F. Scott Fitzgerald

November 6, 2012 2:17 pm
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), American writer, whose novels and short stories chronicled changing social attitudes during the 1920s, a period dubbed The Jazz Age by the author. He is best known for his novels The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934), both of which depict disillusion with the American dream of self-betterment, wealth, and success through hard work and perseverance.

The son of a well-to-do Minnesota family, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in Saint Paul and attended Roman Catholic schools. While at Princeton University, Fitzgerald befriended Edmund Wilson, later an important literary critic, and John Peale Bishop, later a noted poet and novelist. Both men became important lifelong influences on Fitzgerald’s work. In 1917 Fitzgerald left Princeton because of academic difficulties and joined the United States Army, which was then entering World War I. While in basic training near Montgomery, Alabama, he met high-spirited, 18-year-old Zelda Sayre. They married in 1920 and she became the model for many of the female characters in his fiction.
Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), captured a mood of spiritual desolation in the aftermath of World War I and a growing, devil-may-care pursuit of pleasure among the American upper classes. The book met with both commercial and critical success. Thereafter, Fitzgerald regularly contributed short stories to such diverse periodicals as the high-tone Scribner’s Magazine and the mass-market Saturday Evening Post. He wrote about cosmopolitan life in New York City during Prohibition (a ban on the sale of alcoholic drinks from 1920 to 1933) as well as the American Midwest of his childhood. His early short fiction was collected in Flappers and Philosophers (1920) and Tales of the Jazz Age (1922).
Financial success as well as celebrity enabled the Fitzgeralds to become integral figures in the Jazz Age culture that he portrayed in his writing. Fitzgerald’s partly autobiographical second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), is the story of a wealthy young couple whose lives are destroyed by their extravagant lifestyle. In 1925 Fitzgerald reached the peak of his powers with what many critics think is his finest work, The Great Gatsby. Written in crisp, concise prose and told by Nick Carraway, a satiric yet sympathetic narrator, it is the story of Jay Gatsby, a young American ne’er-do-well from the Midwest. Gatsby becomes a bootlegger (seller of illegal liquor) in order to attain the wealth and lavish way of life he feels are necessary to win the love of Daisy Buchanan, a married, upper-class woman who had once rejected him. The story ends tragically with Gatsby’s destruction. Although the narrator ultimately denounces Daisy and others who confuse the American dream with the pursuit of wealth and power, he sympathizes with those like Gatsby who pursue the dream for a redeeming end such as love.
From 1924 until 1931 the Fitzgeralds made their home on the French Riviera, where they became increasingly enmeshed in a culture of alcohol, drugs, and perpetual parties. Fitzgerald began a battle with alcoholism that went on for the rest of his life, and Zelda experienced a series of mental breakdowns in the early 1930s that eventually led to her institutionalization. Tender Is the Night is generally regarded as Fitzgerald’s dramatization of Zelda’s slide into insanity. It tells of a young doctor who marries one of his psychiatric patients. The novel met with a cool reception.
Poor reviews of Tender Is the Night alienated Fitzgerald from the literary scene and Zelda’s disintegration left him personally distraught. In 1937 he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a scriptwriter. While there, he began The Last Tycoon, a novel set amid corruption and vulgarity in the Hollywood motion-picture industry. At the age of 44 Fitzgerald died of a heart attack.
An edited version of his unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, was published in 1941. In 1945 Edmund Wilson edited The Crack-Up, a collection of Fitzgerald’s essays and letters from the 1930s. Other collections of Fitzgerald’s writings include All The Sad Young Men (1926), Afternoon of an Author (1958), The Pat Hobby Stories (1962), and Letters (1963).
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