F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has long been a staple of the Humanities IV curriculum, but recently students discovered a new wrinkle in the pages of this American classic. The iconic novel holds several St. Paul’s School connections: Fitzgerald’s editor, Maxwell Evarts Perkins, graduated in the Form of 1902, and his publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons, is a family with long-standing ties to the School. But perhaps the most intriguing is the influence Hobart “Hobey” Amory Hare Baker, Form of 1909, had on the author.
Baker, known to many for the eponymous award given to top collegiate hockey players, is a legend in American athletics for his unrivaled prowess on the ice and gridiron during the early 20th century. Baker honed those skills at St. Paul’s School before going to Princeton where he continued to shine. It was there, claims New England Hockey Journal contributor and author Tim Rappleye that Fitzgerald, a first-year at the renowned institution, found himself in awe of the upperclassman. Following graduation from Princeton, Baker served as a fighter pilot in France during World War I, where he died in a plane crash shortly after the Armistice in 1918.
In his book, Hobey Baker: Upon Further Review, Rappleye recounts how Fitzgerald wove various threads of Baker’s short, but storied life, into his most notable works, including The Great Gatsby. He shared these insights with students during a recent visit to the School. As Rappleye realized through research at Princeton, Fitzgerald was mesmerized by his contemporary. "You get a sense that he hero-worshipped Hobey," says Rappleye. "I thought if I’m going to write this, there needs to be at least a chapter dedicated to Hobey’s place in literature with Fitzgerald.”
Fitzgerald cribbed parts of Baker’s name to create the character Amory Blaine in his debut novel This Side of Paradise, published in 1920. The story’s football star, Allenby, is nothing short of a composite of Baker, Rappleye argues. Within the pages of his subsequent and most celebrated work, The Great Gatsby, Baker is everywhere, says Rappleye. The description of antagonist Tom Buchanan, an Ivy League football great who fails to find similar fulfillment off the field, parallels to Baker's struggles following his graduation from Princeton. The lavish parties Fitzgerald describes in fictional West Egg are not unlike the real soirees that Baker attended in his post-college years as a newcomer to the world of Wall Street.
At the root of all of these adventures, says Rappleye, is St. Paul’s School. Rappleye conducted extensive research on the gentleman athlete who graduated from the School more than 100 years ago. Rappleye discovered the deep ties Baker formed here, and how they helped anchor him. Baker entered the School in the First Form as an 11-year-old and stayed on a year after graduation so his family could save money for him to attend Princeton. He learned to skate under the tutelage of the School’s hockey coach Malcolm Gordon, known as the “father of American hockey.” "Historically, people always say Hobey's a Princeton guy, but he's not. He's a St. Paul's guy for sure," says Rappleye. "That's where he got that 10,000 hours on the ice, what made him a Hockey Hall of Famer."
These realizations brought a tangible element to the coursework for students like Fourth Former Isabella Parisien. The New Hampshire-raised teen spent her childhood only five miles from Millville and was unaware of this century-old connection to a great American novel. “I’d never heard of Hobey Baker,” admits Parisien. “We talk a lot about the characters in Gatsby, so when (Rappleye) told us about Hobey it was easy to make those connections.”
Humanities IV teacher Danny Murphy believes Rappleye's talk helped bring the course themes of the American Dream and male and female social constructs in the 1920s into sharper focus.
“The Great Gatsby is a wonderful read for our Humanities IV students on many levels,” says Murphy, head coach of boys varsity hockey. “When the kids were listening to (Tim) Rappleye speak about Baker, SPS, Princeton, and WWI, I believe they felt the period come alive and could better understand the tragic passing of both Hobey Baker and Jay Gatsby from the book.”