The novels and stories for which F. Scott Fitzgerald is best known examine an entire generation's search for the elusive American dream of wealth and happiness. The glamour and easygoing ways of the youthful, wealthy characters portrayed in Fitzgerald's novels This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and Damned (1922), and The Great Gatsby (1925) were taken from Fitzgerald's own life and that of his wife and friends.
Nevertheless, they reflect only one side of a writer whose second and final decade of work portrayed a life marred by alcoholism and financial difficulties, troubled by lost love, and frustrated by lack of inspiration. Much like his personal experience, Fitzgerald's works mirror the headiness, ambition, despair, and disillusionment of America in his lifetime.
Admires rich and beautiful
Born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of well-to-do Midwestern parents, Francis Scott Fitzgerald was an exceptionally smart child with an early interest in writing plays and poetry. As a young man he copied the actions of the rich, youthful, and beautiful, a social group with whom he maintained a lifelong love-hate relationship.
Following two years in an eastern preparatory school, he enrolled in 1913 at Princeton University. His first stories appeared in Nassau Lit, Princeton's literary magazine, which was edited by his friend and fellow student Edmund Wilson.
Leaving Princeton for the army during World War I (1914-18), Fitzgerald spent his weekends in camp writing the earliest draft of his first novel, This Side of Paradise. The acceptance of this work for publication in 1919 and the resulting popular and financial success it achieved enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre. Zelda was a socially prominent young woman he had met and courted during his army days. She significantly affected her husband's life and career. During the 1920s she was Fitzgerald's private literary consultant and editor, while publicly she matched Fitzgerald's extravagant tastes and passion in living for the moment.
While continuing to illustrate the manners of the Roaring Twenties, Fitzgerald's second and third novels, as well as the story collections published between novels, were evidence of a growing awareness of the shallowness and brutal insensitivity that are sometimes part of American society. These weaknesses and America's lost ideals are movingly described in Fitzgerald's strongest and most famous work, The Great Gatsby (1925). Although it gained the respect of many prominent American writers and is now considered a classic, The Great Gatsby was not a popular success and marked the beginning of the author's decline in popularity.
Another commercial disappointment, Tender Is the Night (1934) reflected the disillusionment and strain caused by the Great Depression and Zelda's gradual deterioration from schizophrenia. (Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that leads to an inability to function normally.) Zelda eventually suffered a breakdown. These events scarred Fitzgerald, contributing to a deep despair. This brought his career to a near standstill during the mid-1930s. Fitzgerald described the unhappy events in detail in the three confessional "Crack-Up" essays of 1936, which brilliantly portray his pain and suffering. Trying to start anew, he became a motion-picture scriptwriter and began The Last Tycoon, a novel based on his Hollywood experiences. The novel remained unfinished when he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940.
In his first two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald examined the lives of young characters who much resembled Fitzgerald and his friends. They lived for pleasure and acquisitions, yet also were jaded and rebellious. These wealthy Eastern youths helped secure the popular image of a "lost generation" both entranced and repelled by American materialism.