Today’s post is going to be another instalment in my “Spotlight On:…” series. Today is the turn of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
As always, the post will be divided up into 6 different parts:
1. A little bit about their life
2. Their works I have read
3. Their works I am yet to read
4. Great film/TV adaptations based on their works
6. An author biography recommendation
A Little Bit About Their Life
Francis Scott Fitzgerald was born on 24th September 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His mother, Mary McQuillan, was an Irish-Catholic whose family made a small fortune as greengrocers in Minnesota. His father, Edward Fitzgerald, was the owner of a wicker furniture business in St. Paul, Minnesota. His business failed and he took a job as a salesman for Procter & Gamble. His father’s job enabled the family to travel to and from Buffalo and Syracuse in New York state. When Francis Scott was twelve, his father lost his job and the family returned back to St. Paul to live off his mother’s inheritance. Though Fitzgerald was a highly ambitious child, he was acutely aware of his family’s low-status among the elite of St. Paul. He attended the St. Paul Academy and when he was thirteen years old, he had his first piece of writing appear in print: a detective story published in his school’s newspaper. When he was fifteen years old, his parents sent him to a Catolic preparatory school in New Jersey called the Newman School. His teacher, Father Sigourney Fay, noticed his writing ability and encouraged him to pursue his ambitions.
After graduating in 1913, Fitzgerald attended Princeton University. Here, he dedicated himself to honing his craft as a writer, writing scripts for musicals at the university and writing articles for the Princeton Tiger and Nassau Literary Magazine. Although Fitzgerald enjoyed writing and was incredibly ambitious, his grades weren’t particularly amazing and in 1917, he left Princeton University and joined the U.S. Army. Whilst training in the army during the First World War, Francis Scott Fitzgerald wrote a book called The Romantic Egotist which explored his fear of dying, as well as the worry that his literary dreams were unfulfilled. The publisher rejected the book but advised Fitzgerald to continue writing as he clearly had talent. Fitzgerald referred to himself as the “army’s worst aide-de-camp”. Luckily, he never saw combat as the Armistice arrived as his regiment was preparing to ship abroad.
These feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy that Fitzgerald had felt since a young boy were further exacerbated by his adventures in love. His desire for acceptance led him to court women who constantly rejected him. At ninteen years old, he was dating Ginevra King, the daughter of a wealthy banker. A member of her family (no one can say for sure who it was) said “poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls” in reference to their relationship. Zelda Sayre (a socialte from Alabama) initially declined his marriage proposal because of his poor job prospects. After the war came to an end, he moved to New York in the hopes of starting a successful career in advertising that would convince Zelda to marry him. He quit his job after only a few months and returned back to St. Paul to begin writing his first novel. Coincidentally, there is a common theme amongst his books of poor men attempting to prove themselves to richer women from an upper class. This is indicative of how lowly he thought of himself and how these experiences stuck with him.
Fitzgerald rose to fame with his 1920 book This Side of Paradise, a largely autobiographical story about love. Overnight it turned Fitzgerald, aged twenty-four, to instant fame. He completely embraced his new-found success and adapted a luxurious and lavish lifestyle that earned him a reputation as a bit of a playboy and definitely hindered his reputation as a serious literary writer. He is now referred to as the poet laureate of the “Jazz Age,” a term he popularized to convey the post-World War I era’s newfound prosperity, consumerism, and shifting sexual morals. It was also in 1920 that Zelda Sayre agreed to marry Fitzgerald.
Before the age of thirty, F. Scott Fitzgerald had published what would become known as his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby. I found it interesting to learn that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway knew each other and were considered each other’s biggest competition. There are many articles about their relationship and competition with each other; it’s an interesting read and I would definitely recommend doing some research on it!
It was during this time that his wife greatly suffered from mental illness. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent her remaining years in and out of various mental health clinics. Her family was hit hard by The Great Depression and left penniless. The Great Depression would also be the end of Fitzgerald; the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties was thrown out by the poverty of The Great Depression and, given that the gltiz and glamour was a major part of Fitzgerald’s writing, he was deemed as irrelevant. His muse and wife, Zelda, died in 1948 and Fitzgerald progressed further into alcoholism. Fitzgerald began work on his last novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, in 1939. He had completed over half the manuscript when he died in 1940 from a heart attack at the age of 44. Fitzgerald died believing himself a failure given that none of his novels, when originally published, were that popular. It was only after his death, in the fifties and sixties, that his work begun to be classed as some of the greatest American novels ever to be written.
Their Works I Have Read/Their Works I Am Yet to Read
So far, I have only read The Great Gatsby and The Last Tycoon, which was published post-humously in 1941. I would love to read more of his works. Writing this post has made me like him even more. I’ve never been particularly impressed by his writing; something about it just didn’t impress me with the two books I’ve read. However, reading about his demons that he battled when writing and how so much of that emotion found its way into his books, has really made me regard him more highly.
Great Film/TV Adaptations of Their Works
I think the obvious answer here is the 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. I loved that film when I first saw it but haven’t watched it since so I’m definitely due a re-watch.
“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
“It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.”
“Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.”
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
“There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.”
“I like people and I like them to like me, but I wear my heart where God put it, on the inside. ”
An Author Biography Recommendation
If you want to learn more about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, I would recommend reading Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald by David S. Brown. I would also recommend the Scott Fitzgerald edition in the Vintage Lives collection by Andrew Turnbull. If you search for Zelda Fitzgerald, you will also find some poetry collections of hers that were published. I think this could be a great way to get a glimpse into their relationship.
Thank you for reading!
Love, Zoë x