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Biography

In July 1918, at a country club dance in Montgomery, Alabama, Fitzgerald met a popular 18-year-old named Zelda Sayre. Zelda was beautiful and charming, the type of girl who did cartwheels on the dance floor if she got bored at a ball. Fitzgerald was hooked immediately. He courted her feverishly, reading her his stories and parts of his unfinished novel. He proposed after his discharge from the Army in February 1919, but Zelda had doubts. Her fiancé wasn't rich and there was no guarantee he'd ever be famous—Scribners had already rejected the first draft of The Romantic Egoist, albeit with a note encouraging Fitzgerald to try again. Hoping to fix the "no money" part of his problem, Fitzgerald took a job in New York as an advertising writer (his greatest contribution to the field was the "We keep you clean in Muscatine" jingle for the Muscatine Steam Laundry in Iowa). Fitzgerald hated advertising. His short stories didn't sell. His apartment was a dump. Zelda gave back the ring. After surviving a drunken three-week bender, Fitzgerald quit the job and New York to move back to St. Paul, holing up in his parents' house to rewrite the novel so that he could win back his girl.

Fitzgerald wrote a novel about a devastatingly handsome, wildly talented young Princeton student named Amory Blaine who quits school, joins the army, never sees combat, falls in love and gets his heart broken by a beautiful woman who happens to have the exact same mannerisms as Zelda Sayre. Gutsy? Sure. But it worked. This Side of Paradise (the new and vastly-improved title of The Romantic Egoist, inspired by a Rupert Brooke poem) was published by Scribners on 26 March 1920. A week later, Fitzgerald and Zelda were married at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The success of his plan came at a price, which Fitzgerald later described: "The man with the jingle of money in his pocket who married the girl a year later would always cherish an abiding distrust, an animosity, toward the leisure class—not the conviction of a revolutionist but the smoldering hatred of a peasant. In the years since then I have never been able to stop wondering where my friends' money came from, nor to stop thinking that at one time a sort of droit du seigneur might have been exercised to give one of them my girl."4

But it wasn't the time to dwell on that. Fitzgerald's star—both literary and personal—was rising. A new era was dawning. After the carnage of World War I, Americans lost their taste for the romance of war. They turned isolationist, refusing to join the League of Nations their own president had helped to create. Many members of the elite—including Fitzgerald, who was never politically active—shunned politics and the pursuit of greater, grander causes in favor of wealth and pleasure. As President Calvin Coolidge announced to the nation, "The business of America is business." Their prizes won (victory in Europe for the U.S., marriage to Zelda for Fitzgerald), Americans were ready to have a good time.

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