Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September
24, 1896. He was named after the author of the National Anthem who
was a distant cousin. His father, Edward Fitzgerald was a manufacturer
of wicker furniture in St. Paul and his mother, Mary Mc Quille was
the daughter of a wealthy wholesale grocer. When Edward Fitgerald
business failed, he became a salesman for Procter & Gamble in upstate
When his father lost his job, the family returned to St. Paul and
Fitzgerald attended the St. Paul Academy and the Newman, a Catholic
prep school. From there he went to Princeton where he distinguished
himself as a writer. He wrote the scripts and lyrics for the Princeton
Triangle Club musicals and was a contributor to the Princeton Tiger
humor magazine and the Nassau Literary Magazine. His college friends
included Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop.
His literary interests took precedent and he neglected his studies
to the point of being placed on probation. This prevented him from
graduating with his class and he joined the army in 1917.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and was
assigned to Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Alabama. There he fell
in love with a celebrated belle, eighteen-year-old Zelda Sayre,
the youngest daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. The war
ended just before he was to be sent overseas. After his discharge
in 1919, he went to New York City to seek his fortune in order to
marry. Unwilling to live on his small salary, Zelda broke their
This incident spurred Fitzgerald into writing his first novel, This
Side of Paradise. The book was published in 1920 and brought him
fame. His success made Zelda reconsider and they were married shortly
The couple lived an extravagant life, traveling, and buying expensive
homes in Westport, Connecticut as well as in Great Neck, Long Island.
This type of life distracted Fitzgerald and marred his image as
a serious writer. He began to drink heavily and even though he wrote
only when he was sober, he lost the respect of literary critics.
Fitzgerald's marriage also started to disintegrate and Zelda began
having emotional problems. As her condition worsened, Fitzgerald
was forced to give up more and more of his time. He learned that
each breakdown made her final recovery less likely and his dependence
on alcohol increased.
He went to Hollywood in 1937, where he met Sheilah Graham, a gossip
columnist, with whom he lived for the rest of his life. Fitzgerald
worked on various screenplays, but completed only one, THREE COMRADES
(1938), before he was fired because of his drinking.
Fitzgerald died of a fatal heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44.
The chief theme of Fitzgerald's work is aspiration--the idealism
he regarded as defining American character.
Another major theme was mutability or loss. As a social historian
Fitzgerald became identified with "The Jazz Age": "It was an age
of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and
it was an age of satire."
Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in France, where he and his wife
and daughter spent most of the last half of the 1920s. The novel
bears almost no resemblance in form to those that had come before.
In Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald created far more than just another Amory
Blaine seeking his fortune in the world.
In his misguided romantic way Gatsby stands for a deeper malaise
in the culture. It typifies a sickness that drives young men to
think that riches can obliterate the past and capture the hearts
of the girls of their dreams.
The reviews for The Great Gatsby were the most favorable so far.
Most notably Gilbert Seldes proclaimed that Fitzgerald has mastered
his talents and gone soaring in a beautiful flight, leaving behind
him everything dubious and tricky in his earlier work, and leaving
even further behind all the men of his own generation and most of
his elders. He praises Fitzgerald 's ability to report on a tiny
section of life ... with irony and pity and a consuming passion,
calling the novel passionate.