The Life and Literature of F. Scott Fitzgerald
By Jillian Thompson
May 16, 2012.
English newspaper, The Guardian, once asked Jonathan Franzen, the Pulitzer Prize nominated author of The Corrections, to contribute what he believed were the greatest rules to abide by for aspiring fiction writers. His response was “Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money” (Franzen). The novels of Francis Scott Fitzgerald suggest that he would agree wholeheartedly with Franzen. In his Notebooks, Fitzgerald wrote, “There never was a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn’t be. He’s too many people if he’s any good” (Fitzgerald 61). Fictionalizing emotions and backgrounds are an unparalleled resource to writers, and some of the greatest stories in literature have grown from the personal lives of novelists. Dickens’ David Copperfield, Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms, and Kerouac’s On the Road are famed illustrations of autofiction techniques, featuring a protagonist that has been modeled after the author, and a central plotline that mirrors the events of their lives. A close examination of the known facts of Scott Fitzgerald’s life is enough to establish that there is a profound relationship between his personal dispositions and the subject matter of his novels. It is also fair to conclude that he was deeply concerned with class, wealth, and their effect on the corruption of “The American Dream.” The novels and short stories of Scott Fitzgerald are documents that illustrate the hazy and glamorous Jazz Age, and had Fitzgerald’s own life been any less hazy and glamorous, some of America’s greatest literature may not have come to pass.
THE LIFE OF SCOTT FITZGERALD
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born September 24th, 1896 in St Paul, Minnesota, the only son to middle class parents, Edward and Mary Fitzgerald. His parents instilled him with a fear of failure, and an obsession with wealth that would haunt his life’s ambitions. At an early age, he proved himself an imaginative and talented writer, and despite some academic struggles, he was accepted to Princeton in 1913. Intent on following his family’s advice, Fitzgerald dedicated himself to the pursuit of social and intellectual attainments, the path he believed would lead him to fame and fortune. He joined any extracurricular activity that he believed would increase his social standing on campus, but the beginning of WWI put an end to any possible fruition of his efforts. He left Princeton for the army in 1917, and was stationed at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama, where he began work on a novella called The Romantic Egotist. It was also there that he met the woman who would change the course of his life forever. Her name was Zelda Sayre, the “golden girl”, and in her, Fitzgerald met his match in both ambition and extravagance. They had a whirlwind romance, but in the summer of 1919, Zelda grew tired of waiting for his success, and ended their relationship. Devastated by her rejection, he moved back to St. Paul, more determined than ever to become rich enough to win Zelda back. He rewrote The Romantic Egotist and in a letter to his publisher wrote, “I have so many things dependent on its success—including of course a girl” (Bryer and Barks 149). In 1920 This Side of Paradise was published. The novel was an overnight sensation with postwar youth, and two weeks later Fitzgerald and Zelda were married. They became the icons of success and youth, the first “it” couple if there ever was one, but the tumultuous beginning of their relationship never quite faded away. He and Zelda lived far outside their means, and Fitzgerald continually sunk into debt. Zelda’s impulsiveness, once interpreted as charming, had become erratic, and emotionally draining for Fitzgerald and his writing suffered. While living in Europe, Zelda overdosed on sleeping pills, and...