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Babylon Revisited

"Babylon Revisited" (1931) is a short story by novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story follows Charlie, a seemingly reformed young man who desires to build himself a respectable life and family. "Babylon Revisited" contains themes of redemption and making amends through building a family life, which highlight the disparity between those who lost and those who survived the stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression.

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Babylon Revisited

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"Babylon Revisited" (1931) is a short story by novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story follows Charlie, a seemingly reformed young man who desires to build himself a respectable life and family. "Babylon Revisited" contains themes of redemption and making amends through building a family life, which highlight the disparity between those who lost and those who survived the stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression.

"Babylon Revisited": F. Scott Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, spending part of his childhood in Buffalo, New York, before moving back to St. Paul. His father’s first business failed, so he took up work as a salesman in Buffalo before moving back to St. Paul. His mother’s inheritance income afforded them a middle-class lifestyle despite his father’s itinerant employment.

Much of Fitzgerald's work is inspired by his life experiences. His debut work, This Side of Paradise (1920) was an instant hit, and the wealth he made allowed him to court the Southern debutante Zelda Sayre. The couple became famous for their debauchery and rowdy behavior, getting kicked out of hotels and making headlines. They subsequently lived a stint in Paris among other now-famous expatriates such as Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and Gertrude Stein (1874-1946).

"Babylon Revisited" is a short story based on Fitzgerald's relationship with his sister-in-law Rosalind and her husband Newman Smith. The Smiths experienced financial difficulty during the 1920s, and Rosalind felt that Fitzgerald's excessive partying and alcoholism made him an unsuitable parent to raise his daughter, Scottie, and thus the Smiths should adopt her.

"Babylon Revisited" was written in 1930 and revolves around the impact of the 1929 stock market crash and the excesses of the 1920s era. Fitzgerald explores the drastic cultural changes of the two decades, but also utilizes the setting of the Jazz Age to explore the themes of wealth, alcoholism, and the loss of innocence.

The Jazz Age lasted from the end of World War I until the stock market crash of 1929. Originating in the United States, the period is characterized by a cultural movement that embraced jazz music, consumerism, and social change such as greater freedom for women, the rise of the "flapper" subculture, and the emergence of the "New Negro" movement.

The term "Jazz Age" was popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who used it as a title for his book The Great Gatsby (1925).

"Babylon Revisited": Characters

The story follows the protagonist, Charlie Wales, and people from his past life.

CharactersDescription

Charlie Wales

Thirty-five and handsome, Charlie seeks to amend his past life. He single-mindedly pursues the affection and custody of his daughter Honoria while his past comes back to haunt him.

Helen Wales

Charlie’s late wife and mother of Honoria. She was just as reckless as Charlie, ultimately succumbing to bad health likely linked to her excessive drinking.

Honoria Wales

The independent and keen-eyed daughter of Charlie. She is living with the Peters unless Charlie can prove himself a capable parent.

Marion Peters

The sister of Helen, Charlie’s late wife. She villainizes Charlie, believing him to be responsible for her sister’s death, and people like him in general for the stock market crash. She refuses to acknowledge the changes in Charlie’s behavior.

Lincoln Peters

A peaceful intermediary between Marion and Charlie. He’s the loving and caring husband who empathizes with both Charlie and Marion while presiding over the home and children.

Duncan Schaeffer

An old friend of Charlie from his boom days. Duncan clearly has not changed and wants to pull Charlie back to his old life.

Lorraine Quarrles

An old friend and love interest that Charlie used to find attractive. She resents Charlie for having changed and is clueless about what it means to be poor.

"Babylon Revisited": Summary

"Babylon Revisited" is divided into five parts. Below is a summary of each part.

Part 1

Charlie talks with the bartender at the Ritz in Paris. His former social center, the Ritz, is no longer what it used to be. He asks about other regulars and learns everyone has left since the stock market crashed. Charlie has not decided on a hotel to stay at, so he leaves Lincoln’s (his brother-in-law) address for an old friend, Duncan Schaeffer, to reach him. He finishes his one daily drink while refusing another. Charlie hails a cab and admires the drive across Paris, wishing he had appreciated it more during his glory days.

Charlie arrives at the Peters's residence. His daughter Honoria greets him excitedly, while Marion barely conceals her disdain for him. Her husband, Lincoln, is friendly and polite. Through small talk, Charlie reveals he is financially well-off, living in Prague. They ask how he likes being back in Paris, and he nostalgically quips that he felt like royalty. He reflects on his daughter’s character, and wonders if she’s more like her late mother or him. He waits for the Peters to bring up the subject of his potential custody of his daughter.

babylon revisited, paris street, studysmarterFig 1 - Charlie spends much of his time wandering the streets of Paris.

After dinner, Charlie wanders the streets of his old haunts. Other than catching a performance of Josephine Baker, a famous dancer, he barely lingers, passing through the mostly empty venues. He reflects on his old days of expensive drinking and partying, and wonders if only the alcohol made any of it enjoyable. His reckless behavior cost him his late wife, and now possibly his only daughter.

Part 2

Waking up refreshed with the depressing night behind him, Charlie takes Honoria out for lunch. Honoria asks why she must live in Paris without her father when she feels that she is capable of taking care of herself.

They run into Charlie's old friends, Duncan and Lorraine. She’s traveling solo because her husband cannot afford to join her. Duncan offers to join them, while Lorraine remarks that Charlie is no longer drinking like he used to. Charlie deflects their persistent offers and tells them they will catch a vaudeville show at the Empire theater. He cares more about his time with Honoria, feeling that Duncan and Lorraine are uninvited ghosts from his past.

At the vaudeville show, Honoria declines polite accommodations from her father. Her autonomy makes him feel like she’s growing up fast without him, adding a sense of urgency to his time in Paris with her. During intermission, they run into Duncan and Lorraine again, who join for a drink. Charlie mostly ignores them, fixated on Honoria. On the cab ride home, Honoria expresses her desire to live with Charlie. He drops her off and tells her he will join them later.

Part 3

Marion and Lincoln wait for Charlie to speak. They all know he’s here to regain custody of Honoria. He says his piece, insisting he has changed. He no longer drinks recklessly, admits only having one a day, and no more, as a deliberate form of discipline to prove his control. Marion is not convinced and fears he will relapse. Lincoln acts as a peacemaker.

Charlie sees this conversation as a battle to win and presses on about his reformed lifestyle. He makes good money and is laying the foundation for a home, which only lacks his daughter. Lincoln admits they have been discussing the matter. Marion remains skeptical of Charlie and blames him for the unhappiness and death of Helen. He admits that his excessive drinking lasted 18 months, from his arrival in Paris until his collapse.

babylon revisited, portrait of fitzgerald and wife zelda, studysmarterFig 2 - Fitzgerald's infamous relationship with Zelda likely inspired Charlie and Helen's relationship.

Charlie realizes the extent of her hatred for him, while Lincoln seems ready to let him have Honoria. With the economic hardships Marion has endured, plus her general dislike for her sister, Charlie realizes he provides a convenient villain for Marion. She admits she cannot help how she feels about it all. Charlie is almost overwhelmed emotionally but maintains his composure.

Lincoln does not blame Charlie for Helen’s death. Marion, still emotionally charged, leaves the room. Lincoln, speaking for himself and Marion, states they will not stand in the way of Charlie regaining custody of Honoria.

After Charlie leaves he recalls the memory of when he locked Helen outside. Both he and Helen were frequent party-goers and were often terribly drunk and reckless. He was unaware of an impending snowstorm, the results of which lead to Helen catching pneumonia and dying. That night, he dreams that Helen wants him to take care of Honoria.

Part 4

Charlie wakes up happy and hopeful. He phones Lincoln to doubly confirm his regaining custody of Honoria and briefly reminisces about Helen. He tries to find a governess for Honoria but is unsuccessful in finding one he likes.

While having lunch with Lincoln, Charlie suggests that Marion’s grudge is due to his locking Helen outside that one night. Lincoln feels it has more to do with his wealth growing during the boom years despite his reckless behavior.

Charlie returns to his hotel to find a letter from Lorraine. She resents how much he and everyone have changed, but she still thinks about him. He cringes at the story of them stealing a tricycle one night. She ends by saying she will be at the Ritz at five. He puts his mind to winning back Honoria.

Charlie arrives at the Peters’ house for dinner, bearing gifts. He admires Honoria’s concealed excitement. Marion is displeased but accepts the circumstances. As they get settled, the doorbell rings. The maid lets in Duncan and Lorraine, who are clearly drunk. Charlie remembers he left his address with the bartender.

Duncan says they are here to invite Charlie to dinner while Lorraine speaks to one of the children. Charlie declines the offer. On their way out, Lorraine reminds Charlie of a time he came to her at 4 AM and she was kind enough to give him a drink. Once gone, Charlie expresses his strong disapproval of the episode, while Marion abruptly and furiously leaves the room. Lincoln calls off dinner while he tends to Marion.

Part 5

Charlie is at the Ritz, hoping to admonish Duncan and Lorraine, but they are not there. He orders his one and only drink. His memories of the boom years feel like a nightmare, and he feels has lost everything that really matters. He used to be able to clean up his reckless behavior with his money, but now he cannot use his wealth to get Honoria back.

babylon revisited, the ritz paris, studysmarterFig 3 - The Ritz refers to the Ritz hotel in Paris famous for its high society clientele.

He calls Lincoln only to learn that Marion is feeling unwell, and they have pushed back returning Honoria to him by six months. Another server offers Charlie a drink, which he declines. He suddenly does not feel so young anymore, and wonders if the Peters can make him feel indebted indefinitely. As he gets ready to pay, he thinks about how he believes Helen would not want his life to be lived alone.

"Babylon Revisited": Themes

The main idea of "Babylon Revisited" is that reckless behavior creates pain and suffering that cannot be fixed by money or wealth. This idea is explored through three themes of parental love, homemaking, and making amends.

Parental Love and Homemaking

In spite of the life that Charlie has lived, he only wants one thing now: his daughter Honoria. When his past resurfaces, he finds it distasteful. What he yearns for is to build a home with Honoria. While he still retains his abundant financial security, he wants what he seemingly cannot have.

Family life stands in strict opposition to his past life. The Peters have a home, and the presence of children contributes to it. Charlie wants what they have, but also single-mindedly wants it for himself and will do almost anything to show that he is now ready to receive that responsibility.

Redemption and Making Amends

While in Paris, Charlie’s past never ceases to reappear through friends, places, and memories. He makes a point for himself and others to define himself in stark opposition to his past. Before, he used to drink recklessly which led to dangerous situations. Now, he obstinately has no more than one drink daily This stands as a vestigial reminder of his past life but also a distinct barrier to a potential relapse.

While Charlie is trying to make amends, people and events serve as a reminder of a potential relapse. Even though he has only one drink, it does not make sense to Marion, who sees it being one drink closer to the old behavior and life he lived. He still visits places he used to frequent. He clearly cringes at his past, but still shows a longing and nostalgia for a carefree life that’s no longer possible to live.

Income Inequality

While "Babylon Revisited" focuses on Charlie’s life, distinct details that distinguish him from others suggest a commentary on income inequality. The disparity between those impoverished by the stock market crash, and those still affluent like himself and his old friends, Duncan and Lorraine, is worlds apart. While they can still gallivant like they used to, Lorraine’s remark about her husband not being able to afford to join her travels shows an unprecedented decrease in her income. However, this lower income only affects the extravagance of her leisure activities.

The Peters family are still a semi-affluent household and draw attention to others with less. However, this just shows the disparity between the two worlds, and how disconnected the Peters family are from truly experiencing the worst of the stock market crash. On some level, Charlie feels guilty about his financial security. Whether it's the woman he buys coffee and eggs for, or buying his daughter toys to make up for the parental love he has missed out on, Charlie spends money on those he feels are less fortunate. The tension between these two worlds is represented by the guilt that Charlie feels whenever money is brought up at the Peters household.

babylon revisited, ancient Babylon ruins, studysmarterFig 4 - The ancient city of Babylon, with its rise and fall, inspired the story's title.

"Babylon Revisited": Literary Devices

"Babylon Revisited" employs two main symbols.

The Ritz

The Ritz represents Charlie's hollowed-out past life. Despite his change in lifestyle and behavior, he still returns to the Ritz, reluctant to sever his connection completely. The bartenders keep offering him drinks and ask him about his wealth or anything symbolic of his past life. There is no attention given to the person he is now or who he wants to become.

Honoria

Honoria herself represents a life that Charlie aspires to have, but maybe does not deserve, or is incapable of attaining. When he thinks of home life, it revolves around Honoria, with grief or mourning for his wife notably absent. Whether she was a capable mother is not made clear. Ultimately, he seeks redemption through the possibility of building a life for his daughter. Providing a loving home is a respectable and admirable legacy in contrast to his reckless boom years.

"Babylon Revisited" - Key takeaways

  • "Babylon Revisited" follows the story of Charlie, a wealthy man who seeks to redeem his past reckless life by providing a loving home for his daughter.
  • Charlie revisits Paris, where he used to live a very different life.
  • The short story is likely inspired by Fitzgerald's life and his time with his wife, Zelda.
  • Three themes explored are Parental Love and Homemaking, Redemption and Making Amends, and Income Inequality.
  • Two symbols are The Ritz and Honoria.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - Street in Montmartre Paris (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%C3%89lys%C3%A9e_Montmartre_2010-07-31_n1.jpg) by zoetnet (https://www.flickr.com/people/13286453@N00) licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2 - F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:F._Scott_%26_Zelda_Fitzgerald_(1923_portrait_by_Alfred_Cheney_Johnston).jpg) by Alfred Cheney Johnston licensed by CC0 1.0 Universal (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)
  3. Fig. 3 - Hotel Ritz Paris (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hotel_Ritz_Paris_1900.jpg) is licensed by CC0 1.0 Universal (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)
  4. Fig. 4 - Babylon Ruins, Ishtar Gate North (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:General_view_of_Ishtar_Gate_from_the_north.png) by Robert Koldewey is licensed by CC0 1.0 Universal (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Babylon Revisited

"Babylon Revisited" is about Charlie, a wealthy man who tries to redeem his past by seeking the affection and parental custody of his daughter.

At the end of "Babylon Revisited", Charlie does not win custody of his daughter.

The irony in "Babylon Revisited" is despite all his wealth, Charlie cannot buy what he really wants, which is a home and family.

The main theme of "Babylon Revisited" revolves around how reckless behavior causes pain and suffering that one cannot escape the consequences later.

The antagonist in "Babylon Revisited" is anyone who prevents Charlie from redeeming himself.

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Helen and Charlie are inspired by Fitzgerald's relationship with

Who is taking care of Honoria?

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