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F Scott Fitzgerald

It is not always easy to feel sorry for a man who had fame and fortune - especially not someone who is often so celebrated for having written, the 'great American novel' - but, somehow, with F Scott Fitzgerald, sympathy even overshadows my awe for him as a writer. At the end of The Great Gatsby, the title character is left with nobody, and died with failed dreams. While I am sure that more people attended Fitzgerald's funeral than they did Gatsby's, the author is not too dissimilar to his most famous character.

A great deal is known about Fitzgerald and his life, the most fascinating source for this being his 'business ledger'. In this, he outlines his life, his works, and money earned. You can view it yourself here: Fitzgerald grew up a writer, and impressed others with his literary skills even as a teen, despite his notoriously poor spelling! At university, he chose to prioritise his writing over his academic studies, and failed his degree course; perhaps luckily, for fans of his novels! However, despite the acclaim attached to his novels now, his first novel attempt was rejected. Even The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night were much less popular upon publication than they are now; the New York Times 1925 review only went so far to call The Great Gatsby 'a curious book' ( Fitzgerald dismissed his short stories (such as the famous 'Curious Case of Benjamin Button'!) as 'trash', written purely for a fee, and he found his movie work in Hollywood degrading. He was never to see the extent of his roaring success. I see it as nothing less than a tragedy that Fitzgerald died feeling any sort of failure.

His relationship to Zelda Sayre was tumultuous and has always intrigued me - this, alone, is novel-worthy in my opinion. He fell in love with the 'golden girl' immediately, but their relationship was clouded from the offset by Fitzgerald's money problems and their subsequent broken engagement. Later, in Hollywood, Fitzgerald's affair, his alcoholism and Zelda's deteriorating state of mental health (and eventual institutionalisation) led to further problems between the two of them and they became estranged. Fitzgerald had lived a wild youth throughout the infamous jazz age (see his essay 'Echoes of the Jazz Age': but this was now over, and his excessive alcohol intake was taking its toll on him; he was very ill indeed in later life, in the run up to his untimely death.

Fitzgerald's novels are not fun, are not light-hearted, and are not always pleasant reads. But they are 'real'. He has a sharp and perceptive insight into life and what it means to be human, and he is capable of making the reader feel very uncomfortable with these perceptions. I must have read The Great Gatsby at least twenty times over the years - probably more - and every time I read it, I find something new. Fitzgerald's language is so rich, vibrant, so full of vitality and meaning, that I defy anyone not to find some sort of beauty within the pages. He is a master of language, and his novels are works of art, crafted to perfection. Richard Yates goes so far to call The Great Gatsby a 'miracle of talent' and I would extend this comment to Fitzgerald's work in general.

So much for the 'Great Gatsby' - it is Fitzgerald himself, regardless of all his faults, who I believe is truly 'great'... and I say this without any trace of irony.

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He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was named after Francis Scott Key, a distant relative of his, who wrote the lyrics for ĎStar Spangled Bannerí.

'Star Spangled Banner'


Fatherís business and subsequent job both fail

While his motherís family was wealthy, having made a fortune in wholesale food, his fatherís wicker furniture business failed in 1897, and then his father lost his job at Proctor and Gamble, meaning the family had to rely on Fitzgerald's motherís inheritance. The Fitzgeralds spent a lot of time in upstate New York while his father worked at P&G.

Fitzgerald's first story to appear in print

Fitzgerald's first piece of writing to be printed was actually a detective story in his school newspaper when he was thirteen years old.

University literary endeavours

At Princeton, Fitzgerald neglected his studies, and left without a degree in 1917, knowing he was unlikely to graduate. However, in his time there, he honed his writing though his work on the magazine The Princeton Tiger, and The Princeton Triangle (musical comedy) Club.

First novel attempt

Fitzgerald wrote a novel rapidly, aiming to complete this long-standing ambition by the time he went to war, which he was worried he would not survive. His novel 'The Romantic Egotist' was rejected, but was praised for its originality.

Met his future wife, Zelda Sayre

While at Camp Sheridan as second lieutenant in the infantry, Fitzgerald met Alabama society 'golden girl' Zelda Sayre in a country club. Fitzgerald fell immediately in love with her. She broke off their engagement over concerns that he could not earn the money to support her.

First novel published

Fitzgerald revised 'Romantic Egotists' and submitted it under the new title 'This Side of Paradise', which was this time published; and to great acclaim! He and Zelda were married in New York a week later, and had a daughter, Frances Scott (Scottie) Fitzgerald, the following year (1921).

The Fitzgeralds move to Long Island

This inspired the setting for 'The Great Gatsby'. Here, Fitzgerald found many distractions from writing. He became an alcoholic, and had frequent arguments with Zelda.

Zelda's mental state deteriorates

She went through her first breakdown in 1930, and was placed in an institution in Switzerland, which Fitzgerald paid for from his income from short stories. He and Zelda became estranged over time.

Fitzgerald moves to Hollywood

Fitzgerald got involved in the film industry briefly, and did a short stint of screen-writing. He earned a great deal of money but had to use it to pay off his debts.

Fitzgerald's death

By this point, Fitzgerald's drinking was very well known, and he was in poor health. He had moved in with Hollywood movie columnist Sheilah Graham, who was with him when died from a heart attack at home.

About the Contributor

Having studied American Literature as part of her degree, Charlotte is fascinated by literary depictions of the roaring twenties. She taught The Great Gatsby to sixth form students for A Level at an independent school in Surrey for five years, before moving to Australia to teach English at The University of Sydney.

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