- Historic Sites
Rewards For Service
November 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 7
The writer who came most to embody New York City in the 1920s was a Midwesterner who spent a good deal of the decade in France. But F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and career pivoted on the giddy summer of 1920, when his first novel , This Side of Paradise, made the twenty-three-year-old writer the country’s most famous Manhattanite. “For just a moment, ” he wrote long afterward, “before it was demonstrated that I was unable to play the role, I, who knew less of New York than any reporter of six months standing and less of its society than any hall-room boy in a Ritz stag line, was pushed into the position not only of spokesman for the time but of the typical product of that same moment. ” Whether or not he was equipped to be the avatar of the city, his essays and stories capture it perfectly, and some of what he saw will appear throughout this section, starting here with a glimpse of the town at the beginning of the party: There had been a war fought and won and the great city of the conquering people was crossed with triumphal arches and vivid with thrown flowers of white, red, and rose. All through the long spring days the returning soldiers marched up the chief highway behind the strump of drums and the joyous, resonant wind of the brasses, while merchants and clerks left their bickerings and figurings and, crowding to the windows, turned their white-bunched faces gravely upon the passing battalions.
Never had there been such splendor in the great city, for the victorious war had brought plenty in its train.…
Fifth Avenue and Fortyfourth Street swarmed with the noon crowd. The wealthy, happy sun glittered in transient gold through the thick windows of the smart shops, lighting upon mesh bags and purses and strings of pearls in gray velvet cases; upon gaudy feather fans of many colors; upon the laces and silks of expensive dresses; upon the bad paintings and the fine period furniture in the elaborate show rooms of interior decorators.
Working-girls, in pairs and groups and swarms, loitered by these windows, choosing their future boudoirs from some resplendent display which included even a man’s silk pajamas laid domestically across the bed.…
All through the crowd were men in uniform, sailors from the great fleet anchored in the Hudson, soldiers with divisional insignia from Massachusetts to California wanting fearfully to be noticed, and finding the great city thoroughly fed up with soldiers unless they were nicely massed into pretty formations and uncomfortable under the weight of a pack and rifle.