I suspect that everyone knows the story of Benjamin Button. I certainly did and I had not seen the movie before I took a little breather and read Scott Fitzgerald’s story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The first thing that struck me was that Mr. Button ran around buying clothes and thinking about how embarrassing it would be introducing a septuagenarian as his newborn son but there was nary a thought or remark or question concerning the condition of his wife. Is this because the fiction focuses on the newborn or does it reflect a time when women were just doing their duty having babies and taking care of the man of the house (this was just before the War of Northern Aggression, remember)? Then, when Benjamin and his father appeared to be about the same age (50 or so), the two gentlemen gussied up for a night on the town … where was Mrs.. Button?
As if to make up for the lack of the mother in this story, Benjamin marries a beautiful and much sought after daughter of Baltimore society. But, as you would imagine, Benjamin grows younger his wife grows older; soon Benjamin looses interest in her since she is no longer exciting and beautiful. How typical for a man aging backwards to act … or is it just any man when faced with the reality that their vibrant spouse is no longer young and frisky? Soon Benjamin would be cavorting with the young fillies and avoiding his “dowager of evil omen.”
Fitzgerald’s story is actually well executed. The structure of aging is cleverly emphasized when the childish things Benjamin found boring at the beginning when his father tried to insist on his son acting his age turns around when Benjamin comes home to live with his son, Roscoe, and Roscoe tried to make Benjamin act more like the old man he should be rather than the child he was becoming: the childish pursuits, once boring, are now new and exciting to Benjamin (strips of colored paper never go out of style).
But the persistent maleness of this story strikes me as a bit misogynous. I wonder what Zelda thought of it?
Although I’m not in any hurry to watch the Brad Pit movie based on this story, I did take a few minutes to read the synopsis of the cinema adaptation. First, the problem of the missing mother is resolved in the movie by having the mother die in childbirth. Although giving birth to a 5’8″ seventy year old baby seems like a candidate for causing the mother bodily harm, I suspect the death is added to tie up a hole in the plot rather than to eliminate any complaints of sexism in the film.
But then agin, the plot of the film is so far from the original story that I don’t think we need to even compare them. Suffice it to say that the movie appears to be a love story, something the short novel was not. Read Fitzgerald and avoid Pitt … and this is one that clearly shouldn’t be blamed on Obamacare.