Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald is known as one of the most important American writers of his time. He wrote about the troubling time period in which he lived known as the Jazz Age. During this era people were either rich or dreamt of great wealth. On September 24, 1896, he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. F. Scott Fitzgerald was of Irish heritage on both sides and was distantly related to Francis Scott Key, for whom he is named, and to Maryland aristocracy.
His parents, Edward Fitzgerald of the Glen Mary Farm near Rockville, Maryland and Mary McQuillan of St. Paul wed February 13, 1890 in Washington, D.C. Fitzgerald’ s maternal grandfather was a very successful wholesale merchant. His grandfather’s early death and his father’s inability to keep a job, forced the family to be extremely dependent on the wealth of his grandfather’s estate. Fitzgerald attended the St. Paul Academy as a child. In 1911 he entered the Newman School in Hackensack, NJ. Growing up with a father who was out of work and who relied on his wife’s inheritance gave Fitzgerald a mixed feeling of guilt and shame and yet he felt love for both his parents. These inner conflicts in his early life could have contributed to his inability to manage his finances, along with his constant obsession of gaining extreme wealth. Fitzgerald later went to Princeton University, where writing and football were his main interests. It was there that he met friends Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. Fitzgerald was too small to play football so he joined a fraternity called the triangle club, the second most prestigious cliche on campus, football being first. After Princeton, Fitzgerald was quoted as saying to a friend “I want to be the greatest writer who ever lived don’t you (Bruccoli, 1981).” In 1917, Fitzgerald joined the army and prepared to fight in World War I. It was soon after his mobilization that he sold his first story to the Smart Set. This was the beginning of Fitzgerald’s passion for writing, and at this time Fitzgerald also met his future wife Zelda while serving in the army.
Unable to make sufficient money to win the love of Zelda and not being sent away to war encouraged Fitzgerald to go back to Minnesota to start on another book. This book was barely published, but it persuaded Zelda to marry him. So on the third of April of 1920 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral New York City they were married. Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise” sold 20,000 copies in one week. Fitzgerald was excited about the money he could make with his writings and this started Fitzgerald’s habit of writing a series of short stories after each novel. Then Fitzgerald began experimenting with his writing talent. Fitzgerald wrote his first and only play in November 1923 called “The Vegetable or from President to Postman” it flopped leaving Fitzgerald broken hearted and unmotivated. At this time the Fitzgerald’s toured Europe and began their history of drinking and destroying their lives. In July, 1922, Fitzgerald wrote a note to a friend saying “I want to see where I stand. I want to write something new something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned (Bruccoli, 1981).” After many attempts at writing a masterpiece, on April 11, 1925, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was released. The Fitzgeralds continued to roam Europe with daughter “Scottie.” Fitzgerald was unable to manage his finances and was constantly in debt. He was always living beyond his means and borrowing money from his next unwritten story. During this period of Fitzgerald’s life he was relying on short stories as the main and only income. It has been figured by Matt Bruccoli that during Fitzgerald’s life span he made around $386,382 an average of $21,466. In 1930, Zelda had her first nervous breakdown.
She was institutionalized as Scott tried very hard to write his next novel. Much of her time was spent at Johns Hopkins University. Fitzgerald spent much time writing Tender is the Night. Tender is the Night is based mostly upon Zelda’s schizophrenia and her fifteen months in a Swedish sanitarium. This book has its characters showing symbolism of the pain that Fitzgerald rendered while taking care of Zelda. Ernest Hemingway and Fitzgerald were great friends throughout each other’s lives. Each wrote about each other in a symbolistic manner. It is said that Hemingway wrote about how Zelda’s insanity caused Fitzgerald to lose sight of his writing. Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in 1937 to work on movie scripts. There he wrote his Pat Hobby stories and began work on The Last Tycoon. During this time, he was also seeing Sheilah Graham, a Hollywood gossip columnist. Fitzgerald suffered a heart attack at Graham’s apartment and died on December 21, 1940. She was the only other women Fitzgerald had ever been with. At this time Fitzgerald had completed less than half of The Last Tycoon. It was later published on October 1941. Fitzgerald was buried at Rockville Union Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. This poem written by Fitzgerald was found after his death and perhaps best describes Fitzgerald’s unsettling life. It reads as follows: “Your books were in your desk, I guess and some unfinished, Chaos in your head Was dumped to nothing by the great janitress of destinies” (Bruccoli, 1984). Eight years after the death of Fitzgerald Zelda died in a fire. Fitzgerald’s life was filled with ups and downs but mostly downs. He was a struggling writer that was at the peak of his career in life before he knew how to handle success. He made a masterpiece from his struggles and problems. Fitzgerald’s life was spent trying to accomplish two things; being part of the high society and writing a book that would make him famous.
He accomplished one for the ability to do the other. It destroyed him to see his wife losing her mind for the sake of his writing, but he couldn’t stand the pain he felt when he failed. It was an obsession to improve his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby , and when could not go beyond it, he felt like a failure. Fitzgerald died trying to resurrect his name from “the has beens”, and put it at the top where it once was. As one of his quotes reads “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Grolier Encyclopedia, 1993). Showing his failed attempts to reach back into the past made him into someone who felt he had no control upon his destiny, because it could never be as successful as his past. He did know that his work would have a permanent claim upon the American Literary World. Fitzgerald’s life mirrored his novels. His live was filled love and tragedy. He pursued his dreams, and in real life, often lived those dreams. He longed to capture his youth and its purity. He produced thousands of short stories, often times to support their frivolous lifestyles as well as to tell their stories. Many scholars have critiqued his work and their desire to interpret Fitzgerald’s work line the shelves of libraries. The Great Gatsby is a Great American Classic in which hundreds of thousands of copies are sold each year to high school and college students every where. Much of his work has been translated into 35 languages. It’s ironic that more of Fitzgerald’s books are sold every year than were sold during his lifetime.
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