The Basil and Josephine Stories (Anglais) Broché – 24 janvier 1997
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In 1928, while struggling with his novel Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald began writing a series of stories about Basil Duke Lee, a fictionalized version of his younger self. Drawing on his childhood and adolescent experiences, Fitzgerald wrote nine tales that were published in the Saturday Evening Post about his life from the time he was an eleven-year-old boy living in Buffalo, New York, until he entered Princeton University in 1913. Then from 1930 to 1931, with Tender Is the Night still unfinished, Fitzgerald wrote five more stories (also published in the Post) that centered around Josephine Perry, Basil's female counterpart. Although Fitzgerald intended to combine the fourteen Basil Lee and Josephine Perry stories into a single work, he never succeeded in doing so in his lifetime. Here, The Basil and Josephine Stories brings together in one volume the complete set, resulting in one of Fitzgerald's most charming and evocative works.
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As a kid in the 1950s the library that I spent many an hour in was divided, as they are in most libraries even today, into children's and adult's sections. At that time there was something of a Chinese Wall between the two sections in the form of a stern old librarian who made sure that kids, sneaky kids like me didn't go into that forbidden adult section until the proper time (after sixth grade as I recall). The Basil and Josephine stories were, fortunately, in the kid's section (although I have seen them in adult sections of libraries as well). And while the literary merits of the stories are adult worthy of mention for the clarity of Fitzgerald's language, the thoughtful plots (mainly, although a couple are kind of similar reflecting the mass magazine adult audience they were addressed to), and the evocative style (of that "age of innocence" just before World War I after which the world changed dramatically. No more innocent when you dream notions, not after the mustard gas and the trench warfare) for me on that long ago first reading what intrigued me was the idea of how the other half-the rich (well less than half, much less as it turns out) lived.
This was fascinating for a poor boy, a poor "projects" boy like me, who was clueless about half the stuff Basil got to do (riding trains, going to boarding school, checking out colleges, playing some football, and seriously, very seriously checking out the girls at exotic-sounding dances, definitely not our 1950s school sock hops). And I was clueless, almost totally clueless, about what haughty, serenely beautiful, guy-crazy Josephine was up to. So this little set of short stories was something like my introduction to class, the upper class, in literature.
Of course when I talk about the 1950s in the old projects, especially the later part when I used to hang around with one Billie, William James Bradley, self-proclaimed king of the be-bop night at our old elementary school (well, not exactly self-proclaimed, I helped the legend along a little) I have to give Billie's take on the matter. His first reaction was why I was reading this stuff, this stuff that was not required school reading stuff anyway. Then when I kept going on and on about the stories, and trying to get him to read them, he exploded one day and shouted out "how is reading those stories going to get you or me out of these damn projects?"
Good point now that I think about it but I would not let it go at that. I started in on a little tidbit about how one of the stories was rejected by the magazine publishers because they thought the subject of ten or eleven year olds being into "petting parties" was crazy. That got Billie attention as he wailed about how those guys obviously had never been to the projects where everyone learned (or half-learned) about sex sometimes even earlier than that, innocent as it might have been. He said he might actually read the stuff now that he saw that rich kids, anyway, were up against the same stuff we were. He never did. But the themes of teen alienation, teen angst, teen vanity, teen love are all there. And while the rich are different from you and I, and life, including young life, plays out differently for them those themes seem embedded in youth culture ever since teenage-dom because a separate social category. Read on.
The Basil stories follow a middle-class young man all through adolescence. He is ambitious, creative and prideful and these characteristics are highlighted in his efforts to woo women and join an elite school. The Josephine stories follow a rich young girl all through adolescence as she aims to find true love and a man worthy of her astonishing beauty.
Fitzgerald manages to capture the turbulent journey that is childhood: the arrogance, the idealism and issues that are trivial but seem critically important to a youngster. Basil is given more attention or more room to grow as a character whilst Josephine is hard to sympathize with. I feel that Josephine was treated unfairly by Fitzgerald and not as well developed as Basil.
Although there are glimpses of the poetic and romantic Fitzgerald we all love this book lacks the charm of The Beautiful And The Damned and The Great Gatsby but I quite enjoyed seeing a more humorous side of his writing style. I struggled with some of the slang and cultural references so it may do to have a phone or computer nearby to do a quick internet search when necessary. It also helps to read the foreword because it expertly contextualizes the book and makes the reader aware of themes they should look out for.
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