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The Disenchanted (Allison & Busby Classics) Kindle Edition
|Length: 350 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Top Customer Reviews
(Hemingway- Letter to Arthur Mizener 2.1.1951)
"First Schulberg writes... something that really balls up everything about Scott and Zelda. I never saw Scott in that stage of his life. But the way Zelda is handled makes the whole thing rather pointless. "
(Hemingway-Letter to Malcolm Cowley April 1951)
As most readers will know this novel is a heavily fictionalised version of Scott Fitzgerald's last days when working in Hollywood. By then he was struggling with the worst stage of alcoholism and a very sick man. I have always found it hard to credit that anyone could survive the excesses of the 1920's with body and soul still attached and their creative talent still extant, and I have similar doubts about the appalling circumstances that Schulberg so vividly describes. The 'Old Business' flashback chapters, interspersed within the main narrative, are particularly interesting, as are the comments on the differing social attitudes in the 30's compared with the preceding decade. Perhaps the novel is a little too long, leaving the reader playing catch-up with events, but the intensity of the style is gripping enough. There is a lot available to read about the between war years and the contribution made by Fitzgerald Hemingway and many other writers to our appreciation of those times. "The Disenchanted" is on the melodramatic side.
With the 1920's writers once more in vogue I can recommend Arthur Mizener's 1949 biography of Scott Fitzgerald "The Far Side of Paradise". Much has been written since then and in his preface to the 1957 edition Mizener admits to having failed in his portrait of Zelda. But he does capture a feeling for that now very distant age that was, of course, more fresh at the time.
Budd Schulberg achieved fame for writing On the Waterfront. As a young man, he idolised F. Scott Fitzgerald. Imagine how he felt when, as a young writer in Hollywood in the 1930s, he was partnered with his hero to work on film scripts.
But there were problems. Some were generational (30s blue collar radicalism vs 20s hedonism). Some, the most profound, were personal: Schulberg learned the hard way that meeting your hero - especially when he's become a gonzo alcoholic and 'spiritually OD' - isn't always best. He found that he was entranced even as he was repelled. That ambivalence forms the core of this novel, and breathes life into its pages.
A record of disenchantment, it does not despise wonder, and it is fair. 'Strange', the main character muses, 'how the decade that had made a virtue of irresponsibility produced more responsible artists than any American decade before or since.' It gives Fitzgerald's stand-in his due, saving him all the best lines: ('Readers want a sharp edge but they don't want to hear the grinding of an axe.')
You read it not just for what it says about fame, integrity and survival - though it is instructive on all three counts - but because it as moving and as true as any biography.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
When Budd Schulberg was at Dartmouth College, he was assigned to accompany the fabled Fitzgerald while the great man made a stab at writing a screenplay for Hollywood. As Fitzgerald afficionados well know, this humiliating attempt at regaining his literary glory was a disaster for Fitzerald, and, as we see in this fictionalized account, quite an eye-opener for the impressionable young Schulberg.
What struck me most about the book was the purity of the writing, and the intensity with which the author expresses the two stories within: one about the young man's hero worship that turns to pity; the other about the disintegration of a genius. I have never again read such a moving account of the tragic relationship between Zelda and F. Scott, or the impact their relationship had on themselves and others.
Because of "The Disenchanted," which I first read as a preteen, I turned to F. Scott Fitzgerald and read everything he had ever written. I believe that my understanding of his works and his life were and are rooted in Budd Schulberg's moving and brilliant book, and if I could have thanked him in person, I would have done so, a thousand times over.
"Even though he was quite sure of what was ahead, a vestigial, irremovable romanticism hurried him on. His mind's eye, incurably bifocal, could never stop searching for the fairy-tale maiden who made his young manhood such a time of bewitchment, when springtime was the only season and the days revolved on a lovers' spectrum of sunlight, twilight, candlelight and dawn." (p. 127 in my copy)
Somehow, in Schulberg's short, disastrous time he spent with Fitzgerald, he came to feel a profound sympathy for the artist that time (for a time) had forgotten, so much so that he is able to cast a light on the young couple (as he transmits in the delirious flashbacks) that it's difficult to believe he was only six in 1920. None of the other reviews here comment on the effect this had on Schulberg as a man and a writer. Before he met Fitzgerald, he was a left-wing, socialist ideologue who regarded Fitzgerald and his whole generation as "decadent." He began to rethink later, to the point of "naming names" to the House Unamerican Activities Committee and to writing the award-winning screenplay for "On the Waterfront."
What has this to do with his encounter with Fitzgerald? Near the end of the book is this passage: "Was it possible - and here heresy really struck deep - for an irresponsible individualist, hopelessly confused, to write a moving, maybe even profound, revelation of social breakdown?" The answer is, of course: "Yes." Until he met Fitzgerald, this would have been, well, "heresy."
I have a few quibbles with the book, such as the slurred idiom he lends to the drunken Fitzgerald. It kept reminding me of the older brother, Jamie, in O'Neil's play "Long Day's Journey Into Night." But these qualms are minor compared with overall impression of the irresponsible, besotted, dying Fitzgerald unwilling to let time have its way with him, for
"Lovers are their own season and their own time."
Basing a novel around an unlikable character is difficult, and I don't think "The Disenchanted" wholly succeeds. I don't regret reading it and would rate it as a slightly above average novel, but it wouldn't be the first book I read by this author, and I probably won't go back to it as I have some of his other books.
The popularity and fame of a great work is only partly the author's doing. Skill is required, but not sufficient on its own. Forgetting part of success is luck creates the paralyzing expectations of early success. This seems common. Most of us fail to age well.
It is hard not to draw the same conclusion as Shep, the young screen writer assigned to work with Manley on a new screenplay. Great artists are flawed. Inspiring art is part luck. The power politics are unavoidable; being your own man is rare. We hate to admit it, but most of us are whores. Victor Milgrim, the movie producer, represents the bosses whose approval we seek. They aren't great, they are powerful.
The moral of Disenchanted is how ugly surrendering is. Except for a lover and friend, no one really cares. When you are no good to them, they will ignore you. Disenchanted is also a warning of external motivation; seeking fame rather than self actualization.