Abstract

This article applies the theories of wealth and income inequality popularized in French economist Thomas Piketty's recent Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) to the Basil and Josephine stories that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote between 1928 and 1931. As a student of the relationship between inherited and acquired wealth and the social concerns generated from the tension between them, Fitzgerald is as ideal a writer for contemporary commentators to explore the evolving notion of capital in modern society as European novelists such as Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac upon whom Piketty focuses. In particular, the quintet of Saturday Evening Post tales about Chicago debutante Josephine Perry that Fitzgerald published in 1930–31 capture a new kind of public scrutiny in which pressures from the outside world are exerted on the family. Individual stories in the series such as “A Snobbish Story” document how civic institutions like the opera and the theater demand support and provide respectability, opening up new forms of class mobility that threaten the upper-class presumption of a lineage of taste, style, and beliefs founded in tradition. Josephine's expectations have been hitherto founded on the logic of social order: her family represents the community, and in a fairly exalted way. Post-1914 concepts about social association threaten that logic, however, and Josephine exhibits the jitteriness of a world absorbing new forms of identity that are epitomized by her romantic antagonist John Boynton Bailey. Capturing the erosion of cultural patronage and the insurgence of new ideas of moral relativism, Fitzgerald brought the nineteenth-century novel of money up to date.

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