This Day In Literary History
On September 24th, 1896, the legendary American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald was born. He was born Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota, named after his famous distant relative, poet Francis Scott Key, who had written the poem that would become the national anthem.
Scott, as he was called by family and friends, 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. His first short story, a detective story, was published in a school newspaper when he was twelve.
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 buckled down and 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. He became involved with and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club.
The Triangle Club is 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.
His first novel was called The Great Egoist. He submitted it for publication to Charles Scribner's Sons. The editor praised Fitzgerald's writing talent, but rejected his novel. It would not discourage him from writing.
During World War I, 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. He was unable to convince Zelda that he could support her, so the engagement was called off.
Fitzgerald moved back in with his parents in St. Paul and began revising his previously rejected novel. Practically re-written and retitled This Side Of Paradise, the novel was accepted by Scribner's for publication and published on March 26th, 1920.
It 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 of his short stories, enabled him to make a decent living, so he and Zelda got back together and were married at St. Patrick's Cathedral. They would have only one child, a daughter, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald.
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 the semi-autobiographical story of a wealthy heir, Anthony Patch, his relationship with his wife, Gloria, and his struggle with alcoholism.
The Beautiful And Damned was a brilliantly written character study, but Fitzgerald's third novel would prove to be his masterpiece. The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, was an unforgettable chronicle of the Jazz Age - a term Fitzgerald coined.
Taking place from 1919 to 1929, the Jazz Age was the post World War I era of unbridled prosperity, Prohibition, organized crime, uncontrolled drinking, sexual experimentation, jazz music, 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 I 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 know 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, the novel would become a classic.
It quickly gained a huge readership and a deserved 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 Jay 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 called him a "fairy" and accused him of having a homosexual affair with her husband. There is no evidence to support this accusation, most likely the product of Zelda's paranoia. However, some scholars claim that Ernest Hemingway's aggressive hypermasculinity was the result of his being a severely repressed, self-loathing homosexual.
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 their alcoholism and Zelda's worsening schizophrenia took its toll.
In 1934, Fitzgerald finally published his long awaited fourth novel, Tender Is The Night. He had started writing the novel in 1932, while Zelda was hospitalized. It received glowing reviews and briefly made the bestseller list.
However, 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.
He became a screenwriter for hire, which he found degrading. He worked on many scripts and even wrote some unfilmed scenes for Gone With The Wind. There was no artistic intent behind his work as a screenwriter - he did it for the money.
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 a broken down, drunken hack. He haunts studio lots looking to write for a few dollars, or better yet, an on-screen credit. His schemes usually backfire and result in more humiliation.
By the late 1930s, many years of heavy drinking had taken a toll on F. Scott Fitzgerald's health. In late 1940, he 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 mourners at his wake was legendary 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
Today's video features a complete reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby. Enjoy!
Friday, September 24, 2021
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