Francis Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was born in in St Paul, Minnesota 1896 to middle class parents and was educated in private schools. He attended, but never graduated from Princeton University.
Fitzgerald was twenty-eight when The Great Gatsby was published in 1925. He was already a celebrity with two published novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned, and numerous short stories published in prestigious magazines like Scribner's and The Saturday Evening Post. Though wealthy from his writing, he had not attained the literary standing he wanted. His Princeton friend and mentor Edmund Wilson told him, "I believe you might become a very popular trashy novelist without difficulty." Like Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald was not one of "them."
His life was a cycle of successes and failures often mirrored in his works. At
Princeton he became a prominent figure in the Triangle Club and drama society,
but he flunked out his first year. He returned the next year, but he had lost
his social status. In 1917 he joined the army. The following summer, he met
belle Zelda Sayre at a country club dance in Montgomery, Alabama. They fell in
love, but Zelda was reluctant to commit to marriage. Fitzgerald knew the only
way he could win her was if he could provide her with an extravagant lifestyle.
So after his discharge from the army in 1919, he moved to New York City with the hopes of achieving instant success. He worked at an advertising agency for ninety dollars a month. But that was not enough for Scott or Zelda. Six months later he returned to St. Paul to rewrite This Side of Paradise, a semi-autobiographical novel about career and love aspirations and disappointments of a Princeton student. With its publication, he attained instant celebrity and earned enough money and status to marry Zelda.
The Fitzgeralds moved to New York City where they quickly gained notoriety for their partying lifestyle. Though he lived recklessly, he made known through his work he thought the 1920's was morally bankrupt. He wrote once that society was "driving on toward death through the cooling twilight."
Fearing they would be brought to the same end as his characters if they stayed amongst the "Lost Generation," Fitzgerald moved his wife and baby daughter Frances Scott - "Scottie"- to the Riviera. There they continued their glittering, reckless lifestyle with other expatriate writes including Ernest Hemingway. It was there he began The Great Gatsby.
During the summer of 1924 Fitzgerald wrote Scribner's editor Max Perkins, "I've been unhappy but my work hasn't suffered from it. I am grown at last." In Gatsby Jay states he was ruined by falling in love. Ernest Hemingway feared Zelda's recklessness and her jealousy of his work, their friendship, would ruin Fitzgerald. Soon the Fitzgerald's marriage would become a cycle of battles, mental breakdowns, and reconciliations. Fitzgerald could not write when his wife was present, and when she was out of his sight, he worried what she would do. A few weeks after his letter to Perkins, Zelda attempted suicide.
The years that followed were tumultuous. Gatsby was Fitzgerald's first commercial failure. Zelda was in and out of sanitariums. Scott's alcoholism worsened.
By 1937 Fitzgerald had mounting debt. Zelda was in a sanitarium and his daughter, "Scottie," needed tuition. He moved to Hollywood to become a scriptwriter. He worked briefly on Gone With the Wind and a screenplay for Shirley Temple, but he received only one screenwriting credit for Three Comrades. His letters to his daughter are filled with anxiety and advice. He lectured her about discipline, duty, and sobriety and told her how to be a better writer. Once he confessed, "When I was your age I lived with a great dream, then the dream divided one day when I decided to marry your mother . . . even though I knew she was spoiled and meant no good to me. I was sorry immediately I had married her."
Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44.
Myra meets his family