F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald), 1896–1940, American novelist and short-story writer, b. St. Paul, Minn. He is ranked among the great American writers of the 20th cent. Fitzgerald is widely considered the literary spokesman of the "jazz age"—the decade of the 1920s. Part of the interest of his work derives from the fact that the mad, gin-drinking, morally and spiritually bankrupt men and women he wrote about led lives that closely resembled his own.

Born of middle-class parents, Fitzgerald attended private schools, entering Princeton in 1913. He was placed on academic probation in his junior year, and in 1917 he left Princeton to join the army. While stationed in Montgomery, Ala., he met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre, the daughter of a local judge. During this time, he also began working on his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which describes life at Princeton among the glittering, bored, and disillusioned, postwar generation. Published in 1920, the novel was an instant success and brought Fitzgerald enough money to marry Zelda that same year.

The young couple moved to New York City, where they became notorious for their madcap lifestyle. Fitzgerald made money by writing stories for various magazines. In 1922 he published his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, about an artist and his wife who are ruined by their dissipated way of life. After the birth of their daughter, Frances Scott, in 1921 the Fitzgeralds spent much time in Paris and the French Riviera, becoming part of a celebrated circle of American expatriates.

Fitzgerald's masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, appeared in 1925. It is the story of a bootlegger, Jay Gatsby, whose obsessive dream of wealth and lost love is destroyed by a corrupt reality. Cynical yet poignant, the novel is a devastating portrait of the so-called American Dream, which measures success and love in terms of money. The author's long-awaited novel Tender is the Night (1934), a complex study of the spiritual depletion of a psychiatrist who marries a wealthy former patient, although later regarded highly, was initially coolly received.

Fitzgerald's later years were plagued by financial worries and his wife's progressive insanity. The author spent his last years as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Calif. He died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44. The Last Tycoon, a promising unfinished novel about the motion picture industry, was published in 1941. Fitzgerald also published four excellent short story collections: Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), All the Sad Young Men (1926), and Taps at Reveille (1935).

See The Crack-up (ed. by E. Wilson, 1945), a miscellaneous collection of notes, essays, and letters; Fitzgerald's letters (ed. by A. Turnbull, 1963) and J. R. Bryer and C. W. Barks, ed., Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda (2002); biographies by M. J. Bruccoli (1981), J. Mellow (1984), A. Mizener (rev. ed. 1984), and J. Meyers (1994); studies by B. Way (1980) and J. B. Chambers (1989).

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, 1900–1947, b. Montgomery, Ala., was also a writer. She was intermittently confined to sanatoriums after 1930 for schizophrenia, but still managed to publish short stories and a novel, Save Me the Waltz (1932, repr. 1974). Although rather incoherently plotted and written, the novel reveals a genuine, if unformed, writing talent. She was also a ballet dancer and painter.

See The Collected Writings (1991), ed. by M. J. Bruccoli; biography by N. Milford (1970); study by S. Mayfield (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: American Literature: Biographies