Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald ( 1896-09-24 – 1940-12-21 ) was an Irish-American novelist and short story writer. He is considered by many to be one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. Fitzgerald was a writer, and a born writer, and a writer who strove against considerable odds to widen his range, to improve and sharpen his great technical gifts, and to write a kind of novel that no one else of his generation was able to write. Perhaps no other American writer has felt himself as inextricably tied to the history of his country as F. Scott Fitzgerald . At the end of an era of unprecedented national growth, he lived to see the traditions that had guided his parents’ generation and his own childhood cast aside; indeed, he was said by his contemporaries to have precipitated the upheaval in manners and morals that accompanied the end of World War I. Never as “lost” as the members of his generation described in Paris by Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald nevertheless experienced and even personified the “boom” of the 1920s and the “bust” of the 1930s.
As a member of the Princeton Class of 1917, Fitzgerald neglected his studies for his literary apprenticeship. He wrote the scripts and lyrics for the Princeton Triangle Club musicals and was a contributor to the Princeton Tiger humor magazine and the Nassau Literary Magazine. His college friends included Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. On academic probation and unlikely to graduate, Fitzgerald joined the army in 1917 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry. Convinced that he would die in the war, he rapidly wrote a novel, “The Romantic Egotist”; the letter of rejection from Charles Scribner’s Sons praised the novel’s originality and asked that it be resubmitted when revised.
In June 1918 Fitzgerald was assigned to Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama. There he fell in love with a celebrated belle, eighteen-year-old Zelda Sayre, the youngest daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. The romance intensified Fitzgerald’s hopes for the success of his novel, but after revision it was rejected by Scribners for a second time. The war ended just before he was to be sent overseas; after his discharge in 1919 he went to New York City to seek his fortune in order to marry.
Fitzgerald quit his job in July 1919 and returned to St. Paul to rewrite his novel as This Side of Paradise. It was accepted by editor Maxwell Perkins of Scribners in September. Set mainly at Princeton and described by its author as “a quest novel,” This Side of Paradise traces the career aspirations and love disappointments of Amory Blaine.
The publication of This Side of Paradise on March 26, 1920, made the twenty-four-year-old Fitzgerald famous almost overnight, and a week later he married Zelda Sayre in New York. They embarked on an extravagant life as young celebrities. Fitzgerald endeavored to earn a solid literary reputation, but his playboy image impeded the proper assessment of his work.
In the fall-winter of 1919 Fitzgerald commenced his career as a writer of stories for the mass-circulation magazines. Working through agent Harold Ober, Fitzgerald interrupted work on his novels to write moneymaking popular fiction for the rest of his life. The Saturday Evening Post became Fitzgerald’s best story market, and he was regarded as a “Post writer.” His early commercial stories about young love introduced a fresh character: the independent, determined young American woman who appeared in “The Offshore Pirate” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Fitzgerald’s more ambitious stories, such as “May Day” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” were published in The Smart Set, which had a small circulation.
Following the shock and chaos of World War I, American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity during the ‘roaring’ 1920s as the economy soared. At the same time, Prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, made millionaires out of bootleggers and led to an increase in organized crime. Although Fitzgerald, like Nick Carraway in his novel, idolized the riches and glamour of the age, he was uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and lack of morality that went with it.”
The chief theme of Fitzgerald’s work is aspiration of the idealism he regarded as defining American character. Another major theme was mutability or loss. As a social historian Fitzgerald became identified with the Jazz Age: “It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire,” he wrote in “Echoes of the Jazz Age.”
Fitzgerald’s peak story fee of $4,000 from The Saturday Evening Post may have had in 1929 the purchasing power of $40,000 in present-day dollars. Nonetheless, the general view of his affluence is distorted. Fitzgerald was not among the highest-paid writers of his time; his novels earned comparatively little, and most of his income came from 160 magazine stories. During the 1920s his income from all sources averaged under $25,000 a year of good money at a time when a schoolteacher’s average annual salary was $1,299, but not a fortune. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald did spend money faster than he earned it; the author who wrote so eloquently about the effects of money on character was unable to manage his own finances.
Fitzgerald went to Hollywood alone in the summer of 1937 with a six-month Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer screenwriting contract at $1,000 a week. He received his only screen credit for adapting Three Comrades (1938), and his contract was renewed for a year at $1,250 a week. The $91,000 he earned from MGM was a great deal of money during the late Depression years when a new Chevrolet coupe cost $619; but although Fitzgerald paid off most of his debts, he was unable to save. His trips East to visit his wife were disastrous. After MGM dropped his option at the end of 1938, Fitzgerald worked as a freelance script writer and wrote short-short stories for Esquire. He began his Hollywood novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, in 1939 and had written more than half of a working draft when he died of a heart attack in Graham’s apartment on December 21, 1940. Zelda Fitzgerald perished at a fire in Highland Hospital in 1948.
F. Scott Fitzgerald died believing himself a failure. The obituaries were condescending, and he seemed destined for literary obscurity. The first phase of the Fitzgerald resurrection of “revival” does not properly describe the process occurred between 1945 and 1950. By 1960 he had achieved a secure place among America’s enduring writers. The Great Gatsby, a work that seriously examines the theme of aspiration in an American setting, defines the classic American novel.
(Source: Matthew J. Bruccoli’s “A Brief Life of Fitzgerald” originally appeared in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, ed. Bruccoli with the assistance of Judith S. Baughman, New York: Scribners, 1994)
F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have invented the so-called “younger generation” of two decades ago. At any rate, he was the most articulate writer about the rich, young set which was also variously referred to as “the lost generation” and the “post-war generation,” and as such he acquired a reputation far out of proportion to his works, which were limited to four novels and several volumes of short stories.
All four novels were characterized by rich, loose-living characters, who grew older as Mr. Fitzgerald grew older. Invariably they met disillusionment and despair. In commenting on Mr. Fitzgerald’s last novel, “Tender Is the Night,” Clifton Fadiman, book critic for “The New Yorker,” summed up Mr. Fitzgerald’s career with the words:
“In Mr. Fitzgerald’s case, at any rate, money is the root of all novels. In ‘This Side of Paradise,’ Mr. Fitzgerald’s first and most successful novel, the world of super-wealth was viewed through the glass of undergraduate gaiety, sentiment and satire. With ‘The Great Gatsby’ the good-time note was dropped, to be replaced by a darker accent of tragic questioning.”
The gaudy world of which Fitzgerald wrote of the penthouses, the long week-end drunks, the young people who were always on the brink of madness, the vacuous conversation, the lush intoxication of easy money has in large measure been swept away. But Fitzgerald understood this world perhaps better than any of his contemporaries. And as a literary craftsman he described it, accurately and sometimes poignantly, in work that deserves respect.
Fitzgerald had an importance only time will tell whether it was ephemeral because he made himself the voice of youth crying in the wilderness of political and social and moral muddling. The youth he knew was dissolute, but it was also courageous. It was unstable, but it was also questing. It was a phenomenon of the postwar, Turbulent Twenties, a hangover from Versailles. Youth sensed that security had not been secured, but it did not know what to do about it. Neither did Fitzgerald. But he made people think. And that was something.
He was a brilliant, sometimes profound, writer. That his work seemed to lack a definite objective was not his fault, but the fault of the world in which he found himself. He has left us a legacy of pertinent questions which he did not pretend to be able to answer. That was not the smallest part of his greatness.
(Source: New York Herald Tribune, 23 December 1940)
Perhaps because so much of his writing is autobiographical, F. Scott Fitzgerald is as famous for his personal life as he is for his writing. In his career as a writer, Fitzgerald proved to be gifted in a number of forms—he excelled as a novelist, a short story writer, and an essayist. But because his personal and professional histories paralleled the times in which he lived and wrote, Fitzgerald will be forever identified with The Jazz Age of the 1920s and the ensuing Great Depression of the 1930s.
Fitzgerald’s Short Stories – Chronological Index of Titles
(Alphabetic list of short story titles)
PAT HOBBY STORIES, THE–HTML—Text
A series of 17 stories published monthly in Esquire from January 1940 and May 1941
Pat Hobby’s Christmas Wish
A Man in the Way
“Boil Some Water–Lots of It”
Teamed with Genius
Pat Hobby and Orson Welles
Pat Hobby’s Secret
Pat Hobby, Putative Father
The Homes of the Stars
Pat Hobby Does His Bit
Pat Hobby’s Preview
No Harm Trying
A Patriotic Short
On the Trail of Pat Hobby
Fun in an Artist’s Studio
Mightier than the Sword
Pat Hobby’s College Days
Photos: F. Scott Fitzgerald Credit: The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library