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F(rancis) Scott (Key) Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

 

American short-story writer and novelist, known for his depictions of the Jazz Age (the 1920s). With the glamorous Zelda Sayre (1900-48), Fitzgerald lived a colorful life of parties and money-spending. At the beginning of one of his stories Fitzgerald wrote the rich "are different from you and me". This privileged world he depicted in such novels as The Beautiful and Damned (1922) and The Great Gatsby (1925), which is widely considered Fitzgerald's finest novel.

"It was my first inkling that he was a writer. And while I like writers - because if you ask a writer anything, you usually get an answer - still it belittled him in my eyes. Writers aren't people exactly. Or, if they're any good, they're a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It's like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors. Who lean backward trying  only to see their faces in the reflecting chandeliers." (from The Last Tycoon, 1941)

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St Paul, Minnesota of mixed Southern and Irish descent. He was given three names after the writer of The Star Spangled Banner, to whom he was distantly related. His father, Edward Fitzgerald, was a salesman, a Southern gentleman, whose furniture business had failed. Mary McQuillan, his mother, was the daughter of a successful wholesale grocer, and devoted to her only son. The family moved regularly, but settled finally in 1918 in St. Paul. At the age of 18 Fitzgerald fell in love with the 16-year-old Ginevra King, the prototype of Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby.

Fitzgerald started to write at St. Paul Academy. His first published story, 'The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage' appeared in 1909 in Now and Then. Fitzgerald entered in 1913 Princeton University, where he failed to become a football hero. He left his studies in 1917 because of his poor academic records, and took up a commission in the US Army. His experiences during World War I were more peaceful than Hemingway's – he never saw action and even did not go to France. The Romantic Egoist, a novel started in Princeton, was returned from Scribner's with an encouraging letter.

Demobilised in 1919, Fitzgerald worked briefly in New York for the Barron Collier  advertising agency. There he learned how promotion and attractive public personality could help sell books. His first story, 'Babes in the Wood,' was published in The Smart Set. Fitzgerald received from it thirty dollars and bought with the money a pair of white flannels. The turning point in his life was when he met in 1918 Zelda Sayre, herself as aspiring writer, and married her in 1920.

Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), circulated material from The Romantic Egoist. The hero, Amory Blaine, studies in Princeton, serves in WW I in France. At the end of the story he finds that his own egoism has been the cause of his unhappiness. The book gained success which the Fitzgeralds celebrated energetically in parties. Zelda danced on people's dinner tables. Doors opened for Fitzgerald into literary magazines, such as Scribner's and The Saturday Evening Post, which published his stories, among them 'The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.'

Fitzgerald's debts started to grow, and Zelda discovered that she was pregnant – the baby was born in 1921. Fitzgerald met in Paris Joyce who said: "That young man must be mad – I'm afraid he'll do himself some injury." The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald's second novel, depicted Anthony Patch, an intelligent, sensitive but weak man. He spends his grandfather's money in drinking. In the end of the novel he has lost with his wife, Gloria, illusions of beauty and truth. The work was less well received and in 1924 Fitzgerald moved to Europe. There he associated with such writers as Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. The Great Gatsby received excellent reviews but the book did not make the money Fitzgerald expected. He was drunk long periods. Dramatized version of the book opened at the Ambassador Theatre in New York on February 2, 1926. The play's success made possible the sale of Gatsby to the movies. The first film adaptation was made in the same year, directed by Herbert Brenon.

The setting of The Great Gatsby is New York City and Long Island during the 1920s. Nick Carraway, the narrator, works as a bond broker in Manhattan. He becomes involved in the life of his neighbor at Long Island , Jay Gatsby, shady and mysterious financier, who is entertaining hundreds of guests at lavish parties. Gatsby reveals to Nick, that he and Nick's cousin Daisy Fay Buchanan, had a brief affair before the war. However, Daisy married Tom Buchanan, a rich but boring man of social position. Gatsby lost Daisy because he had no money, but he is still in love with her. He persuades Nick to bring him and Daisy together again. "You can't repeat the past," Nick says to him. Gatsby tries to convince Daisy to leave Tom, who, in turn, reveals that Gatsby has made his money from bootlegging. "They're a rotten bunch," Nick shouts to Gatsby. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." Daisy, driving Gatsby's car, hits and kills Tom's mistress, Myrtle Wilson, unaware of her identity. Gatsby remains silent to protect Daisy. Tom tells Myrtle's husband it was Gatsby who killed his wife. Wilson murders Gatsby and then commits suicide. Nick is left to arrange Gatsby's funeral, attended only Gatsby's father and one former guest.

During the next five years the Fitzgeralds travelled between Europe and America several times. First they did not find Paris attractive, but their affection grew during the subsequent years. Unaccustomed to European hotels, they used the bidet as a baby bath for Scottie, their daughter. The last time Zelda and Scott saw Paris was 1931. They spent four days at the Majestic Hôtel before returning to the states.

Louis Bromfield wrote about their apartment in Paris: "... it represented to some degree the old aspirations and a yearning for stability, but somehow it got only half-way and was neither one thing or the other." Years later Fitzgerald explained to his daughter that "I decided to marry your mother after all, even though I knew she was spoiled and meant no good to me.'' He once said that she was well known in Montgomery, Alabama for being a drunk at 17.

To support his expensive life style with Zelda, Fitzgerald frequently interrupted his work on his novels to write short stories and brought high fees from the popular magazines. His stormy relationship with Zelda is told in his novel The Crack-Up (1945). For a few months in 1927, and then again in 1931 and 1932, Fitzgerald worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Between Tender Is the Night (1934), and 'The Crack-Up' (1936) Fitzgerald wrote little. In the middle thirties he had lost his illusions and believed he had not produced first-rate books.

"I have cut myself off from the respect of my fellow men, but I am aware of a compensatory cirrhosis of the emotions. And because my sensitivity, my pity, no longer has direction, but fixes itself on whatever is at hand, I have become an exceptionally good fellow  much more so than when I was a good doctor." (Dr. Janney in 'Family in the Wind', 1933)

Fitzgerald's alcoholism and Zelda's mental breakdown attracted wide publicity in the 1930s. Fitzgerald learned that each breakdown made her final recovery less likely. His dependence on alcohol increased. In a letter to a friend he wrote: "A short story can be written on a bottle, but for a novel you need mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern in your head and ruthlessly sacrifice as Ernest did in "Farewell to Arms." If a mind is slowed up ever so little it lives in the individual part of a book rather than in a book as a whole; memory is dulled." He returned to Hollywood in 1937, where he met Sheilah Graham, a gossip columnist, with whom he lived for the rest of his life.

Fitzgerald worked on various screenplays, but completed only one, Three Comrades (1938), before he was fired because of his drinking. The screenplay was based on Erich Maria Remarque's novel. When the young writer Budd Schulberg heard that he would cooperate with Fitzgerald in a film project, he said: "I thought he was dead." In a letter to his daughter from Hollywood in 1938 Fitzgerald revealed the "what I am doing here is the last tired effort of a man who once did something finer and better".

In 1939 Fitzgerald began a novel about Hollywood, The Last Tycoon, loosely based on the life of Irving Thalberg. Before the book was finished, Fitzgerald died suddenly of occlusive coronary arteriosclerosis, on December 21, 1940, in Hollywood, while sitting in an armchair in Sheilah Graham's apartment, reading about the Princeton football team. He was forty-four years old. His body was sent to east, to be buried with his father in Rockville, Maryland, but St Mary's Church refused him burial – he hadn't received last rites. The burial sermon was attended by about twenty people; Zelda was absent because she was not permitted by her doctors to go. An Episcopalian rector, who delivered the sermon, made public his disgust forFitzgerald: "The only reason I agreed to give the service, was to get the body in the ground. He was a no-good, drunken bum, and the world was well rid of him."

Zelda Sayre died in a hospital fire in 1948. Their tragedy was basis Fitzgerald's novel Tender is the Night, which he revised repeatedly. His tortuous marriage was commented upon by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast (1964). In Tender is the Night a brilliant psychiatrist, Dick Diver, falls in love with a rich, beautiful mental patient, Nicole Warren. He marries her, and loses his idealism and potential for a great career, but Nicole, having battened on Dick's strength and love for ten years, emerges victorious. Fitzgerald's novel Trimalchio, which came out in 1999, was partly based on Petronius' (died AD 66) Satyricon. The vulgar and rich Trimalchio, whose banquet Petronius satirized in his work, was the literary prototype of Jay Gatsby. The Great Gatsby was originally to be entitled Trimalchio's Banquet.

Several of Fitzgerald's stories have been filmed. The The Great Gatsby was adapted into screen first time in 1926, but the most famous version, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, was made in 1974. Henry King's Tender is the Night (1962) is considered a thoughtful and absorbing romantic drama. The Last Tycoon (1976), adopted by Harold Pinter and directed by Elia Kazan, was characterized in the New Yorker so enervated "it's like a vampire movie after the vampires have left." Richard Brooks's The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson, was based on the short story 'Babylon Revised'.

For further reading: The Far side of Paradise by A. Mizener (1951. rev. ed. 1965); F. Scott Fitzgerald by A. Turnbull (1962); F. Scott Fitzgerald by K. Eble (1963; The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald by S.Perosa (1965); F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait by H.D. Piper (1965); F. Scott Fitzgerald by C.E. Shain (1967); The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald by M.R. Stern (1969); Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood by A. Latham (1970); F. Scott Fitzgerald by K.G.W. Cross (1971); F. Scott Fitzgerald by R.A. Gallo (1978); Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Matthew J. Bruccoli (1981); Fool for Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald by S. Donaldson (1983); Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby, ed. by Scott Donaldson (1984); The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder by Ronald Berman (1989); F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction by John Richard Kuehl (1991); F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z, by Mary Jo Tate et al (1998); An F. Scott Fitzgerald Encyclopedia by Robert L. Gale (1998); F. Scott Fitzgerald: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide, ed. by Harold Bloom (1999); Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise by Sally Cline (2002); The Perfect Hour by James L.W. West III (2005); Careless People: Muder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell (2013) - See also: Nathanael West, Zelda and Carl Jung

Selected bibliography:  

  • This Side of Paradise, 1920
    - Maan päällä kuin taivaissa (suom. Heikki Salojärvi, 1984)
  • Flappers and Philosophers, 1920 (contains The Offshore Pirate, The Ice Palace, Head and Shoulders, The Cut-Glass Bowl, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Benediction, Dalyrimple Goes Wrong, The Four Fists)
    - films: The Off-Shore Pirate, 1921, dir. by Dallas M. Fitzgerald; Bernice Bobs Her Hair, TV film 1976, dir. by Joan Micklin Silver, featuring Shelley Duvall, Veronica Cartwright
  • Tales of the Jazz Age, 1922 (contains The Jelly-Bean, The Camel's Back, May Day, Porcelain and Pink, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Tarquin of Cheapside, "O Russet Witch!", The Lees of Happiness, Mr. Icky, Jemina, the Mountain Girl)
    - Jazz-ajan sykkivä sydän (suom. Ritva Mäkelä, 1979) / Benjamin Buttonin erikoinen elämä (suom. Maria Enqvist, 2014)
    - film: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008, dir. by David Fincher, screenplay by Eric Roth, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett
  • The Beautiful and Damned, 1922
    - Kaunis ja kadotukseen tuomittu (suom. Antero Hälvä, 1954)
    - films: 1922, prod. Warner Bros. Pictures, dir. by William A. Seiter; 2010, dir. by Richard Wolstencroft, starring John Brumpton, Brian Canham and Peter Christopherson
  • The Vegetable, or From President to Postman, 1923 (play)
  • Grit, 1924 (screenplay, with James Ashmore Creelman, dir. Frank Tuttle, starring Glenn Hunter, Helenka Adamowska and Roland Young)
  • The Great Gatsby, 1925
    - Kultahattu (suom. Marja Niiniluoto, 1959)
    - films: 1926, dir. by Herbert Brenon, starring Warner Baxter and Lois Wilson; 1949, dir. by Eliot Nugen, starring Alan Ladd and Betty Fieldt; 1974, dir. by Jack Clayton, adapted by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern. "The biggest problem with the film, however - and with the two versions that preceded it - is the lack of a clear and consistent point of view. Here is a case where mere fidelity between novel and film is not enough to guarantee a successful adaptation." (from Novels into Film by John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, 1999); 2000 (TV film), dir. by Robert Markowitz, starring Mira Sorvino, Toby Stephens, Paul Rudd, Martin Donovan; 2013, dir. Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton
  • All the Sad Young Men, 1926
  • Pusher-in-the-Face, 1929 (short film, screenplay; dir. Robert Florey, starring Lester Allen, Estelle Taylor and Lillian Walker)
  • Tender Is the Night, 1934
    - Yö on hellä (suom. Pentti Saarikoski, 1980)
    - films: 1961, dir. by Henry King, starring Jennifer Jones, Jason Robards, Joan Fontaine, Tom Ewell; 1985 (TV mini-series), dir. Robert Knights, starring Peter Strauss, Mary Steenburgen, John Heard, Sean Young
  • Taps at Reveille, 1935 (contains The Scandal Detectives, The Freshest Boy, He Thinks He's Wonderful, The Captured Shadow, The Perfect Life, First Blood, A Nice Quiet Place, A Woman with a Past, Crazy Sunday, Two Wrongs, The Night of Chancellorsville, The Last of the Belles, Majesty, Family in the Wind, A Short Trip Home, One Interne, The Fiend, Babylon Revisited)
    - films: The Last Time I Saw Paris, 1954, based on Babylon Revisited, dir. by Richard Brooks, featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, Donna Reed, Walter Pidgeon, Eva Gabor, Roger Moore; Einer meiner ältesten Freunde, 1994, dir. by Rainer Kaufmann, based on Babylon Revisited
  • Three Comrades, 1938 (screenplay, with  Edward E. Paramore Jr., based on Erich Maria Remarque's novel, dir. Frank Borgaze, starring Robert Taylor, Margaret Sullavan and Franchot Tone)
  • Honeymoon in Bali, 1939 (screenplay with others, uncredited; dir. Edward H. Griffith, starring Fred MacMurray, Madeleine Carroll and Allan Jones)
  • Raffles, 1939 (screenplay with others, uncredited; dir. Sam Wood, starring David Niven, Olivia de Havilland and Dame May Whitty)
  • The Crack-Up, 1945 (with other uncollected pieces, note-books and unpublished letters, together with letters to Fitzgerald from Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos, and essays and poems by Paul Rosenfeld, Glenway Wescott, John Dos Passos, John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson. Edited by Edmund Wilson) 
  • The Last Tycoon: An Unfinished Novel, 1941
    - Viimeinen ruhtinas (suom. Juhani Koskinen, 1980)
    - film 1976, dir. by Elia Kazan, starring Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson, Donald Pleasance
  • The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1949 (selected by Dorothy Parker)
  • Afternoon of An Author: A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays, 1950 (with an introd. and notes by Arthur Mizener)
  • The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Selection of 28 Stories, 1951 (with an introd. by Malcolm Cowley)
  • The Pat Hobby Stories, 1962 (with an introduction by Arnold Gingrich)
    - Pat Hobby -tarinat (suom. Heikki Salojärvi, 1981)
  • The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1964 (edited by Andrew Turnbull)
  • The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1909-1917, 1965 (edited with an introd. by John Kuehl)
  • F.Scott Fitzgerald, Letters to His Daughter, 1965 (ed. A. Turnbull)
  • Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, 1970 (edited by John Kuehl and Jackson R. Bryer)
  • As Ever, Scott Fitz: Letters Between F. Scott Fitzgerald & Harold Ober 1919-40, 1972 (ed. J. Atkinson, M. Bruccoli)
  • Bits of Paradise:  21 Uncollected Stories by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, 1973 (selected by Scottie Fitzgerald Smith and Matthew J. Bruccoli. With a foreword by Scottie Fitzgerald Smith)
  • The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1978 (ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli)
  • The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1979 (ed. (Matthew J. Bruccoli)
  • Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1980 (edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duggan)
  • Poems, 1911-1940, 1981 (edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli; foreword by James Dickey)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald on Writing, 1985 (edited by Larry W. Phillips)
  • The Basil and Josephine stories, 1987 (edited with an introduction by Jackson R. Bryer and John Kuehl)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald Manuscripts, 1990- (edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, et al.)
  • A Life in Letters, 1994 (edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli; with the assistance of Judith S. Baughman)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Princeton Years: Selected Writings, 1914-1920, 1996 (ed. by Chip Deffaa)
  • Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby, 1999 (ed. James L W West, III)
  • Before Gatsby: The First Twenty-Six Stories, 2001 (edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli with the assistance of Judith S. Baughman)
  • Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda. The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, 2002 (edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Barks)
  • The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2004 (edited by Patricia Hampl & Dave Page)
  • Conversations with F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2004 (edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman)
  • My Lost City: Personal Essays, 1920-1940, 2005 (edited by James L.W. West, III)
  • All the Sad Young Men, 2007 (edited by James L.W. West III)
  • The Lost Decade: Short Stories from Esquire, 1936-1941, 2008 (edited by James L.W. West, III)
  • The Basil, Josephine, and Gwen Stories, 2009 (edited by James L.W. West III)
  • Spires and Gargoyles: Early Writings, 1909-1919, 2010 (edited by James L.W. West III)
  • Dreams of Youth: The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2011 (edited by Andrew Turnbull)


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