Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896‚ÄďDecember 21, 1940) 


‚ú™ Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald¬†(September 24, 1896 ‚Äď December 21, 1940) was an American novelist, essayist, and short story writer. He is best known for his novels depicting the flamboyance and excess of the¬†Jazz Age‚ÄĒa term he popularized in his short story collection¬†Tales of the Jazz Age. During his lifetime, he published four novels, four story collections and 164 short stories. Although he achieved temporary popular success and fortune during his lifetime, Fitzgerald has received more more critical acclaim since his death. He is now widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century.

Born into a middle-class family in¬†Saint Paul, Minnesota, Fitzgerald was raised primarily in¬†New York State. He attended¬†Princeton University¬†where he befriended the future literary critic¬†Edmund Wilson. Owing to a failed romantic relationship with Chicago socialite¬†Ginevra King, Fitzgerald dropped out of college in 1917 to join the¬†United States Army¬†during¬†World War I. While stationed in¬†Alabama, he then met¬†Zelda Sayre, a Southern¬†debutante¬†who belonged to the exclusive Montgomery country-club set. Although she initially rejected Fitzgerald’s marriage proposal due to his lack of financial prospects, Zelda agreed to marry him once he successfully the commercially published¬†This Side of Paradise¬†(1920). The novel instantly became a cultural sensation and cemented his reputation as one of the eminent writers of that decade.

Born on September 24, 1896, in¬†Saint Paul, Minnesota, to a middle-class¬†Catholic¬†family, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was named after¬†Francis Scott Key, his distant cousin who wrote the lyrics for the “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814.

Fitzgerald’s mother Mary “Molly” McQuillan Fitzgerald was the daughter of an Irish immigrant who had became comfortably wealthy as a wholesale grocer. His father, Edward Fitzgerald was descendent descended from¬†Irish¬†&¬†English¬†ancestry. Edward Fitzgerald’s ancestors moved to Minnesota from Maryland after the¬†American Civil War in order to¬†to open a wicker-furniture manufacturing business. Mary Surratt, Edward’s first cousin twice removed¬†was hung in 1865 for being a member of the conspiracy to assassinate¬†Abraham Lincoln.

Fitzgerald’s father’s wicker-furniture manufacturing business failed in the first year and the family moved to¬†Buffalo, New York; where his father went to work for¬†Procter & Gamble¬†as a salesman. Procter & Gamble fired his father in March 1908, and the family returned to Saint Paul. ¬†Although his alcoholic father gradually grew destitute, his mother’s inheritance supplemented the family income allowing them to retain their middle-class lifestyle.

His parents sent him to two Catholic schools on Buffalo’s West Side‚ÄĒfirst to Holy Angels Convent (1903‚Äď1904) and then¬†Nardin Academy¬†(1905‚Äď1908). Fitzgerald was described by his peers as a boy who was exceptionally intelligent with a keen interest in literature.

Fitzgerald also attended¬†St. Paul Academy¬†from 1908 to 1911.¬†At age13, Fitzgerald published his first piece of fiction in the school newspaper. In 1911, Fitzgerald’s parents sent him away to the Newman School, a Catholic¬†preparatory school¬†in¬†Hackensack, New Jersey.

Fitzgerald graduated from Newman in 1913 and enrolled at Princeton University. He was one of only a small handful of Catholics in the entire student body. Determined to be a successful writer, Fitzgerald wrote & published stories & poems for the Princeton Triangle Club, the Princeton Tiger and the Nassau Lit.

During his sophomore year, an eighteen year-old Fitzgerald returned home to Saint Paul during Christmas break where he met and fell in love with 16-year-old Chicago debutante Ginevra King. The couple immediately began a romance which would span over many years.

Despite the great distances separating them, Fitzgerald still pursued Ginevra; even to traveling cross country to visit her family’s Lake Forest estate. Although Ginevra loved him, her upper-class family belittled Scott in their courtship due to his lower-class status compared to other wealthy suitor competitors. Her imperious father Charles Garfield King purportedly once told a young Fitzgerald that “poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”

Rejected by Ginevra as an unsuitable future husband, a suicidal Fitzgerald instead enlisted in the United States Army amid World War I out of spite & received a second lieutenant commission. While awaiting his deployment to the Western Front where he hoped he would die in combat, he was stationed in a training camp at Fort Leavenworth under the command of Captain Dwight Eisenhower. The future general of the Army and future United States President.

In June 1918, Fitzgerald was garrisoned with the¬†45th¬†and¬†67th Infantry Regiments¬†at Camp Sheridan near¬†Montgomery, Alabama. On evening at a country club, Fitzgerald met¬†Zelda Sayre, a local 17-year-old¬†Southern belle.¬†Zelda was the affluent granddaughter of a¬†Confederate senator¬†whose extended family were the original owners of the¬†first White House of the Confederacy.¬†Zelda was one of the most celebrated debutantes in Montgomery’s affluent & exclusive country club set.¬†A romance soon blossomed between them.

Although Fitzgerald never intend to marry Zelda, the couple gradually came to view themselves as informally engaged. Zelda declined to marry him until he could prove her he could be be financially successful. Several of Fitzgerald’s friends opposed their match, deeming Zelda too ill-suited for him.¬†Likewise, Zeld’s Episcopalian family did not care for Scott because of his Catholic background, money problems and excessive drinking.

After his discharge from the US Army on February¬†14, 1919. Scott moved to New York City. There, he subsisted himself in relative, unpleasant poverty. Still aspiring to be a successful career by publishing his literature professionally, he wrote several short stories and satires during his spare time.¬†He received more than 120 rejection notices before selling his first short story. Fitzgerald published “Babes in the Woods” for a $30 pittance.

In July of that same year, Scott quit his advertising job and returned home to St. Paul as a failure. Fitzgerald became a social recluse living on the top floor of his parents’ home on Cathedral Hill.¬†He made one last attempt to become a published novelist by staking his entire life on either the success or failure of a single book. Totally abstaining from alcohol and parties,¬†Scott worked day & night to complete the¬†The Romantic Egotist¬†as¬†This Side of Paradise‚ÄĒan autobiographical account of his Princeton years.

During this time, Fitzgerald took a job repairing car roofs at the Northern Pacific Shops in St. Paul.¬†One evening in the fall of 1919, after an exhausted Fitzgerald had returned home from work to find the postman had delivered a telegram from Scribner’s Publishers informing him his revised manuscript had been accepted for publication.

Fitzgerald’s debut novel appeared in bookstores on March 26, 1920 and quickly became an instant success. This Side of Paradise sold approximately 40,000 copies in its first year. Within months of its publication, his debut novel had became an American cultural sensation. Suddenly, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a household name.

Fitzgerald’s new found fame allowed him to ask higher rates for his short stories. Scott & Zelda could resume their engagement now that Fitzgerald could support her expected lifestyle. They wed on April 3, 1920 in a simple ceremony at¬†St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Living in luxury¬†in New York City,¬†the newlywed couple soon moved into living in luxury at the Biltmore Hotel & became national celebrities of sorts; as much for their wild behavior as for success of Fitzgerald’s first novel. After several weeks, the hotel asked them to leave because they were disturbing other guests. The couple next relocated two blocks down the street to the¬†Commodore Hotel¬†on¬†42nd Street;¬† next, where they spent half an hour spinning in the revolving door.¬†Fitzgerald likened their juvenile behavior in New York City to two “small children in a great bright unexplored barn.”

Fitzgerald’s ephemeral happiness mirrored the current societal euphoria prevalent of the Jazz Age, a term which he popularized in his essays and stories. He described the era as racing “along under its own power, served by great filling stations full of money.” Through Fitzgerald’s eyes, his era was a morally permissive time when Americans became disillusioned with prevailing social norms and sought self-gratification, instead.

During this hedonistic era, alcohol increasingly fueled the Fitzgeralds’ social life, prompting the couple to consume¬†cocktails of gin-and-fruit concoctions at every outing. Out in public, their mutual alcohol consumption meant little more than napping at parties; but behind closed doors it led to bitter quarrels. As the quarreling worsened, the couple accused one another of marital infidelities. Each confided in their own friends that their marriage would probably not last much longer.

On October 26, 1921, Zelda gave birth to their daughter and only child Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald. After his daughter’s birth, Fitzgerald returned back to work to drafting The Beautiful and Damned. The novel’s plot would follow a young artist and his wife who become dissipated and bankrupt while partying in New York City.

While admiring the wealth and emulating the lifestyles of the rich, Scott found their privileged behavior simultaneously morally disquieting; and he said he possessed “the smoldering resentment of a peasant” towards them.

One of Fitzgerald’s wealthier neighbors was¬†Max Gerlac; purportedly born in America to a German immigrant family. Gerlach had been a major in the¬†American Expeditionary Forces¬†during World War¬†I and returned home from the war to became a successful, gentleman¬†bootlegger¬†who could afford to live like a millionaire in New YorkCity. To flaunt his new wealth, Gerlach would throw lavish parties. Gerlach was known to never once wear the same shirt twice. He would often¬†use the phrase, “Old Sport” while fostering new urban myths about himself, including that he was a direct relation to the¬†German Kaiser. These details would occupy & inspire Fitzgerald as a character once he began his next work,¬†The Great Gatsby.

In May 1924, Fitzgerald and his family moved abroad to Europe, where he would work on his third novel; eventually becoming the magnum opus of his life & career, The Great Gatsby. Next, the Fitzgeralds relocated to Rome, where he continued revisions to Gatsby throughout the winter to submit a final version in February 1925. Fitzgerald initially declined a $10,000 offer for the serial rights because it would delay the book’s publication. Upon its release on April 10, 1925, Willa Cather, T. S. Eliot, and Edith Wharton praised Fitzgerald’s work and the novel received generally favorable reviews from contemporary literary critics. Despite this favorable reception, Gatsby was still a commercial failure compared to his previous efforts.

In December 1926, after two unpleasant years in Europe which considerably strained their marriage, the Fitzgeralds returned to America.

In 1926, film producer John W. Considine Jr. invited Fitzgerald to come to Hollywood. There, the Fitzgeralds attended parties dancing the black bottom while mingling with film stars & high society. The novelty of the Hollywood lifestyle faded quickly for the Fitzgeralds. Zelda frequently complained of boredom.

While attending a lavish party one night at the¬†Pickfair¬†Estate, Fitzgerald met 17-year-old¬†Lois Moran, a starlet who had gained substantial fame for her role in¬†Stella Dallas¬†(1925).¬†Desperate that evening for intellectual conversation, Moran and Fitzgerald sat on a staircase together discussing literature & philosophy for hours.¬†Fitzgerald was already 31 years old and past his prime, but the smitten Moran still regarded him as a sophisticated, handsome and gifted writer. Consequently, she pursued a relationship with him. Moran became Scott’s creative muse. He wrote her into a short story called “Magnetism,” in which a young Hollywood film starlet tempts a married writer to waver in his sexual devotion to his wife.

Fitzgerald’s relation with Moran only further exacerbated the Fitzgeralds’ marital difficulties at home. After a mere two months in Jazz Age Hollywood, the unhappy couple departed the West for Delaware in March 1927.

In 1929, Fitzgerald’s domestic royalties for the entire year for¬†The Great Gatsby¬†amounted to $5.10.¬†The final royalty check of the year amounted to $13.13, most of which was from Fitzgerald buying his own books.

Although Gatsby initially experienced tepid book sales, Fitzgerald was able to sell film rights for $15,000 to $12,000

Fitzgerald’s return to his fourth novel proved unable at making any progress due to his alcoholism and poor work ethic. In Spring 1929, the couple returned to Europe. That winter, Zelda’s behavior grew increasingly erratic and violent. During an automobile trip to Paris along the mountainous roads of the¬†Grande Corniche, Zelda suddenly seized the car’s steering wheel to kill herself along with Fitzgerald and their nine-year-old daughter by driving over a cliff. ¬†Following this homicidal incident, doctors diagnosed Zelda with¬†schizophrenia¬†in June 1930.

Fitzgerald’s next novel debuted in April 1934 as¬†Tender Is the Night. It received mixed literary reviews.¬†It threw off many critics who felt Fitzgerald had not lived up to their expectations. The novel did not sell well upon initial publication and approximately only 12,000 sold in the first three months; however. the book’s reputation has since grown widely in significance.

Amid the¬†Great Depression, Fitzgerald’s works were deemed elitist and materialistic. In 1933, journalist¬†Matthew Josephson¬†criticized Fitzgerald’s short stories saying they were out of touch becaause many Americans could no longer afford to drink champagne whenever they pleased or to go on vacation to¬†Montparnasse¬†in Paris.¬†As writer¬†Budd Schulberg¬†recalled,

“my generation thought of F. Scott Fitzgerald as an age rather than a writer, and when the economic stroke of 1929 began to change the¬†sheiks¬†and¬†flappers¬†into unemployed boys or underpaid girls, we consciously and a little belligerently turned our backs on Fitzgerald.”

With his popularity decreasing, Fitzgerald began to suffer financially again by 1936, when his book royalties amounted only to $80. Scott’s deteriorating health, chronic alcoholism and financial woes made for difficult years in Baltimore. Fitzgerald’s heavy drinking problem had undermined his health by the late 1930s. Fitzgerald suffered a mild attack of TB in 1919 and conclusively had a tubercular hemorrhage in 1929.

Nearly bankrupt, Fitzgerald spent most of 1936 and 1937 living in cheap hotels. His attempts to write and sell more short stories faltered.¬†He later referred to this period of decline in his life as “The Crack-Up.” He even wrote a short story of that name.

He saw Zelda for the last time on a 1939 trip to Cuba. During this trip, spectators at a cockfight beat up Fitzgerald when he tried to intervene on behalf of animal cruelty. He then returned to the United States with his ill-health further exacerbated by excessive drinking. He finally underwent hospitalization at the Doctors Hospital in Manhattan.

In 1927, Fitzgerald’s dire financial straits compelled him to accept a lucrative contract as a screenwriter with¬†Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer¬†(MGM) which necessitated his relocation to Hollywood. Despite earning his highest annual income up to that point of $29,757.87, (equivalent to $605,766 in 20220). During the next two years, Fitzgerald rented a cheap room at the¬†Garden of Allah Bungalow¬†on¬†Sunset Boulevard. In an effort to abstain from alcohol, Fitzgerald drank large amounts of¬†Coca-Cola¬†and ate many sweets.

After having a mild heart-attack at¬†Schwab’s Pharmacy, Fitzgerald was advised by his doctor to avoid any strenuous exertion. However, Fitzgerald had to climb two flights of stairs every day to reach his apartment.

Soon after, a lonely Fitzgerald began a relationship with nationally syndicated gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, his final companion before death.

During this last phase of his career, Fitzgerald’s screenwriting tasks included revisions to¬†Madame Curie¬†(1943) and an unused dialogue polish for¬†Gone with the Wind¬†(1939)‚ÄĒa book which Fitzgerald disparaged as unoriginal and an “old wives’ tale.”¬†Both assignments were uncredited.

In his spare time, he worked on his fifth novel,¬†The Last Tycoon,¬†based on film executive¬†Irving Thalberg.¬†In 1939, MGM terminated Scott’s contract and Fitzgerald became a freelance screenwriter.

Director¬†Billy Wilder¬†described Fitzgerald’s foray into Hollywood writing as being like that of “a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job.” Edmund Wilson¬†suggested Hollywood sucked Fitzgerald dry of his creativity like a vampire.¬†His failure in Hollywood pushed only him back into drinking. Fitzgerald drank nearly 40 beers a day in 1939.

However, Fitzgerald finally achieved sobriety over a year before his death. Graham described their last year together as one of the happiest times in their entire relationship. 

On the night of December¬†20, 1940, Fitzgerald and Graham attended the premiere of¬†This Thing Called Love. As the couple left the¬†Pantages Theatre, a sober Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had difficulty walking to his vehicle.¬†Watched by onlookers, he remarked in a strained voice to Graham, “I suppose people will think I’m drunk.

That following day, as Fitzgerald was annotating his newly arrived Princeton Alumni Weekly, Graham saw him jump up from his armchair, grab the mantelpiece and then collapse to the floor without uttering a sound. Lying flat on his back, he gasped and lapsed into unconsciousness.

Fitzgerald died of a heart attack due to occlusive¬†coronary arteriosclerosis¬†at age 44 . At the time of his death, Fitzgerald believed his own life to be a failure, his work forgotten. At the time of his death, the¬†Roman Catholic Church¬†denied the family’s request that Fitzgerald, a non-practicing Catholic, be buried in the family plot in the Catholic¬†Saint Mary’s Cemetery¬†in¬†Rockville,¬†Maryland. Fitzgerald was buried instead with a simple Protestant service at¬†Rockville Cemetery.

More so than most contemporary writers of his era, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s authorial voice evolved and matured over time.¬†Each successive novel made discernible progression in literary quality & success.

His peers eventually hailed him as possessing “the best narrative gift of the century.” Although during the earliest attempts at writing fiction, he received over 122 rejection letters.

In contrast to the discernible progression in literary quality and artistic maturity represented thru his novels,¬†Fitzgerald’s 164 short stories display the opposite tendency and still attract significant criticism. Whereas he composed his novels with a conscious artistic mindset, money often became his primary motivation behind writing short stories.¬†During the lengthy interludes between paying novels, his short stories were what sustained him financially. He often lamented he had “to write a lot of rotten stuff that bores me and makes me depressed.”

Within one year after his death, Edmund Wilson completed Fitzgerald’s unfinished fifth novel¬†The Last Tycoon¬†using the author’s extensive notes: including¬†The Great Gatsby¬†within the edition, sparking new interest and discussion among critics. Amid¬†World War¬†II,¬†The Great Gatsby¬†gained further popularity when the¬†Council on Books in Wartime¬†distributed free¬†Armed Services Edition¬†copies to American soldiers serving overseas. The¬†Red Cross¬†distributed the novel to prisoners in¬†Japanese and German POW camps.¬†By 1945, over 123,000 copies of¬†The Great Gatsby¬†had been distributed among U.S. troops.¬†By 1960, thirty-five years after the novel’s original publication‚ÄĒthe book was selling 100,000 copies per year. The New York Times¬†editorialist Arthur Mizener to proclaim the novel a masterwork of American literature.

The Great Gatsby‘s popularity eventually led to a widespread interest in Fitzgerald himself.¬†By the 1950s, he had become something of a¬†cult figure¬†in American culture and was more widely known now than at any period during his lifetime.

In 1971, decades after his death, Fitzgerald’s childhood Summit Terrace home in St. Paul became a¬†National Historic Landmark¬†in 1971.

In the 21st Century,¬†The Great Gatsby¬†has already sold millions of copies. The novel is required reading in many high school and college classes.¬†Despite its publication nearly a century ago, the work continues to be cited by scholars as relevant to an accurate understanding of contemporary early 20th Century America.¬†According to Professor John Kuehl of¬†New York University: “If you want to know about Spain, you read Hemingway’s¬†The Sun Also Rises. If you want to know about the South, you read¬†Faulkner. If you want to know what America’s like, you read¬†The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald is the quintessential American writer.” ‚ú™