Fitzgerald, Scott F.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald was the literary chronicler of the Roaring Twenties , or Jazz Age, a period of prosperity and excess that began after the end of World War I (1914–18) and ended with the 1929 stock-market crash. Fitzgerald's novels and stories examine a generation's search for the elusive American dream of wealth and happiness.
Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, the son of well-to-do Midwestern parents. He was an exceptionally smart child with an early interest in writing plays and poetry. As a young man, he tried to copy the actions of the rich, youthful, and beautiful American upper classes. Following two years in an eastern preparatory school, he enrolled in 1913 at Princeton University. His first stories appeared in Princeton's literary magazine.
Fitzgerald left Princeton to join the U.S. Army during World War I. During his fifteen-month army career, he completed a draft of a novel, the tale of a young man's late childhood and years at Princeton. Although the publishing house Charles Scribner's Sons did not accept his manuscript, he was encouraged to rewrite and resubmit it.
While he was stationed near Montgomery, Alabama , Fitzgerald met and fell in love with eighteen-year-old Zelda Sayre, the youngest daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. Fitzgerald was not particularly well liked by her family. He placed high hopes in Scribner's accepting his revised novel, which would, he hoped, raise his status in the eyes of Zelda's upper-class family.
After being discharged from the army in 1919, Fitzgerald rewrote his novel, retitling it This Side of Paradise. It was published and immediately became a smash hit. Fitzgerald was suddenly famous as the voice of his generation.
A week after his novel's release, Fitzgerald married Zelda in New York and the couple began their life together as young celebrities. In order to support their lavish lifestyle, Fitzgerald wrote short stories for mass-circulation magazines. Because he wrote many of them for money, Fitzgerald often felt that his short stories were not artistic achievements. However, many critics today find great literary merit in them. Fitzgerald published some 160 magazine stories in his lifetime, an extraordinarily high number by any count.
The early writings
In his first two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned (1922), Fitzgerald examined the lives of young characters who resembled himself and his friends. They lived for pleasure and acquisitions, and they were jaded and rebellious. These wealthy East Coast youths helped secure the popular image of the “lost generation” of the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald described them at the conclusion of This Side of Paradise as “a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.”
In 1922, Fitzgerald published a second collection of short stories and finished a play, The Vegetable, which he considered his best work. He moved to New York to be near the Broadway opening, but the play flopped.
Fitzgerald maintained his high standard of living by continually borrowing money from Scribner's against the sale of future writing. After the play flopped, he found himself even further in debt. He and Zelda were increasingly fighting, often after heavy drinking. They retreated to Europe in an attempt to find peace.
Fitzgerald's strongest and most famous work, The Great Gatsby , was published in 1925. In this novel, Fitzgerald used a first-person narrator, Nick Carraway, to tell the story. The title character, Jay Gatsby, is a farmer's son who gains wealth illegally solely to gain acceptance into the sophisticated, moneyed world of the woman he loves, Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby's romantic illusions about Daisy and her world are interwoven with episodes that show the lack of feeling and moral irresponsibility of the wealthy American society of the 1920s. Because Gatsby idealizes Daisy and her world, he fails to see the ugly reality there. Through Gatsby's quest and violent death, Fitzgerald depicts the failure of the American dream in the Roaring Twenties.
Gatsby is today considered a classic. At the time of its release, however, it received little notice and sold poorly. Fitzgerald, like the nation around him, fell on extremely hard times during the Great Depression (1929–41), a time of economic downturn in the United States, when many businesses failed and people lost their jobs. His stories no longer sold well.
In 1930, Zelda experienced her first mental breakdown. Her mental problems lasted the remainder of her life, which she spent in and out of sanitariums (hospitals for long-term recuperation from illness). Zelda's medical condition was of great concern to Fitzgerald, and it failed to diminish his love for her. The medical expenses were immense, and Fitzgerald's drinking increased along with his debt.
In the decade before his death, Fitzgerald attempted his most complex and ambitious work, Tender Is the Night (1934). The novel, set in Europe during the 1920s, presents the story of a brilliant young psychiatrist, Dick Diver, and his wife Nicole, who suffers from an emotional disorder. The victim of rape by her father when she was fifteen, Nicole steadily recovers through the care of her husband. He, on the other hand, suffers under the demands of the complex roles he must serve in the marriage as doctor, husband, and father. Broader in scope than his previous novels, Tender Is the Night drew criticism from readers who considered it confusing and unfocused. It was only after Fitzgerald's death that critics recognized the novel's depth.
In 1934, Zelda was placed permanently in a sanitarium. Fitzgerald withdrew into a deep despair, drinking heavily and destroying his health. For a time in the mid-1930s, his writing career came to a standstill. Trying to start anew at the end of the 1930s, he became a motion-picture scriptwriter and began The Last Tycoon, a novel based on his Hollywood experiences. The novel remained unfinished when he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940.
At the time of his death, Fitzgerald was virtually forgotten and unread. But a growing Fitzgerald revival in the 1950s led to the publication of numerous volumes of stories, letters, and notebooks. Since then, critics have praised Fitzgerald's mastery of style and technique. He is studied in American classrooms as one of the great American fiction writers and once again regarded as the voice of the Roaring Twenties.