Books

Drugs, nudity and bigotry restored to F Scott Fitzgerald's stories

Alison Flood

Censored material removed from a collection of F Scott Fitzgerald's short stories is being restored in a new edition of the author's work.

F Scott Fitzgerald's novel 'The Great Gatsby' has been retold in various film adaptions over the years.

A wealth of censored material, from sexual innuendo to anti-Semitism, which was sliced out of F Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories, is being restored in a new edition of the author’s work, which presents the stories in their unbowdlerised form for the first time in almost 80 years.

The stories in his fourth collection, Taps at Reveille, were written by Fitzgerald for publication in the Saturday Evening Post during the late 1920s and early 1930s – a time of debt and personal difficulty for the author, who would die in 1940 at the age of 44.

Close study of the final messy typescripts, complete with handwritten revisions that Fitzgerald sent to his literary agent Harold Ober, show significant differences between what the author of The Great Gatsby intended to be published and what the Post – keen not to offend its middle-class readership – actually released.

In the original story Two Wrongs, the unpleasant protagonist Bill describes someone as a “dirty little kyke”, an insult that is cut from the published edition. Another scene in the story shows Bill’s wife getting undressed and having a bath after ballet practice, with the scene changed in its published version to see her fully clothed before her bath.

In The Hotel Child, a reference to the Marquis Kinkallow “surreptitiously feeding a hashish tablet to the Pekingese” was also removed from the Post‘s version, with other cuts including removal of profanities such as “Get the hell out of here!” and slang (“broads” for “girls”), and changing the slur “Sheeny” to “Jewess”.

The new edition of Taps at Reveille, the latest volume of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of F Scott Fitzgerald, restores the author’s original prose in these and other stories, and is published this week by Cambridge University Press (CUP).

“Major” changes have also been made to the story seen by many to be Fitzgerald’s masterpiece in the genre, Babylon Revisited, said CUP. General editor James West, professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, believes the edition is important “because we want to read what Fitzgerald wrote, not what ... the Post thought he should have.

“Before these stories were bowdlerised, they contained anti-Semitic slurs, sexual innuendo, instances of drug use and drunkenness. They also contained profanity and mild blasphemy. The texts were scrubbed clean at the Post,” he said.

Two Wrongs, according to West, “now makes much more sense”, with Bill “punished more justly for his wrongdoings – his anti-Semitism and his reprehensible treatment of his wife”.

In The Hotel Child, West says that “the decadence of several of the characters is revealed more clearly because of their alcoholism, drug use, and prejudice.

“More generally, in all of the stories, the characters use the profanity, mild blasphemies and slang words that Fitzgerald wanted them to use. They speak like real people.

“One of the commonplaces of Fitzgerald criticism, for decades, has been that he avoided unpleasant topics and realistic language in his magazine fiction. We can see now that this was not altogether his choice.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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