The 1920s are now synonymous with the “Jazz Age”. But who first bequeathed that name to the decade? F Scott Fitzgerald was the man who gave the period the (in)famous title. An author is typically not considered pivotal to a country’s history. But F Scott Fitzgerald helped to craft the mood and put the radical intentions of the 20s to paper. Along with being a “tortured” and insanely talented author, Fitzgerald had a very interesting life. The author found himself very affected by his middle class status among his more prestigious peers. Also his serving in World War I gave way to Fitzgerald’s known “Lost Generation” literature. He found inspiration later in life from involvement with Zelda Sayre, his schizophrenic wife. Her mental state paired with Fitzgerald’s alcohol addiction led to catastrophe later in life. All of Fitzgerald’s unfortunate life occurrences were felt in his novels and short stories. He was quoted, on the topic of himself, saying, “I am not a great man, but sometimes I think the impersonal and objective quality of my talent, and the sacrifices of it, in pieces, to preserve its essential value has some sort of epic grandeur.”
Born in 1890 as Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, “Scott” was a Roman Catholic habitant of St. Paul Minnesota. His middle two names, initially seeming patriotic, really denote his relation as second cousin three times removed to Francis Scott Key. In his elementary years the Fitzgerald’s moved almost every year, this resulted from the economic instability of Scott’s father. As a boy Scott received extreme spoiling from his mother. Both of these factors contributed to an extremely self-conscious but arrogant child. Fitzgerald attended private schools through all grades through his Aunt’s funding. At school Fitzgerald was widely disliked for his personality, which at first charming soon became egotistical. His good looks and smart mouth only led to further jealousy and disapproval. Soon his school boy days ended, and he found himself attending Princeton University. He engrossed himself with the culture of high-class New England. Clubs and social reputation were more important than actual education to Fitzgerald. On Princeton’s campus Fitzgerald first found his niche for writing. The Triangle Club caught his attention, and he soon began drafting a play for their seasonal show since the club combined his love for writing and status. During his quest to become a “big man”, Fitzgerald’s grades dropped and he dropped out halfway through his junior year. Once back at home Scott grew to love a girl that served as his muse (along with Zelda) for the enticing but pure women often seen in his novels (Daisy in The Great Gatsby especially). Another typical character for Fitzgerald is “the romantic egotist” who is modeled after himself.
In 1917 Fitzgerald started his service for the US in World War I; he had little claim over the “soldier” title, considering he never deployed to Europe, but themes of the “Lost Generation” are seen in his work. The “Lost Generation” applies to those who deferred from typical morals after the war; the author who coined the term, Hemingway, originally intended for it to be sarcastic. But this term soon found itself stuck to the people who had been exposed to World War I and its horrors, implying that they were “permanent casualties”. Many artists of this time jumped on the idea of losing “old certainties” that was associated with the “Lost Generation”; this became the platform for flappers and the (somewhat) counterculture of the 20s.
Zelda Sayre lived frivolously and completely embodied the image of flapper. Fitzgerald met her when he was in the South at an army training camp; Zelda, a young eighteen year old beauty, fit his image of a wealthy and prestigious girl. And Zelda on the other hand, saw Fitzgerald’s charm and looks as enticing. They promptly began a charade of having short relationships and making each other jealous. Eventually they became engaged. But Zelda resented Fitzgerald’s economic status and delayed the wedding until he could better support her. Fitzgerald then began establishing himself as a writer. He would regularly write short stories for The Post and at this time began perfecting what would soon be This Side of Paradise. In fact on March 20th Zelda and Scott formally announced their engagement, on the 26th This Side of Paradise was published. Zelda saw Fitzgerald’s book as a reason to believe he could give her the upper-class life she yearned for. After marriage, they welcomed Frances Scott Fitzgerald, their daughter, into the world.
Through Fitzgerald’s midlife he truly embraced the title of a “bestselling author”. All of his novels were somewhat biographical to his life. This Side of Paradise summarized his boyhood and college experiences. While The Great Gatsby played on his early love life; by far this novel became his most famous.. Today The Great Gatsby has sold more than 25 million copies, along with being adapted into a movie in 1926, 1949, 1974 and 2013. It takes place on Long Island where Fitzgerald owned a home. The actual home recently sold for a few million dollars. Later Fitzgerald wrote The Beautiful and the Damned, Tender is The Night, and he half-finished The Love of the Last Tycoon by his death. Tender is the Night accounted Scott’s trouble during Zelda’s emotional turmoil. Towards the end of the 1920s Fitzgerald succumbed to his alcoholism and Zelda began to travel a lot for her psychological treatment. The Fitzgerald’s spent many months during this period in Europe; the French Riviera, which Fitzgerald often visited, served as the setting for Tender is The Night. His last novel, The Love of The Last Tycoon, (my personal favorite) is a book based on the life of the Irving Thalberg. Unfortunately the ending remains unwritten, but the notes tell of how it would have concluded. It has been said that The Love of The Last Tycoon is still “the best fictitious account of Hollywood”. Many people don’t know that Fitzgerald also wrote The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a short story; and ironically enough Fitzgerald struggled with spelling words.
But all the success written above never saw Fitzgerald’s lifetime. He lived his final years believing he had failed as an author. Most of his literature gained popularity posthumously. So he took to heavy drinking and partying. Zelda’s unstable condition did not help Fitzgerald’s plummeting life. By 1930 Zelda suffered a mental breakdown and therefore became admitted to Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson. Later in the year 1930 she moved to a clinic in Switzerland, and eventually came back to Maryland for treatment. Zelda attended Johns Hopkins. While in Baltimore, Fitzgerald worked on Tender is The Night in their home on Bolton Hill; Zelda also took this time to write her own autobiography, Save Me The Waltz.
Years flew by until eventually Fitzgerald found himself in an even more depressed and alcoholic state. Often plagued by writer’s block, Fitzgerald was frustrated. He could be grouped into the group of other authors of that period who showed similar characteristics. While in Europe, Fitzgerald befriended Ernest Hemingway. They often corresponded about writing. Hemingway himself succumbed to the “Lost Generation” stereotype of an ill-end. In the late 20th century Hemingway committed suicide. This started a family trend, because in four generations of his family five people would go on to kill themselves. Fitzgerald himself died on December 21st, 1940 at the young age of 44 while living in Hollywood. Fitzgerald died due to a heart attack. He had competed half of his last novel and considered himself a washed up failure. As for Zelda’s death, it is more interesting. After being in and out of mental treatment facilities she found herself in Highland Hospital. While receiving treatment in the hospital, a fire started and led to her ultimate demise.
Rory 10th Grade