If the "Roaring Twenties" conjures up images bobbed-hair flappers and couples dancing to jazz music, you may have F. Scott Fitzgerald to thank. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American writer of novels, short stories, essays and plays. During his lifetime, Fitzgerald completed four novels (a fifth was published posthumously) and about 160 stories. His novels include The Great Gatsby, one of the classics of American literature. He was also one of the most influential members of a group known as the Lost Generation. These were the men and women who just missed out on the drama of World War I and instead threw their energies into the freedoms and excesses of the 1920s. When the market crashed and the good times came to a screeching halt, those who survived were left to ponder their choices, regret the waste and mourn the passing of their youth. Fitzgerald's fiction captured these times with keen insight, detailed realism and a distinctly American voice. His writing defined the 1920s, an era Fitzgerald himself named "the Jazz Age."
All writers draw upon the mood and the energy of their times. In Fitzgerald's case, his life paralleled the trajectory of his generation to an almost eerie degree. His work and life flowered in the hedonistic excesses of the 1920s, influenced by a culture of liberated women, Freudian psychoanalysis and social mores as fluid as bootleg gin. When the Great Crash of 1929 rolled around, Fitzgerald and his wife, the inimitable Zelda, collapsed as well into their own financial and mental depressions. In his fiction and in his life, Fitzgerald spent the next decade exploring themes of maturity and regret. A lifelong alcoholic who could only write when off the sauce, he struggled to succeed in a decidedly sober decade. After years of false starts and failed projects, he died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44. F. Scott Fitzgerald died believing himself a failure; time has judged otherwise.