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Fitzgerald, F. Scott (1896–1940)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald, circa 1920

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald is a cultural icon of the Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age. His work, although largely underappreciated during his lifetime, reflects the thoughts and feelings of his generation.

The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24th, 1896 in St. Paul. Scott was the first surviving child of Edward Fitzgerald and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald. Mary's family was established in St. Paul high society. Their family home was 481 Laurel Avenue in the wealthy Summit Avenue neighborhood. Scott's father, Edward, was a business man. His career was marred by failure, so the McQuillan's provided financial support for the family.

Fitzgerald's experiences with St. Paul's elite had a profound influence on his life. He loved, and loathed, the life of wealth. He desperately sought acceptance from the elite, but also recognized the emptiness of their lives. This theme is evident in his writing. Works such as This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby reflect Fitzgerald's personal struggle with social acceptance and success. They also demonstrate his clear self-awareness.

Despite his aptitude for literature, Fitzgerald was never a particularly good student. He attended the Catholic Newman School in New Jersey where he pursued his primary interests in literature and theatre. From there, he went on to Princeton University where he struggled academically. Fitzgerald ultimately dropped out of Princeton and enlisted in the military in 1917. The First World War ended shortly after and he never saw combat.

Fitzgerald met his wife Zelda Sayre while based in Alabama as part of his military service. She was from a prominent southern family, but had a wild reputation. She was also renowned for her beauty. In Zelda, Fitzgerald saw his own wit, personality, and social aspirations. At first, she rejected his marriage proposal. She was not convinced that he could support her lifestyle. They were married after the publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, which Fitzgerald completed back home in St. Paul. Shortly after, the couple were celebrities. They exemplified the carefree and wild lifestyle of the new Jazz Age and acquired a reputation for partying and expensive habits.

Despite being known for wild and eccentric behavior, Fitzgerald was observant. He was constantly aware of the complexities of social and class structure. His work vividly portrays the leisurely and intellectual spirit of post-WWI America. It also provides a window into his personal search for meaning and truth.

In 1921, Zelda gave birth to the couple's only child, a daughter, Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald. The family spent the next few years in France, where it was easier to support their expensive lifestyle. There, Scott became friends with novelists Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

Scott and Zelda's health deteriorated shortly after the publication of The Great Gatsby in 1925. Zelda was later hospitalized for her emotional state and erratic behavior, while Scott suffered from the effects of excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption. Their relationship was also damaged by an affair Zelda had while they were in France. The couple returned to the United States in 1931.

The Great Depression brought new feelings and literary tastes to American culture. Fitzgerald's stories about the carefree lives of the elite and privileged class of society were no longer appealing. Scott and Zelda were largely forgotten by the public. Fitzgerald spent much of the 1930s in Hollywood as a screenwriter, trying to make a living. There, in the apartment of his lover, Sheilah Graham, he died of a heart attack in 1940. He was forty-four years old.

Fitzgerald gained renewed popularity in the 1950's and 60's. The American economic revival shifted literary tastes yet again. Scott and Zelda became romantic figures, embodying the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. Although The Great Gatsby received a poor reception in the author's lifetime, it is now considered to be one of the greatest novels in American history. Expressed in his beautiful prose with eloquence, Fitzgerald's themes of social ambition and fulfillment reflect common human desires.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Curnutt, Kirk, ed. A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

———. The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott; West III, James L.W., ed. A Short Autobiography. New York: Scribner, 2011.

Prigozy, Ruth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Woodstock,NY: Overlook Press, 2001.

———, ed. The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Related Audio

MN90: F. Scott Fitzgerald — the voice of his generation | Details

Related Images

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his mother on Laurel Avenue, St. Paul
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his mother on Laurel Avenue, St. Paul
F. Scott Fitzgerald House
F. Scott Fitzgerald House
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at Dellwood the month before Scottie's birth.
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at Dellwood the month before Scottie's birth.
F. Scott Fitzgerald at desk
F. Scott Fitzgerald at desk

Turning Point

In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald publishes his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which launches him into the public eye.

Chronology

1896

F. Scott Fitzgerald is born in St. Paul.

1908

Fitzgerald attends St. Paul Academy.

1911

Fitzgerald enrolls at the Newman School in New Jersey.

1913

Fitzgerald enters Princeton University.

1917

Fitzgerald leaves Princeton and joins the army.

1920

Fitzgerald becomes engaged to Zelda Sayre and publishes This Side of Paradise.

1921

Zelda gives birth to a daughter, Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald.

1924

The Fitzgerald family travels to France.

1925

The Great Gatsby is published.

1930

Zelda suffers a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized.

1931

The Fitzgerald's return to the United States; Zelda admitted to Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins University.

1937

Fitzgerald moves to Hollywood and begins relationship with actress Sheilah Graham.

1940

Scott dies from heart attack in the apartment of Sheilah Graham.

1948

Zelda is killed in a fire at the Highland Hospital in North Carolina.