At one point Fitzgerald described this story as “a sort of first draft for the Gatsby idea.” And while both have a number of themes and motifs in common, the way the characters are treated lead to quite different conclusions. In fact, were it not for the publication dates, I’d be tempted to say that ‘Winter Dreams’ is a more detailed analysis on Daisy from ‘The Great Gatsby,’ giving her a comeuppance denied in the novel.
The story takes place over a number of years. At the start Dexter is a well-to-do teenager who catches sight of a beautiful girl called Judy Jones, falling in love without ever speaking to her. Several years pass, he chooses his investments well, and by the age of twenty-three he is wealthy and successful. At this point he meets Judy again, more alluring than ever, and asks her out. She accepts, and the two start dating, but he soon finds out he’s not the only one:
“He was, as he found before the summer ended, one of a varying dozen who circulated about her. Each of them had at one time been favoured above all others; about half of them still basked in the solace of occasional sentimental revivals. Whenever one showed signs of dropping out through long neglect, she granted him a brief honeyed hour, which encouraged him to tag along for a year or so longer. Judy made these forays upon the helpless and defeated without malice, indeed half unconscious that there was anything mischievous in what she did.”
This is not too far removed from the character of Daisy, especially in the childlike obliviousness of the effect she has on people. And as ‘Winter Dreams’ takes place over a longer period of time, we see Dexter pining for Judy in a not too dissimilar fashion to Gatsby’s actions in flashbacks. But, as the saying goes, any story that goes on for long enough will end in tragedy, and by the end Dexter and Judy have grown quite different.
As this story seems to be studied in some American high schools, let me make an entirely spurious literary comparison between this and the last chapter of Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ This ending, which was not included in the Kubrick film or some U.S. editions of the book, essentially had Alex grow up and repudiate his actions in the book as just a phase he was going through. Now: compare and contrast the way ‘Winter Dreams’ ends. After all Judy, with her social life supported entirely by her devastating beauty, could never hope to last indefinitely.
Go on. Try this on your teacher. I’ve seen the Google search terms people find my website, I know a few of you come here looking for insights for an essay. (This amuses me inordinately.)
Winter Dreams by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Availability: free online, print
Word count: 8,500
First published: Metropolitan Magazine, Dec 1922
Where to find it: Available for free on the University of South Carolina’s website here.
There are plenty of print options, including a chapbook of just this story, and various collected volumes of Fitzgerald. The one edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli (called ‘The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald’) is a good selection.