Fitzgerald and the Jews

One feature of Jewish paranoia is to ‘see’ anti-Semitism everywhere, under every rock, behind every corner. It’s how and why a Jewish hate group like the ADL construes their polling data to show that 25% of the world’s inhabitants are anti-Semitic.

Greatly over-inflating the ‘threat’ of anti-Semitism, and completely mischaracterizing the very phenomenon itself, serves to shut down gentile voices that in any way, shape, or form, articulate criticism of Jewish clannishness and double standards, or that speak on behalf of indigenous Europeans.

Exhibit #2,891,284 is “Fitzgerald and the Jews” by Arthur Krystal. As you wade through the cognitive dissonance in this piece, remind yourself that The New Yorker gives precious real estate to non-stories like this. Krystal writes:

No surprise, then, that Jews don’t appear often in Fitzgerald’s early work. Sure, there’s the “small flat-nosed” Meyer Wolfsheim in “The Great Gatsby,” with his “tiny eyes” and “two fine growths of hair” inhabiting his nostrils, as well as “a fat Jewess, inlaid with diamonds” in “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” But I have to wonder if such obvious stereotyping constituted true animus.

That hesitation doesn’t last long:

The caricatures of Jews propagated by the Dreyfus Affair around the turn of the century and by the German press in the nineteen-thirties were driven by pure hatred; Fitzgerald was simply reiterating a familiar physiognomic code. He was provincial but not malicious, and made similar attributions about various nationalities, including the Irish. “Jews lose clarity,” he jotted in his “Notebooks.” “They get to look like old melted candles, as if their bodies were preparing to waddle. Irish get slovenly and dirty. Anglo-Saxons get frayed and worn.” Still, we have to admit that his portrayal of Wolfsheim, if not triggered by anti-Semitism, certainly emboldens it.

So, Fitzgerald made similar attributions about various nationalities, including the Irish (with Fitzgerald himself being half Irish), but he’s still anti-Semitic because he made similar attributions about Jews?

Fitzgerald would have thrown up his hands at this. According to Kroll, he was stung by accusations of anti-Semitism, and maintained that Wolfsheim “fulfilled a function in the story and had nothing to do with race or religion.” This function (or part of it), interestingly enough, is precisely what riles a reader like Ron Rosenbaum. By purposefully identifying Wolfsheim with Arnold Rothstein, the gambler who fixed the 1921 World Series, Fitzgerald makes him, in Rosenbaum’s opinion, “the Jew who … violated the innocence and despoiled the purity of an iconic American institution.” But we already knew that going in, didn’t we?

Rosenbaum’s own paranoia, it should be noted, appears to have a list of literary and cinematic figures he deems as anti-Semitic in purpose as Fitzgerald’s Wolfhsheim character. Rosenbaum writes:

It was always there, that ugly animus in Fitzgerald’s portrait of the evil Jew, but I somehow managed to keep separate my love and admiration for the novel from this unsavory truth about it. The same way I still try to keep Francis Ford Coppola’s portrait of his Meyer Lansky figure, “Hyman Roth,” as the hidden Judas behind the machinations of The Godfather Part II.

But back to Krystal:

Anyway, there were plenty of Jewish gangsters around in the twenties, as well as Jewish boxers. Murder, Inc., was run by Jews, and the young Meyer Lansky and Dutch Schultz were carving out territory in New York when “Gatsby” was percolating in France. It was perfectly reasonable to make a mobster Jewish.

So, is Fitzgerald’s creation of the Wolfhsheim character anti-Semitic or not? It’s getting rather muddled here.

The salient fact is that Fitzgerald bought into racial and ethnic stereotypes and saw no reason to think more deeply about Jews—that is, not until he found himself writing a novel about one, the very novel that would be typed up by a maidel from the Bronx…

In the summer of 1939, Fitzgerald started to work in earnest on his Hollywood novel, the unfinished “The Last Tycoon,” in which the hero, Monroe Stahr, is based on Irving Thalberg. Although Stahr’s Jewishness is occasionally alluded to, it’s never disparaged.

Okay, so the protagonist of a Fitzgerald novel is Jewish, and his Jewishness is never disparaged. That’s a ‘good’ thing, right?

Umm, maybe, maybe not:

At one point, a director gazes consideringly at Stahr and muses, “He had worked with Jews too long to believe legends that they were small with money.” Elsewhere, the narrator describes Stahr enigmatically as “a rationalist who did his own reasoning without benefit of books—and had just managed to climb out of a thousand years of Jewry into the late eighteenth century.” It’s hard to know what Fitzgerald meant by this. Was Stahr among the few Jews capable of making the transition from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment? In that case, the remark has a distinctly condescending flavor. And why the tail end of the Enlightenment rather than the middle? Every once in a while, you have to wonder if maybe Hemingway was right: Fitzgerald really “couldn’t think.”

Apparently, Krystal is immune from recognizing the irony of his own disparaging ad hominem attack against Fitzgerald.

That line aside, there’s no trace of anti-Semitism in the novel.

Wait, what?

Stahr is admirable in almost every respect, and only a determined political correctivist would be bothered by another character, “a middle-aged Jew who alternately talked with nervous excitement or else crouched as if ready to spring.” It might be that Fitzgerald was now compensating for his distasteful portrayal of Wolfsheim, or maybe he didn’t want to be labeled anti-Semitic in an industry populated by Jews, or maybe he was mindful of what was going on in Europe in 1939. Or just maybe the fact that he spent the greater part of his days and nights with two Jewish women contributed to his portrait of Stahr.

As Kroll tells it, Fitzgerald displayed a great deal of curiosity about Jewishness, pestering her about Jewish characteristics and customs.

I would argue that only a determined political correctivist such as Krystal would ascribe ulterior motives to an author for not demonstrating an increasingly wide definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ in his work, and instead of seeing this as ‘good’, period, writes an entire article in The New Yorker stretching his imagination and speculating as to what secret, hidden, motivation this goyim must’ve had to write a book that isn’t anti-Semitic.

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