F. Scott Fitzgerald
September 24, 1896-December 21, 1940
Birth Date: September 24, 1896
Place of Birth: Saint Paul, Minnesota
Death Date: December 21, 1940
Place of Death: Hollywood, California
Genre(s): NOVELS; SHORT STORIES; FICTION
Table of Contents:
Biographical and Critical EssayJump to Additional DLB Essay(s) on This Author:
American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939
Personal Information: Education: Princeton University, 19131917
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a writer very much of his own time. As Malcolm Cowley once put it, he lived in a room full of clocks and calendars. The years ticked away while he noted the songs, the shows, the books, the quarterbacks. His own career followed the pattern of the nation, booming in the early 1920s and skidding into near oblivion during the depths of the Depression. Yet his fiction did more than merely report on his times, or on himself as a prototypical representative, for Fitzgerald had the gift of double vision. Like Walt Whitman or his own Nick Carraway, he was simultaneously within and without, at once immersed in his times and able to view themand himselfwith striking objectivity. This rare ability, along with his rhetorical brilliance, has established Fitzgerald as one of the major novelists and story writers of the twentieth century.
The source of Fitzgerald 's talent remains a mystery. Edward Fitzgerald , his father, came from tired, old stock with roots in Maryland. His job with Proctor and Gamble took the family to Buffalo and Syracuse for most of his son's first decade. Then the company let Edward Fitzgerald go, and he returned to Saint Paul blaming no one but himself and going daily to an office where there was not much for him to do. He drank more than he should have but had beautiful manners that he taught to his only son. Edward Fitzgerald 's great-great-grandfather was the brother of Francis Scott Key's grandfather, and if Scott Fitzgerald claimed a closer relationship, it was hardly his fault. He had after all been christened Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald , and his mother Mollie was inordinately proud of the Key connection she had married into. Her own family could offer no pretensions to aristocracy, certainly. Philip Francis McQuillan, her father, had emigrated from Ireland in 1843 and built a substantial wholesale grocery business in Saint Paul. From him may have stemmed the energy that fueled Scott Fitzgerald 's production of 160 stories and four and a half novels. Equally important, probably, was Fitzgerald 's sense of having come from two widely different Celtic strains. He had early developed an inferiority complex in a family where the black Irish half ... had the money and looked down on the Maryland side of the family who had, and really had ... `breeding.' As a boy Scott used to imagine that he was born of royal blood but had turned up on the Fitzgeralds' doorstep. He loved his father, but could hardly respect him. His feelings about his mother were even more complicated.
Mollie Fitzgerald had lost two children to epidemics before her bright, handsome Scott came along. No beauty herself, she spoiled her son and loved to show him off. When company called, he was trotted out in his Little Lord Fauntleroy suit to recite or sing and accept the applause. Until he was fifteen, he later remarked, he did not know anyone else was alive. Mollie was also extremely ambitious for her son socially. Though Catholic, Irish, and the son of an unsuccessful businessman, Scott went to dancing school with children of Saint Paul's elite. At an unusually early age he became interested in girls, and still more interested in the game of adolescent courtship. In his Thoughtbook at the age of fourteen, he put down the names of his favorite girls of the moment. Marie Hersey was the prettiest, Margaret Armstrong the best talker. He wanted to be first in the affections of both, and saw no need to draw the line at two. Last year in dancing school I got 11 valentines and this year 15, he wrote. It was a game that he enjoyed playing and that he played better than most. A few years later he wrote for the benefit of his younger sister, Annabel, a closely detailed set of instructions about how to attract boys. Later, in Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1920), he presented some of the same advice in fictional form.
As a youth Fitzgerald revealed a flair for dramatics, first in Saint Paul where he wrote original plays for amateur production, and later at the Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey, and at Princeton, where he composed lyrics for the university's famous Triangle Club productions. He also carried on an extensive correspondence with debutantes and subdebutantes. For Fitzgerald , boy-girl relationships amounted to a kind of contest in which there could be only one winner. There is ample evidence that he regarded man-woman relationships in much the same way, except that as he grew older the game turned into an increasingly bitter and sometimes violent conflict. During the hectic party season in Saint Paul, Christmas of his sophomore year at Princeton, Fitzgerald more than met his match in the charming Ginevra King of Chicago, Lake Forest, and the great world of wealth and family background. They dated a few times and conducted a long and heated correspondence, but in the end, almost inevitably, Fitzgerald lost her. There is a legend that Ginevra's father told Scott that poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls. Whether he said it or not, Fitzgerald intuited such a message and tried to work off some of his disappointment in a number of his most powerful stories, beginning with The Debutante, published in the Nassau Lit in January 1917 and later included in This Side of Paradise (1920).
By the time that famous first novel appeared in 1920, Fitzgerald was engaged to marry yet another enchanting girl, Zelda Sayre of Montgomery, Alabama, the daughter of a judge and by all accounts a belle of shockingly unconventional behavior. But Rosalind Connage in This Side of Paradise derives from Ginevra King, and it is she who rejects Amory Blaine because he is poor and hasn't much by way of prospects. I can't be shut away from the trees and the flowers, cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you, she tells Amory. And: I don't want to think about pots and kitchens and brooms. I want to worry whether my legs will get slick and brown when I swim in the summer. As she tells another suitor, Given a decent start any girl can beat a man nowadays.
It was characteristic of Fitzgerald , who was one of the most autobiographical of writers, to transform his own experience into fiction. Later he was to appropriate Zelda's life in all its tragic dimensions for use in his stories and novels. But in this first novel, which sold more than 40,000 copies in 1920, the focus was on Fitzgerald himself, thinly disguised as the protagonist Amory Blaine, and on the people he had come to know and the events that had befallen him in his young life, particularly during that part of it spent at the Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey, and at Princeton. At Newman Fitzgerald had encountered Father Cyril Sigourney Webster Fay, a worldly Catholic convert who delighted the boy by recognizing his potential and treating him like an adult. For a time Fitzgerald 's Catholic roots threatened to emerge. At Princeton he had met John Peale Bishop, a young literary man who headed the Nassau Lit, Princeton's literary magazine, and became, along with Edmund Wilson, a friend for the long haul. Fay and Bishop appear in This Side of Paradise as Monsignor Darcy and Thomas Parke d'Invilliers, respectively, and it would be easy enough to list actual models for other characters in the novel. Always the emphasis stays on Amory, however. With people and events alike, as Andrew Turnbull observed, Fitzgerald adhered to the Renaissance and Romantic conception of the writer as a man of action who experiences his material at first handnot from lack of imagination, but so he can write about it more intensely.
This Side of Paradise became popular in large part because it portrayed the habits and customs of the young postwar generation. The youths do little more than kiss casually, take an occasional drink, and treat their parents rudely, but in 1920 that was enough to brand them as rebels, even if no one was sure what they were rebelling against. For his part, Amory Blaine is a remarkably tame and impeccably moral young man who flies from the arms of a seductive chorus girl as if she were an agent of the devil. He even utters some high-sounding phrases about democratic socialism. But his principal interest, and that of the novel, is in pursuing two not entirely unrelated goals. Amory seeks to win the golden girl and to achieve recognition as a leader at Princeton. His failure to win Rosalind is hardly Amory's fault, since he could not have prevented his family's loss of wealth. But his failure at Princeton is another matter.
Like Fitzgerald , Amory Blaine throws himself into the work of the Triangle Club (and, in Amory's case, the Daily Princetonian ). He thus neglects his studies to the point where he is eventually ineligible to accept the rewards that would have been his if he had managed even a fair academic record. Like Fitzgerald , Amory spends too much time and energy analyzing the social system at Princeton as a kind of glamorous country club (this aspect of the book outraged some sons of Nassau and drew a letter of objection from Princeton's president). At the end of This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine has presumably matured. I know myself, ... but that is all, he announces. It is doubtful.
In form This Side of Paradise is less a novel than the collected works, to 1920, of its twenty-three-year-old author. Fitzgerald embeds poems, play fragments, and short stories within his sprawling book. As James Miller was to observe, the result reads like what H. G. Wells called the novel of saturation. Yet for all its shortcomings of structure, theme, and character, This Side of Paradise still possesses one unmistakable sign of genius. It has life, and though the times and the customs have changed, the vitality remains.
Maxwell Perkins at Scribners recognized this at once, and encouraged Fitzgerald through two revisions of his book, much of which he completed while serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. From the beginning Perkins believed in Fitzgerald 's talent and was not afraid to show it. He became Fitzgerald 's lifelong friend and financial benefactor. He fought for his author within Scribners during times when it seemed foolish to do so, like the long dry spell between The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934). Fitzgerald wryly imagined how it must have been for Perkins in a late self-deprecatory story called Financing Finnegan (1938). Perkins's efforts were worth the trouble. The house of Scribners brought out all of Fitzgerald 's books during his life, and continues to publish them, in hundreds of thousands of copies, to this day.
With Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Scribners established a policy of following up each Fitzgerald novel with a book of his stories. In book form the stories sold less well than the novels, but they brought princely sums from the magazines. At one stage the Saturday Evening Post was paying Fitzgerald $4,000 per story, but the Fitzgeralds spent money so lavishly that they were almost always in debt. Their extravagance forced Fitzgerald to write more and more stories, which drained him of time and energy that might otherwise have gone into novels. Some of the stories are brilliant, some very moving. Many of the best are included in The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1951), edited by Malcolm Cowley. Others are much less successful, but even in the least effective Fitzgerald almost always struck a grace note that stamped the story as indisputably his own. Thus in Flappers and Philosophers , most of the stories are undistinguished, but two Bernice Bobs Her Hair and The Ice Palace, a well-crafted story contrasting North and Southbelong with the best of his tales.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were married in New York in the spring of 1920, and spent much of the next few years in and around New York, living variously in the city, Westport, Connecticut, and Great Neck, Long Island, with sojourns in Europe for a first look at that continent and in Saint Paul for the birth of their daughter, Scottie. They were never to alight anywhere long enough for it to seem like home, for Fitzgerald seems to have inherited an abiding restlessness from his parents. But during the New York years the two Fitzgeralds made themselves famous (some might say notorious) for their unconventional style of life and incessant partying. Fitzgerald earned a reputation as a symbol of the Jazz Age that he was never to rid himself of during his lifetime. But he also continued his frantic story production and widened his circle of literary acquaintances to include, for example, Ring Lardner, George Jean Nathan, and H. L. Mencken. The influence of Mencken, especially, emerged in his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922).
This is Fitzgerald 's bleakest novel, infected by a tone of cynicism. Not even Fitzgerald seems to care particularly about Anthony and Gloria Patch, his handsome young couple who decline in dignity and promise as they sue for the inheritance that will make them independently wealthy andthey anticipateblissfully happy. When the money finally comes their way, however, Anthony has virtually lost his mind and Gloria's beauty has begun to fade and harden. Much of the book consists of talk, with Maury Noble (modeled on Nathan) delivering himself of a good many dark and clever speeches. The novel sold surprisingly well, but did not advance Fitzgerald 's reputation. Nor did the satirical play about American politics, The Vegetable (1923), which he wrote the following year in hopes of a Broadway production and financial killing. The play got as far as an out-of-town tryout in Atlantic City, where it fizzled out because of a terrible second act. If they did nothing else, The Vegetable and The Beautiful and Damned provided convincing evidence that Fitzgerald was not cut out to be a satirist. His writing was most successful when it was most deeply felt, when some part of Fitzgerald identified with his characters.
Both the novel and play touched on themes that were to dominate Fitzgerald 's work for the next fifteen years: the effects of money and power on those who have too much of them and the excruciating dilemma of the young mannot necessarily poor but not rich eitherwho falls in love with a golden girl, wealthy, beautiful, and often cruel. These same themes emerged in several brilliant stories Fitzgerald wrote in the first half decade of the 1920s. May Day (1920), a novella-length tale, provides an episodic view of New York City on May Day 1919, cutting from scenes of a society dance to a socialist newspaper office to a mob of war veterans. The protagonist of the story, Gordon Sterrett, is a weakling who commits suicide rather than face marriage with the lower-class woman who has seduced him. As in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald supplies no one for the reader to identify with, but in May Daymanifestly a slice-of-life storyit matters far less, since there are a number of sharply drawn characters to dislike. Least appealing of all, significantly, are a hypocritical (and rich) Yale classmate of Sterrett's and a shallow (and rich) debutante who was attracted to Sterrett when he was in less straitened circumstances. Conversely, the debutante's brotheran economics professor and socialistemerges as the only really admirable figure in May Day, thus providing early evidence of the leaning to the left that characterized Fitzgerald 's political stance.
Two stories of 1922, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Winter Dreams, concentrate on young men in contact with the world of wealth. The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, a fantasy, portrays the genteel viciousness of the Braddock Washingtons, who live atop a huge diamond of a mountain, feel annoyed when they must murder houseguests to keep the secret of its location, and assume they can buy their way out of any difficulty. In the final scenes, Washington attempts to bribe God to avert an aerial attack on his mountain, and John Unger, the young man who had come to visit the Washingtons on holiday from school, escapes with the lovely, totally impractical, and exquisitely selfish Kismine Washington and her sister Jasmine as their father, his bribe having failed, blows up the mountain.
Winter Dreams hits closer to home. In fact, it is one of the few Fitzgerald stories obviously set in and around White Bear Lake, the summer playground of Saint Paul's elite. Dexter Green first encounters Judy Jones when he is caddying at her club. He quits on the spot because he realizes that she sees him as a servant, and he quite consciously begins to make something of himself in order to earn her approval. The little girl who had done this was eleven, Fitzgerald reveals, beautifully ugly now but destined after a few years to be inexpressively lovely and bring no end of misery to a great number of men. In time Dexter does attract her attention, but she treats him cavalierly as only one in a parade of beaux. Eventually Dexter makes a success in business and then on Wall Street, where he hears that Judy has married a man from Detroit who rather mistreats her and that her beauty has faded. Most of the women like her, he is told. Dexter can hardly believe his ears, and the news devastates him, destroying his dream of Judy: Something had been taken from him and the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.
Like Dexter, most of Fitzgerald 's male characters celebrate the ideal at the expense of the real. Only the world of illusion can sustain their emotional intensity; only in dreams can they shut out the sometimes terrifying everyday world. So the twelve-year-old Rudolph Miller in Absolution (1924), which is the discarded beginnning for The Great Gatsby, retreats into his imaginary self, Blatchford Sarnemington, when threatened by divine punishment. Like James Gatz, Rudolph feels himself superior to his parents, and especially to his religiously stern but financially unsuccessful father.
Regarded as background for the character of Gatsby, Absolution is most interesting in its strongly religious orientation. Having lied, rather innocently, at confession, Rudolph is convinced that he will be struck dead when he takes communion. When he survives that trauma, however, and discovers that his priest has gone quite mad, Rudolph/Blatchford is tempted to reject conventional Catholicism and seek a more secular image to adore. In an uncannily prophetic speech, the priest warns against the costs of such materialistic worship. Go and see an amusement park at night, he advises the startled boy. You'll see a big wheel made of lights turning in the air, and a long slide shooting boats down into the water. A band playing somewhere, and a smell of peanutsand everything will twinkle. ... It will all hang out there in the night like a colored balloonlike a big yellow lantern on a pole. Then the priest pauses, frowns, and adds: But don't get up too close, for if you do you'll only feel the heat and the sweat and the life. The Great Gatsby tells the story of a man who got too close.
Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in France, where he and his wife and daughter were to spend most of the last half of the 1920s. The novel bears almost no resemblance in form to those that had come before. In Jay Gatsby, nee James Gatz, Fitzgerald created far more than just another Amory Blaine seeking his fortune in the world, for in his misguided romantic way Gatsby stands for a deeper malaise in the culturea sickness that drives young men to think that riches can obliterate the past and capture the hearts of the girls of their dreams. Gatsby's dream girl, hardly worthy of his romantic quest, is Daisy Fay Buchanan, wife to the safely (not newly) rich Tom Buchanan. She and Gatsby had met and fallen in love during the war, when Jay was a young officer with no money or position: eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.
He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her under false pretenses. I don't mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herselfthat he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact, he had no such facilitieshe had no comfortable family standing behind him, and he was liable at the whim of an impersonal government to be blown anywhere about the world.
But he didn't despise himself and it didn't turn out as he had imagined. He had intended, probably, to take what he could and gobut now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail. He knew that Daisy was extraordinary, but he didn't realize just how extraordinary a `nice' girl could be. She vanished into her rich house, into her rich, full life, leaving Gatsbynothing. He felt married to her, that was all. When he went overseas, she married Buchanan. The novel tells the story of his attempt to get Daisy back some four years later. In the meantime he has made a great deal of money, partly from bootlegging liquor; Daisy has borne a daughter; and Tom has taken as his mistress Myrtle Wilson, the wife of the owner of a garage in the ash heaps that lie along the road about halfway between West Egg and Manhattan. Told so baldly, the novel sounds like material for the pulps. But the story is not told that way at all, but through the informing intelligence of Nick Carraway, an almost perfect narrator.
Clearly, Fitzgerald had been reading Joseph Conrad and discovered in his use of the character Marlow as teller of the tale a way of distancing himself from his story without sacrificing intensity. Nick Carraway functions as an ideal Marlow in The Great Gatsby, for he is connected by background to the Buchanans (Daisy is his cousin, he had been at Yale with Tom) and by proximity to Gatsby (he rents a small house near Gatsby's garish mansion), and he hashe tells uscultivated the habit of withholding judgments. Nick does not particularly like Tom, even to begin with, but he knows and understands Tom and his milieu. At first, Gatsby is a mystery to Nick. He spends too ostentatiously and entertains too lavishly. Besides giving parties, Gatsby wears pink suits, drives yellow cars, and is in business with the man who fixed the World Series. Yet before the tragic endwhen in a case of mistaken identity for which Tom and Daisy Buchanan are jointly responsible, Myrtle Wilson's husband kills GatsbyNick comes to see that the Buchanans were careless people ... who smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess, and he realizes that Gatsby, the bootlegger who followed his dream, was worth the whole damn bunch put together. Coming from Carraway, no saint himself and a bit of a snob, a man who disapproved of Gatsby from beginning to end as he would disapprove of any other parvenu, that judgment takes on absolute authority.
Gatsby's greatness lies in his capacity for illusion. Had he seen Daisy for what she was, he could not have loved her with such singleminded devotion. He comes to recapture Daisy, and for a time it looks as though he will succeed. But he must inevitably fail, because of his inability to separate the ideal from the real. Everything he has done, and it is clear that much of what he has done is on the shady side of the law, Gatsby has done in order to present himself as worthy of Daisy. By crassly materialistic ends he hopes to capture the ideal girl. Toward the end, Nick reflects, Gatsby must have realized that Daisy was not the golden girl after all, that she too had sprung from the material world and was made of all-too-human stuff, but those are Nick's thoughts, not necessarily Gatsby's. For all Fitzgerald lets us know, Gatsby dies with his dream intact, and then it is left to Nick to arrange for the service and erase the dirty word from the steps of Gatsby's house and clean up the mess.
Though hundreds had come to Gatsby's parties, hardly anyone comes to his funeral. His father is there, a shiftless and uneducated man who even while standing in his son's mansion prefers to admire the photograph of that mansion. So is Owl Eyes, who had been startled to find that the books in Gatsby's library were real, even though their pages were uncut. Like the books Gatsby was the real thing, but unformed, unlettered, and for all his financial cunning, ignorant. Like his father he preferred the picture in his mind to mundane reality. The Great Gatsby abounds in touches like these.
The Great Gatsby has inspired probably as much critical commentary as any other twentieth-century American novel, but it is so intricately patterned and tightly knit, so beautifully integrated through a series of parallels, that it hardly seems possible that criticism will exhaust the novel. If This Side of Paradise resembles the Wellsian novel of saturation, where everything is included, The Great Gatsby epitomizes the Jamesian novel of selection, where every detail fits and nothing is superfluous. It's the kind of noveland there aren't manythat gets better each time one rereads it.
The reviews for The Great Gatsby were the most favorable so far. Most notably Gilbert Seldes proclaimed that Fitzgerald has mastered his talents and gone soaring in a beautiful flight, leaving behind him everything dubious and tricky in his earlier work, and leaving even further behind all the men of his own generation and most of his elders. He praises Fitzgerald 's ability to report on a a tiny section of life ... with irony and pity and a consuming passion, calling the novel passionate ..., with such an abundance of feeling for the characters (feeling their integral reality, not hating or loving them objectively) that the most trivial of the actors in the drama are endowed with vitality, and he also recognizes that Fitzgerald 's characters become universal also. He has now something of extreme importance to say; and it is good fortune for us that he knows how to say it.
Fresh from The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald wrote The Rich Boy (1926), another of his very best stories. In a sense The Rich Boy might be regarded as a form of revenge on such careless people as the Buchanans. The mere possession of a great deal of money seems to confer on Anson Hunter, protagonist of the story, certain rights and privileges unthinkable for the penurious. He drinks to excess and feels no need to apologize; he takes advantage of women and feels no remorse; he breaks up his aunt's love affair and ignores the suicide of her lover. For all his power Anson suffers from a fatal lack of emotional capability. He cannot care about anyone other than himself. He has no illusions. He cannot love.
The Rich Boy appeared in All the Sad Young Men (1926), the volume of stories that followed Gatsby. Other than that collection, however, Fitzgerald published no book between 1925 and 1934. Late in his life Fitzgerald wrote his daughter that he should have said upon finishing The Great Gatsby, I've found my linefrom now on this comes first. This is my immediate dutywithout this I am nothing. In fact, he did launch immediately into a preliminary version of Tender Is the Night when he had completed The Great Gatsby, but that long sprawling powerful novel was to go through repeated false starts before it finally emerged. Meanwhile, the Fitzgeralds played on the Riviera and in Paris with, among others, Gerald and Sara Murphy (whose physical appearance and social gifts Fitzgerald transplanted to Dick and Nicole Diver) and Ernest Hemingway.
The story of the friendship between Fitzgerald and Hemingway makes a sad chapter in American literary history. When they met at the Dingo bar in Paris in the spring of 1925, Fitzgerald had already established himself as an important novelist while Hemingway was still a literary tyro who had yet to publish his first book in America. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald did everything he could to promote Hemingway's career, occasionally to the extent of ignoring his own. At first Hemingway responded warmly to such generosity, but it was part of his character to resent assistance from others and he eventually turned on Fitzgerald , denigrating him and his work in a series of public and private attacks.
Unlike her husband, Zelda Fitzgerald was never taken with Hemingway (nor he with her). She regarded him as bogus, a poseur. After a time she even accused her husband of a homosexual liaison with Hemingway, but that dubious charge came in the wake of storms that were tearing their marriage apart and driving her toward the brink of madness. In 1924 she had a brief affair with a French aviator, and her husband became steadily more dependent on liquor. Often left alone while he toured the bars and eager to find a creative outlet for herselfso, at least, runs the thesis of Nancy Milford's biographyZelda Fitzgerald threw herself into studying ballet, taking lessons from the distinguished Madam Egorova and working harder than the other aspirants to make up for beginning so demanding a career in her late twenties instead of her early teens. In April 1930 Zelda cracked from the strain, and went off to the first of the series of sanatoriums this one in Switzerland that were to serve as refuges for the rest of her life.
In the fall of 1931 the Fitzgeralds limped home to Montgomery. Fitzgerald suggested what the years in Europe had cost them in the autobiographical Babylon Revisited (1931). That story, one of his best, tells of Charlie Wales's attempt to gain custody of his daughter Honoria. His wife has died, a victim of the reckless and expensive life they led during the boom years, and Honoria has gone to live with her Aunt Marion while Charlie recuperates from his long binge. Now he is whole, or nearly so, and returns sober, steady, and reliable to reclaim his little girl. Rather unluckily, some former drinking companions burst in as final arrangements are being made, and at the end it is clear that Charlie will have to wait a while longer before he recovers Honoriaand his honor. He will come back again, though, for he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now, beside that fact. He wasn't young any more, with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have by himself.
Fitzgerald 's own dreams had begun to fade too, but he had less control over his drinking than Charlie Wales. After touching bottom in 1935 and 1936, a process vividly described in the Crack-Up essays, he finally began to master the demon of alcohol. Meanwhile, his stories had lost some of their appeal. In the Basil stories (nine in all, written in the late 1920s), Fitzgerald had effectively called up recollections of himself as a boy growing up romantic. And the five Josephine stories, published in 1930 and 1931, poignantly depicted the disillusionment of a young girl who, though beautiful and rich as always, had dared to dream like one of Fitzgerald 's young men. The Saturday Evening Post printed the Basil and Josephine stories, but continued to seek from Fitzgerald tales of young love triumphant, and these he would no longer produce. His attempts to write instead about what was closest to himthe amusements and trials of raising his daughter Scottie, his own alcoholism, and encounters with nurseshad carried little appeal for the mass market that the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's and Redbook aimed at. So as the Depression wore on he could no longer command high prices from the magazines. On the verge of his emotional bankruptcy, he staked a great deal on Tender Is the Night, a novel which failed to achieve the financial and critical success he hoped for.
Only part of the trouble was Fitzgerald 's own. He had worked and reworked so much material for so long that it became difficult to stitch the parts into a whole. Yet there was little objection to the book's lack of integration. Instead a few critics condemned the subject matter, as if to write of affluent Americans in Europehowever unfavorably they might be portrayedwas to commit a politico-literary crime. Other critics felt that the downfall of Dick Diver had been insufficiently prepared for, but here they were guilty of superficial reading. Even in the opening section of the novel, when Diver is lovingly depicted through the eyes of the smitten movie actress Rosemary Hoyt, Fitzgerald plants the seeds of doubt. Save among a few of the toughminded and perennially suspicious, the narrator says of Dick, he had the power of arousing a fascinated and uncritical love. The trouble with Diver is that he is constantly driven to charm and coax and cajole until he succeeds in awakening that uncritical love in others, mostly women. What was a game for Amory Blaine has become for Dick Diver a way of life.
The curious thing is that hea psychiatrist whose very profession depends upon changing others' patterns of behaviorcan do nothing to escape his own obsession. He wants to be the greatest psychiatrist who ever lived, Doctor Diver admits (at Princeton Fitzgerald had confessed his ambition to become one of the greatest writers who ever lived), but he also wants to be loved, if he can fit it in. He sometimes looked back with awe at the carnivals of affection he had given, as a general might gaze upon a massacre he had ordered to satisfy an impersonal blood lust. In the end he can fit in nothing except his attempts to generate love, which destroy him as a serious man.
The military metaphor introduced above threads through the novel, emphasizing Fitzgerald 's conviction that Dick and Nicole, like many others, are engaged in a war from which only one of them will survive unscathed. Dick proposes that their eventual fate parallels that of postwar Western civilization. As he observes in his conversation with Abe North during a visit to the trenches, `This western-front business couldn't be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn't. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years and plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren't any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember....'
`... Why, this was a love battlethere was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.'
`You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,' said Abe.
'All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,' Dick mourned persistently.
Dick Diver declines steadily throughout Tender Is the Night, until he drifts off to the small towns of upstate New York, still working his charm on any female, no matter how young, who might respond. Nicole, however, regains her soundness of mind and with it the callousness of the very rich toward those who can be of service to them, for once again Fitzgerald includes an attack on their irresponsibility. In Paris Nicole goes on a monumental buying spree that bewilders Rosemary, but it is symptomatic of the Warrens of Chicago. Nicole bought from a great list that ran two pages, and bought the things in the windows besides. Everything she liked that she couldn't possibly use herself, she bought as a present for a friend. She bought colored beads, folding beach cushions, artificial flowers, honey, a guest bed, bags, scarfs, love birds, miniatures for a doll's house and three yards of some new cloth the color of prawns. She bought a dozen bathing suits, a rubber alligator, a travelling chess set of gold and ivory, big linen handkerchiefs for Abe, two chamois leather jackets of kingfisher blue and burning bush from Hermesbought all these things not a bit like a high-class courtesan buying underwear and jewels, which were after all professional equipment and insurancebut with an entirely different point of view. Nicole was the product of much ingenuity and toil. For her sake trains began their run at Chicago and traversed the round belly of the continent of California; chicle factories fumed and link belts grew link by link in factories; men mixed toothpaste in vats and drew mouthwash out of copper hogsheads; girls canned tomatoes quickly in August or worked rudely at the Five-and-Tens on Christmas Eve; half-breed Indians toiled on Brazilian coffee plantations and dreamers were muscled out of patent rights in new tractorsthese were some of the people who gave a tithe to Nicole, and as the whole system swayed and thundered onward it lent a feverish bloom to such processes of hers as wholesale buying, like the flush of a fireman's face holding his post before a spreading blaze. She illustrated very simple principles, containing in herself her own doom, but illustrated them so accurately that there was grace in the procedure. ... When the Warrens want something, they buy it. When Nicole wanted Dick Diverand the family determined she needed a doctor in the houseshe made herself irresistible to him. Her beauty helped, and her vulnerability, but so did her impressive wealth, and as the years wear on, Diver lets himself be more and more compromised by accepting the favors that her money can buy for them both. Fitzgerald is obviously of two minds about Nicole, as he had been about Daisy and Rosalind and the rest of the golden girls whose beauty and vitality almost redeem, for him at least, whatever defects of character lie underneath. About Baby Warren, her sister, he conveys no such ambiguity. Like Anson Hunter Baby commands but cannot love. Something wooden and onanistic hovered about her person, and she is hardly to be preferred even to the homosexuals and bisexuals who inhabit the expatriate community.
Among these minor characters who represent various levels of sexual and psychological deterioration, Dick Diver can shine with a fine glowing surface, at least at the beginning. But it is only glitter after all, and he has been lucky Dick too long and so is ill prepared for the rejections and rebuffs that come to him as to every man. On the whole, Diver is a likable character. He possesses charm and ability, and he sincerely wants to be right and do good. But he is a weak man, too, unable to scourge himself of his over-weening need to be loved and therefore susceptible to any and all cries of help, even when they come from two probable lesbians be really cares nothing about.
Amory Blaine had claimed to know himself at twenty-three but the real knowledge came more than a decade later, with a character who truly understood himself and still could not prevent his fall. Diver is at once Fitzgerald 's most complex character and the one who best represents the author's mature understanding of his own psychological makeup. When Fitzgerald describes his own shortcomings in the Crack-Up essays, written a year after Tender Is the Night, what is wrong with F. Scott Fitzgerald turns out to be almost exactly what was wrong with Dick Diver.
The reviews for Tender Is the Night were generally positive, but many reviewers expressed reservations, some commenting that the book was diffuse, not as well integrated as The Great Gatsby. Malcolm Cowley called it a good novel that puzzles you and ends by making you a little angry because it isn't a great novel also, finding in it a divided purpose that perhaps goes back to the author himself and offering a persuasive definition of Fitzgerald 's double vision: Fitzgerald has always been the poet of the American upper bourgeoisie; he has been the only writer able to invest their lives with glamor. Yet he has never been sure that he owed his loyalty to the class about which he was writing. It is as if he had a double personality. Part of him is a guest at the ball given by the people in the big house; part of him has been a little boy peeping in through the window and being thrilled by the music and the beautifully dressed womena romantic but hard-headed little boy who stops every once in a while to wonder how much it all cost and where the money came from. Cowley adds that this dual perspective works well in Fitzgerald 's earlier books, but in Tender Is the Night the division has become emphasized: The little boy outside the window has grown mature and cold-eyed: from an enraptured spectator he has developed into a social historian. At the same time, part of Fitzgerald remains inside, among the dancers. And now that the ball is ending in tragedy, he doesn't know how to describe itwhether as a guest, a participant, in which case he will be writing a purely psychological novel; or whether from the detached point of view of a social historian. Yet, Cowley explains that he has pointed out the shortcomings of Tender Is the Night because he likes the novel so much, and he calls its chief virtue a richness of meaning and emotionone feels that every scene is selected among many possible scenes and that every event has pressure behind it. There is nothing false or borrowed in the book: everything is observed at first hand.
Actually, as recent criticism has demonstrated, Tender Is the Night is a far better integrated novel than has been generally supposed. Arthur Mizener, among others, considers it Fitzgerald 's most complex achievement. Yet the novel has undoubtedly suffered, to some degree, from its author's reputation for frivolity. Be careful not to use any advertising copy about gay resorts, Fitzgerald warned Max Perkins. He wanted Tender Is the Night taken seriously. And so, inspired by doubts about the shape of his book, Fitzgerald tried to rearrange it to begin chronologically, with a history of Diver's past, rather than with Rosemary and others on the Riviera. In 1951, Scribners brought out a version of the novel which adopted this structure, put together by Cowley following Fitzgerald 's notes. This version made it clear at once that Tender Is the Night was a novel about a psychiatrist (not an actress) and that the psychiatrist had certain problems that would return to haunt him. But in telling so much so soon, it sacrificed the reader's sense of discovery. The critical consensus favors the original 1934 version, which is the one now available in bookstores.
He left his capacity to hope, Fitzgerald once wrote, on the roads that led to Zelda's sanatorium. But he also acquired something as a consequence of the misfortunes that visited his wife and himself: a conviction that life was not supposed to be happy and that it didn't matter, since the only thing that mattered, the only dignity, came from doing one's work. Deeply in debt and forced to pay hospital bills for Zelda and school bills for Scottie, Fitzgerald went to Hollywood in 1937 to recoup his credit and regain a sense of his own worth.
MGM, which hired him on a six-month contract at $1,000 a week, with an option at $1,250 a week for the next year, knew it was taking a chance. In two previous visits to Hollywood, he had produced nothing that reached the screen. More recently, Fitzgerald had announced his emotional bankruptcy in the Crack-Up essays in Esquire. Furthermore, on his fortieth birthday in September 1936, a reporter from the New York Post had tracked down an obviously alcoholic Fitzgerald in Asheville, North Carolina, and written a devastating piece about this supposedly ruined chronicler of the Jazz Age. Time magazine picked up parts of the interview, and Fitzgerald , dejected, made a half-hearted attempt at suicide. Finally, readers of Fitzgerald 's stories would have ascertained something of a self-portrait in Joel Coles, a screenwriter who manages to get rather drunk and make a fool of himself at a Hollywood party in Crazy Sunday (1932).
So Fitzgerald went to California very much under the surveillance of his employers and of himself. He rightly saw his contract there as representing a last chance to prove himself as a writer and a man. He did good work for MGM, particularly on Three Comrades, but that was to be his only screen credit, and when his contract was not renewed after eighteen months he stayed afloat with a series of free-lance script jobs and by churning out Pat Hobby stories for $250 each. He also tried to keep a tight rein on his alcoholism during the time that was left to him, and found in Sheilah Graham a woman who cared deeply enough to help him in that battle.
In the last year of his life Fitzgerald stole time from his screen writing and stories to begin The Last Tycoon (1941), an unfinished novel of great promise. Its protagonist, Monroe Stahr, is the most admirable of Fitzgerald 's heroes. A poor boy from New York, Stahr has become the head of a major studio, which he tries to run single-handedly by virtue of his vast energy and indisputable talent. Great men of an earlier time, perhaps, might have succeeded in such an attempt. But the world has become too complicated and materialistic and over-organized, and Stahr's ship eventually founders.
On the technical side of moviemaking, he is a genius. The most effective part of the book consists of two chapters on The Producer's Day, as reported by Cecilia Brady, daughter of another studio executive. Here as in The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald strove for economy of detail, a tight structure, and a reliable outside narrator. Ceciliahalf or more in love with Stahrwas to play the Nick Carraway role of observer. As she reconstructs his day, Stahr convinces a sniffily superior Englishman that writing for films will demand the best he can give. He consoles a dejected leading man about his temporarily flagging sexual powers. He manipulates a story conference to achieve the change in plot he's seeking. He smoothly removes a director who has let his leading lady terrorize the set. He stifles a rumor that promises to end the career of a talented cameraman. He looks for and finds Kathleen Moore, the girl he had seen on the lot during the earthquake the night before. He entertains a prince from Denmark. And he persuades investors from New York that it will do the company good to make a prestigious picture that is certain to lose money.
In time, though, as Fitzgerald 's notes for his incomplete novel make clear, the moneymen from New York were no longer amenable to Stahr's reasoning. And in the last section of The Last Tycoon written before Fitzgerald 's death, Stahr is badly out of his depth when he tries to beat up a Communist union leader determined to organize his writers.
There is a love story in this novel, too, a more explicitly passionate love story than any Fitzgerald had written before. But Stahr loses his Kathleen to a greater passion, his determination to rule his studio as one man. The real romance in The Last Tycoon is Stahr's romance with his creative work. The tragedy is that there is no longer a place for tycoons, even in so fresh a segment of the modern world as motion pictures.
Despite his failure, there is something magnificent in Stahr's goal: He had flown up very high to see, on strong wings, when he was young. And while he was up there he had looked on all the kingdoms, with the kind of eyes that can stare straight into the sun. Beating his wings tenaciouslyfinally franticallyand keeping on beating them, he had stayed up there longer than most of us, and then, remembering all he had seen from his great height of how things were, he had settled gradually to earth.
... in a `longshot' he saw a new way of measuring our jerky hopes and graceful rogueries and awkward sorrows, and that he came here from choice to be with us to the end. Like the plane coming down into the Glendale airport into the warm darkness. Fitzgerald underscores his stature by implicit comparisons with Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. Here as in all novels since The Beautiful and Damned, he wanted to place the contemporaneous activities of his characters into a wider historical context (he had linked Diver, significantly, with General Grant). Much of Fitzgerald 's reading, which included Marx and Nietzsche and, most influential of all, Oswald Spengler, led him to anticipate the collapse of capitalism and the democratic institutions of western nations. In his novelsand in many stories as well, even for markets where happy endings were expectedhis protagonists meet eventual defeat. But this basic pessimism did not stem totally from books like Spengler's Decline of the West, since from the beginning, as Fitzgerald put it in Early Success (1937): All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in themthe lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamond mountains of my short stories blew up, my millionaires were as doomed as Thomas Hardy's peasants.
Fitzgerald 's doubleness of perspective enabled him to identify with Gatsby and his dreams and yet to stand back with Nick Carraway and see how ridiculous this self-styled young rajah was. Part of him was romantic, forever seeking the uncapturable ideal. Part was realistic, aware of the rot festering beneath the glittering surface. And linked with this double vision of himself and his times was a remarkable verbal gift which cannot be adequately described, only quoted. The closing words of The Great Gatsby work thematically to tie his modern tale to its historical background, but they stay in the mind not for that reason at all but because of their powerful rhetorical appeal. Nick has been reflecting on how Long Island must have struck Dutch sailors' eyes three hundred years earlier: as a fresh, green breast of the new world. ... For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. Then: And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no mattertomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. ... And one fine morning
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
To an extent Fitzgerald 's reputation still suffers from his image as Jazz Age playboy who did not take his craft seriously enough. The obituaries in 1940, when he suffered a heart attack, obviously reflected that image. The irascible Westbrook Pegler went so far as to accuse him of being a crybaby whose characters drank gin in silver slabs while they sniffled about the sham and tinsel of it all. And few of the obituary writers took adequate cognizance of his development since his first two novels. Edmund Wilson did yeoman work to alter these misperceptions of his Princeton friend by editing The Last Tycoon and The Crack-Up, a potpourri of essays, letters, notes, and critical appreciations of Fitzgerald 's work from other well-established writers.
In his review of The Last Tycoon , Stephen Vincent Benét took to task the self-righteousness of those obituary writers who, instead of reviewing Fitzgerald 's work, merely reviewed the Jazz Age and said that it was closed. Because he had made a spectacular youthful success at one kind of thing, they assumed that that one kind of thing was all he could ever do. In other words, they assumed that because he died in his forties, he had shot his bolt. And they were just one hundred percent wrong, as `The Last Tycoon' shows. He goes on to call Fitzgerald a writer who strove against considerable odds to widen his range, to improve and sharpen his great technical gifts, and to write a kind of novel that no one else of his generation was able to write, and, comparing The Last Tycoon to other Hollywood novels, he concludes that Fitzgerald 's novel shows what a really first-class writer can do with materialhow he gets it under his skin. ... Had Fitzgerald been able to finish the book, I think there is no doubt that it would have added a major character and a major novel to American fiction. Even in its unfinished form, says Benét, the novel is a great deal more than a fragment. In it he finds the wit, observation, sure craftsmanship, the verbal felicity that Fitzgerald could always summon. ... But with them there is a richness of texture, a maturity of point of view that shows us what we all lost in his early death.
Benét concluded his review by announcing that the evidence is in. You can take off your hats now, gentlemen, and I think perhaps you had better. This is not a legend, this is a reputationand, seen in perspective, it may well be one one of the most secure reputations of our time. But it was not until the early 1950s, with the publication of Arthur Mizener's biography The Far Side of Paradise (1951), and Budd Schulberg's novel The Disenchanted (1950)based in part on his friendship with Fitzgerald in Hollywoodthat the broom of public interest in Fitzgerald commenced.
Since that time almost anything written about Scott or Zelda Fitzgerald has attracted considerable attention. Most of the attention has concentrated on their lives as a romantic cautionary tale, orin the case of Nancy Milford's Zelda (1970)as a sad story of a woman thwarted by her husband's career. Andrew Turnbull's Scott Fitzgerald (1962) drew on his own childhood acquaintance with Fitzgerald to evoke a moving portrayal of the writer during the trying years in the mid-1930s. In F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait (1965), Henry Dan Piper combined biographical research with critical insight to produce what remains one of the most useful books on Fitzgerald .
Happily, the tendency since 1965 has been to focus on the corpus of novels and stories Fitzgerald left behind, and the best scholarship has come from those who have worked with the storehouse of Fitzgerald materials at the Princeton University Library. Matthew J. Bruccoli's The Composition of Tender Is the Night demonstrated how illuminating such textual study might be. Bruccoli was also the moving force behind the creation of both the Fitzgerald Newsletter and the Fitzgerald/ Hemingway Annual as repositories for research on Fitzgerald . The invariable conclusion of all who have studied Fitzgerald 's manuscripts is that he was far from frivolous in his approach to writing, even when it was aimed at popular markets like the Saturday Evening Post. Instead, he formed himself into an accomplished craftsman and meticulous reviser, whose best work, touched with genius, belongs with the best of his great contemporaries.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fitzgerald ' papers are at the Princeton University Library.
Written by: Scott Donaldson, College of William and Mary
Source: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by James J. Martine, Saint Bonaventure University. Gale Research, 1981. pp. 3-18.
Source Database: Dictionary of Literary Biography
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