F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Lost Generation
In 1924, shortly before the publication of The Great Gatsby, the Fitzgeralds moved to Paris to join a growing community of American artists and writers drawn to France for its inexpensive cost of living, liberal sexual codes, great bars, numerous presses and magazines willing to publish them. Living cheaply in Paris, writers could sell their work to the growing numbers of magazines and publishers back in the U.S., which were hungry for new talent and willing to pay handsomely (at his peak, Fitzgerald earned the equivalent of $40,000 in today's dollars for a single story in The Saturday Evening Post.) Together, scholars have noted, this group of expatriates presided over arguably the greatest Renaissance in American literature. In addition to Fitzgerald, Paris-based American writers who published during the 1920s included Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and a young chap named Ernest Hemingway, about whom Fitzgerald wrote to his editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribners, "I'd look him up right away. He's the real thing." Fitzgerald and Hemingway had a complicated relationship that started in friendship, progressed to rivalry and ended in bitter resentment. Zelda and Hemingway hated each other, and both criticized Scott for hanging out with the other.
The Great Gatsby was published by Scribners on 10 April 1925. The quintessential tale of the glory and tragedy of American aspiration won Fitzgerald great critical respect. It also helped create a caricature of the era that continues to this day. "The popular impression of the Twenties as a time of hedonism, alcoholic orgies, and high jinks is in some part based on misreadings of Fitzgerald's fiction," wrote Matthew J. Bruccoli, a Fitzgerald scholar. "Gatsby's party has become the quintessential Twenties party. Fitzgerald's characters have become confused with the cartoons of sheiks in raccoon coats and flappers in short skirts. . . . Fitzgerald's view of the Twenties was serious and complex, for he recognized the glamour as well as the waste, the charm as well as the self-destruction."10
Fitzgerald's writing brought in a solid income, but the couple's lifestyle took a toll. They drank heavily—him more than her—and fought viciously. Both flirted with other people. Zelda was also creative, pursuing both dance and writing, but her unique personality was starting to seem more unbalanced than charming. The couple—like the rest of the nation—was living on borrowed time. In October 1929 the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression. Six months later, Zelda suffered her first nervous breakdown. Things would never be so good again, for Fitzgerald or for his characters. In Fitzgerald's 1931 story "Babylon Revisited," a newly-sober American expatriate named Charlie navigates the streets of Paris, reflecting on the good times of just a few years earlier, and thinks, "I spoiled this city for myself. I didn't realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone."11