed above with unusually long eyelashes and below with the blue semicircle of ill health, this latter effect heightened by an unnatural glow which colored his face like a low, incessant fever.
Mr. Dean was staying there. The young man was directed to a telephone at the side.
After a second his connection was made; a sleepy voice hello'd from somewhere above.
"Mr. Dean?" this very eagerly "it's Gordon, Phil. It's Gordon Sterrett. I'm down-stairs. I heard you were in New York and I had a hunch you'd be here."
Copyright © 1989 by Charles Scribner's Sons
"My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence. An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward." So proclaimed the young Scott Fitzgerald in the first flush of success at the appearance of This Side of Paradise in 1920. How magnificently if, sad to say, posthumously he fulfilled that ideal. His all too brief literary career a dozen years of commercial and critical success followed by distractions and disappointments ended in 1940 when he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of forty-four. He was hard at work on the Hollywood novel he hoped would restore his literary fortunes, The Last Tycoon. At the time of his death his books were not, as was later supposed, out of print with his publisher. The truth is sadder: they were all in stock at our warehouse and listed in the catalogue, but there were no orders.
Now, a half century later, more copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books are ordered each year than were sold cumulatively throughout his entire lifetime. His novels and short stories are taught in virtually every high school and college across the country. This new, comprehensive collection of Fitzgerald's best short fiction is being published some seventy years a biblical lifespan after the author's first novel was accepted by my great-grandfather in 1919. I am struck by the realization that three generations (and namesakes) later I was the first of our family to have been introduced to Fitzgerald's work in the classroom. My grandfather, Fitzgerald's friend and publisher for the latter half of his career, died on the eve of the author's reappraisal and subsequent revival that gained momentum through the Fifties and has continued in full force down to the present time. It was my father who was to preside over Fitzgerald's literary apotheosis, a publishing phenomenon perhaps unprecedented in modern American letters. Through him I had the good fortune to meet and work with the author's talented and generous daughter, Scottie, and her collaborator and advisor, Matthew J. Bruccoli, whose prolific scholarship and infectious enthusiasm have long fanned the flames of Fitzgerald studies.
The day I met Professor Bruccoli fifteen years ago I asked what had prompted him to devote the lion's share of his scholarship to Fitzgerald. He told me exactly how it happened. One Sunday afternoon in 1949 Bruccoli, then a high school student, was driving with his family along the Merritt Parkway from Connecticut to New York City when he heard a dramatization of "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" on the car radio. He later went to a library to find the story; the librarian had never heard of Scott Fitzgerald. But finally he managed to locate a copy "and I never stopped reading Fitzgerald."
There is something magical about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Much has been written and dramatized about the Jazz Age personas and syncopated lives of Scott and Zelda. But the real magic lies embedded in his prose and it is perhaps nowhere more pervasive than in the amazing range and versatility of his short stories: the best sparkle with greater luster than ever in this new collection that displays them afresh in their proper literary and biographical settings. Each tale partakes of its creator's poetic imagination, his dramatic vision, his painstaking (if virtuosic and seemingly effortless) craftsmanship. Each bears Fitzgerald's distinctive hallmark, the indelible stamp of grace.
Fitzgerald once claimed to his agent Harold Ober that "good stories write themselves bad ones have to be written." Yet a decade later he confessed that "there is no use of me trying to rush things." Even during his most prolific stages, he noted, "I could not turn out more than 8-9 top-price stories a year." The secret of success was not to be found in original themes. In his own view there were but "two basic stories of all times Cinderella and Jack the Giant Killer the charm of women and the courage of men." Nor should we look to the "booze and inspiration" school of thought, as he dubbed it: "You do not," he argued, "produce a short story for the Saturday Evening Post on a bottle." (Fitzgerald did, however, admit to writing his first novel with the aid of a liquid "stimulant" Coca-Cola!) Some clues to his creative craftsmanship may be gleaned from his instructive if sometimes professorial letters to his daughter: "Stories are best written in either one jump or three, according to length. The three-jump story should be done on three successive days, then a day or so for revise and off she goes. This of course is the ideal...." Still, he cautioned her, "nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter as indissolubly as if they were conceived together."
In the last year of his life Fitzgerald pondered in a poignant letter to his wife, Zelda, then hospitalized in an asylum, the loss of his former success in the genre: "It's odd that my old talent for the short story vanished. It was partly that times changed, editors changed, but part of it was tied up somehow with you and me the happy ending. Of course every third story had some other ending, but essentially I got my public with stories of young love. I must have had a powerful imagination to project it so far and so often into the past." The key to Fitzgerald's enduring and elusive enchantment lies, I believe, in the power of his romantic imagination to transfigure his characters and settings and indeed the very shape and sound of his prose. I shall never forget that evening train ride from Princeton to Philadelphia on which I first read "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz": a commute was converted into a fantastic voyage. And I can still see Anson Hunter, "The Rich Boy," whose self-conscious superiority will forever, in my eyes, embellish the gilded lobby of New York's Plaza Hotel. Fitzgerald's stories transform their external geography as thoroughly as the realm within. The ultimate effect, once the initial reverberations of imagery and language have subsided, transcends the bounds of fiction.
Charles Scribner III
Copyright © 1989 by Charles Scribner's Sons
Table of Contents
HEAD AND SHOULDERS
BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR
THE ICE PALACE
THE OFFSHORE PIRATE
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ
DICE, BRASSKNUCKLES & GUITAR
RAGS MARTIN-JONES AND THE PR-NCE OF W-LES
"THE SENSIBLE THING"
LOVE IN THE NIGHT
THE RICH BOY
A SHORT TRIP HOME
THE CAPTURED SHADOW
BASIL AND CLEOPATRA
THE LAST OF THE BELLES
AT YOUR AGE
THE BRIDAL PARTY
ONE TRIP ABROAD
THE HOTEL CHILD
A NEW LEAF
SIX OF ONE
WHAT A HANDSOME PAIR!
MORE THAN JUST A HOUSE
AFTERNOON OF AN AUTHOR
THE LOST DECADE
"BOIL SOME WATER LOTS OF IT"
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This reading group guide contains an introduction, questions for discussion , and suggestions to further enhance your book club.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is best known for classic jazz age novels such as The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, but the acclaimed writer’s impressive canon also boasts some 160 published short stories. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” first appeared in Collier’s in 1922 and was one of several fantasy stories for which Fitzgerald garnered widespread praise in his lifetime. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”is the heartbreaking and often humorous tale of a man who ages in reverse through the course of his long and highly unconventional life.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. How does Fitzgerald use tone and style to create a world that is fantastical and dreamlike, yet realistic?
2. How does Fitzgerald employ humor in the story? In what ways is the idea of someone aging in reverse inherently humorous?
3. By the time Benjamin takes over his father’s company, his relationship with his father is dramatically different. Fitzgerald writes, “And if old Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what amounted to adulation.” Benjamin’s reverse aging is responsible for many of the highs and lows of his relationships with his father and his son. Do you think these relationships in some ways parallel those of all fathers and sons?
4. How does this story, though written almost a century ago, reflect our society’s current attitude toward age and aging?
5. What is ironic about Benjamin marrying a “younger” woman? What does the story reveal about our perceptions of age and beauty?
6. The happier Benjamin becomes in his career, the more strained his marriage grows. Fitzgerald writes, “And here we come to an unpleasant subject which it will be well to pass over as quickly as possible. There was only one thing that worried Benjamin Button: his wife had ceased to attract him.” Why does he fall out of love with Hildegarde?
7. How does Fitzgerald use Benjamin’s condition to ridicule social norms?
8. How does Benjamin’s reverse aging ironically mirror the modern midlife crisis?
9. When Benjamin returns from the war, Hildegarde, annoyed with his increasingly youthful appearance, says, “You’re simply stubborn. You think you don’t want to be like any one else. . . . But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things as you do—what would the world be like?” Later Fitzgerald writes of Roscoe, “It seemed to him that his father, in refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a ‘red-blooded he-man’ . . . but in a curious and perverse manner.” What is significant about their attitudes? How is it ironic that Hildegarde and Roscoe seem to believe that Benjamin should control his aging?
10. Why do you think that fantasy and stories that manipulate time are so popular in our culture at the moment? What are some of the films, TV shows, and books that reflect these trends? Are you a fan of fantasy and stories that play with time, or do you prefer more traditional forms of storytelling?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Read other books about characters who age in reverse, such as The Confessions of Max Tivoli
by Andrew Sean Greer, The Body by Hanif Kureishi, and the Fitzgerald-inspired story collection The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W by Gabriel Brownstein.
2. Host a movie night. Check out the new David Fincher film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett or pick up The Great Gatsby, starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford.
3. Learn more about Fitzgerald at http://www. fitzgeraldsociety.org.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After watching the movie, I was completely enthralled by the storyline. I decided to read the books just a few days after. I have to admit, the plot was completely original and I would've never have thought of it, but I couldn't see how they fit such a small book into such a long movie. I realized how much of their own imput was added and I was a bit dissapointing. It was a little dissapointing because the style of writing wasn't personal with the characters, but this story is such a wonderful fairy-tale like story. The story is a little vague to me, but overall, it's one of few stories that I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Here's a man who was born with a mark against him and managed to grow up when everything and everyone seems to be against him. He managed to get married, raise a child and have a complete life, quality of his life is another issue. When one thought everything seemed to be going well for him, he started to revert to nothingness.
I enjoyed the book. I haven't seen the film yet. I am quite surprised that the reaction of the mother, to the baby, was ignored. I would have been interested in what the author thought the reaction of a mother, in this circumstance, would have been. Otherwise, the story was intriguing and interesting, and proved that in God's sovereign wisdom, things proceed, naturally, as they should.
Good story, wish it was longer.
Used an Audiobook with this one, maybe it had something to do with the reader's voice but I wasn't drawn in to the story; I was merely waiting for it to end. Haven't read much else of Fitzgerald, so want to to find out if it's his style I don't like or just that book.
I didn't find this story at all interesting. I had high hopes that the story which seemed so silly at the outset would draw me in. It certainly intrigued Hollywood enough to not only make a movie about it, but to also have the film garner tons of critical acclaim... that means it MUST be good, right?Unfortunately this story fell flat from the beginning. I started reading with the idea that I was reading a fantasy/fable, so disbelief must be suspended. Within the first two pages, disbelief came crashing back to earth. Not only was the story implausible, but the general feeling of anger from those surrounding the title character made the story very unpleasant. Instead of the sweet fairy tale I thought I might get, I was just left with a bitter taste in my mouth.
This is a review of the short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."I recently saw the movie version of this story, and so I bought the Fitzgerald version and sat down to read it. Normally, it is almost unheard of for a movie to be better than the book (in my opinion), but for this one, I have to disagree.I suppose that being a short story, Fitzgerald couldn't possibly have filled in all of the details that I was eager to read. I can't help wishing that he would have decided to write this one as a full novel instead. The idea of the story is just so intriguing, I would have love to have spent more time in the story.The plot line is the following: By a stroke of mind boggling chance, Mr. and Mrs. Button manage to parent a newborn... old man. Though bewildered, they do their best to give their son the best life they know how. But as Benjamin grows up, he becomes younger, not older. This complicates his entire life, including aspirations to attend college, his marriage, how he relates to his children and grandchildren, and much more. I love the idea here, of a man aging backwards, and yet there was a lot about the story that I did not like.First of all, a lot of it didn't make very much sense. For example, Mrs. Button has a baby and it is a normal sized old man. At least in the movie they tried to make this plausible - the newborn was the ordinary size for a baby, only its face and skin was that of an old man. But here, the baby isn't a baby at all. He literally IS an old man. Now this is of course, impossible. No woman could give birth to a human being the same size as herself!Also, minutes after being born, Benjamin can speak. I suppose that this was done to further the notion that he is an old man and in no way a baby or a child. However, this is, again, impossible. I think that I like the movie's version better - he learns to speak gradually, like any other child in the world.Another thing that is not necessarily a flaw but that annoyed me was the character of Benjamin's wife, Hildegarde Moncrief. I have to admit that I was expecting a love story here, but actually Benjamin neither loves nor is ever loved by any woman in his life, besides his mother. Hildegarde is introduced to the story so that Benjamin can marry her, and after that never really appears again except to be mentioned two or three times. It is said that Benjamin finds her annoying, and later that she has gone to Italy. After this, she vanishes altogether from the story. She must have died at some time in Benjamin's lifetime, since she was technically so much older than him, but that is never mentioned either.I hate to keep saying this (it seems a bit wrong to say about any book - especially one written by Fitzgerald!), but again, I like how the movie portrayed this part much better.The love story that the screenwriters added in was lovely, one that conquered time, age, and death. But, don't expect any of that here.I am not saying that this short story was horrid... I liked the occasional bit of dry humor, and I was laughing at the jibes Fitzgerald kept poking at Yale!Perhaps if I had read the short story before I saw the movie, I would have liked it more, but I couldn't stop myself from looking for something deeper here, and I didn't find it. Not surprising, considering that this is only a short story, but nevertheless. It didn't impress me.
A unique story, particularly for F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was greatly impressed by the film which I think did a better job of capturing the profound sadness of Benjamin Button, especially at the end of the story. The book gets at it too, but the film had more of an effect on me in that you simply get to see more of Benjamin Button's life and thus had more of a connection. Plus the love story in the film is much more profound.
An intriguing and depressing story. I enjoyed the social commentary involved in the story. It's too bad it's not a novel. I would have loved more detail. Most intriguing to me was the disdain Benjamin's son had for him as he became younger.
An interesting concept, delighfully written, although a bit far-fetched. Having grown up in baltimore, where one grabbed the "society" page of the Sun Papers every Sunday, I can well understand Mr. Buttons horror at being presented with an 80+ year old "newborn". His first thought of "what will people say" is so true.I wish Benjamin had had the ability to see exactly what was happening to him. That would have made an excellent psychological study. Still in all, it was an enjoyable read.
A very fast read (what else from a short story?) that captures the essence of the differences between old and young. You truly feel for Benjamin Button and his "Curious Case". I haven't seen the movie based on this short story. I found the book at my local bookstore, and bought it to support the business. I suggest borrowing or locating a collection of Fitzgerald's short stories.
One just has to appreciate the ghastly commercialization inherent in slapping an admittedly nice cover on a fifty page short story and selling it for more than a mass market paperback, when, for a few dollars more, you can get a broad smattering of Fitzgerald's stories in one volume. Just think how many more copies of this edition they could have sold had they plastered Mr. Pitt's beauteous facade across the front, perhaps even in a Warholesque four squares showing him at different ages (it worked for 'Brokeback Mountain' movie tie-in editions). I cannot help but compare the story to the movie since the theatrical adaptation is what compelled me to seek this out. Fitzgerald's idea is fantastic, and yet I don't feel he did it justice with the story. There was quite a bit more that I feel he could have explicated, more he could have mined for satiric effect. I seem to be the exception regarding the movie, which I thought was an inspired interpretation of a very brief text that brought a level of humanity to Benjamin Button through his relationships, even though the movie utterly lost the social commentary that marks Fitzgerald's work and makes it more dynamic a text.
It has finally happened! There is finally a movie which wins hands down in being better than the book! More of a bedtime story than an actual book, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a straight-forward, matter-of-fact tale about a man growing down. Too brief to have any sort of characterization or much detail, the story lacked the passion, purpose and tragic tinge that the movie so perfectly encompassed. The only time I was even mildly invested in this short tale was at the very end, when Benjamin's life began to fade from him. I have to say I'm glad I didn't read this book first--I probably would have never gone to see the movie--which is almost entirely different save for the title. This book had an excellent idea, but lacked any appropriate follow-through. I didn't hate it, but I'm not impressed.
A short story of a person who lives their life in reverse. I have not seen the movie. Of course the language is elegant, but after the first few pages, it becomes too predictable and not funny enough to hold my attention. The ending was sad, though. Imagine shrinking into nothingness...
Great short story with slight science-fiction undertones.
Very well written and interesting. You really felt for the characters.
I thought this was a great idea but that it was not carried out to the fullest (which might be due to it being a short story). However, I do think the irony of it was astoundingly clear. *spoiler alert* I think the aging process is studied from such an unusual angle (from old age to young), but in such a similar way to the standard way of life. It draws the similarities of the beginning and end of life as we see it usually, with dependence at birth, independence in the middle stages, and then dependence again at the end, and by flipping it upside down, it has the exact same effect. Pretty astounding, though by no means mind-blowing, but quite original in showing the parallels between the vastly different ways of aging and how they turn out to be the same. It's such an easy concept, but definitely adds a little depth to the rather simple idea. Anyway, worth the short read.
Great story frm a great writer
I expected more of a storyline, even though it was a short story. I think having watched the movie first made me expect more from the book.
This nook is so good once you get it yoi will read over and over again