Fitzgerald, F. Scott, American Novelist (1896-1940).
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born September 24, 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota to Molly McQuillan and Edward Fitzgerald. He was a second cousin, twice removed of Francis Scott Key, the writer of the "Star Spangled Banner", a fact of which he was very proud and for whom he was named.
His father was a failed businessman and his mother was the doting, smothering kind. He had one younger sister. He was extremely ashamed of his mother for her lack of beauty and emasculating of his father. Both parents were thrilled with Scott because he was handsome, popular and later, a famous writer. The family lived off the income of the mother who was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. All of his life Scott aspired to be one of the rich people he socialized with in St. Paul and later at Princeton University, where he was more successful as a participant in performing and writing musical productions in the Triangle Club than as an academic.
In 1917 Scott enlisted in the Army when it was apparent that his Junior year at Princeton might be his last, owing to poor grades. He hoped to make a name for himself in World War I doing something brave and heroic. His head was always full of notions of becoming famous, popular and sought-after in high social circles, and the darling of the "top girl" among the elite. Unfortunately for Scott, the war ended before he had a chance to prove his bravery. It was a pivotal point in his life and work, however, as it was while he was in the Army that he met Zelda Sayre.
Zelda Sayre was the belle of Montgomery, Alabama, not yet eighteen and already famous in town for her bucking of authority, drinking, dancing all night and beauty. Scott had met his match. He was stationed in Montgomery when he met her at a dance. They had a rocky courtship that continued until Scott mustered out of the Army and got a job in advertising in New York City. He hated the job and when Zelda broke off their engagement citing his dim future in business, he was desolate. He quit his job and went back home to St. Paul where he stayed with his parents and rewrote a novel about his college days that had earlier been rejected.
The novel, This Side of Paradise, became THE biggest novel of 1920. Fitzgerald was an instant success known all around the nation and celebrated as the Voice of His Generation. He married Zelda one week after its publication. They then embarked a life of drinking, wild nights, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and becoming the life of every party. This continued on for a few years both in the United States and Paris where they sought refuge from their excesses, but only created more. In Paris, Fitzgerald wrote what was to become his finest work and because of which his place in literary history is secured. The Great Gatsby was like all of Fitzgerald's work, based on his own life. Like the title character, Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald wanted to reinvent himself and become the person he always wanted to be in his imagination; rich, brave, successful in life and as important in his mind if not more, to have the girl of his dreams by his side, appreciating him.
Fitzgerald was always sure of one thing -- his own talent. He had been a writer since he was a child and always received special attention for it. Writing was something he could do that none of his classmates could. He reveled in his notoriety and even when his pain of alcoholism and disappointments in life became almost unbearable his talent and belief in it never faltered.
Zelda and Scott had one daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, "Scottie." Their marriage became a hell for both of them as they descended into alcoholism and Zelda's mental illness, which surfaced when she was in her late twenties. Through all of the travails, Scott stayed a dedicated writer, mostly turning out short stories for the Saturday Evening Post and Esquire which paid him top dollar. It was through these stories that Fitzgerald was able to support himself, and pay for Zelda's extended periods in mental hospitals. He also sent Scottie to private schools. His alcoholism frequently caused his own need for drying-out cures in sanitariums, also.
F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940 in Hollywood in the company of his mistress, gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. He had finally become sober for one year, but it was too late. He had ruined his health. When he died his five novels had been out of print for years and he was considered a relic of the Twenties "Jazz Age", a term he had coined. He had been in Hollywood the last few years of his life trying to be a movie writer for hire in order to continue to support himself, Zelda, who was permanently in a mental hospital, and his daughter, who was in college. It was not until the Fifties that Fitzgerald's literary legacy finally was appreciated. He is now considered to be one of the greatest writers of the Twentieth Century.
Fool for Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald, A biographical portrait by Scott Donaldson, Congdon & Weed, New York, NY, 1983.
F. Scott Fitgerald in Minnesota: His Homes and Haunts by John J. Koblas, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 1978.
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