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Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fitzgerald)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1922
Simon & Schuster
64 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781416556053


Summary
In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins aging backward. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life—he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse.

This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature. (From the publisher.)

In 2008 Benjamin Button was adapted into a film starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt.



Author Bio 
Birth—September 24, 1896
Where—St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Death—December 21, 1940
Where—Hollywood, California
Education—Princeton University


F. Scott Fitzgerald was named for his famous relative, Francis Scott Key, though he was always referred to as "Scott." Minnesota born and Princeton educated, Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920 to critical and popular acclaim.

That same year, He married Zelda Sayre, the queen of Montgomery, Alabama youth society, and the two lived a boisterous, decadent life in New York City. (See LitCourse 5 with Fitzgerald's story "Babylon Revisited" for an idea of their life.) To better afford their extravagant lifestyle, the couple moved to France, where Fitzgerald befriended Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, becoming part of the legendary group of expatriate writers and artists, which Stein labeled the "Lost Generation." In Paris he wrote his finest novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).

Zelda was eventually hospitalized in 1930 for the first of many breakdowns, and Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood (William Faulkner was there, too), where his heavy drinking ended his screen writing career. In 1934 he published Tender Is the Night. He died there of a heart attack six years later at the age of 44.

More
The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. The Great Gatsby, Scott's masterpiece, was published in 1925. Hemingway greatly admired The Great Gatsby and wrote in his A Moveable Feast "If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one" (153). Hemingway expressed his deep admiration for Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald's flawed, doomed character, when he prefaced his chapters concerning Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast with:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. (129)

Much of what Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast helped to create the myth of Fitzgerald's eventual demise and Zelda's hand in that demise. Though much of Hemingway's text is factually correct, it is always tinged with his disappointment with Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scott rented an estate in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and began work on Tender Is the Night, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries one of his patients. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his material (their life together). When Zelda published her own version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and succeeded in getting her doctors to keep her from writing any more.

Tender was finally published in 1934, and critics who had waited nine years for the follow up to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about it. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but the book's reputation has since risen significantly.

Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, posthumously published as The Last Tycoon (based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg). Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the east coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a well-known gossip columnist, in Hollywood.

Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis. Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940, and on December 21, while awaiting a visit from his doctor, Fitzgerald collapsed in Sheilah Graham's apartment and died. He was 44. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
(Older works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence. An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.

So proclaimed the young Scott Fitzgerald in the first flush of success at the appearance of This Side of Paradise in 1920. How magnificently — if, sad to say, posthumously — he fulfilled that ideal....

There is something magical about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Much has been written — and dramatized — about the Jazz Age personas and syncopated lives of Scott and Zelda. But the real magic lies embedded in his prose and it is perhaps nowhere more pervasive than in the amazing range and versatility of his short stories.... Each tale partakes of its creator's poetic imagination, his dramatic vision, his painstaking (if virtuosic and seemingly effortless) craftsmanship. Each bears Fitzgerald's distinctive hallmark, the indelible stamp of grace.... Fitzgerald's stories transform their external geography as thoroughly as the realm within. The ultimate effect, once the initial reverberations of imagery and language have subsided, transcends the bounds of fiction.
Charles Scribner III - (Grandson of Fitzgerald's first editor.)



Discussion Questions 
F. Scott Fitzgerald is best known for classic jazz age novels such as The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, but the acclaimed writer's impressive canon also boasts some 160 published short stories. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" first appeared in Collier's in 1922 and was one of several fantasy stories for which Fitzgerald garnered widespread praise in his lifetime. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"is the heartbreaking and often humorous tale of a man who ages in reverse through the course of his long and highly unconventional life.

1. How does Fitzgerald use tone and style to create a world that is fantastical and dreamlike, yet realistic?

2. How does Fitzgerald employ humor in the story? In what ways is the idea of someone aging in reverse inherently humorous?

3. By the time Benjamin takes over his father's company, his relationship with his father is dramatically different. Fitzgerald writes, "And if old Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what amounted to adulation." Benjamin's reverse aging is responsible for many of the highs and lows of his relationships with his father and his son. Do you think these relationships in some ways parallel those of all fathers and sons?

4. How does this story, though written almost a century ago, reflect our society's current attitude toward age and aging?

5. What is ironic about Benjamin marrying a "younger" woman? What does the story reveal about our perceptions of age and beauty?

6. The happier Benjamin becomes in his career, the more strained his marriage grows. Fitzgerald writes, "And here we come to an unpleasant subject which it will be well to pass over as quickly as possible. There was only one thing that worried Benjamin Button: his wife had ceased to attract him." Why does he fall out of love with Hildegarde?

7. How does Fitzgerald use Benjamin's condition to ridicule social norms?

8. How does Benjamin's reverse aging ironically mirror the modern midlife crisis?

9. When Benjamin returns from the war, Hildegarde, annoyed with his increasingly youthful appearance, says, "You're simply stubborn. You think you don't want to be like any one else....But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things as you do—what would the world be like?" Later Fitzgerald writes of Roscoe, "It seemed to him that his father, in refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a 'red-blooded he-man'...but in a curious and perverse manner." What is significant about their attitudes? How is it ironic that Hildegarde and Roscoe seem to believe that Benjamin should control his aging?

10. Why do you think that fantasy and stories that manipulate time are so popular in our culture at the moment? What are some of the films, TV shows, and books that reflect these trends? Are you a fan of fantasy and stories that play with time, or do you prefer more traditional forms of storytelling?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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