Authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

American novelist and short-story writer.

September 24, 1896

St. Paul, Minnesota

December 21, 1940

Hollywood, California

Biography

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald is considered one of the three most important American authors (along with Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner) who wrote between the two world wars. On his father’s side he was a descendant of the Scotts and the Keys who produced Francis Scott Key, the distinguished lawyer who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner." Fitzgerald’s father, Edward Fitzgerald, was unable to hold a steady job; his mother was the eccentric and powerful Mary McQuillan, whose father had left her a million-dollar grocery business and a substantial personal fortune.

Fitzgerald’s childhood was a pampered one—though somewhat unstable, owing to frequent moves—and included two years at the St. Paul Academy (where he published his first short story in 1909) and two years at a Catholic boarding school in Hackensack, New Jersey. He enrolled at Princeton University in 1913, after failing and then retaking the entrance examinations, and left Princeton in 1917 without receiving a degree. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army that year, he met Zelda Sayre while on duty outside Montgomery, Alabama, in the summer of 1918.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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(Library of Congress)

Many short stories that he wrote in 1919 were rejected, but a first novel, This Side of Paradise, based on his life at Princeton, was published in 1920, the same year he and Zelda were married. Flappers and Philosophers, a collection of short stories, was published the same year, and another collection, Tales of the Jazz Age, followed. It is primarily on the basis of these two volumes and The Great Gatsby that Fitzgerald won the reputation of "chronicler of the Jazz Age" (which he so named). Already in these early works two character types appeared that were frequently to recur in Fitzgerald’s writings—the "flapper," or new woman, and the "sheik," or Jazz Age young man. Both types are beautiful and rich, sad and gay, witty and reserved and independent.

Between Fitzgerald’s first two novels, the Fitzgeralds began a self-destructive lifestyle that controlled them from that point onward, marked by heavy drinking, partying, and overspending. Elements of that lifestyle appear in Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, which explores the character of a man spoiled by the promise of wealth. First appearing as serial installments in Metropolitan Magazine before its publication in book form in 1922, this work was not as well received as the first novel.

That same year a twenty-month residence in Great Neck, New York, provided the setting for what was to be Fitzgerald’s most popular novel, The Great Gatsby. Before its publication in 1925 Fitzgerald wrote his only mature play, The Vegetable, which was performed in Atlantic City but which neither author nor audience found memorable.

Fitzgerald regarded The Great Gatsby as his best piece, and it has been called by many critics the best work of Fitzgerald’s generation. The story concerns a flamboyant racketeer’s ruse to recapture the heart of the upper-class girl who had cast him aside years before. The novel’s excellence turns on brilliant characterization, finely drawn class distinction between those who have inherited and those who have earned money, and the poignant development of several themes important to all Fitzgerald’s fiction: romantic love, reality and delusion, success and failure, and evanescence of pleasure and beauty. At the time it was published, critical response was mixed and sales were mediocre. When stage and film versions were produced, however, Fitzgerald’s money worries were temporarily alleviated.

Between May, 1924, and December, 1931, the Fitzgeralds spent five years abroad. Fitzgerald described the summer of 1926 as one of a thousand parties and no work. During this time he met Ernest Hemingway, whose work he promoted, and he published a collection of nine stories titled All the Sad Young Men. This volume included many weak stories as well as one of his very best, "Winter Dreams," a story that Fitzgerald described as a short version of The Great Gatsby. Apart from these events, this period in Fitzgerald’s life is marked only by excessive drinking and instability. Zelda Fitzgerald began to develop an obsession for a dancing career in 1928, and a nervous collapse two years later led her to be diagnosed as a schizophrenic. She repeatedly had to be placed in sanatoriums, and she remained in a sanatorium in North Carolina from 1937 until her death in a fire there in 1948.

In 1934 Fitzgerald published Tender Is the Night, a novel about the problems that develop when a patient falls in love with her analyst and about people ruined by money. Reviews at the time were more or less favorable, but the book’s sales were lower than those of any other of Fitzgerald’s novels. Most remarkable of Fitzgerald’s short-story production at this time was a set of twelve well-crafted stories about the character Basil Duke Lee, which include reminiscences of Fitzgerald’s boyhood and adolescence. Successors to the Basil Duke Lee stories are Fitzgerald’s five so-called Josephine Perry stories, whose central character is based on Ginevra King, with whom Fitzgerald had had an early love affair. Several of the Basil and Josephine stories were also collected in Fitzgerald’s largest collection of short stories, Taps at Reveille (as well as in a later collections).

During the time while Zelda Fitzgerald was recovering from her second nervous breakdown, she wrote an autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz (1932), which gives her perspective on many events of their lives. The book, which did not sell many copies and garnered poor reviews, irritated Fitzgerald because it borrowed material from his unfinished novel and portrayed him in an unflattering way. This, in combination with alcoholism, recurring bouts of childhood tuberculosis, and strain over his wife’s condition, resulted in Fitzgerald’s precarious mental state. He recorded his struggles in three essays that were later anthologized by Edmund Wilson in a posthumous collection of Fitzgerald’s writing called The Crack-Up. In the summer of 1937 Fitzgerald signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and moved to Hollywood. While doing piecemeal work on film scripts, he met and began a relationship with Sheila Graham. She was with him when he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940.

Fitzgerald’s final work, the novel The Last Tycoon, remained unfinished at his death but was edited by Edmund Wilson and published posthumously. The novel explores economic struggles and power intrigues concomitant with the Hollywood film industry. When it first appeared, reviews hinted that it might well have been Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, but such praise became tempered as early as 1945.

The fate of Fitzgerald’s reputation as a social historian of the age and of the upper middle class was sealed with the resurgence of interest in his work prompted by the appearance in 1951 of Arthur Mizener’s The Far Side of Paradise and Alfred Kazin’s F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work. In 1958 The Fitzgerald Newsletter began, which became the Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual in 1969. Other biographies, memoirs, and criticism; the publication of his letters; and the appearance of film versions of The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, and The Last Tycoon ensured continuing interest among readers. Although Fitzgerald generally aroused less international interest than Hemingway or Faulkner, The Great Gatsby has been translated into more than thirty languages and remains the most popular of his works.

Author Works Long Fiction: This Side of Paradise, 1920 The Beautiful and Damned, 1922 The Great Gatsby, 1925 Tender Is the Night, 1934 The Last Tycoon, 1941 Short Fiction: Flappers and Philosophers, 1920 Tales of the Jazz Age, 1922 All the Sad Young Men, 1926 Taps at Reveille, 1935 The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1951 Babylon Revisited, and Other Stories, 1960 The Pat Hobby Stories, 1962 The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1907-1917, 1965 The Basil and Josephine Stories, 1973 Bits of Paradise, 1974 (with Zelda Fitzgerald) The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1979 Before Gatsby: The First Twenty-six Stories, 2001 (Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor) I'd Die For You and Other Lost Stories, 2017 (Anne Margaret Daniel, editor) Drama: The Vegetable: Or, From President to Postman, pb. 1923 Poetry: Poems: 1911–1940, 1981 (Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor) Nonfiction: The Crack-Up, 1945 The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1963 Letters to His Daughter, 1965 Thoughtbook of Francis Scott Fitzgerald, 1965 Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, 1971 As Ever, Scott Fitzgerald, 1972 F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Ledger, 1972 The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1978 A Life in Letters, 1994 (Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor) F. Scott Fitzgerald on Authorship, 1996 Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, 2002 (Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Barks, editors) Miscellaneous: Afternoon of an Author: A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays, 1958 F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Princeton Years, Selected Writings, 1914–1920, 1996 (Chip Deffaa, editor) Bibliography Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001. An explication of the cultural context of the era and how the works of these two American writers are imbued with the attitudes and icons of their day. Berman, Ronald. "The Great Gatsby" and Fitzgerald’s World of Ideas. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997. Explores Fitzgerald’s political and social views of his era and how he incorporated them into his seminal novel. Bloom, Harold, ed. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. New Haven, Conn.: Chelsea House, 1986. A short but important collection of critical essays. This book provides an introductory overview of Fitzgerald scholarship (five pages), as well as readings from a variety of perspectives on Fitzgerald’s fiction. Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. In this biography, a major Fitzgerald scholar argues that Fitzgerald’s divided spirit, not his lifestyle, distracted him from writing. Bruccoli believes that Fitzgerald both loved and hated the privileged class that was the subject of his fiction. Conroy, Frank. "Great Scott." Gentlemen’s Quarterly 66 (December, 1996): 240-245. A reconsideration of Fitzgerald on the centenary of his birth; Conroy argues that one of Fitzgerald’s great strengths as a writer was his ability to make the metaphysical beauty of his female characters believable. Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A clearly written critical biography, this book traces Fitzgerald’s development from youth through a "Final Assessment," which surveys scholarship on Fitzgerald’s texts. Gale, Robert L. An F. Scott Fitzgerald Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Provides everything students should know about Fitzgerald’s life and works. Gross, Dalton, and MaryJean Gross. Understanding "The Great Gatsby": A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Part of the Literature in Context series. An excellent study guide for students of the novel. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. Part of the Literary Lives series. Concise rather than thorough, but with some interesting details. Jefferson, Margo. "Still Timely, Yet a Writer of His Time." The New York Times, December 17, 1996, p. C17. A brief biography of Fitzgerald on the occasion of his centennial year; calls him one of those rare artists with a cultural radar system that is constantly picking up sensations, responses, and fresh thoughts. Kuehl, John. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Part 1 discusses Fitzgerald’s major stories and story collections, part 2 studies his critical opinions, and part 3 includes selections from Fitzgerald critics. Includes chronology and bibliography. Lee, A. Robert, ed. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. A collection of essays by Fitzgerald scholars, this book includes an introduction that surveys scholarship on the texts. Topics addressed include Fitzgerald’s treatment of women, his notion of the decline of the West, his "ethics and ethnicity," and his use of "distortions" of the imagination. Mangum, Bryant. A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Short Stories. New York: Garland, 1991. Discusses all of Fitzgerald’s stories, both those in collections and those uncollected, focusing on their relationship to his novels and their role as a proving ground for his ideas. Meyers, Jeffrey. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. In this biography, which makes use of previously unknown materials about Fitzgerald’s life, Meyers discusses how such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, and Joseph Conrad influenced Fitzgerald’s fiction. Miller, James E., Jr. F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique. New York: New York University Press, 1964. An expanded version of The Fictional Technique of Scott Fitzgerald, originally published in 1957, this book emphasizes Fitzgerald’s technique, focusing on the impact of the "saturation vs. selection" debate between H. G. Wells and Henry James; it also adds critical commentary and interpretations of the later works. Oxford, Edward. "F. Scott Fitzgerald." American History 31 (November/December, 1996): 44. A biographical sketch that notes that Fitzgerald was able to convey the energy and image of the 1920s, only to become an ironic witness to the death of that era. Discusses Fitzgerald’s life with Zelda and his literary career. Petry, Alice Hall. Fitzgerald’s Craft of Short Fiction. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989. A study of Fitzgerald’s short stories in relationship to his novels, American society, and his personal life. Summarizes and critiques critical reception to his short-story collections and discusses his relationship with his editor Max Perkins; analyzes all the major stories and a number of minor ones. Tate, Mary Jo. F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 1998. A comprehensive study of the man and his oeuvre. Provides bibliographical references and an index. Taylor, Kendall. Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, A Marriage. New York: Ballantine, 2001. An examination of one of literature’s most famous couples and their symbiotic marriage.

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