195–200: All the Sad Young Men; The Pat Hobby Stories; The Great Gatsby; Forgotten Fitzgerald; Tristan and Isuelt; and Mrs Miniver

I think it’s probably pretty indisputable that Fitzgerald was a very talented writer – observant, stylish, and funny – but my lasting impression after this binge was that he wasn’t a very positive-minded one. As a general rule, things go wrong for his characters (the odd exceptions are hugely refreshing, though).

All the Sad Young Men is a collection of short stories published shortly after The Great Gatsby; “Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr–nce of W–les” is probably my favourite. The Pat Hobby Stories collects the very short stories featuring Pat Hobby, a superannuated screenwriter constantly trying to make ends meet (“it is exceedingly difficult to borrow money when one needs it”). The Great Gatsby needs no introduction. Forgotten Fitzgerald is a more recently compiled collection of stories which are often somewhat overlooked, complete with helpful introductory notes to each one (“She was not beautiful but it took her only about ten seconds to persuade people that she was”). In many ways I think this was my favourite (“I’ll give you my personal word of honour—” “There’s no time for humour”), though Gatsby is obviously a masterpiece and it’s easy to knock off a single Pat Hobby tale in no time flat.

The story of Tristan and Isuelt is famous; it forms the subject, for example of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, but also features as an episode in many more general accounts of the Knights of the Round Table. It’s a tragic romance, in which the Princess Isuelt marries King Mark of Cornwall, all the while in love with Tristan, one of his knights, and this rendition of it is both accessible and moving. (In some ways it’s reminiscent of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, I suppose.)

Number 200, Mrs Miniver is a fabulous collection of what I think I might start calling mini stories – generally no longer than four or five pages, perhaps pushing as high as ten, in contradistinction to what I usually think of as a short story, which is perhaps more high teens or twenties and up. Other examples would be the above-mentioned Pat Hobby Stories (q.v.), or (the majority of) the pieces in How Sleep the Brave. In fact, How Sleep the Brave is a particularly apt comparison; the Mrs Miniver stories and the Flying Officer X stories were published in newspapers at the time before being collected, and while How Sleep the Brave is about the life and characters of an active RAF base during the Second World War, Mrs Miniver is about everyday family life in London in the late 1930s, seen (albeit in the third person) through the eyes of Mrs Miniver herself. The stories trace the development of the political scene, growing tense and powerful as tensions increase and war approaches. They were first collected in 1939, shortly after the start of the war; no new stories were published, although some fictional letters were written and are included in collections. At some point I think I would like to read this collection followed immediately by How Sleep the Brave; I think there might be some interesting effects.

These stories are really excellently done, and beautifully observed – often moving, but never mawkish. (Also the Miniver’s maids – Norah, Jessie, Gladys, Ellen – are both “fatally marriageable” and “incurably trochaic”, which is the sort of remark that amuses an easily-amused mind like mine.)

For those not bothering to keep track at home (or, I suppose, read the titles of the posts), this marks book number 200. My mother is currently reading it and has given it her heartfelt seal of approval – if that doesn’t sway you, I don’t know what will.

I think Struther herself says it best of all, at the end of “Three Stockings”: “Eternity framed in domesticity. Never mind. One had to frame it in something, to see it at all.”

All the Sad Young Men
Author F Scott Fitzgerald
Published 1926
Pages 188
Best character John Chestnut (“Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr–nce of W–les”)

The Pat Hobby Stories
Author F Scott Fitzgerald
Published 1962
Pages 106
Best character Jack Berners.

The Great Gatsby
Author F Scott Fitzgerald
Published 1925
Pages 178
Best character Nick Carraway, the narrator. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honour.”

Forgotten Fitzgerald
Author F Scott Fitzgerald
Published 2014
Pages 347
Best character Bess Gunther (“More Than Just a House”). “I’m going to be the Cinderella, Mr Lowrie. They’ll be the two wicked sisters, and gradually you’ll find I’m the most attractive and get all hot and bothered about me.” Honourable mention to Henry Marston (“The Swimmers”).

Tristan and Isuelt
Author Rosemary Sutcliff
Published 1971
Pages 131
Best character Kaherdin.

Mrs Miniver
Author Jan Struther
Published 1939
Pages 153
Best character This is a hard one. Mrs Miniver’s son Vin, for claiming “Home Sweet Home” should be pronounced “Hume Sweet Hume”, like the surname? The observant daughter Judy – “when people are frightfully fond of children you never know whether they really like you or not, do you?”? Husband Clem, who enjoys reading the novels in the library of the girls’ school where he is stationed at one point (“His favourite chapter-heading, so far, is ‘Monica Turns Out a Decent Sort’”)? How about Professor Badgecumbe (also known as “Badger”), the lovely old bio-chemist? Let’s go with him.
Best line “There are no tangible gas masks to defend us in war-time against its slow, yellow, drifting corruption of the mind.”


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