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Fitzgerald, F(rancis) Scott

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Co-Fi)

(US, 1896–1940)

Fitzgerald was born in St Paul, Minnesota, and educated at Princeton. He worked briefly as an advertising copywriter, then fell in love with a Southern belle, Zelda Sayre, and the tremendous success of his first novel (This Side of Paradise, 1920) gave him the money and status he craved in order to marry her. The pair lived extravagantly, darlings of smart society in New York and the French Riviera, until Zelda's mental disintegration and Scott's alcoholism brought this high-flying fantasy crashing down in debt and despair. Fitzgerald ended his days a hack writer in Hollywood, churning out screenplays, few of which made it to the screen.

The hedonistic decade in which Fitzgerald achieved fame, the 1920s, became known as the Jazz Age, and Fitzgerald was its preeminent chronicler and brightest star. The Great Gatsby (1925), his most famous novel, shapes this material superbly. Jay Gatsby is a romantic figure around whom myths are woven; where he came from and how he acquired his fabulous wealth are shrouded in mystery. Gatsby's whole life is focused obsessively on winning the love of Daisy Buchanan, a frivolous, emptyheaded young woman, already married, but Gatsby's self-delusion contains the seeds of its own tragic end. It is a supreme achievement that in this short novel Fitzgerald captured the dreams and heady aspirations of his age, and also the bitter dashed hopes of the ‘lost generation’.

Fitzgerald was accused of possessing a fatal facility, that is, of squandering his beautiful talent and not taking pains with his writing. The exact opposite is the truth. Witness the blood, sweat, and tears he poured into Tender is the Night (1934) which ran to seventeen versions over nine years. Set in the south of France and elsewhere in Europe, this long novel follows the mental decline of Nicole, married to psychiatrist Dick Diver, and is closely based on Fitzgerald's own torment as Zelda's illness worsened. Despite its theme, the book is both poignant and lyrical, containing passages of great descriptive power, and shows how diligent Fitzgerald was in perfecting his simple yet elegant style, thoroughly meriting his reputation as one of the finest novelists of his generation.

A master of the short story, and always in need of money, he wrote prolifically for high-paying magazines. These are collected in The Diamond as Big as the Ritz (stories 1920–37) and several other volumes. Unlike the fictional Gatsby, Fitzgerald was clear-sighted and unflinchingly honest about himself. In The Crack-up (stories and autobiographical pieces, 1929–40) he recounts his slide into alcoholism without a trace of self-pity; indeed his fortitude in battling it is noble and inspiring. None of his books was in print when he died of a heart attack. At the time he was working on The Last Tycoon (1941), an incisive portrait of Hollywood as well as a tender love-story, which in the eyes of many critics had the potential to be Fitzgerald's crowning masterpiece. As J. B. Priestley wrote: ‘I would rather have written this unfinished novel than the total works of some widely admired American novelists.’

Ernest Hemingway, Nathanael West, Raymond Chandler. See UNITED STATES OF AMERICA  TH

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