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Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940) was an American novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and short-story writer. Identified with the Lost Generation. He was best known for his novels depicting the flamboyance and excess of the Jazz Age—a term which he popularized. During his lifetime, he published four novels, four collections of short stories, and 164 short stories. Although he temporarily achieved popular success and fortune in the 1920s, Fitzgerald only received wide critical and popular acclaim after his death. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.
Fitzgerald was born into an upper-middle-class family in St. Paul, Minnesota, but was primarily raised in New York. He attended Princeton University, but due to a failed relationship and a preoccupation with writing, he dropped out in 1917 to join the army. Princeton was an all-male university in 1916 and for decades afterwards. F. Scott Fitzgerald was in the Triangle Club which put on The Evil Eye, which he co-wrote, and was printed in The New York Times on January 2, 1916. The newspaper called him "the most beautiful" show girl in the production. However having failed his exams he was not allowed to perform.
While stationed in Alabama, he fell in love with rich socialite Zelda Sayre. Although she initially rejected him due to his financial situation, Zelda agreed to marry Fitzgerald after he had published the commercially successful This Side of Paradise (1920).
In the 1920s, Fitzgerald frequented Europe, where he was influenced by the modernist writers and artists of the "Lost Generation" expatriate community, particularly Ernest Hemingway. His second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922), propelled him into the New York City elite. To maintain his lifestyle during this time, he also wrote several stories for magazines. His third novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), was inspired by his rise to fame and relationship with Zelda. Although it received mixed reviews, The Great Gatsby is now widely praised, with some even labeling it the "Great American Novel". While Zelda was placed at a mental institute for her schizophrenia, Fitzgerald completed his final novel, Tender Is the Night (1934).
F. Scott Fitzgerald was furious when, in May 1929, Dolly Wilde made a pass at Zelda Fitzgerald. More often, with heterosexual men, she was something of a cock-tease. According to her cousin Vyvyan Holland, Oscar Wilde’s son, ‘she was always taking her horse to the water and then refusing to let him drink’. The men who were more at ease with her sense of fun tended to be homosexual. She was a member of Stephen Tennant’s circle and went to Brian Howard’s famous Greek party dressed as Sappho.
Faced with financial difficulties due to the declining popularity of his works, Fitzgerald turned to Hollywood, writing and revising screenplays. Completely estranged from Zelda, he began an affair with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. After a long struggle with alcoholism, he died in 1940, at the age of 44. On the night of December 20, 1940, Fitzgerald and 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 walking; 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. Upon entering the apartment to assist Fitzgerald, Culver stated, "I'm afraid he's dead." Fitzgerald had died of a heart attack, aged just 44. Among the attendees 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 Bethesda, Maryland, where his funeral was attended by only thirty people; among the attendees were his only child, Scottie Fitzgerald,[note 4] and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. At the time of his death, the Roman Catholic Church denied the family's request that Fitzgerald, a non-practicing Catholic, be buried in the family plot in the Catholic Saint Mary's Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. Fitzgerald was instead buried at Rockville Union Cemetery. When Zelda Fitzgerald died in 1948, in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital, she was originally buried next to him at Rockville Union. In 1975, Scottie successfully petitioned to have the earlier decision revisited, and her parents' remains were moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's.
Fitzgerald, an alcoholic since college, became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, which would undermine his health by the late 1930s. His alcoholism resulted in cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, angina, dyspnea, and syncopal spells. 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 according to Milford, 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". In the 1930s, Fitzgerald had told Hemingway of his fear of dying from "congestion of the lungs." Others have suggested that the writer's hemorrhage was caused by bleeding from esophageal varices. Fitzgerald died before he could complete his fifth novel. His manuscript, which included extensive notes for the unwritten part of the novel's story, was completed by his friend, the literary critic Edmund Wilson. When Wilson published his finished version, titled The Last Tycoon,[note 5] in 1941, he included The Great Gatsby within the edition, sparking new interest and discussion. The novel gained further popularity during World War II, when it was selected to be part of the Armed Services Editions, books which were printed for American troops. Through an arrangement with the Red Cross, some novels were even sent to Japanese and German POW camps. By 1945, over 123,000 copies of The Great Gatsby had been distributed among American troops. In 1960, New York Times editorialist Arthur Mizener declared that it was "probably safe now to say that it is a classic of twentieth-century American fiction." Into the 21st century, millions of copies of The Great Gatsby and his other works have been sold, and The Great Gatsby is required reading in many high school and college classes.
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