Monday, February 4, 2013

An American Tragedy of Love and Loss

Hi, my name is...

     Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald or, more commonly known as F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24th, 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father, Edward Fitzgerald, was a "failed wicker furniture salesman" and his mother, Mary "Mollie" McQuillan, was an "Irish immigrant with a large inheritance" ( He was named after a distant cousin, Francis Scott Key, who is most famously known for writing our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. He grew up surrounded by "a solidly Catholic and upper middle class environment" ( 
     Fitzgerald "attended the St. Paul Academy" and began his writing career at the age of 13 for the school newspaper ( From 1911-1913, "he attended the Newman school, a Catholic prep school in New Jersey" ( Later, Fitzgerald was in the Class of 1917 at Princeton University. While there, he "wrote scripts and lyrics for the Princeton Triangle Club musicals, wrote for the Princeton Tiger humor magazine, and the Nassau Literary Magazine" ( Fitzgerald dropped out of college and joined the army in 1917  where he was later "commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry" ( 

All Is Fair In Love & War

"I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect and it's these things I'd believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn't all that she should be. But of course the real reason is that I love her and that's the beginning and end of everything."  
 - F. Scott Fitzgerald 
     In 1918 while stationed at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, AL, he met 18 year old Zelda Sayre, daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court Judge. They soon became engaged, but after numerous  publisher rejections, Zelda began doubting his financial security. In 1919, Zelda called off their engagement just as Fitzgerald was discharged from the army. He then headed to New York City to secure a steady source of income at an advertising agency. After a short term of employment, he soon quit this job and moved back to St. Paul. In 1917, he had "submitted his first novel for publication" ( After two rejections, it was finally accepted and published in 1920 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Finally feeling comfortable with their financial future, Zelda and F. Scott married a week after the novel's publication on March 26th, 1920. 

The Jazz Age's Golden Couple

     To provide for him and his new bride, Fitzgerald wrote short stories for the magazine, Saturday Evening Post. These short stories focused on young, free-thinking, independent Americans. In October 1921, Fitzgerald and Zelda celebrated the birth of their first and only child, Frances Scott "Scottie". Life was not easy for the new family. This turmoil led Zelda to have an extramarital affair with a French naval aviator in 1924. From 1924-1929, the Fitzgeralds traveled and lived in France, Rome, Paris, and Wilmington, Delaware. 

Fitzgerald's Passion

     The majority of Fitzgerald's novels were written during the family's five years of traveling. His first published novel was originally titled The Romantic Egoist, but he later changed it to be This Side of Paradise. Other novels include The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night, and The Great Gatsby. Shockingly, most of his income came from the 160 magazine stories he wrote throughout his life rather than his novels. The income from all of his works was under $25,000 a year. This number is quite large in comparison to the meager school teacher's annual income of $1,299 at that time. Yet, the family spent money faster than they earned and were the epitome of consumerism.

     Sadly, Fitzgerald never knew the impact of his novel, The Great Gatsby. It did not gain popularity until the 1950's when more people began to imagine their own American dreams.  Kimberly Hearne, a journalist who analyzed The Great Gatsby, described Fitzgerald's American dream as being "ambiguous, contradictory, romantic in nature, and undeniably beautiful while at the same time grotesquely flawed" (189). All throughout his novel, we see superficial stereotypes portrayed by the characters who are "emotionally isolated from each other" (189). 

"That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong." 
                   - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Collapse

"Our love was one in a century. Life ended for me when Zelda and I crashed. If she would get well, I would be happy again and my soul would be released. Otherwise, never." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
     After 3 years of intense ballet in hopes of becoming a professional ballerina, Zelda suffered her first mental breakdown in 1930 at the age of 27. Her illness was first diagnosed as "nervous exhaustion", but was later proven to be a severe case of schizophrenia. She was treated at Prangins clinic in Switzerland until September 1931. The diagnosis of Zelda's mental illness began the collapse of their family and continued until her death in 1948. After her breakdown, Fitzgerald began drinking heavily and suffered from writer's block. With his daughter away in boarding school and his family drowning in debt, Fitzgerald made the agonizing decision to send Scottie to live with a surrogate family as he felt he and Zelda were no longer capable of caring for her. However, Scottie was never far from Fitzgerald's heart and he wrote letters fervently to her until his death. 

     In 1937, Fitzgerald obtained a contract to write for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood. While there, he fell in love with a movie columnist named Sheilah Graham. Although in very poor physical health, Fitzgerald moved in with Sheilah where they lived happily together for the next three years. While at their home on December 21, 1940, Fitzgerald suffered a fatal heart attack while drafting a novel about Hollywood and thus, the celebrated author's life came to a sudden close at the young age of 44. Sadly, Fitzgerald died believing he was a failure.

The Legacy He Left Behind

     Following the deaths of her parents, Scottie Fitzgerald went on to be a writer and journalist for The Washington Post and The New Yorker. She married Samuel Jackson "Jack" Lanahan, Sr. and they had 4 children together. After her first marriage ended in divorce, she later married Grove Smith. Unfortunately, their marriage also ended in divorce in 1979. Scottie died in 1986 from esophageal cancer which was probably brought on by alcoholism. 
     Scottie's daughter, Eleanor, is credited for all the information about her mother. Little information could be found on Scottie because she "refused to discuss her parents or childhood with anyone, even her closest friends and family"( However, Scottie left an "autobiographical "diary" for her children", but "she stopped at 74 typed pages" ( Scottie never believed that "her life was interesting enough" so she never wrote an autobiography ( Thankfully for us, Eleanor thought "her mother was too remarkable an individual for her story to remain in storage"(

                 "I think that if people are not crazy, they get themselves out of crazy situations, so I have never been able to buy the notion that it was my father's drinking which led her to the sanitarium. Nor do I think she led him to the drinking. I simply don't know the answer, and of course, that is the conundrum that keeps the legend going." 
                     - Scottie Fitzgerald

     Eleanor spent five years researching various sources in order to produce her mother's biography. Scottie dealt with her parent's baffling lives the only way she knew how. She believed that "there was only one way for me to survive my parents' tragedy, and that was to ignore it"(

F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald's great-granddaughter, Blake, is currently an indie-pop vocalist 

Blake recording with her band, The Submarines

My Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed researching F. Scott Fitzgerald and his life. Although intriguing, his life story left me with feelings of sadness. I am very family oriented and therefore, I couldn't imagine living my life so distant, separated, and in such turmoil as the Fitzgeralds. I've read The Great Gatsby twice and, after learning more about his other novels, I am looking forward to reading them as well.

Works Cited

Bruccoli, Matthew J. "A Brief Life of Fitzgerald." Web. 3 Feb. 2013.
Hearne, Kimberly. "Fitzgerald's Rendering of a Dream." The Explicator 68.3 (2010): 189.   EBSCOhost. Web. 3 Feb. 2013.
Sever- Kretzmer, Sybil. "Fitzgerald Through Other Eyes." Los Angeles Times. N.p., 24 Sept. 1995. Web. 3 Feb. 2013.
Willett, Erika. "The Sensible Thing: Biographies." Web. 3 Feb. 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment