F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), American writer who described the social climate of the 1920s in 160 short stories and four novels in which he sought to portray the rise and fall of the American Dream against the turbulent backdrop of the Jazz Age; his most famous book - The Great Gatsby (1925) - is considered one of the great works of 20th century literature.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 25, 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the son of an aristocrat who believed in the code of the Southern gentleman, and a "straight 1850 potato-famine Irish" middle-class mother, as he would later put it. His father named him after a distant relative, the author of the Star Spangled Banner. The mix of an unsuccessful father and an energetic mother would cause young F. Scott to grow up with mixed feelings about America, looking at the country as very promising, yet coming up short.
He had what he called "a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life" - he was a romantic - but his attempts to succeed were at best poor; the time spent at St. Paul Academy (1908–10) and Newman School (1911-13) made him unpopular. From Minnesota, Fitzgerald succeeded in being accepted at Princeton University where he came closest to realizing his dreams, becoming the center of literary circles, writing and producing (as well as acting) plays, and leading the Triangle Club; he would also meet and befriend the literary critic Edmund Wilson. It was at Princeton that he also met his first real love, Ginevra King; she would be identified as the character "Judy Jones" in his 1922 short, Winter Dreams. But, as in high school, his academic performance was poor; he was put on probation in 1916, and to make things worse was sent home due to a bout with malaria. Returning the following year he discovered the social positions he had coveted were gone, his class work was unacceptable, and Genevra had left him. November, 1917 had him leaving Princeton for the Army, where he managed to get a commission as a second lieutenant. Taking to drink, he began to grow despondent, expressing his despondency in his novels.
In July, 1918, he was stationed with a unit near Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a judge on Alabama's supreme court. Although they were in love with each other, Fitzgerald was determined to gain a measure of wealth so he could better support her. He went to New York, but the best he could do was $90 a month working for an advertising agency. Zelda, having grown tired of waiting, would break off the engagement, and Fitzgerald would end up back in St. Paul at his mother's house, while he worked on re-writing a previously-rejected novel he called "The Romantic Egotist."
When he submitted it to Charles Scribner's Sons for the second time in 1920, it was published as This Side of Paradise, a critique of the upper class of which he had been a part as a youth after World War I. An overnight success, his first novel allowed his writings to emerge in high-quality, well-paying periodicals such as The Saturday Evening Post and Scribner's Magazine.
His new-found wealth enabled him to go back to Zelda, and a month after This Side of Paradise hit the stands they were married. Honeymooning in New York, they soon discovered a lavish lifestyle and wild partying. The limelight was a place they both loved and were worried about at the same time, and soon Fitzgerald had his second novel which reflected on that subject. In The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) the central characters in that book have lived such a life, but "the book traces, at very great length, with much repetition of a not particularly profound subtle psychological analysis and numerous dissertations, the course of his (the main character Anthony Patch) mental, moral and physical disintegration." Such displays would surface in his private life; his abuse of alcohol put strains on his marriage and many friendships.
The Great Gatsby
In 1921 Zelda gave birth to a daughter, Francis, whom they both nicknamed "Scottie". In his ledger - which he kept up continually - Fitzgerald noted a remark made by Zelda prior to going into labor. "I hope it's beautiful and a fool," she said. "A beautiful little fool!" Fitzgerald used this remark and other portions of his life in his third novel, The Great Gatsby, a story told by the protagonist Nick Carraway of his single summer on Long Island and his fateful friendship with his next-door neighbor, Jay Gatsby, a self-made man who made it all just for the love of a woman who lived across the bay. He had the compulsive yet subtle insight of the femme fatale theme, the All-American banality of woman as destroyer.
His success left Fitzgerald somewhat fearful of being too involved in it, so he left for Europe, settling with his family on the French Riviera. There he finished The Great Gatsby and had published All The Sad Young Men (1926), a collection of his best short stories. He also fell in with a group of American expatriate writers known as the "Lost Generation"; these writers included Gerald and Sara Murphy, and Ernest Hemingway. The Murphys would be models for the protagonists in his last completed novel, Tender is the Night (1934).
But Fitzgerald had a drinking problem, which got bad during his time in France, and was made worse when Zelda suffered a complete mental breakdown in 1930; she never recovered from a second breakdown two years later, and was in and out of sanitariums for the remainder of her life. In 1937 he was in Hollywood deep in debt, writing film scripts, contributing short stories to magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, and working on The Last Tycoon, a book based on the life of producer Irving Thalberg. He also took up residence with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, whom he had met while at a party to celebrate her own engagement. On December 21, 1940 he died of a massive heart attack; he was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Rockville, Maryland. Zelda was buried with him after her death on March 10, 1948.
Despite being half-finished when he died, The Last Tycoon still showed his creative talent, and some critics have placed it on a higher par over The Great Gatsby. Edmund Wilson had successfully lobbied to get his works back into print, earning for Fitzgerald the acclaim he was due.