Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald Introduction

F. Scott Fitzgerald Introduction

If the "Roaring Twenties" conjures up images of bobbed-hair flappers and couples dancing to jazz music, you may have F. Scott Fitzgerald to thank. Or your cool grandparents. 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." In that spirit, one might dub the early 21st century "the House Techno Grunge T-Swift Age." Or something like that.  

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.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Trivia

Fitzgerald was the second cousin three times removed of Francis Scott Key, author of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Always a natty dresser, Fitzgerald had his Army uniform tailored by Brooks Brothers. He dressed many of his characters in attire by the same clothier.

In 1921 he wrote the short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which in 2008 was made into a movie starring . . . some guy. We can't remember his name.

Ernest Hemingway was paranoid that Fitzgerald (and pretty much everyone else) was gay, writing of their time in Paris, "he was cynical and funny and very jolly and charming and endearing, even if you were careful about anyone becoming endearing."

In 1932 Zelda Fitzgerald wrote an autobiographical novel entitled Save Me the Waltz. F. Scott Fitzgerald was furious—because he thought it stole material from his upcoming novel.

The final line of The Great Gatsby—"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past—is also the epitaph on Fitzgerald's grave in Rockville, Maryland.

Zelda Fitzgerald died in a fire at Highland Mental Hospital in North Carolina in 1948.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Resources

Books

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Come on. Do we really need to explain why you need to read this? It's one of the masterpieces of American literature. It's the best thing Fitzgerald ever wrote. It's the spirit of an entire decade compressed into a few hundred elegant pages. Your teacher already assigned it to you. If you haven't read it yet, close your browser and go do it now.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
Fitzgerald's first and most blatantly autobiographical novel is essential to understanding the writer and his work. His descriptions of college hijinks may seem a little dated (and in some cases, politically incorrect) but his portrayal of youth's optimism, heartbreak and aspiration is timeless. Keep in mind as you read that Fitzgerald was only a few years older than you when he wrote it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, All the Sad Young Men
It's hard to recommend just one of Fitzgerald's short story collections, but this 1926 book is a good place to start. It was the most popular at the time of its release and contains "Winter Dreams," the story that Fitzgerald later said contained the first seeds of the story that later became The Great Gatsby. (In 1939 he was fired from the film version of the story for being drunk on set.)

Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz
This is Zelda Fitzgerald's only novel. The semi-autobiographical work caused friction between the couple—Scott accused his wife of stealing material from their marriage that he planned to use in his own semi-autobiographical novel. Fitzgerald frequently borrowed from his wife's work, often shamelessly. This is Zelda's chance to take credit for her own story.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up
This collection, edited by literary critic and Princeton classmate Edmund Wilson, contains letters, unpublished pieces, notebooks and the famous essay, all charting the rise and fall of Fitzgerald's fortunes and mental state. A fascinating glimpse into the writer's unpublished life.

Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is considered the definitive biography of Fitzgerald. The late Bruccoli produced some of the best biographical work on the writer to date. He also directed the great Web archive at the University of South Carolina. The revised second edition includes an afterword by Fitzgerald's daughter Scottie Fitzgerald Smith.

Scott Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship
Many writers have tried to examine the complicated relationship between these two literary titans, without much success. This book is one of the more interesting attempts, since it explains the clash of these two forces using mostly the writers' own words. Delve into their world of jealousy, competition, Hemingway's bullying and Fitzgerald's neurotic concerns about the size of his, um, manhood, and you start to understand why these two eventually drank themselves to death.

Music

The Big Broadcasts, Volumes 1-3
If you want to sit down and acquaint yourself with the standards of 1920s jazz, this compilation would be a good place to start. Fitzgerald would certainly have heard of many of these performers, and you can imagine Jay Gatsby's partygoers dancing to these songs.

The Era of F. Scott Fitzgerald
A rare two-record vinyl LP. It is the only album we know of organized specifically around Fitzgerald's life. If you can find an actual copy consider yourself a talented scout.

The Hot Years 1925-1930
This album covers the hits of bandleader Jan Garber. For a sense of what was considered racy in the Twenties, check out saucy numbers like "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" and "There Ain't No 'Maybe' in My Baby's Eyes." Scandalous.

Bert Lown's Biltmore Hotel Orchestra
This dance band was popular from 1930-32, during the early years of the Great Depression. They were among the musicians who played lively, infectious tunes that lifted people's spirits during the Depression and perhaps comforted those who missed the good times of the Twenties.

The Fabulous Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was an African-American singer, dancer and entertainer who left the United States for Paris to escape the racism she encountered in her own country. She became a French citizen in 1937. She was extremely popular in France, and Fitzgerald would definitely have been acquainted with her work.

Louis Armstrong: The Hot Fives, Volume 1
This album showcases one of the legends of American jazz in his earliest years, during the 1920s. This is an important album by an important musician. As no less a legend than Miles Davis said, nobody has played anything that Louis Armstrong didn't play first.

Images

Scott and Zelda
F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda.

Zelda Fitzgerald
A drawing of Zelda's silhouette, circa 1922.

Scrapbook
A selection of images from the voluminous scrapbooks the Fitzgeralds kept throughout their lives, from the out-of-print compilation The Romantic Egoists.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Briefcase
The writer's battered leather briefcase.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Flask
Fitzgerald's overworked hip flask bore an inscription from Zelda: "Forget me not, Zelda, 9-13-18, Montgomery, Ala."

Ulysses
Fitzgerald's signed copy of James Joyce's Ulysses.

The Great Gatsby's Famous Dust Jacket
An image and essayon Francis Cugat's famous painting for the first edition (1925).

This Side of Paradise (1920)
Original dust jacket, illustration by W.E. Hill.

Flappers and Philosophers (1920)
Original dust jacket, illustration by W.E. Hill.

The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
Original dust jacket, illustration by W.E. Hill.

Tender is the Night (1934)
Original dust jacket.

The Last Tycoon (1941)
Original dust jacket.

Movies & TV

The Great Gatsby (1926, 1949, 1974, 2000, 2010)
Fitzgerald's literary masterpiece has struggled to a satisfactory translation to the screen. No footage or prints exist of the silent movie made in 1926. A 1949 remake directed by Elliott Nugent has been hailed by critics as the best Gatsby film so far but is not available on DVD, making it difficult for today's audiences to access. A made-for-TV version in 2000 was, well, meh. The 1974 remake directed by Jack Clayton is probably the best-known version, but not the best loved. The filmmakers' attempt to remain as faithful to the script backfired—images that are poignant on the page come off as cheesy on screen, like Robert Redford's Gatsby reaching toward the green light on Daisy's dock. Nobody has anything nice to say about Mia Farrow's performance as Daisy. Here is the trailer, with Robert Redford looking dreamy in the title role.Despite past failures, Hollywood is not yet done with Jay Gatsby. Baz Luhrmann, the Australian director behind Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, is rumored to be working on yet another remake due in 2010.

The Beautiful and Damned (1922, 2010)
Fitzgerald's second novel was made into a silent film the same year it was published. Unfortunately, it seems that the original film no longer exists. An Australian remake from 2008 merits neither link nor mention, but never fear, Fitzgerald fans! Keira Knightley has just signed on to star in yet another version of the story, due for release in 2010.

Three Comrades (1938)
This film about three young German soldiers in the aftermath of World War I was Fitzgerald's only screenwriting credit. It is worth watching, both as the sole surviving example of Fitzgerald's screenwriting style and for Margaret Sullavan's exquisite performance as the woman all three friends fall in love with.

Gone With the Wind (1939)
Fitzgerald worked briefly on this film during his late-1930s Hollywood phase, though he has no screen credit. In "The Crack-Up," Fitzgerald rued the public's preference for cinema, "a glittering, grosser power," over literature. When you contrast the subtlety of Fitzgerald's fiction with this movie, which is anything but subtle, you start to understand what he's talking about. We still love it though.

The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
This film is inspired by "Babylon Revisited," one of Fitzgerald's best short stories. It is notable for Elizabeth Taylor's performance and the filmmakers' decision to completely scrap the story's original ending in favor of a happy, Hollywood-friendly one.

Tender is the Night (1962, 1985)
Fitzgerald's delicate depiction of a struggling marriage has never been successfully made into a movie. A 1962 version starring Jason Robards and Jennifer Jones as the ill-fated couple received mixed reviews, though the original song "Tender is the Night" was nominated for an Oscar. If you have a few more hours to spare or are a Fitzgerald obsessive, you might try the well-received 1985 TV miniseries adaptation.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Last of the Belles (1974)
This is a made-for-TV, semi-fictional account of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's romance, featuring Blythe Danner in a strong turn as the suffering, manic Zelda. For a TV movie it was fairly well received, but we think you'd probably rather read a biography of the famous couple instead.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976)
Some critics believe that this TV movie starring Shelley Duvall is actually the most successful screen adaptation of any of Fitzgerald's works. The story of a shy young woman wanting to fit in resonates today and translates well to the screen.

The Last Tycoon (1976)
This film boasts some seriously heavy hitters in the credits—Elia Kazan directed, Harold Pinter adapted the book for screen, and Robert de Niro played the lead. Ironically, Fitzgerald's novel about the film industry doesn't strike the right nerve on screen. Nominated for Oscar in Best Art Direction.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Winter Dreams (2005)
This documentary, part of the PBS American Masters series, is an excellent look at Fitzgerald's life. Archival footage spliced in with current interviews shed light on the rise and fall of the writer's career. The title comes from a short story from Fitzgerald's popular first collection; he was fired from the film version in 1939 for drunkenness.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Fitzgerald was not a great screenwriter, and film adaptations of his work tend to be not so great. This 2008 Best Picture nominee could actually break the streak of mediocre Fitzgerald-inspired films . . . although the screenplay actually bears startlingly little resemblance to the original story. Go see it—just don't be offended if most of your fellow filmgoers are just there to ogle at Brad Pitt.

Websites

F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary Papers
The motherlode of Fitzgerald info on the Web. Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli of the University of South Carolina directed this project in honor of the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth. The site has images, primary sources, and quality criticism. Hard to do online research on Fitzgerald without it.

The Lost Generation: The Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein
This site from Pittsburg (Kansas) State University is a useful collection of e-texts, papers and primary sources. Not all of the critical and student papers are worth reading, but the links to hard-to-find Fitzgerald texts are very useful.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Society
Sort of the official web site for the F. Scott Fitzgerald Fan Club. Mostly geared toward academics, it links to news, scholarship and online resources about the author. The society also organizes an annual conference about Fitzgerald. Not the place to start your research, but worth a quick visit.

ZeldaFitzgerald.com
This site, which focuses on Zelda Fitzgerald's art and career, was prepared as part of the website for a 2004 British musical based on her life. It contains interesting images of Zelda's artwork, as well as an exhaustive database of books by and about the Fitzgeralds.

St. Paul Public Library
The library of the town where Fitzgerald grew up, went to school and published his first works has compiled an extensive annotated bibliography of the best works by and about Fitzgerald. Even if you live nowhere near St. Paul, it's a useful research tool. It also has a few good-quality online photos of the writer.

PBS: The American Novel
Part of a PBS series on the American Novel, this site focuses on Fitzgerald's contribution to the genre. It contains photos, timeline and links that help you place Fitzgerald's work in the context of American literature's development. As with all things PBS, you feel a little smarter just looking at it.

Video & Audio

Fitzgerald Writing
Brief, silent film clip from 1920s shows Fitzgerald writing the following sentence on a page: "Everybody has been predicting a bad end for the flapper—but I don't think there is anything to worry about."

Fitzgerald Reading
Audio clips of Fitzgerald reading from Keats' "Ode to a Nightengale," Masefield's "On Growing Old," and Shakespeare's Othello.

Lost Generation
Vintage newsreel of Fitzgerald and other American expatriates in Paris. Year unknown.

Primary Sources

This Side of Paradise
Full e-text on Bartleby.com.

The Beautiful and Damned
Full e-text on Project Gutenberg.

The Great Gatsby
Full e-text from University of Adelaide, Australia.

Tender is the Night
Full e-text from University of Adelaide, Australia.

Juvenilia
Fitzgerald's fiction from prep school and Princeton.

Obituaries
A collection of news reports published upon Fitzgerald's death.

"The Crack-Up"
Fitzgerald's soul-baring essay describing his own mental breakdown, published in Esquire Magazine, 1936

"The Diamond as Big as the Ritz"
E-text hosted by the University of South Carolina.

"Bernice Bobs Her Hair"
E-text hosted by the University of South Carolina.

Short Stories
Online Collection of Fitzgerald's Short Fiction, Project Gutenberg Australia.

In Defense of Flappers
"A Flapper's Appeal to Parents" by Ellen Wells Page,Outlook, 6 December 1922.

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