F. Scott Fitzgerald was an American novelist and short-story writer of the Roaring Twenties. Since his early work shows a romantic feeling for "the promises of life" at college and in "The East," he acquired the epithet "the spokesman of the Jazz Age." His first novel, This Side of Paradise. was the first American novel to deal with college undergraduate life in the World War I era. A handsome and charming man, Fitzgerald was quickly adopted by the young generation of his time. His second novel, The Beautiful and the ******. is a lively but shallow book, but his third, The Great Gatsby. is one of the most penetrating descriptions of American life in the 1920s.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Sept. 24. 1896, Scott Fitzgerald was the son of Edward Fitzgerald. who worked for Proctor and Gamble and brought his family to Buffalo and Syracuse, New York for most of his son's first decade. Edward Fitzgerald's great-great-grandfather was the brother of the grandfather of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the poem "The Star-Spangled Banner." This fact was of great significance to Mrs. Fitzgerald. Mollie McQuillan, and later to Scott. Mollie Fitzgerald's own family could offer no pretensions to aristocracy but her father, an Irish immigrant who came to America in 1843, was a self-made businessman. Equally important was Fitzgerald's sense of having come from two widely different Celtic strains. He had early on developed an inferiority complex in a family where the "black Irish half... had the money and looked down on the Maryland side of the family who had, and really had... 'breeding,' " according to Scott Donaldson in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Out of this divergence of classes in his family background arose what critics called F. Scott's "double vision." He had the ability to experience the lifestyle of the wealthy from an insider's perspective, yet never felt a part of this clique and always felt the outsider.
As a youth Fitzgerald revealed a flair for dramatics, first in St. Paul, where he wrote original plays for amateur production, and later at the Newman Academy in Hackensack, New Jersey. At Princeton, he composed lyrics for the university's famous Triangle Club productions. Fitzgerald was also a writer and actor with the Triangle Club at college. Before he could graduate, he volunteered for the army during World War I. He spent the weekends writing the earliest drafts of his first novel. The work was accepted for publication in 1919 by Charles Scribner's Sons. The popular and financial success that accompanied this event enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre, whom he met at training camp in Alabama. Zelda played a pivotal role in the writer's life, both in a tempestuous way and an inspirational one. Mostly, she shared his extravagant lifestyle and artistic interests. In the 1930s she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and was hospitalized in Switzerland and then Maryland, where she died in a fire.
For some time, Fitzgerald lived with his wife in Long Island. There, the setting for The Great Gatsby, he entertained in a manner similar to his characters, with expensive liquors and entertainment. He reveled in demonstrating the antics of the crazy, irresponsible rich, and carried this attitude wherever he went. Especially on the Riviera m France, the Fitzgeralds befriended the elite of the cultural world and wealthy classes, only to offend most of them in some way by their outrageous behavior. Self-absorbed, drunk, and eccentric, they sought and received attention of all kinds. The party ended with the hospitalization of Zelda for schizophrenia in Prangins, a Swiss clinic, and, coincidentally, with the Great Depression of 1929, which tolled the start of Scott's personal depression.
In the decade before his death, Fitzgerald's troubles and the debilitating effects of his alcoholism limited the quality and amount of his writing. Nonetheless, it was also during this period that he attempted his most psychologically complex and aesthetically ambitious novel, Tender Is the Night (1934) After Zelda's breakdown, Fitzgerald became romantically involved with Sheila Graham, a gossip columnist m Hollywood, during the last years of his life. He also wrote but did not finish the novel The Last Tycoon, now considered to be one of his best works, about the Hollywood motion picture industry. Fitzgerald died suddenly of a heart attack, most likely induced by a long addiction to alcohol, on December 21,1940. At the time of his death, he was virtually forgotten and unread. A growing Fitzgerald revival, begun m the 1950s, led to the publication of numerous volumes of stories, letters, and notebooks. One of his literary critics, Stephen Vincent Benet, concluded in his review of The Last Tycoon, "you can take off your hats now, gentlemen, and I think perhaps you had better. This is not a legend, this is a reputation and, seen in perspective, it may well be one of the most secure reputations of our time."