Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896, and although his father was poor, having failed in business, his mother’s family financed Fitzgerald’s education at Princeton in New Jersey, one of the ‘Ivy League’ of elite universities.
A novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and short-story writer, but Fitzgerald was best known for his novels depicting the flamboyance and excess of the Jazz Age—a term which he coined. 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.
At Princeton, he firmly dedicated himself to honing his craft as a writer, writing scripts for Princeton’s famous Triangle Club musicals as well as frequent articles for the Princeton Tiger humor magazine and stories for the Nassau Literary Magazine.
In 1915, he fell in love with Ginevra King, a girl from a very wealthy Chicago family. However, her father, who was a successful businessman, disapproved because of Fitzgerald’s poverty. She ended the relationship and instead married one of the richest men in Chicago. This left Fitzgerald with a sense of social inferiority and an ambivalent attitude to the rich. On the one hand he resented their exclusivity, selfishness and arrogance, but on the other, he secretly coveted their glamorous life style.
Fitzgerald’s writing came at the expense of his coursework. He was placed on academic probation, and, in 1917, he dropped out of school to join the U.S. Army. Afraid that he might die in World War I with his literary dreams unfulfilled, in the weeks before reporting to duty, Fitzgerald hastily wrote a novel called The Romantic Egotist. Though the publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons, rejected the novel, the reviewer noted its originality and encouraged Fitzgerald to submit more work in the future.
At the age of 24, the success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, made Fitzgerald famous. One week later, he married the woman he loved and his muse, Zelda Sayre. However by the end of the 1920s Fitzgerald descended into drinking, and Zelda had a mental breakdown.
Zelda’s family disapproved of Fitzgerald as much because of his heavy drinking as because of his lack of money, and he eventually became an alcoholic. The Fitzgeralds went to live in Europe, and became notorious for their free-spending, self-indulgent, heavy-drinking lifestyle. This seems ironic, when such hedonistic behaviour is presented very negatively in The Great Gatsby.
In May 1924, Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda, and their two-year-old daughter, Scottie, boarded the SS Minnewaska in New York bound for Cherbourg France. Over the next several months, while in Paris, the Riviera, and Italy, Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, regarded as a quintessentially “American” story that raises serious questions about the country’s self-help mythology. The twilight mood of the novel might have been suggested by its author’s European stay. The Continent was only slowly emerging from the horrors of the First World War.
In August 1940, Fitzgerald received a royalty check for a double-unlucky $13.13; four months later he died of heart failure at the age of 44. For the entire year, only about 15copies of The Great Gatsby had sold. Within a decade, however, a “revival” of Fitzgerald’s work began to influence both scholars and readers, and Fitzgerald moved into the American literary canon. In 2013 his publisher, Scribner’s, estimated that some 25 million copies of Gatsby have been sold worldwide–a far cry from the fewer than 25,000 moved during its author’s life.