Thursday, September 24, 2009

Notes For September 24th, 2009

This Day In Writing History

On September 24th, 1896, the legendary writer F. Scott Fitzgerald was born. He was born Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fitzgerald was named after his famous distant relative, poet Francis Scott Key, but family and friends called him Scott. He spent most of his childhood in upstate New York, but returned to Minnesota in 1908 after his father was fired from his job at Procter & Gamble.

Fitzgerald was twelve years old when his first short story was published in a school newspaper; it was a detective story. After returning to Minnesota, Fitzgerald spent three years at St. Paul Academy, but was expelled at the age of 16 for neglecting his studies. However, not long afterward, when he attended Newman School in Hackensack, he excelled at academics. In 1913, at the age of 17, Fitzgerald entered Princeton University, where he met and became friends with future writers and literary critics Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop.

Also at Princeton, Fitzgerald became involved with and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club, a student theater troupe that puts on an original, student-written musical comedy every year, then takes the show on tour over the winter holiday season. Fitzgerald's experience writing for the Club inspired him to write his first novel, The Great Egoist. He submitted it for publication to Charles Scribner's Sons. The editor praised Fitzgerald's writing, but ultimately rejected his novel.

During World War 1, Fitzgerald left Princeton to join the Navy, but the war ended shortly after he enlisted. He was stationed at Camp Sheridan, where he met a girl named Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama State Supreme Court judge. They fell in love and became engaged. In 1919, Fitzgerald moved into an apartment in New York City, where he took a job at an advertising firm and wrote short stories on the side, but he was unable to convince Zelda that he could support her. The engagement was called off.

Fitzgerald moved back in with his parents in St. Paul and began revising his previously rejected novel. Rewritten and retitled This Side Of Paradise, the novel was accepted by Scribner's for publication. It was published on March 26th, 1920, and became one of the most popular novels of the year. A classic of the flapper generation, the novel told the story of Amory Blaine, a handsome young Princeton University student and aspiring writer who learns a bitter lesson about status seeking and greed via two doomed romances with wealthy debutantes.

The success of Fitzgerald's novel, which also helped raise the prices for his short stories, enabled him to make a decent living, so he and Zelda were married at St. Patrick's Cathedral. They would have only one child, a daughter, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, born on October 26th, 1921. The 1920s proved to be an influential decade in F. Scott Fitzgerald's development as a writer. His second novel, The Beautiful And Damned (1922) was a semi-autobiographical story of a wealthy heir, Anthony Patch, his relationship with his wife, Gloria, and his struggle with alcoholism. It was a brilliantly written character study, but Fitzgerald's third novel would prove to be his masterpiece.

The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, is a masterful chronicle of the era that Fitzgerald dubbed the "Jazz Age." - the post World War 1 era of Prohibition, organized crime, uncontrolled drinking, flappers, and other rowdy, disaffected youth. Set during the summer of 1922, the novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner and World War 1 veteran who moves to New York City to seek his fortune. At a lavish party, he meets the host - a mysterious wealthy man named Jay Gatsby, who claims to recognize Nick from his Army days during the Great War.

Nick and Gatsby strike up an odd, yet close friendship. Nick is bemused when Gatsby introduces him to Meyer Wolfsheim, a Jewish underworld figure. Gatsby is also a former suitor of Nick's cousin, Daisy Buchanan, now the selfish, spoiled wife of millionaire Tom Buchanan. Nick arranges a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy. The two begin an affair which angers Tom, even though he has a mistress on the side. Nick stands by his friend Gatsby and soon finds himself caught in a web of adultery, decadence, and ultimately, murder.

Within a year of its initial publication, The Great Gatsby was adapted as a Broadway play and a feature film, but the novel was not popular and sold less than 25,000 copies during Fitzgerald's lifetime. However, when it was republished in 1945 and 1953, it quickly gained a huge readership and a reputation as one of the greatest American novels of all time. It would be adapted again as a feature film, the most acclaimed version released in 1974 and starring Robert Redford as Gatsby.

During the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald made several visits to Europe, most notably Paris, where he became friends with many of the American expatriate writers living there, including Ernest Hemingway, who became his closest friend. They would spend lots of time drinking, talking, and exchanging manuscripts. Fitzgerald helped boost Hemingway's career. Unfortunately, Hemingway and Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, couldn't stand each other.

Hemingway accused Zelda of being insane (which she was) and encouraging Fitzgerald to drink heavily in order to distract him from writing novels. That way, he could devote his attention to cranking out short stories strictly for money to keep Zelda in the life of luxury to which she was accustomed. Zelda accused Hemingway of using Fitzgerald to further his own career. She also accused him of having a homosexual affair with her husband. There is no evidence to support this accusation, which was obviously the product of Zelda's paranoia. To punish his wife for questioning his masculinity, Fitzgerald slept with a female prostitute and flaunted it. The conflict between Hemingway and Zelda resulted in the ending of Fitzgerald's friendship with him and a lifelong animosity between the two men.

At first, the Fitzgeralds' marriage had been productive. Zelda's diaries and large collection of correspondence would inspire Scott's writings; sometimes he even quoted passages from her writings. But the alcoholism and Zelda's worsening schizophrenia began to take its toll. In 1934, Fitzgerald finally published his long awaited fourth novel, Tender Is The Night. Fitzgerald had started writing the novel in 1932, while Zelda was hospitalized for her schizophrenia.

Tender Is The Night received glowing reviews and briefly made the bestseller list, but its reception was nowhere near as big as that of The Great Gatsby. In serious financial trouble, Fitzgerald spent the remainder of his life writing commercial short stories for money and working for Hollywood movie studio MGM as a screenwriter for hire - work he found degrading. He worked on many scripts and even wrote some unfilmed scenes for Gone With The Wind.

Fitzgerald would mock himself in a series of 17 short stories known as the Pat Hobby Stories, which would later be republished as a collection. Pat Hobby, a once great screenwriter of the silent film era, is now an alcoholic hack haunting studio lots looking to write for a few dollars, or better yet, an on-screen credit. His antics usually backfire and result in more humiliation.

By the late 1930s, many years of extremely heavy drinking had taken a toll on F. Scott Fitzgerald's health. In late 1940, Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks. On December 21st, 1940, the day after he suffered his second heart attack, he suffered a third, massive heart attack and died at the age of 44. Among the attendants at his wake was writer Dorothy Parker, who reportedly wept and murmured, "the poor son of a bitch" - a line from Jay Gatsby's funeral in The Great Gatsby.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's last novel, The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously in 1942.

Quote Of The Day

"An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a clip from the acclaimed 1974 feature film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Enjoy!

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