The Bridal Party by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1930
The magic trick:
Imparting a thought-provoking bit of life wisdom at the core of the story
I’ve always enjoyed Fitzgerald, but sometimes I catch myself wondering, “Why does this stuff hold up 100 years later?” The stories are so tied to their time. They all pretty much deal in the same, very limited themes. The characters are, almost uniformly, contributing absolutely nothing positive to society outside of their own, pathetically small, personal universes of money and reputation. These are P.G. Wodehouse stories without the punchline. And yet…
They do stand the test of time. They remain vital. There are probably several reasons for this, but today I’ll offer up one: Fitzgerald gets to the truth. The stories may seem superficial, the characters are mostly loathsome, but at the core of almost every F. Scott piece we get a nugget of consolidated wisdom. And that kind of artistic success should not be taken for granted.
In “The Bridal Party,” the truth nugget comes from Rutherford as he characterizes Michael and Caroline’s past relationship as being built on sorrow. Maybe I’m easy to impress, but this struck me as a real gem. Not only did this idea put the rest of the story through a new analytical lens (will Rutherford’s marriage with Caroline be based on sorrow or hope?), it took me back to thinking about my own relationships, my family’s relationships, my friends’ relationships. It put me into an analytical frame of mind, looking at my own life experiences for days after I finished reading the story. What more can you ask of a work of art?!! And that’s quite a trick on Fitzgerald’s part.
“What if you didn’t start right?” said Michael impetuously. “What if your marriage isn’t founded on mutual love?”
“I think I see what you mean,” Rutherford said, still pleasant. “And since you’ve brought it up, let me say that if you and Caroline had married, it wouldn’t have lasted three years. Do you know what your affair was founded on? On sorrow. You got sorry for each other. Sorrow’s a lot of fun for most women and for some men, but it seems to me that a marriage ought to be based on hope.” He looked at his watch and stood up.