This Day In Literary History
On March 26th, 1920, This Side of Paradise, the classic first novel by the legendary American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was published. In the summer of 1919, Fitzgerald, then 22 years old, had broken up with his girlfriend, Zelda Sayre.
Depressed, he spent most of the summer drunk before returning to his family's home in St. Paul, Minnesota. There, he began writing again, resuming work on his first novel, which had been rejected by publishers.
The original draft of the novel was titled The Romantic Egotist. Fitzgerald's rewrite was practically a brand new novel; only 80 pages of his original manuscript made it into the 300+ page final draft, which was retitled This Side of Paradise.
He hoped that if he became a successful novelist, he could win Zelda back. She had dumped him because she thought he would never be able to provide her with a comfortable living.
On September 4th, 1919, Fitzgerald had a friend deliver his completed manuscript to Max Perkins, an editor at Scribner's in New York. The novel was nearly rejected by the other editors, but on Perkins' insistence, they accepted it.
(Max Perkins, one of the greatest book editors and publishers of all time, not only discovered and edited F. Scott Fitzgerald's work, he also discovered and edited the novels of other great writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, and helped them get published.)
He believed that Fitzgerald was a major talent, and that This Side of Paradise would be a bestseller. The author pleaded for an immediate release, but was told that his novel wouldn't be published until the spring.
So, on March 26th, 1920, This Side of Paradise was published by Scribner's in a first edition press run of 3,000 copies. It sold out in three days, confirming Fitzgerald's prediction that he would become an overnight sensation.
Between 1920 and 1921, nearly 50,000 copies of the novel were printed. The author didn't earn a huge income from his first novel, but it sold well. He made just over $6,200 in 1920 - about $80,000 in today's money - as the novel's success helped him earn higher rates of payment for his short stories, which made up the bulk of his income.
Fitzgerald's novel was a dark and lyrical tale of love warped by greed and status-seeking. It told the story of Amory Blaine, a poor but handsome young Midwesterner, following him from his early years and his education at Princeton through his service in World War I and his return home.
Blaine learns a hard lesson when his attempts at romance with wealthy debutantes fail miserably and leave him heartbroken. The novel ends with his famous summation, "I know myself, but that is all."
The style Fitzgerald employed for his first novel was a mishmash of straightforward narrative and narrative drama intertwined with letters and poems by the protagonist, Amory Blaine.
This is not a surprise, considering that Fitzgerald cobbled together different writings to form the novel. And yet, the end product turned out to be brilliant and gave readers and critics a preview of the genius that would produce The Great Gatsby five years later.
The success of his first novel wouldn't be the only prediction of Fitzgerald's to come true. After the book was accepted by Scribner's, he returned to Zelda and they became a couple again.
A week after the novel was published, they were married. Unfortunately, their alcoholism and Zelda's worsening mental illness would doom their relationship. His health ravaged by his heavy drinking, F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 at the age of 44 after suffering his third and final heart attack.
Quote Of The Day
"All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Today's video features a complete reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel,This Side of Paradise. Enjoy!