Manuscript of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel digitized for public access
BY PATIENCE HAGGIN
The digitization was timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the day Fitzgerald became a freshman at Princeton on Sept. 24, 1913.
The novel is based on Fitzgerald’s own experiences as an undergraduate. He famously completed the first draft of the novel, then under the title “The Romantic Egoist,” in the library of Cottage Club. Fitzgerald never graduated from the University, dropping out in 1917 to join the U.S. Army during World War I.
Don Skemer, the University’s curator of manuscripts, said he thinks “This Side of Paradise” documents will primarily be of interest to Fitzgerald specialists and to Princetonians themselves. The novel has not enjoyed the same widespread popularity as the ubiquitous “The Great Gatsby,” which is often assigned to high school students and has inspired several Hollywood films.
“It’s just hard to put yourself in the place of an all-male men’s college in the nineteen-teens,” Skemer said. “It wouldn’t relate that much to other people’s experience.”
History professor and former dean of the college Nancy Malkiel assigned “This Side of Paradise” in a seminar she taught last fall on the history of coeducation. She assigned the novel, she said, to expose her students to the ethos of an all-male Princeton.
While her students did not identify with the novel as a text that spoke to their own experiences as students at Princeton, Malkiel said, it was very useful to them as a vivid picture of what Princeton was like in the era of its writing.
“As a historical document, for a particular purpose, I think they found it quite interesting. As an account of college life today, I think they wouldn’t have recognized it,” Malkiel explained.
Skemer said he hopes to digitize the original manuscripts of all of Fitzgerald’s novels. He did not encounter copyright difficulties with “This Side of Paradise” because it was published in 1920 and is in the public domain. Due to the national copyright law revision, he would need to secure the permission of Fitzgerald’s estate to digitize each of the author’s novels published after 1923.
The estate allowed him to digitize “The Great Gatsby” last year, after it took years to accept that the digitization would not reduce sales of the book, which was originally published in 1925.
Fitzgerald’s papers were given to the University by the author’s daughter, Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan, in 1950.