On September 24, 1896, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born to Edward Fitzgerald and Mollie McQuillan Fitzgerald, the product of two vastly different Celtic strains. Edward, who came from tired, old Maryland stock and claimed distant kinship with the composer of “The Star Spangled Banner,” (Spencer, 367-81) instilled in his son the old-fashioned virtues of honor and courage and taught by example the beauty of genteel manners. Fitzgerald was smitten by the sophisticated sixteen-year-old at a St. Paul Christmas dance in 1914 during his sophomore year at Princeton.
For the next two years, he conducted a one-sided romance both in person and through ardent correspondence with a girl who embodied his ideal of wealth and social position. Ginevra, however, was more interested in adding to her collection of suitors than in restricting herself to one. Legend has it, moreover, that Fitzgerald overheard someone, perhaps Ginevra’s father, remark that poor boys should never think of marrying rich girls. (Moreland, 25-38) By 1916, the romance had ended, but its effect lingered long in Fitzgerald’s psyche.
Fitzgerald’s greatness lies as much in the conception as in the achievement. In this way Fitzgerald and his fiction capture some essential quality of the American myth and dream that were the focus his lifetime of personal and literary effort. Without doubt, Fitzgerald’s art was a response to his life. He immersed himself in his age and became its chief chronicler, bringing to his fiction a realism that gives it the quality of a photograph or, perhaps more appropriately, a documentary film.
With the clothing, the music, the slang, the automobiles, the dances, the fads — in the specificity of its social milieu-Fitzgerald’s fiction documents a moment in time in all its historical reality. Yet Fitzgerald captures more than just the physical evidence of that time. He conveys with equal clarity the psychology (the dreams and hopes, the anxieties and fears) reflected in that world because he lived the life he recorded.
Autobiography thus forms the basis of the social realism that is a hallmark of Fitzgerald’s fiction, but it is autobiography transmuted through the critical lens of both a personal and a cultural romantic sensibility, a second defining characteristic of his art. These two strands help to place Fitzgerald within American literary history. (Hindus, 45-50) Fitzgerald came to prominence as a writer in the 1920s, a period dominated by the postwar novel, and thus his fiction reflects all the contradictions of his age. World War I was a defining event for Fitzgerald and the writers of his generation whether or not they saw action in the field.
Postwar developments on the home front contributed as well to the sense of purposelessness, decay, political failure, and cultural emptiness that pervades the literature of the 1920s. A new conservatism dominated America. Fitzgerald’s fiction of the 1920s reveals the tensions inherent in this mixture of anxious longing for the old certainties and heady excitement at the prospect of the new, just as his fiction of the 1930s captures the human cost — the wasted potential and psychic dislocation — of the gay, gaudy spree and its subsequent crash.
His critics argue that he is no more than a stylish chronicler of his age, a mere recorder of the fashions and amusements, the manners and mores of his postwar generation, and he is certainly that. Yet verisimilitude, the truthful rendering of experience, is a distinguishing feature of realistic fiction, and particularly of the novel of manners, a literary form that examines a people and their culture in a specific time and place and a category into which much of Fitzgerald’s fiction fits. Thus, Fitzgerald’s ability to convey accurately his own generation is not necessarily a weakness.
Fitzgerald’s lyricism and symbolist mode of writing reveal an essentially romantic sensibility that not only gives shape to his worldview, linking it to some traditional attitudes about the individual and human existence, but also supports his thematic preoccupations. Critics who complain of Fitzgerald’s inability to evaluate the world that he so brilliantly records (and the life that he so intensely lived) need look no further than his third novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), for proof of his double consciousness.
Increasingly aware of the complex social, psychic, and economic forces that were driving his generation to excess and emptiness, Fitzgerald found the literary forms to give them expression in a novel that is now considered a modern masterpiece. Through his indirect, often ironic first-person narrative, Fitzgerald was able to give the story of Jay Gatsby, a man who reinvents himself to capture a dream, sad nobility, and the novel’s complex symbolic landscape reinforces this view.
Gatsby may initially be just another corrupt product of his material world, but through the eyes of Nick Carraway, readers gradually come to see him as a romantic idealist who has somehow managed, despite his shadowy past and equally shady present, to remain uncorrupted. Fitzgerald’s complex symbolic landscape also elevates Gatsby’s quest to the realm of myth, the myth of the American Dream, and thus the novel offers a critical perspective on a nation and a people as well as on a generation. When E Scott Fitzgerald died in December 1940, his reputation was that of a failed writer who had squandered his talent in drink and excess.
He may have written the novel that defined a decade, This Side of Paradise ( 1920), and another that exposed the dreams and illusions of a nation, The Great Gatsby ( 1925), but his achievement had been overshadowed and largely blighted by his life. (Frohock, 220-28) Works Cited Frohock W. M. “Morals, Manners, and Scott Fitzgerald”. Southwest Review 40( 1955): 220-228. Hindus Milton. F. Scott Fitzgerald: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Holt, 1968. 45-50 Moreland Kim. “The Education of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Lessons in the Theory of History”.
Southern Humanities Review 19(1985): 25-38. Spencer Benjamin T. “Fitzgerald and the American Ambivalence”. South Atlantic Quarterly 66( 1967): 367-381. Appendix LITERARY WORKS BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD This Side of Paradise. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920; Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. Flappers and Philosophers. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920. The Beautiful and Damned. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922; Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. Tales of the Jazz Age. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922. The Vegetable; Or, from President to Postman.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1923. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925; Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. All the Sad Young Men. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926. Tender is the Night. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934; Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. Taps at Reveille. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935. POSTHUMOUS PUBLICATIONS The Last Tycoon. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941; The Love of the Last Tycoon. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1994.
The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Malcolm Cowley. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951. Afternoon of an Author. Ed. Arthur Mizener. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957. Babylon Revisited and Other Stories. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960. Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960. Pat Hobby Stories. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962. The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1909-1917. Ed. John Kuehl. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1965. The Basil and Josephine Stories. Ed. Jackson R.
Bryer and John Kuehl. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Bits of Paradise: 21 Uncollected Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul Plays, 1911-1914. Ed. Alan Margolies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Library, 1978. The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli . New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. A New Collection. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989.
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