The Basil And Josephine Stories / F. Scott Fitzgerald

In 1928, while he experienced trouble finishing Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald began to write a series of short stories that focused on his youth, each featuring the same boy from age eleven to eighteen. In these nine stories, the reader follows the progress of Basil Duke Lee as he moves through adolescence, from his school days in Minneapolis, to going East to an exclusive prep school, and finally culminating in the first two years spent at an Ivy League college. Along the way, he tastes the bittersweet triumphs and painful defeats of love, and navigates the typical minefields that strew the adolescent years, as he strives to make a name for himself in the greater world.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald followed with five stories about Basil’s female counterpart, Josephine Perry. At sixteen, she is caught in the social whirl of parties where she attracts the interest of both boys her age and young men. Rebellious and self-centered, she manipulates every situation to get whatever new shiny object (or person) has caught her eye. But as she nears eighteen, having at last met the man of her dreams, Josephine is taught a great lesson: beauty alone cannot compete against a woman who has the depth of character that she sorely lacks.

While a good many of these stories were published separately in various magazines, they were not gathered together in a book collection until the 1950s. The quality of the stories varies throughout, but in each, Fitzgerald vividly captures the roiling turmoil of emotions and passionate dreams that define adolescence. Reflecting the social norms of the time period in which the stories were written, Basil has more opportunities to succeed and be forgiven for his missteps. Josephine is confined to the narrow expectation that her purpose in life is to attract a rich husband and finally produce children of her own, all the while making sure not to be “too forward.”

While the world Fitzgerald was writing about in these stories was long gone by the time of my own adolescence in the 1960s, the experiences of Basil and Josephine rang true and sparked similar memories from my youth. For anyone who has read and enjoyed Fitzgerald’s work, these stories will serve as an interesting prequel to the novels that brought him fame.

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