F. SCOTT FITZGERALD (September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940)
- Wrote the novel, The Great Gatsby, which has sold over 25 million copies.
- Author of four novels and over 150 short stories.
- Popularized the term, Jazz Age, to describe the wealthy culture of the roaring twenties.
Best known for his novel The Great Gatsby, American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s literary works chronicled the era of ambition, extravagance, and wealth during the period known as the Jazz Age. He enjoyed meager success and lived happily during his early years. Eventually, the cultural vanity of his day overpowered him. His books are still extensively studied in literature classes through the United States and enjoyed by fiction lovers around the world.
Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Edward Fitzgerald and Mary McQuillan. His father owned a furniture business before moving into a sales position at Procter & Gamble. His mother, who was of Irish descent, descended from a family that made a small fortune in the grocery industry of Minnesota.
Fitzgerald moved back and forth between Syracuse and Buffalo because of his father’s sales job. When his father lost this job in 1908, the family moved back to Minnesota to retire on his mother’s inheritance. Shortly after, when Fitzgerald was thirteen-years-old, he enrolled at St. Paul Academy. This was where he published his first piece of writing, a short fictional piece about detective work.
He later attended a Catholic Preparatory school called Newman School from 1911 to 1913. He developed many of his talents during this time, and his instructors saw a magnificent gift within him. He then enrolled at the prestigious Princeton University, where he joined the Triangle Club, a dramatic society focused on writing musicals. He often spent his time writing for the university’s comedy magazine, Princeton Tiger, and short stories for the Nassau Literary Magazine.
While studying at Princeton, he met Ginevra King, a popular heiress. He could not maintain a relationship with King, causing him heartache and despair. His grades declined during this time, and he soon dropped out of Princeton to join the Army.
Upon joining the U.S. Army in 1917, Fitzgerald feared he would lose his life fighting in the ongoing Great War, so he quickly penned his first novel, The Romantic Egoist, and submitted it to the publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons. They rejected the novel for publication; however, the reviewer encouraged Fitzgerald to continue writing and submit a different manuscript whenever he could produce one.
While stationed near Montgomery, Alabama, in 1918, he met Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. The pair fell madly in love, and as soon as he received his discharge, Fitzgerald tried to earn a lucrative job for himself in New York to convince his new girlfriend to marry him, but his plan fell through. Fitzgerald landed an advertising job making $90 per month. As a result of his failure to land good work, Zelda called off their engagement. Fitzgerald promptly moved back to St. Paul to write his first published novel, This Side of Paradise. It was an instant success, and Fitzgerald married Zelda shortly after its publication.
A SUCCESSFUL CAREER AND A ROCKY MARRIAGE
Drawing upon Fitzgerald’s experiences, This Side of Paradise was a novel about a young man from the Midwest who seeks the hands of two different upper-class women but is ultimately rejected by both. The story propelled Fitzgerald’s career, and doors opened up for him to write at The Saturday Evening Post and Scribner’s.
He and his new wife, Zelda, embraced their newfound wealth and sought the life of social elites. They went to parties and events of the rich, causing people to view Fitzgerald as a playboy. His success at the age of twenty-four, which gave him the opportunity for marriage and a child, was now rocking the boat of his family. These tumultuous times urged him to write his second novel in 1922, The Beautiful and the Damned, a story of a couple who await a large inheritance, yet whose lives dissolve in the process.
To escape the life they were living, Fitzgerald took Zelda and his daughter, Frances, to the French Riviera. It was there where he wrote The Great Gatsby. The 1925 release was popular, yet the novel did not receive the deserved acclaim until after Fitzgerald’s death.
He continued writing after Gatsby’s release; however, his next novel did not come onto the scene until 1934. Tender Is the Night was his third novel, and it was the most autobiographical novel he ever wrote. Between the years of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, his wife had undergone multiple mental breakdowns, leaving her in terrible shape. These breakdowns combined with Fitzgerald’s growing alcoholism caused their marriage to crumble. Drawing upon these experiences, Fitzgerald wrote Tender Is the Night, a novel about an American psychiatrist living in Paris, France, who marries one of his wealthy patients. The book did not sell as well as his previous works, but is considered his most emotional piece.
Fitzgerald left France and found a new wife, Sheilah Graham, while working as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. While living in the United States, Fitzgerald began writing what would become his last novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. Fitzgerald was only halfway through writing it before he died in 1940.
DEATH AND LEGACY
While residing in Hollywood, Fitzgerald died from a heart attack at the age of forty-four on December 21, 1940. Although he did not live to see the acclaim his novels would eventually receive, he still saw his works commercially succeed during his lifetime. The Great Gatsby regularly sells hundreds of thousands of copies each year and has become a staple of American literature. His works are frequently assigned as required reading in colleges around the world and seen as the quintessential pieces of his era.