My read for the #1920Club is (drum roll)…
The Cut-Glass Bowl tracks the lives of a married couple in New York, Evylyn and Harold Piper, through various difficult or tragic events that involve a cut glass bowl they received as a wedding gift.
“The Cut-Glass Bowl” was Published in 1920 initially in Scribner Magazine and then later in 1920 as part of the collection Flappers and Philosophers. These short stories along with F. Scott Fitzgeralds first novel This Side of Paradise, also published in 1920, are the forerunners to the themes he would write about throughout this life – despair, loss, aspiration, optimism, excesses and glitter. Fitzgerald knew and observed them firsthand in a decade he daubed “the greatest, the gaudiest spree in history” – a decade which became known as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties. He was part of a group of writers known as the “Lost Generation”.
The “Lost Generation” was a term generally given to those in their twenties and thirties who had seen such horrors in WWI – the ‘Great War’ – that they had become disillusioned and turned to a more materialistic, care-free way of life. Whilst in literature, the “Lost Generation” refers to a group of American, several of whom emigrated to Europe, writers and poets (both men and women) of this period. The most famous members were Gertrude Stein – who is often credited as coining this phrase, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“The Cut-Glass Bowl” gives us Evylyn Piper, a New York housewife whose domestic tragedies and disappointments are connected by a single, insidious object. Whilst it is an everyday object the cut glass bowl is also a reflection of its owners troubles.
She and Harold had been given the bowl as a wedding present by a previous suitor of Evylyn. The bowl had not been given with joy but more as a slight on Evylyn – he had told her ‘Evylyn, I’m going to give a present that’s as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through.’ He obviously felt so rejected by Evylyn for choosing another over him, someone who she felt might better provide for her.
It is the bowl that seems to mark each tragedy that comes to Evylyn and Harold from that time on – marriage difficulties, the loss of her daughter’s hand, a disastrous dinner and a war notification.
It is an interesting and rather sad tale which certainly embodies a number of Fitzgerald’s themes. As an early piece it is, perhaps, not as polished as later writing. Mind you his breakthrough novel This Side of Paradise was also published in 1920 to acclaim so that may be a touch unfair. Short story writing is a wonderful thing when done well. Fitzgerald had many short stories published not only bringing in much needed income but surely affirming his ability as a writer of this form?
What I enjoy as much as anything is reading beyond the story itself – about Fitzgerald, about the themes behind his stories. Which made me feel that he was a man of his time and he wrote of that time and the characters he knew. I enjoyed The Cut-Glass Bowl and what it opened up to me about a specific period of history and those, like Fitzgerald, who shared their observations and thoughts on it. So, in case you feel the same, I have put a number of links below for you to check out and I do hope find interesting and enjoy.
Whilst I’m not sure if I’ve pushed the boundary, just a touch, on what is acceptable to the 1920Club challenge by choosing a short story but I have certainly enjoyed taking part.
Originally Published: May 1920 (Scribner Magazine) – included in his first book of short stories ‘Flappers and Philosophers’ published later in 1920.
Links – the book, the man and the 1920’s
BBC Books and Authors: listen to Mariella Frostrup talk to Ann-Margaret Daniel on F. Scott Fitzgerald (starts approx. 12 mins into programme). Full programme 27 mins (2017).
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St Paul, Minnesota, and went to Princeton University which he left in 1917 to join the army. Fitzgerald was said to have epitomised the Jazz Age, an age inhabited by a generation he defined as ‘grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken’.
In 1920 he married Zelda Sayre. Their destructive relationship and her subsequent mental breakdowns became a major influence on his writing. Among his publications were five novels, This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night and The Love of the Last Tycoon (his last and unfinished work): six volumes of short stories and The Crack-Up, a selection of autobiographical pieces.
Fitzgerald died suddenly in 1940. After his death The New York Times said of him that ‘He was better than he knew, for in fact and in the literary sense he invented a “generation” … he might have interpreted them and even guided them, as in their middle years they saw a different and nobler freedom threatened with destruction.’
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