F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Born on September 24,1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota to an upper-middle class Roman Catholic family, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was named for his distant and famous relative, Francis Scott Key, but usually went by the much shorter 'Scott'. He was an Irish American Jazz Age novelist and short story writer, and is regarded as one of the preeminent American writers of the twentieth century. Fitzgerald became the self-styled spokesman of the "Lost Generation", Americans born in the 1890s who came of age during World War I. During his lifetime, he finished four novels, left a fifth unfinished, and wrote dozens of short stories that treat themes of youth, despair, and age.

Fitzgerald spent the years 1898-1901 and 1903-1908 in Buffalo, New York, where his father worked for Procter & Gamble. When Fitzgerald, Sr. was fired, his family moved back to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy and Summit School from 1908 — 1911. He then attended Newman School, a prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey, in 1911-1912. He entered Princeton University in 1913 as a member of the Class of 1917 and became friends with the future critics and writers Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. Saddled with academic difficulties throughout his three year career at the university, Fitzgerald dropped out in 1917 to enlist in the United States Army when America entered World War I.

Fearing he might die in the war, and determined to leave a literary legacy, Fitzgerald wrote a novel titled The Romantic Egotist while in officer training at Camp Zachary Taylor and Camp Sheridan. When Fitzgerald submitted the novel to the publisher Charles Scribner's Sons, the editor praised Fitzgerald but ultimately declined to publish. The war ended shortly after Fitzgerald's enlistment, and he was discharged without ever having been shipped to Europe. He frequently mentioned how much he regretted not fighting in the war.

While stationed at Camp Sheridan, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre, the "top girl", in Fitzgerald's words, of Montgomery, Alabama youth society. The two became engaged in 1919, and Fitzgerald moved into an apartment at 200 Claremont Avenue in New York City to try to lay a foundation for his life with Zelda. Working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince Zelda that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement.

Fitzgerald returned to his parents' house in St. Paul to revise The Romantic Egotist. Recast as This Side of Paradise, it was accepted by Scribner's in the fall of 1919, and Zelda and Scott resumed their engagement. The novel was published on March 26, 1920, and became one of the most popular books of the year, defining the flapper generation. The next week, Scott and Zelda were married in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Their daughter and only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921.

The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. He published his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, which demonstrates an evolution beyond the comparatively immature This Side of Paradise. His masterpiece, The Great Gatsby was published in 1925.

Although Fitzgerald's passion lay in writing novels, they never sold well enough to support the opulent lifestyle that he and Zelda adopted as New York celebrities. To supplement his income, he turned to writing short stories for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Magazine, and Esquire magazine, and sold the movie rights for his stories and novels to Hollywood studios. He was constantly in financial trouble and often required loans from his literary agent, Harold Ober, and his editor at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins.

Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck his wife Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland. Scott rented the "La Paix" estate in the suburb of Towson to work on his latest book, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist, and his wife Nicole, who is also one of his patients. It was published in 1934 as Tender is the Night. Critics still regard it as one of Fitzgerald's finest works.

He spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone With the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, published posthumously as The Last Tycoon. Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the east coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a movie columnist, in Hollywood. From 1939 until his death, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack through the character of Pat Hobby in a sequence of 17 short stories, later collected as The Pat Hobby Stories."

Fitzgerald had clearly been an alcoholic since his college days, and he became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940. After the first, he was ordered by his doctor to avoid strenuous exertion and to obtain a first floor apartment, which he did by moving in with Ms. Graham. On the night of December 20, 1940, he had his second heart attack; the next day, December 21, while awaiting a visit from his doctor, Fitzgerald collapsed while clutching the mantlepiece in Graham's apartment and died at the age of 44.

His remains were shipped to Maryland, where his funeral was attended by very few people. Zelda died in a fire at the Highland mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1948. The two were originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery, but with the permission and assistance of their daughter Frances, the Women's Club of Rockville had their bodies moved to their final resting place in the family plot in Saint Mary's Cemetery, in Rockville, Maryland.

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