Johns Hopkins Magazine - November 1996 Issue

Humanities and the Arts:
In Short

F Scott Fitzgerald's Southern sympathies... whatever happened to the Turnbull Lectures?... lessons in assimilation... a weighty matter

Whistlin' Dixie with F. Scott Fitzgerald

Few if any listings of American Southern writers include F. Scott Fitzgerald. The author was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He wrote novels and stories that bring to mind the privileged denizens of Long Island and Princeton, not the tortured souls of Yoknapatawpha County or Tobacco Road. But to Hopkins's John Irwin, Fitzgerald's fiction attests to a Southern sensibility, all the same.

"I would suggest that Fitzgerald, consciously or not, is a Southern writer," says Irwin, Decker professor of humanities and former chairman of the Writing Seminars. "Not only because in the struggle between money and breeding in his fiction his deepest loyalty is to the latter, but because he believed that in this century breeding was going to lose this struggle. So that his loyalty, in true Southern fashion, was to a lost cause and to the past."

Irwin presented his viewpoint at the recent F. Scott Fitzgerald Centennial Conference in Princeton, with a paper titled "Is Fitzgerald a Southern Writer: By Any Stretch of the Imagination?"

Says Irwin, "Fitzgerald understood that the struggle between money and breeding, between the arrogance of wealth and the reticence of good instincts, would become the deepest, most serious theme of the American novel of manners. And by as much as he saw that struggle as a subtext of the Civil War's encounter between the economic forces of industry and trade on the one hand, and agriculture on the other, he tended in much of his fiction to code that struggle as an encounter between Northern money and Southern breeding."

This conflict was a feature of Fitzgerald's upbringing, Irwin points out. The author's mother was a willful first-generation Irish American whose money came from the grocery business; his father was an ineffectual Southern gentleman from Maryland whose relatives included Francis Scott Key and several active supporters of the Confederacy. The Southern father had the pedigree and the good manners but was a failure at business; the eccentric, occasionally tactless Northern mother, one generation off the boat, kept the family afloat financially and ruled the roost.

According to Irwin's readings of This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and a number of Fitzgerald's short stories, the author's sympathies were for the South, good breeding, and lost causes. In This Side of Paradise, his first book, Fitzgerald has his protagonist, Amory Blaine, announce in conversation his affinity for lost causes, including Bonnie Prince Charlie, Hannibal, and the Confederacy. Another Fitzgerald stand-in, Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night, says his father "had been sure of what he was," raised "to believe that nothing could be superior to 'good instincts,' honor, courtesy, and courage"--the virtues of the Old South. Jay Gatsby compromises those same virtues in his pursuit of wealth, and ends up destroyed.

Irwin also points out the number of Southern characters in Fitzgerald's fiction who feel they must go to the victorious North for schooling or to seek their fortunes. A prime example is the story "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," in which John T. Unger of Hades, Mississippi, attends "St. Midas' School near Boston" because that's where the sons of the Northern "money-kings" go to class.

The men of the Confederacy couldn't beat 'em, so now they had to join 'em.

Forgotten lecture series resurrected

In these times of tight budgets, universities don't often turn up forgotten piles of money. But Hopkins recently did just that, thanks to a chance conversation involving French department chairman Stephen Nichols.

Last fall Nichols attended a conference on academic libraries at Columbia University. While he was there, he chatted with a professor from the Sorbonne and Columbia University named Antoine Compagnon. Compagnon was researching a 19th-century French intellectual, Ferdinand Brunetiere, who was the foremost French intellectual of his day. According to Compagnon's research, Brunetiere had delivered five lectures at Hopkins in 1897. Then-president Daniel Coit Gilman had invited the intellectual to deliver something called the Turnbull Lectures. What, Compagnon asked, were the Turnbull Lectures?

Nichols had no idea. He returned to Hopkins and contacted the university archivists, who turned up correspondence and other evidence. It turned out that in 1893, a Baltimore publisher named Lawrence Turnbull had endowed a lecture series at Hopkins in the memory of his deceased son, Percy. Turnbull stipulated that the money be spent to bring in well-known European intellectuals to speak on poetry and literature. During the next eight decades, among those who came to Hopkins under the fund's auspices were T.S. Eliot and Jacques Derrida.

The last Turnbull Lecture took place in 1982, and for some reason no one has used the money since. The Turnbull family had donated funds for the lectures each year until Mrs. Turnbull died in 1928, whereupon the university received a final endowment of $25,000. When Steven Knapp, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, looked into the matter, he discovered that enough investment income had accrued over the years to push the current fund up to $160,000.

Nichols says department chairs from Arts & Sciences will get together soon to talk about renewing the series.

Senegalese in Italy

Anthropologist Donald Carter arrived in the Italian town of Turin in 1990 to do research and found himself in the middle of "pandemonium." The recently passed Martelli Bill had opened the door to immigration, and migrant workers were streaming into the region from Northern Africa.

"Italian administrators had a great deal of difficulty processing all these people," says Carter, visiting assistant professor of anthropology. "People were sleeping in train stations and parks."

Carter spent the next 18 months following a group of 300 Muslim Senegalese immigrants as they worked to settle into Turin. He found that despite obvious differences in culture and religion, the Senegalese managed to make the transition to their new home without a backlash from town dwellers. How did they manage this, at a time when much of the rest of Italy was beset by anti-immigrant sentiment?

In a book due out next fall, titled States of Grace: Senegalese in Italy and the New European Immigration, Carter notes that the Senegalese mobilized quickly to draw attention to the problems they faced--problems such as lack of access to fair housing, healthcare, and jobs. Within months of their arrival, they organized meetings and protests, and managed to gain the support of the country's three major trade unions.

"It's very unusual in the Italian political landscape for immigrants to have this kind of political savvy," says Carter.

The Senegalese also became active in the local quarter organization, throwing a summer town festival that showcased the food and music of their culture. "They were concerned that they not be seen as a threat," he says.

A Catholic priest in one local parish offered the church's basement as a place for the Muslim immigrants to worship, because they had been worshipping in their homes. The Senegalese then joined with members of the parish in promoting an anti-drug campaign.

Says Carter, "The Senegalese were one of the only immigrant groups that were present and vocal on such issues"--issues, he notes, that have to do with the well-being of the entire community.

A neglected literary heritage

Think of American literature and you naturally think of literature written in English. But the American literary heritage is multilingual, and there exists a significant body of work that was published in the United States but was written in Amerindian, Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Welsh, Yiddish, and other languages.

Johns Hopkins University Press and the Longfellow Institute at Harvard University recently announced plans to publish a series of books that will recover some of this neglected heritage. To be called the Longfellow Institute Series in American Languages and Literatures, the program will issue new editions of works written mostly by immigrants who composed in their native languages after coming to the United States. The series will also include some works originally written in Native American languages. Says Willis Regier, the Press's director, "This is American literature and should reach as wide an audience as possible."

The first scheduled volume is a novel, The Mysteries of New Orleans, by Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein. One of the first urban novels published in the United States, it offended some of New Orleans's leading families, who believed their secrets were being splashed across the pages of Louisiana Staats-Zeitung, a German-language newspaper that serialized the novel from 1854 to 1855.

The institute's second planned volume is The Longfellow Anthology of American Literatures, which will collect stories, poetry, memoirs, prayers, and folktales originally published in more than two dozen languages.

La powerlifteuse

When Sara Robertson, a graduate student in French literature, works out in the weight room of Hopkins's Athletic Center, she's grown used to having male athletes stop and stare. "They'll say, 'Wow! You're strong for a girl.' Then they'll look more closely and say, 'You're strong, period!'"

Indeed. At 5 feet, 4 inches tall and 165 pounds, Robertson this summer earned the national powerlifting title in the annual competition sponsored by the United States Powerlifting Federation. To beat out the female competitors in her weight category, she benchpressed 275 pounds, deadlifted 445 pounds, and squatted a staggering 451 pounds. The performance wasn't her personal best. In 1991 she won the world benchpress competition in Germany. One year later she captured the world powerlifting title in Belgium.

A lifelong sports enthusiast, Robertson started lifting weights as a 13-year-old with her four older brothers. She says, "My father used to shake his head and say, 'Sara, when you were born I thought you were going to be our sweet little girl in pink. Now you're stronger than all your brothers.'"

Before coming to Hopkins in 1995, Robertson spent six years studying in France, and training under top European powerlifting coach Mark Vouillot. He supplied her with a 25-week program that she continues to use to prepare for big meets. At age 30, she says she'd like to compete in at least a few more world competitions if she can find the money ("They're self-financed, and I haven't been able to afford the travel expenses"), and she's hoping the event will be added to the Olympic repertoire in 2000.

"I had a boyfriend once who said, 'After we get married, you'll stop lifting, right?' The relationship ended shortly after that." She laughs. "I guess I'll keep competing until I don't like it anymore."

Written by Sue De Pasquale and Dale Keiger

Send EMail to Johns Hopkins Magazine

Return to table of contents.