‘The melody lingers on’: dance, music, and film in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short fiction

2016-01-12T16:15:58Z (GMT) by Jade Broughton Adams
This thesis explores the role of 1920s and 1930s popular culture in the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. My original contribution to knowledge is to show how Fitzgerald’s use of dance, music, and film - at the level of both form and content - impact upon his literary aesthetics. By situating Fitzgerald’s work in the context of the short story as a genre, I consider the modernist features of his short fiction in relation to short-story cycles by James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway. I argue that Fitzgerald’s lyrical style can be deceptive, and his stories are often more experimental, even subversive, than often recognised. This thesis argues that it is in Fitzgerald’s subtle use of ambiguity and parody that these experimental aspects of his fiction often manifest themselves. Reading the short fiction with a view to elucidating this parodic mode, and thus exploring Fitzgerald’s social and cultural critique, we encounter Fitzgerald parodying both his own fictive traits and his earlier stories, which sheds new light on his frequently disdainful remarks about the value of his magazine fiction. As ambiguity and parody are key features of African American cultural practices of the period, the thesis also re-examines Fitzgerald’s engagement with primitivist modernism, offering a broader perspective on how he navigated between his roles as literary novelist and popular short-storyist. Popular cultural references in Fitzgerald’s short fiction do not simply serve as temporal markers or to provide scenic tone, but often function subversively, to destabilise our expectations of a commercial Fitzgerald story whilst sitting in tension with Fitzgerald’s lyrical prose style. Themes of disguise and identity are of paramount importance to Fitzgerald’s literary modernism, and his use of these cultural media, centred around the concept of performance and leisure, show Fitzgerald subtly subverting our expectations of his short fiction.

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