Whether you’ve read this short story before or you’re here for a revisit, this lesson can help you understand the real story behind ‘Babylon Revisited.’ Get a synopsis and analysis of characters in this Fitzgerald favorite.
Synopsis of ”Babylon Revisited”
At some point, we’ve probably all done something we’re not proud of and wish we could change. Although we can’t alter the past, we can sometimes make amends for our mistakes. But as Charlie Wales, the protagonist of F.
Scott Fitzgerald’s short story ”Babylon Revisited,” discovers, atonement is often more difficult than we think.Charlie, an American businessman working in Prague, has returned to Paris on a mission to close his heart. He’s come to reclaim his young daughter, Honoria, who for the past three years has been living with Charlie’s in-laws, Marion and Lincoln Peters, and their own two children. Charlie is reformed in his alcoholic and extravagant ways, but Marion – the sister of Charlie’s deceased wife, Helen – still distrusts Charlie and regards him coldly. Lincoln, on the other hand, is warm and welcoming to him, as is Honoria.The day after a tense family dinner, Charlie takes Honoria to lunch, and things seem to be going swimmingly between the two as they quickly reconnect. However, things begin to get a bit complicated when Duncan and Lorraine, a couple of Charlie’s friends from his sordid past, bump into them at the café.
Especially now that he’s with his daughter, Charlie tries to evade the two, who he knows haven’t changed since the old days, but he and Honoria run into them again later that evening at a vaudeville show.After an uncomfortable drink with ”old friends,” Charlie takes Honoria home, and the two discuss the happy prospect of her living with him. However, Marion is certainly not pleased by it and angrily dredges up Charlie’s past mistakes, often abusive, which she connects to her sister’s death.
By maintaining his composure during her barrage though, Charlie’s able to win out in the argument against Marion, who retires for the evening.The next morning, Lincoln gives Charlie good news – Marion has consented to let him take Honoria. But Charlie’s happiness is clouded by memories of Helen and a letter that’s come from Lorraine. Nevertheless, he can’t help but feel hopeful when he goes to finalize arrangements for Honoria’s departure.While at the Peters’ residence, however, Charlie receives unexpected guests: a drunken Lorraine and Duncan.
Their impromptu arrival sends Marion into an uproar, and she steams off, with things looking less than hopeful for Honoria’s chance to live with her father. The following morning, Lincoln informs Charlie that Marion’s decided to delay Honoria’s departure by six months. We’ll never know for sure what happens beyond that, but we can take a glimpse at the real-life struggle and characters behind this short story, which might provide some added insight to the tale.
Televised depictions of true stories might sometimes come with the disclaimer that, while the events themselves are real, peoples’ names have changed. We could say the same for ”Babylon Revisited,” a short story that reflects real events in its author’s life in which only the names have changed.Charlie Wales, the reformed rabble-rouser, is representative of F. Scott Fitzgerald himself.
Renowned for his alcoholism and extravagant lifestyle, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda partied and caroused their way through the economic boom of the early 1920’s just as Charlie and Helen did. However, when the Great Depression hit in ’29, like Charlie, Fitzgerald also found himself in poverty and having to find some way of providing for a sick wife and young daughter. Unlike Fitzgerald, though, Charlie seems to have recovered from his bad decisions and the loss of his wife.
Charlie represents that part of Fitzgerald that regretted his indiscretions and would’ve changed had he ever truly won his battle with alcoholism.Honoria represents the author’s daughter, Frances Scott ‘Scottie’ Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald wrote ”Babylon Revisited” in 1930, his daughter was nine years old, the same age as Honoria.
What’s more, Fitzgerald even later wrote in a letter to Scottie that she had ”made money” for him when he had sold the short story that’s ultimately about their relationship.Marion and Lincoln Peters symbolize Fitzgerald’s own in-laws, Zelda’s sister Rosalind and her husband, Newman Smith. Rosalind in particular never approved of Fitzgerald and his lifestyle, which she contemptuously held as the cause behind her sister’s deteriorating mental condition that sent her to a Swiss sanatorium. Scottie had stayed with a French governess during Zelda’s hospitalization, but Rosalind tried desperately to have the custody of Fitzgerald’s child given over to Newman and herself.Lorraine and Duncan are the ghosts of Charlie’s past that have come back to haunt him as he tries to make a new life for himself and his daughter. They represent the influences that kept him from enjoying his family before as well as what prevents him from moving forward in the present.
Although Charlie’s obviously made the effort to change himself, Lorraine and Duncan haven’t; but when they burst in unannounced, Marion associates their faults with Charlie’s past behavior.
F. Scott Fitzgerald led a tumultuous life. Unable to overcome his own battle with alcohol, many of the intimate relationships of his life suffered. Throughout his life-long struggle, though, Fitzgerald had moments of clarity during which he showed remorse for his actions, and ”Babylon Revisited” is one of those moments.
Charlie Wales is the recovering alcoholic that Fitzgerald wanted to be, a man who could at least reform enough to really connect with his daughter. Sadly, this didn’t seem to be in the cards for Fitzgerald, just as Charlie’s old demons (specifically Lorraine and Duncan) pop back up to cause trouble. Nevertheless, despite the inevitable separation, Charlie says he’ll send Honoria ”a lot of things,” which Fitzgerald also did for Scottie in the form of letters. Ultimately, ”Babylon Revisited” is a way for Fitzgerald to revisit his own mistakes, as well as to try to make up for them in some small way.
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1930, ”Babylon Revisited” is a short story whose characters and circumstances closely reflect those in the author’s own life.
The reformed alcoholic, Charlie Wales, represents who Fitzgerald wanted to be, while other characters represent close relatives. For instance, Honoria is Charlie’s nine-year-old daughter who represents Fitzgerald’s daughter. Also, Mary and Lincoln Peters, Charlie’s in-laws, represent Zelda Fitzgerald’s sister and husband. Others, though, like Lorraine and Duncan, whose arrival at the Peters’ foils Charlie’s plans to take Honoria home, represent the old ghosts of both the author and his protagonist.