Building Character

The Ivies are not the same, including when it comes to matters of style. In 2008 Slate posted an article analyzing Fitzgerald’s heroes and whether they went to Harvard, Yale or Princeton.

Fitzgerald has Amory Blaine, hero of “This Side of Paradise,” his first novel, offer the following assessment of the three schools:

I want to go to Princeton. I don’t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes. … I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic—you know, like a spring day.

The Slate article concludes:

Amory’s choice of Princeton makes perfect sense—and not just because he’s charming and rather idle. For This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald borrowed heavily from his own life. Both Amory and Fitzgerald are from the Midwest, go to boarding school on the East Coast, and have failed romances with debutantes. Fitzgerald went to Princeton—he called it “the pleasantest country club in America”—so naturally he sent Amory there, too.

As a commenter recently pointed out, we’re on a run of Princeton posts lately. — CC

17 Comments on "Building Character"

  1. “lazy and good-looking and aristocratic…”

    What he’s trying to describe is an easy, nonchalant, above-it-all, can’t-be-bothered charm. Cool. Not so much actual laziness as the appearance of it, which is synonymous with effortlessness. People who like (and engage in) drama, silliness, and excitability probably despise this sort of charm. You know when you see it, and you can trust that the masses resent the hell out of it. Obama had it in spades. As did a younger John Kerry:

    Unflappable. Aloof. Composed. Unflappable.

    Weirdly perhaps, I’m not sure Buckley did. He would get so ‘worked up’ and agitated and bothered. And then go searching for fancy words.

  2. (…but then, WFB graduated from Yale. Thus.)

  3. @S.E. – Point to Gryffindor, right there.

  4. Vern Trotter | January 30, 2019 at 1:41 am |

    Just so we show we do not air brush here, the first six presidents of Princeton, since the founding in 1746, owned slaves. Then there was that classic racist Woodrow Wilson, PU president from 1902-1910. Heaven only knows all of his racial transgressions. But nothing yet revealed rises to a need to change the school name or anything so drastic. Unlike Yale whose namesake was said to be the world’s biggest slave trader.

  5. Princeton’s historical affiliation with the South certainly contributed to its “lazy and good-looking and aristocratic” reputation. It was not the go-to college for Puritan-descended WASPs, but instead for Cavalier-descended Southerners.

    As this article explains, “According to period accounts, the planters’ sons who enrolled at Princeton College fit a stereotype: courtly to the point of chivalric, warm-hearted toward friends but hot in a quarrel, fond of gunplay. They set a colorful tone, even as they outraged Northern peers with their illiberal views.”

  6. Probably true of certain parts/aspects of the South. But there’s a certain breed of Southerner who remains (tragically) attached to, generally speaking, idiotic behavior, and, more specifically, a rowdy, fiery evangelicalism (in terms of both religion and stump-speech style {populist} politics). He/she serves as a sort of counterpoint to the type of cool I have in mind. The fidgety, volatile, frequently high-string Southern temperament of the “redneck,” for instance. Watching Southern “frat” boys at a Saturday afternoon college football game–wow. The behavior, including all that boorish yelling and screaming (not unlike Roman citizens at the Colosseum howling praises at bloodsport) — it borders on the hysterical.

    Nothing cool about that.

    It’s clear the article Talliesin references has another, altogether unique Southern temperament in mind–the Tidewater agrarian. A world of difference. Like comparing polite High Church Anglicanism with low church Scot-Irish Baptists.

  7. Evan Everhart | January 30, 2019 at 9:42 am |

    @ S.E.; Yr prejudice is showing 😉

  8. Old School Tie | January 30, 2019 at 10:11 am |

    All getting a bit SJWesque…..

  9. Vern Trotter | January 30, 2019 at 10:49 am |

    SJWs are normally not well dressed and therefore eschew this site.

  10. So it’s Ivy League Cool v Southern Rednecks? Hmm, okay. To make the comparison, we draw on people and events from about a century ago? Hmm, okay. And then we pick up the broadest brush to paint the thinnest, most irrelevant stereotypes? Hmm, not okay.

  11. “@ S.E.; Yr prejudice is showing”

    I don’t know WHAT the hell S.E.’s point is. As examples of aristocratic charm he adduces John Kerry and Barack Obama, who, whatever their political accomplishments, have all the charm of a #2 pencil. William F. Buckley, who was so phlegmatic his television producer had to hold a mirror in front of his face to check he was breathing, is perpetually “worked up, agitated, and bothered.” And finally, we are informed that some southerners are obnoxious (thanks for taking the time to do that).

  12. I was at Princeton during what I later discovered was a brief period of about eight years in the mid-1950’s when the student body was decidedly less WASPy aristocratic and far more “Midwestern.” As my family was from Minnesota, I felt like the people and the place was a perfect fit for me at the time. This bulge was a direct result of the GI Bill. I discovered later that this era did not last, and I’ve never experienced the same demographic of people I met while at Princeton as a 27-year old. All of my life-long friends have made the same observation. It’s interesting that I’ve never seen that period written about in recollections of Ivy League histories. I’d be interested to know if the career trajectories and accomplishments of those classes were any different than others.

  13. Jerry, I’m not quite following you but am intrigued. Please email me as I’d love for you to expand on this for the site.

  14. Charlottesville | January 30, 2019 at 1:39 pm |

    Not sure what to think of all of this, but I must admit to having seen some pretty outlandish behavior from time to time by southern boys, northern boys, mid-western boys and even a few adults from various economic, educational and social strata. A prep-schooled New Yorker of my acquaintance tossed his drink in the face of a stranger who had been rude to him in a bar, and I went to Washington & Lee with some usually well-mannered young southerners who might occasionally be seen dancing on tables and throwing furniture into the hotel pool.

    I confess that, in the face of cultural pressure to desist, southern males are still stubbornly prone to say “ma’am” and “sir,” and hold open the door for others, especially for women, whom we are anachronistically likely to call “ladies.” I fear we can also get a bit profane and even rude, but that seems to be a national trend that crosses all lines and regions. My neighbors up the (gravel) road are hard-working, blue-collar, churchgoers who are as kind and polite as can be, and I can say the same for most of the professional types I know around town as well. Local customs and manners may vary, but I think the same was more or less true of the people I knew in Massachusetts when I was a kid.

    As to whether there is a a peculiarly southern version of charm to be found at Princeton today, I must plead ignorance, but hope that it may be true. However, it would certainly be contrary to the general trend.

  15. For at least the past 20-30 years, at least since the early 90s
    when my daughter was applying to college, Princeton has the reputation
    of being one of the most demanding and rigorous elite universities.
    Students are required to do excessive amounts of work in contrast
    to a place like my neighbor Stanford which is equally selective, but
    supposedly burdens its’ students less. So if these impressions are
    correct, Princeton has become the place where “grinds” flourish.

  16. Funny how one gets the impression beforehand that “those people” are “like that”, and then once you’re amongst ’em they turn into the same ol’ ragged and varied bunch you just left. Of course, you might not admit it in the open, out loud.

  17. elder prep | May 25, 2019 at 6:40 pm |

    S. E. How about George Plimpton? Unflappable. Aloof. Composed. Unflappable. He had it all.

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