F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age

15 hp

The Jazz Age, or the roaring 1920s, was a vibrant and contradictory phase in US history (not entirely different from our own times), and nobody understood it, lived it, celebrated it, and criticized it better than F. Scott Fitzgerald. In “Echoes of the Jazz Age”, he wrote that it “was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire” and still, as the title of that essay reveals, he seemed to approximate it with sadness and nostalgia already while experiencing it. The nostalgic inclination is evident in the melancholic ending of his masterpiece The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The ability of both living the excess of the Jazz Age (he and his wife Zelda was the couple of the 20s) and simultaneously distancing himself from it is what Malcolm Cowley entitled “double vision” (both internal and external narration) and that quality became a unique stylistic feature in his prose.

This course gives students an insight in the cultural, social and political dimensions of the Jazz Age and how it is rendered through Fitzgerald’s highly stylized prose in his novels and short stories as well as in his essays, letters and other writings. We study and analyze Fitzgerald’s texts with the help of both contemporary and modern critics, looking into issues such as Fitzgerald’s literary style, nostalgia and literary nostalgic style, postwar flappers, youth culture, gender in the Jazz Age, popular culture, fashion, ethnic stereotyping, Fitzgerald as a modernist, just to mention a few. We will also study the filmizations of Fitzgerald’s texts from a transmedial perspective.

The course is being taught by Dr. Niklas Salmose, Fitzgerald scholar and member of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, and author of several articles and book chapters on Fitzgerald, nostalgia and literary style. He is also the translator of All the Sad Young Men into Swedish (Alla sorgsna unga män, 2014). The course invites the participation of several other seminal Fitzgerald researchers during lectures, seminars and on-line events.

Interview with former students

An interesting in-depth study of an unusual time period under knowledgeable guidance

What distinguishes this course from other available courses within the same subject area is a focus on studies of one authorship instead of a whole time period or separate texts. This means that the course literature also deals with critique, biographical texts and letters in addition to the author’s published productions.

Why did you choose this course?

When approaching literature as part of second language teaching it is common to let part of the planning touch upon the author and his or her situation, as a way partly to connect the text the students are reading to real-life events or circumstances and partly to link the reading to criticism of the sources and work with basic values. Participating in academic studies of an authorship was something I hoped would help me develop relevant theories for my future planning as well as provide me with a deeper understanding of what things can be lifted for discussion and what types of material can be lifted through such discussions. In retrospect I feel that I learnt what I hoped to learn, as well as a lot of other stuff that was a good supplement to what I learned studying language didactics.

How come this particular subject caught your attention? What are you passionate about?

In addition to what I’ve mentioned earlier, I think that the 1920s is an interesting period, both in general and concerning literature in particular. The interwar period is rarely given much space when discussing history, despite the fact that it, at least in my opinion, is the starting point for many ideological and artistic developments that are active still in the society of today. That very link between our history and the culture in the society of today is immensely interesting and Fitzgerald’s literature offers many openings for discussing the impact of the 1920s and for understanding how the time period is relevant to the popular culture of today.

Did the course live up to your expectations?

I was not quite sure what to expect when I first read the course description. Something that was a bit worrying to me at first was the fact that the course did not contain any lectures but was instead made up by seminars and self-studies, which made it a bit nervous at first to go through the material without having a lecture on the field to lean on in my interpretation. However, it turned out that the different interpretations of the texts made the seminars very interesting since the environment was open for different ideas on the same texts, which resulted in a group dynamic that was very open to discussions. In the end, my experience was that, as a student, I enjoyed a much closer relationship to the texts and the author than I had when the interpretations that were discussed were presented in advance at a lecture.

What is most challenging about the course and why?

The most difficult thing was to formulate the answers to the questions for the different seminars on your own. One has a responsibility to make sure that one has taken part of all information and gone over it, something that led to the participants on the course taking it a bit more seriously. We worked with the preparations in a group before the seminars, which was good since it meant that you got the opportunity to take part in a discussion on the material before the actual seminar.

Why should other people apply for this course?

It offers a new perspective on an interesting time period and an important authorship. It is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge through an unusual working method with lecturers who have great experience of and interest for the time period in general and the author in particular.

– Daniel Sundberg, teacher education programme for upper secondary school with specialisation English, and single-subject courses in religion and Swedish as a second language

Wonderful classes, tons of opportunities!

Was the course what you had expected?

No, actually not at all. I was expecting more of a static set-up in which the students wouldn’t be able to affect much. Instead, our seminars were more like forums where all students read what we were expected to read during the week and where each group had one question or a couple of texts that they studied more in-depth and presented to and then discussed with the rest of the group. On the whole, the course was incredibly stimulating, mainly thanks to the format of our seminars.

What is most challenging about the course and why?

I think that the most challenging part may have been coming to some kind of mutual conclusion within the group, since literature is often interpreted in different ways, in particular when it comes to Fitzgerald’s later novels which are virtually filled with different types of interpretations and writing techniques.

Why should other people apply for this course?

I think that others should apply for this course because it is so much fun! The way in which literature is being analysed can also be very useful for all types of writers.

– Oscar Svensson, language, culture and communication programme

Guest Lecturer

Guest Lecturer 2016 was Dr. Helen Turner (University of Essex) who lectured on "Gatsby' s Shifting Personal Identity.". Confirmed guest lecturer for the autumn 2017 term is James L. W. West III - Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Penn State University. He is the author of The Perfect Hour: The Romance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King (2005), and the general editor of the Cambridge Fitzgerald Edition Series.


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