I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Bernice Bobs her Hair" and noticed this line.

But, after all, this critical circle is not close enough to the stage to see the actors' faces and catch the subtler byplay. It can only frown and lean, ask questions and make satisfactory deductions from its set of postulates, such as the one which states that every young man with a large income leads the life of a hunted partridge.

Somehow I feel that had Fitzgerald replaced "partridge" with "pidgeon" or "sparrow," the impact of the sentence would have been lost. So title.

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    I don't think the meaning would be lost. Young men with money are prime eligible bachelors, and young women and their families, etc hunt these affluent young men down as potential husbands, like hunters and fowl. Which fowl is probably irrelevant. But partridges are game fowl, and sparrows are not. I guess you have to flush partridges out of their hiding places in the bushes, whereas pigeons etc are usually on the wing. So there's more of a sense of stalking something? I also personally think of them as blundering, dopey, and slow, but I don't know if that's actually true.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 9, 2018 at 2:34
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    I think you are right. The partridge is a game bird of some substance, while pigeons and sparrows are not.
    – J. Taylor
    Dec 9, 2018 at 2:34
  • The upper classes, when they hunt birds, hunt game birds. The connotation is of an elaborate hunt during a house-party on a large estate.
    – ab2
    Dec 10, 2018 at 0:17

1 Answer 1


Basically, the passage you cite from Fitzgerald‘s short story is the opener of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice augmented by a hunting metaphor:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

You note that the meaning would be different had the author chosen a sparrow or pigeon, but a more apt comparison would be to gamebirds like quail, grouse, or dove. While these three are native to North America, the partridge is not. In 1908–9, however, some 40,000 grey partridges were imported in the hope of finally establishing an American breeding stock — solely for the sake of sport. It worked: grey partridges are now at home — and hunted — across the Northern Plains of the US and Canada.

The partridge is a popular gamebird because they are very social creatures, living together in the non-breeding season in large coveys. Flush a covey of partridges and point your gun at the sky, chances are good you’ll hit something. For dove and quail, you have to aim well.

In 1920s America, however, a patridge hunt would have likely evoked the hunting parties of the British upper classes. Thus just as Fitzgerald opens his story on a golf course, the partridge is another symbol of the leisure class.

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