Short Summary of the Great Gatsby

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Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald

About F. Scott Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, the only son of an aristocratic father and a provincial, working-class mother. He was therefore the product of two divergent traditions: while his father's family included the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (after whom Fitzgerald was named), his mother's family was, in Fitzgerald's own words, "straight 1850 potato-famine Irish." As a result of this contrast, he was exceedingly ambivalent about the notion of the American dream: for him, it was at once vulgar and dazzlingly promising. It need scarcely be noted that such fascinated ambivalence is itself typically American. Like the central character of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald had an intensely romantic imagination; he once called it "a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life." The events of Fitzgerald's own life can be seen as a struggle to realize those promises. He attended both St. Paul Academy (1908-10) and Newman School (1911-13), where his intensity and outsize enthusiasms made him extremely unpopular with the other students. Later, at Princeton University, he came close to the brilliant success of which he dreamed. He became part of the influential Triangle Club, a dramatic organization whose members were taken from the cream of high society. He also became a prominent figure in the literary life of the university and made lifelong friendships with Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. Despite these social coups, Fitzgerald struggled academically, and eventually flunked out of Princeton. Though he was able to return to university the following fall, Fitzgerald could not overcome the crushing humiliation he felt at the loss of all of his hard-won positions. In November 1917, he left Princeton in order to join the army. While stationed near Montgomery, Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge, and the two fell deeply in love. Fitzgerald needed to improve his dismal financial circumstances, however, before he and Zelda could marry. At the first opportunity, he left for New York, determined to make his fortune in the great city. Instead, he was forced to take a menial advertising job at $90 a month. Zelda broke their engagement, and Fitzgerald retreated to St. Paul, Minnesota. There, he rewrote a novel he had begun at Princeton; in the spring of 1920, the novel, entitled This Side of Paradise, was published. Though today's readers will find its ideas dated and naive, This Side of Paradise came as a revelation to Fitzgerald's contemporaries. It was regarded as a privileged glimpse into the new morality or the new immorality of America's young, and it made its author famous. Suddenly, Fitzgerald could publish in both prestigious literary magazines, such as Scribner's, and high-paying popular ones like The Saturday Evening Post. Fitzgerald, flush with his new wealth and fame, finally married Zelda; the celebrated columnist Ring Lardner was to christen them "the prince and princess of their generation." Though the Fitzgeralds revelled in their notoriety, they also found it frightening, as the ending of Fitzgerald's second novel shows. This novel, entitled The Beautiful and Damned, was published two years later, and tells the story of a handsome young man and his beautiful wife, who gradually deteriorate into careworn middle age while they wait for the young man to inherit a large fortune. In a predictable ironic twist, the couple only receives their inheritance when there is nothing of them left worth preserving. To escape this grim fate, the Fitzgeralds (together with their daughter, Frances, who was born in 1921) moved in 1924 to the Riviera, where they became part of a group of wealthy American expatriates whose style was largely determined by Gerald and Sara Murphy. Fitzgerald described this society in his last completed novel, Tender Is the Night, and modeled its hero on Gerald Murphy....
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