Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Life and career
Born in 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to an upper middle class family, Fitzgerald was named after his famous second cousin, three times removed, Francis Scott Key, but was referred to as "Scott." He was also named after his deceased sister, Louise Scott, one of two sisters who died shortly before his birth. "Well, three months before I was born," he wrote as an adult, "my mother lost her other two children ... I think I started then to be a writer." His parents were Mollie (McQuillan) and Edward Fitzgerald. His mother was of Irish descent, and his father had Irish and English ancestry.
Fitzgerald spent the first decade of his childhood primarily in Buffalo, New York (1898–1901 and 1903–1908, with a short interlude in Syracuse, New York between January 1901 and September 1903). His parents, both practicing Catholics, sent Fitzgerald to two Catholic schools on the West Side of Buffalo, first Holy Angels Convent (1903–1904, now disused) and then Nardin Academy (1905–1908). His formative years in Buffalo revealed him to be a boy of unusual intelligence and drive with a keen early interest in literature, his doting mother ensuring that her son had all the advantages of an upper-middle-class upbringing. In a rather unconventional style of parenting, Fitzgerald attended Holy Angels with the peculiar arrangement that he go for only half a day—and was allowed to choose which half.
In 1908, his father was fired from Procter & Gamble, and the family returned to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy in St. Paul from 1908 to 1911. When he was 13 he saw his first piece of writing appear in print — a detective story published in the school newspaper. In 1911, when Fitzgerald was 15 years old, his parents sent him to the Newman School, a prestigious Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. There he met Father Sigourney Fay, who noticed his incipient talent with the written word and encouraged him to pursue his literary ambitions.
After graduating from the Newman School in 1913, Fitzgerald decided to stay in New Jersey to continue his artistic development at Princeton University. At Princeton, he firmly dedicated himself to honing his craft as a writer. There he became friends with future critics and writers Edmund Wilson (Class of 1916) and John Peale Bishop (Class of 1917), and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club, the Nassau Lit, and the Princeton Tiger. He also was involved in the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, which ran the Nassau Lit. His absorption in the Triangle—a kind of musical-comedy society—led to his submission of a novel to Charles Scribner's Sons where the editor praised the writing but ultimately rejected the book. He was a member of the University Cottage Club, which still displays Fitzgerald's desk and writing materials in its library.
Fitzgerald's writing pursuits at Princeton came at the expense of his coursework. He was placed on academic probation, and in 1917 he dropped out of school to join the U.S. Army. Afraid that he might die in World War I with his literary dreams unfulfilled, in the weeks before reporting to duty Fitzgerald hastily wrote a novel called The Romantic Egotist. Although the publisher Charles Scribner's Sons rejected the novel, the reviewer noted its originality and encouraged Fitzgerald to submit more work in the future.
Fitzgerald was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to Camp Sheridan outside of Montgomery, Alabama. While at a country club, Fitzgerald met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre (1900–1948), the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court justice and the "golden girl," in Fitzgerald's terms, of Montgomery youth society. The war ended in 1918, before Fitzgerald was ever deployed, and upon his discharge he moved to New York City hoping to launch a career in advertising lucrative enough to convince Zelda to marry him. He worked for the Barron Collier advertising agency, living in a single room at 200 Claremont Avenue in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on Manhattan's west side.
Zelda accepted his marriage proposal, but after some time and despite working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince her that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement. Fitzgerald returned to his parents' house at 599 Summit Avenue, on Cathedral Hill, in St. Paul, to revise The Romantic Egoist, recast as This Side of Paradise, about the post-WWI flapper generation. Fitzgerald was so low on finances that he took up a job repairing car roofs. The revised novel was accepted by Scribner's in the fall of 1919, and Zelda and Fitzgerald resumed their engagement. The novel was published on March 26, 1920, and became one of the most popular books of the year. Fitzgerald and Zelda were married in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Their daughter (only child), Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921.
"The Jazz Age"
Paris in the 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. Fitzgerald made several excursions to Europe, mostly Paris and the French Riviera, and became friends with many members of the American expatriate community in Paris, notably Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald's friendship with Hemingway was quite vigorous, as many of Fitzgerald's relationships would prove to be. Hemingway did not get on well with Zelda. In addition to describing her as "insane" he claimed that she "encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Fitzgerald from his work on his novel," the other work being the short stories he sold to magazines. As did most professional authors at the time, Fitzgerald supplemented his income by writing short stories for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly, and Esquire, and sold his stories and novels to Hollywood studios. This "whoring", as Fitzgerald and, subsequently, Hemingway called these sales, was a sore point in the authors' friendship. Fitzgerald claimed that he would first write his stories in an authentic manner but then put in "twists that made them into saleable magazine stories."
Although Fitzgerald's passion lay in writing novels, only his first novel sold well enough to support the opulent lifestyle that he and Zelda adopted as New York celebrities. Because of this lifestyle, as well as the bills from Zelda's medical care when they came, Fitzgerald was constantly in financial trouble and often required loans from his literary agent, Harold Ober, and his editor at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins. When Ober decided not to continue advancing money to Fitzgerald, the author severed ties with his longtime friend and agent. (Fitzgerald offered a good-hearted and apologetic tribute to this support in the late short story "Financing Finnegan".)
Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland. Fitzgerald rented the "La Paix" estate in the suburb of Towson, Maryland to work on his latest book, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries Nicole Warren, one of his patients. The book went through many versions, the first of which was to be a story of matricide. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his "material" (i.e., their life together). When Zelda wrote and sent to Scribner's her own fictional version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and was able to make some changes prior to the novel's publication, and convince her doctors to keep her from writing any more about what he called his "material," which included their relationship. His book was finally published in 1934 as Tender Is the Night. Critics who had waited nine years for the followup to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about the novel. Most were thrown off by its three-part structure and many felt that Fitzgerald had not lived up to their expectations. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but like the earlier Gatsby, the book's reputation has since risen significantly.
In 1937, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood, and he made his highest annual income thus far of $29,757.87. Most of the income came from short story sales. Besides writing, he also started to get involved in the film industry. Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits, and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. Published posthumously as The Last Tycoon, it was based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg. Among his other film projects was Madame Curie, for which he received no credit. In 1939, MGM ended the contract, and Fitzgerald became a freelance screenwriter. However, during all this, Fitzgerald's alcoholic tendencies still remained, and conflict with Zelda surfaced. Fitzgerald and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the East Coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, the gossip columnist, in Hollywood. In addition, records from the 1940 U.S. Census reflect that he was officially living at the estate of Edward Everett Horton in Encino, California San Fernando Valley. From 1939 until his death in 1940, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack through the character of Pat Hobby in a sequence of 17 short stories, later collected as "The Pat Hobby Stories" which garnered many positive reviews. The Pat Hobby Stories were published in The Esquire and appeared from January 1940 to July 1941, even after Fitzgerald died.
Illness and death
Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Fitzgerald claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis, but Milford dismisses it as a pretext to cover his drinking problems. However, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli contends that Fitzgerald did in fact have recurring tuberculosis, and Nancy Milford reports that Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener said that Fitzgerald suffered a mild attack of tuberculosis in 1919, and in 1929 he had "what proved to be a tubercular hemorrhage". It has been said that the hemorrhage was caused by bleeding from esophageal varices.
Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in the late 1930s. After the first, in Schwab's Drug Store, he was ordered by his doctor to avoid strenuous exertion. He moved in with Sheilah Graham, who lived in Hollywood on North Hayworth Avenue, one block east of Fitzgerald's apartment on North Laurel Avenue. Fitzgerald had two flights of stairs to climb to his apartment; Graham's was on the ground floor. On the night of December 20, 1940, Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham attended the premiere of This Thing Called Love starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas. As the two were leaving the Pantages Theater, Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had trouble leaving the theater; upset, he said to Graham, "They think I am drunk, don't they?"
The following day, as Fitzgerald ate a candy bar and made notes in his newly arrived Princeton Alumni Weekly, Graham saw him jump from his armchair, grab the mantelpiece, gasp, and fall to the floor. She ran to the manager of the building, Harry Culver, founder of Culver City. Upon entering the apartment to assist Fitzgerald, he stated, "I'm afraid he's dead." Fitzgerald had died of a heart attack. His body was moved to the Pierce Brothers Mortuary.
Among the attendants at a visitation held at a funeral home was Dorothy Parker, who reportedly cried and murmured "the poor son-of-a-bitch," a line from Jay Gatsby's funeral in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. His body was transported to Maryland, where his funeral was attended by twenty or thirty people in Bethesda; among the attendants were his only child, Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith (then age 19), and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. Fitzgerald was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery. Zelda died in 1948, in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Scottie Smith worked to overturn the Archdiocese of Baltimore's ruling that Fitzgerald died a non-practicing Catholic, so that he could be buried at the Roman Catholic Saint Mary's Cemetery where his father's family was interred; this involved "re-Catholicizing" Fitzgerald after his death. Both of the Fitzgeralds' remains were moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's Cemetery, in Rockville, Maryland, in 1975.
Fitzgerald died at age 44, before he could complete The Love of the Last Tycoon. His manuscript, which included extensive notes for the unwritten part of the novel's story, was edited by his friend, the literary critic Edmund Wilson, and published in 1941 as The Last Tycoon. In 1994 the book was reissued under the original title The Love of the Last Tycoon, which is now agreed to have been Fitzgerald's preferred title.