Almost forgotten at the time of his death in 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald is now regarded as one of America's greatest writers. His reputation rests on a relatively small body of work: four finished novels, collections of short stories and essays. One novel, The Great Gatsby, is considered his masterpiece and ranks as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. The novel is still widely read and has served as the basis for several films, the most recent in 2013.
Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His parents were devout Irish American Catholics. His father held jobs in Buffalo and Syracuse, New York before returning to Minnesota in 1908, a failure (as Fitzgerald would believe) in business. Edward Fitzgerald would, however, give his son a strong sense of right and wrong-a moral compass that can be seen in The Great Gatsby through the character of Nick Carraway. Despite his father's failures in certain aspects of life, Fitzgerald always admired him.
Fitzgerald was sent to a private school in New Jersey when he was 15. After graduating from the Newman School in 1913, he entered Princeton. An undisciplined student, Fitzgerald did poorly academically. He spent most of his time writing for the Triangle Club. Eventually he dropped out of college in 1917 and joined the Army. He never earned his Princeton degree.
While stationed in Alabama, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre and fell in love. He was discharged from the Army in 1918 and was never deployed to France. He moved back to St. Paul to rewrite his first novel after Zelda broke their engagement. This Side of Paradise was published in 1920 and became a best seller. Fitzgerald married Zelda in New York . Their only child was born in 1921.
Fitzgerald and his family lived in Europe for most of the 1920's. It was there that he worked on The Great Gatsby. He also wrote numerous short stories to finance his extravagent lifestyle. He and his wife epitomized the Jazz Age, ( a term he coined). However heavy drinking and partying began to take their toll. Zelda's mental health began to seriously deteriorate in 1930 and she needed to be hospitalized. She would never fully regain her health and tragically died in a fire in 1948.
Fitzgerald continued to write during the 1930's despite his alcoholism. In 1937 he moved to Hollywood and wrote screenplays. He also became romantically involved with Sheilah Graham. He began to suffer heart problems but continued to work. He was working on his fifth novel when he died at the age of 44 from a heart attack. He died thinking he was a failure. Scholars believe his last unfinished novel would have revived his reputation.
Fitzgerald's status has grown over the years. His novels and short stories continue to be read and analyzed. Characters from his books--Amory Blaine, Dick Diver, Anthony Patch and especially Jay Gatsby have permanent places in American literature.