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F. Scott Fitzgerald


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), American author wrote The Great Gatsby (1925);

When they met again, two days later, it was Gatsby who was breathless, who was, somehow, betrayed.

Her porch was bright with the bought luxury of star-shine; the wicker of the settee squeaked fashionably as she turned toward him and he kissed her curious and lovely mouth. She had caught a cold, and it made her voice huskier and more charming than ever, and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.--Ch. 8

Fitzgerald's own tempestuous relationship with his wife Zelda would be reflected in his many short stories and novels, first serialised in such literary journals as Scribner's and the Saturday Evening Post. Their lives are a classic study of the American Dream in all its highs, lows, excesses, and joys. Highly lauded as a writer, Fitzgerald was often mired in debt because of his and Zelda's lavish lifestyle, living beyond their means. The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald's characters Daisy and Tom Buchanan, Myrtle, Jay Gatsby, and Nick Carraway epitomise the Jazz Age but is has also remained timeless in its examination of man's obsessions with and need for money, power, knowledge, and hope.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (named after Francis Scott Key, author of the United States' national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner") was born into an upper-middle class family on 24 September 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the only son of Edward Fitzgerald (1853-1931) and Mary 'Mollie' McQuillan (1860-1936), but had one sister, Annabel, born in 1901. In 1898 the Fitzgeralds moved to Buffalo, New York where Edward obtained a job as salesman with Proctor and Gamble after his furniture-making company foundered. It was the first move of many that Francis would make during his lifetime. When Edward lost his job in 1908 they were back in St. Paul.

That same year, young Francis was enrolled in the St. Paul Academy. Early on he showed a love of the theatre and writing--his first work to appear in print was a detective story The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage (1909) in the Academy's student paper Now and Then. He next attended The Newman School, a Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. It was there that he met mentor, friend and Monsignor Darcy's real-life model, Father Cyril Webster Sigourney Fay (1875-1919). In 1913 he entered Princeton University and his love of theatre came to the fore--he wrote many scripts for the Princeton Triangle Club's musicals including Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! (1914). He also had stories printed in The Princeton Tiger and the Nassau Literary Magazine. Fitzgerald met many lifelong friends at Princeton including John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson. His amateur play titles include The Girl From Lazy J (1911), Coward (1913), and Assorted Spirits (1914).

In 1917 Fitzgerald left Princeton to join the army. While in Montgomery, Alabama in 1918 he met Zelda Sayre (1900-1948). A year later they were engaged, but Zelda broke it off a few months later. After his discharge from the army in 1919, Fitzgerald moved to New York City. While working in advertising, he also found time to develop his first novel The Romantic Egoist. It was rejected by Charles Scribner but after three revisions they published it to great success as This Side Of Paradise (1920). Examining the morality of, and trials and tribulations of, early twentieth century youth, Fitzgerald's voice spoke to many of his contemporaries. He gained much esteem from fellow authors including Ring Lardner and Ernest Hemingway, although years later Hemingway would viciously criticise him.

Fitzgerald now finally got a taste of his own paradise; he and Zelda married on 3 April 1920 at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Their daughter Frances Scott 'Scottie' was born in 1922. The Fitzgeralds honeymooned at the Biltmore Hotel but were asked to leave because of what would become a pattern, their notoriously raucous parties. They settled at a home in Westport, Connecticut and continued the lifestyle of the rich and famous, constantly entertaining. Zelda was flirtatious, Fitzgerald was jealous, and it was the beginning of a turbulent life together. While he continued to write short stories for magazines, his next major published work was a collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers (1920). Zelda embraced the flapper lifestyle dressing provocatively and smoking cigarettes, and she and her husband enjoyed the free-thinking, hedonistic pursuits of the roaring twenties when the post-war American economy was booming. Although it was a time of prohibition, there was no deficit of alcohol in the Fitzgerald household.

Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), Fitzgerald's second collection of shorts contains one of his most famous short stories "The Diamond As Big As the Ritz". His second novel, also adapted to the screen, was published the same year, The Beautiful and The Damned (1922);

"I love it," she said frankly. It was impossible to doubt her. .... At her happiness, a gorgeous sentiment welled into his eyes, choked him up, set his nerves a-tingle, and filled his throat with husky and vibrant emotion. There was a hush upon the room. The careless violins and saxophones, the shrill rasping complaint of a child near by, the voice of the violet-hatted girl at the next table, all moved slowly out, receded, and fell away like shadowy reflections on the shining floor--and they two, it seemed to him, were alone and infinitely remote, quiet. Surely the freshness of her cheeks was a gossamer projection from a land of delicate and undiscovered shades; her hand gleaming on the stained table-cloth was a shell from some far and wildly virginal sea....--Ch. 2

Like Armory Blaine in This Side Of Paradise, Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert, like many of his stories to come, reflect autobiographical elements to Fitzgerald and Zelda's life. Zelda herself wrote; many of her stories and reviews, some of them of her husband's works were published in the same magazines as Fitzgerald's. Titles include her short story "The Original Follies Girl" (1929), Scandalabra (play, 1933), and her only novel Save Me the Waltz (1932). Zelda was also a talented painter.

After the immense success of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's All the Sad Young Men (1926) prophetically harkened things to come. While his short stories and another collection Taps at Reveille (1934) continued to appear in magazines, and he started "The Crack Up" essays for Esquire magazine, it was not until 1934 that Fitzgerald published his next book Tender is the Night. Zelda was profoundly upset to discover that Nicole Diver was modeled after her, but the late 1920's and early 1930's provided much fodder for the novel. In 1927 the Fitzgeralds rented the 27 bedroom mansion Ellerslie, near Wilmington, Delaware and drunken parties ensued. Fitzgerald was increasingly turning to alcohol, sometimes becoming abusive. Zelda often acted out impetuously, embarrassing herself in front of friends and strangers. She became fixated on her old love, ballet, often practicing to the point of physical and emotional collapse. For the next three years the couple travelled back and forth between New York, Montgomery, and Baltimore. They also travelled to and stayed in Europe for months at a time, sometimes with fellow Americans in Paris, the Riviera, Cannes, St. RaphaŽl, Capri, Antibes, and Rome. In 1930 they were in North Africa, the same year Zelda had a nervous breakdown. For the next few years she was in and out of clinics in Switzerland.

Fitzgerald continued to use his wife's mental breakdowns and their overall dysfunctional relationship in his writings including "The Last of the Belles" (1929), "Babylon Revisited" (1930), "Emotional Bankruptcy" (1931), "Crazy Sunday" (1932), and "Trouble" (1937). Back in America in 1931, Fitzgerald went to California to work on scripts for the Metro Goldwyn Meyer film company. "Red-Headed Woman", "A Yank at Oxford", "Marie Antoinette", and "Three Comrades" are among the scripts he worked on. He moved there in 1938, having fallen in love with writer and movie critic Sheilah Graham. While his contract with MGM was not renewed, a number of other film companies hired him to do freelance work. But Fitzgerald's alcoholism continually interfered with his life and work, requiring hospitalisation at times.

Still struggling with her illness, Zelda moved back to America and went to live with her mother in Montgomery in 1940. The same year, Fitzgerald had a heart attack; a month later, on 21 December 1940 he died of a second heart attack at Sheilah Graham's apartment in Hollywood, California. He now rests in Rockville Union Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland, with Zelda by his side. She survived him by eight years, until she died in a fire at the Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1975 they were re-interred in Scott's family plot at St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery, Rockville, Maryland, where their daughter Scottie was buried in 1986.

"I know myself," he cried, "but that is all."--Armory Blaine, This Side of Paradise--Ch. 9

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

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