Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald's full name is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. He was a relative of Francis Scott Key (of National Anthem fame).

He was born in 1896 in Minnesota, son of a wicker furniture manufacturer. He went to prep school in New Jersey. He was failing his classes, so he enlisted in the military as a second lieutenant. He was stationed in Alabama, where he met and became engaged to a southern belle, Zelda Sayre, daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. As Fritzgerald was not successful and could not really afford to support her in the style to which she was accustomed, she broke off the engagement. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

When he finally published a book (This side of paradise) and became an overnight sensation, Zelda married him within the week. After a brief time as fast living young celebrities, they had a daughter (born in Minnesota) and then settled in Great Neck, New York ("West Egg), to be close to Broadway where Fitzgerald believed he would make his fortune. Fitzgerald's play failed, but he and Zelda led an exciting life, generally fueled by copious alcohol. The wild behavior on both their parts led to stress in their marriage, and doubts about his writing ability.

Zelda suffered her first breakdown in 1930. In 1932, she entered a sanatorium, and spent the rest of her life as either a resident or outpatient. Fitzgerald worked for a short time as a script-writer in Hollywood, but his contract with the studio was not renewed. In all, Fitzgerald wrote four novels. His fifth was partially complete when he died. He wrote a large number of short stories. He died of a heart attack in 1940. Zelda died in a hospital fire in 1948.

Now that you know a bit more about the short life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, do you think it explains the focus of The Great Gatsby? If he had married a nice, wholesome Minnesota girl, or if he'd buckled down and finished college, how might his writing have been different?

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