Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

“Head and Shoulders” by: F. Scott Fitzgerald  0

Posted on December 9th, 2005. About Books.

Previously posted on December 9, 2005 at:!1p1a54g1PSNkhyBLLbfi4i8A!142.entry

Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I became an F. Scott Fitzgerald fan after taking a marvelous course on Fitzgerald and Hemingway during my college days. Not only was I enrolled in a fascinating course, but it was taught by Matthew Bruccoli, well-recognized as the world’s leading Fitzgerald scholar. He has amassed the most sizeable and important Fitzgerald collection in the world over his 50+ years of scholarship, and on the centennial of Fitzgerald’s birth (1996 was the 100th anniversary), Bruccoli donated his collection to the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library. Throughout the course, we held first editions belonging to Fitzgerald, inscribed to him by greats such as Hemingway and Joyce. It was among the more remarkable academic experiences I can boast.
I would like to comment here on a Fitzgerald short story unfamiliar to me until this afternoon, Head and Shoulders, from The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Bruccoli. Bruccoli notes that this was Fitzgerald’s first short story to appear in the Saturday Evening Post (1920), and indeed it does seem somewhat juvenile compared to the author’s later writings. However, it is very amusing and whimsical – typical Fitzgerald, admiring a woman and yet blaming her for a man’s poor decisions that have led him into a less-than-stellar existence. In brief, Horace Tarbox is a seventeen year old boy, full of scholastic promise as he pursues his Master of Arts degree at Yale, until the beautiful and interesting vaudeville actress, Marcia Meadow, appears at his doorway. From this point, he falls for her and sacrifices his entire future in academia to marry her. They call themselves “Head and Shoulders” – she earns money dancing (shoulders) until his intellectualism begins to gain recognition and earn money (head). (Warning: spoiler alert!) She becomes pregnant and is forced to stop dancing and acting. He, therefore, must use his skills in gymnastics to earn money for his new family; later, he finds that while he has been performing each night, she has been writing a book. Her book is published, she becomes a famous author while he performs, and a newspaper article at the end of the story paints her as the head and him as the shoulders in the relationship.
It is a real killer- throughout the narrative, the contrast in the two people’s cognitive ablities is quite evident – Marcia cannot comprehend the basics of philosophy or economics (she even comments on her husband’s endless reading on the subject of “economy,” when she means “economics”), while Horace enters Princeton at 13 and debates whether he should wait until he is 17 to compose a series of essays, while he will title “The Pragmatic Bias of the New Realists.” The reader cannot help but cringe when the newspaper at the story’s conclusion refers to Marcia as the “head” in their marriage.
Dr. Bruccoli used to tell me that he believed Fitzgerald painted women in a positive way compared to his contemporaries of the time. It is true that he describes their beauty and their importance to men, but I find a pattern emerging in which the male protagonist blames a woman for his lack of success. Head and Shoulders fits perfectly within this description. In any case it is a fun and interesting read, especially after having read Fitzgerald’s darker, more complex writing from later in his life (Tender is the Night is the piece that springs to mind here).
Of note, it was Dr. Bruccoli who encouraged me to evolve into a rare book collector. My Iris Murdoch collection exists because of my experience with this remarkable English professor.
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