Fitzgerald’s short life reads like a novel. He discovered his passion for writing when he was a child, abandoned his studies at the university and joined the US army, seeing active service in the First World War. The success of his first published novel, This Side of Paradise (1920) earned him fame and enough money to enjoy a playboy life in the “Roaring Twenties”. These were the golden years of economic wealth, parties, dancing and fashion in America, also known as the Jazz Age, before the terrible crisis of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 brought poverty and hardship to the nation. His greatest novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), was written while he was living in France. His heavy drinking led to alcoholism and Fitzgerald fell into depression. After completing a fourth novel he worked briefly as a screen writer in Hollywood, where he died of a heart attack in 1940 when he was just 44 years old.
Scott Fitzgerald truly was a “child of his times” as we will see in the texts, images and song below. As the United States moved from the happy, carefree days of the 1920s into the years of dark depression that followed in the Thirties, Fitzgerald’s fame, fortune and success collapsed around him. Today, a century on, we can look back and see one of America’s great writers in a new perspective.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born on September 24th 1896 in St Paul, Minnesota. At the age of 18 he fell in love with the 16-year-old Ginevra King, the prototype of Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby. After leaving Princeton University, first he joined the army, then started working in New York for an advertising agency. In 1918 Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre, an aspiring writer: their marriage (1920) marked the turning point of his life because his books depicting the Jazz Age (the 1920s) got a great success. Fitzgerald and his wife led an expensive life and debts started to grow. In 1924 they moved to Europe with their little daughter and Fitzgerald met James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. The Great Gatsby received excellent reviews but the book did not make the money Fitzgerald expected and the writer started drinking. He frequently interrupted his work on his novels to write short stories well paid by popular magazines. For brief periods he worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter, but when Zelda had to be interned he turned to alcohol again. In 1937, he met Sheilah Graham, a gossip columnist, with whom he lived for the rest of his life. He died in 1940, in Hollywood; Zelda Sayre died in a hospital fire in 1948. Among his best works are This Side Of Paradise (1920); The Beautiful and Damned (1921); Tender is the Night (1934); The Last Tycoon and The Crack Up , both published posthumously and the collection Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), most of them inspired by the corrupted jazz society and his tormented life.
The Great Gatsby (1925) is still considered his masterpiece: set in New York City and Long Island during the 1920s, it is about the passionate and destructive love of a self-made financier for a rich and young married woman. Four film editions of the novel were made in 1926, silent movie, in 1949 directed by Elliott Nugent; in 1974 directed by Jack Clayton and in 2013 directed by Baz Luhrmann starring Leonardo di Caprio in the leading role.