If the 1920s, also known as the Jazz Age, ever saw a rock star, it would be Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. He lived one of the most eccentric and luxurious lifestyles during those time. However, despite this, he would be known for his works as a novelist and writer, which made him a legendary figure in American literary history.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the only son of Edward Fitzgerald and Mary “Mollie” McQuillan. They moved to Buffalo, New York in 1898, where his father worked as a salesman in Proctor & Gamble. In 1908, his father lost his job and they moved back to St. Paul.
In the same year, Francis Scott Fitzgerald attended the St. Paul Academy. His first writing that was printed was a detective story entitled The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage, which appeared in the Academy’s student paper. During 1911–1913 he enrolled at Newman School in New Jersey where he met Father Cyril Webster Sigourney Fay, whom he regarded as his mentor. Early in his life, he already displayed his interest in theater and writing, but it was not until 1913, when he entered Princeton University, when his passion flourished. He wrote scripts for musicals for the Princeton Triangle Club’s including Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!. He also wrote stories for The Princeton Tiger and the Nassau Literary Magazine. In addition, he wrote amateur plays including The Girl From Lazy J and Coward. It was also during his stay at Princeton that he met many lifelong friends, including writers John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson.
However, in his pursuit of a literary career, he often times neglected his studies. As a result, he was placed on academic probation. After realizing that he will not graduate, in 1917, he left Princeton and joined the army as a second lieutenant in the infantry. In his fear that he would die in the war, he started writing his first novel, The Romantic Egotist. Although the novel was praised by the publisher for its originality, it was rejected. It was not until March 26, 1920, after several revisions, that the novel was published as This Side of Paradise. It was about the aspirations and love frustrations of its main character, Amory Blaine. It was a success and became one the most popular books of the year. At age 24, Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s debut novel made him an instant celebrity. A week after that, he married Zelda Sayre at New York, and on October 1921, their daughter Frances Scott “Scottie” was born.
The 1920s, or the “Roaring Twenties,” proved to be the most influential decade of Fitzgerald’s career. His writings were representative of the time. He first coined the term “Jazz Age” in 1922 (Bryer 239), which the decade was later known as. His works mirrored the culture of the time and he became the voice of his generation. In 1922, his second novel The Beautiful and The Damned was published, and in the same year, his collection of short stories, Tales of The Jazz Age, came out. He also tried the theater in The Vegetable but it did not do well. However, it was in 1925 when The Great Gatsby was published that he became identified with the Jazz Age (Bruccoli 5). It was considered the essential Jazz Age document because it reflected the vital spirit of the country, especially the decadence and decline of the society (Bryer 246). It is about the traditional American dream, but in the pursuit of that dream, principles and morals gave way to the pursuit of money. The Great Gatsby signified the irresponsible optimism of the period.
However, his success became the start of his downfall. With his fame and money, the Fitzgeralds lived lavishly and luxuriously (Mellow 59). They had constant parties at their home and they had frequent trips to Europe, especially Paris and the French Riviera. Fitzgerald also had a reputation as an alcoholic. As a result, he was often in debt. At the same time, despite the impact The Great Gatsby had, its sales were poor, so to support their lifestyle, he wrote short stories for magazines. Then, his life took another turn when his wife experienced a mental breakdown. She was in and out of sanitariums, which added to their expenses. As a result, Fitzgerald had to postpone his novel to write short stories. In 1934, his fourth novel Tender Is the Night was a commercial failure. Like The Great Gatsby, it did not sell well. When he was unable to write short stories anymore because people lost interest in reading them, in 1937, he went to Hollywood where he signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $1,000 a week. While in Hollywood, he fell in love with Sheilah Graham, a movie columnist. He also wrote freelance scripts and continued writing short stories. But his alcoholism and physical illness interfered with his life and work, and on December 21, 1940, he died of a heart attack.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s life is both of success and tragedy. His personal life is as famous as his works. His life not only paralleled his stories and the characters he created but also represented the times in which he lived in. But despite this, he will forever be identified with the Jazz Age and his works earned its place among the American classics.