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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Sherwood Anderson
- Hart Crane
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Susan Glaspell
- Ernest Hemingway
- Nella Larsen
- Marianne Moore
- John Dos Passos
- Gertrude Stein
- Wallace Stevens
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

(F. Scott) Fitzgeralds on a Street in Paris
[4893] Anonymous, (F. Scott) Fitzgeralds on a Street in Paris, courtesy of Princeton University Library.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's best-known work, The Great Gatsby, has made him familiar to generations of students of American literature. Though the book sold poorly when it was first published, it has since become one of the most widely read American novels and justified Fitzgerald's reputation as one of the foremost chroniclers of the 1920s, which he famously labeled the "Jazz Age."

Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and educated primarily in East Coast schools. He attended Princeton University for three years, leaving without his degree to enlist in the U.S. army during World War I, though peace was declared before he could see combat. While stationed in Alabama, he met and courted Zelda Sayre, who initially rejected him. He went to New York in 1919 to seek his fortune as a writer and to win over Zelda. His first novel, This Side of Paradise, became a best-seller and made Fitzgerald an overnight sensation; one week after its release he married Zelda. In addition to giving him fame and wealth, the book seemed to speak for the generation of which Fitzgerald was a part, and Fitzgerald's next books, two short-story collections called Flappers and Philosophers (1921) and Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), solidified his reputation as an insightful narrator of the social world of the 1920s.

Fitzgerald and Zelda lived well on the proceeds of these books and a second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, published in 1922. The couple had a daughter in 1921; in 1924 they moved to Europe to economize after several years of lavish living. In Europe they associated with other expatriate American writers, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Ernest Hemingway. While living in Paris, Fitzgerald composed The Great Gatsby (1925), the story of a self-made millionaire who pursues a corrupted version of the American dream, dealing in not-quite-legal businesses to make his fortune and win back the woman he loves.

Despite his success as a writer, Fitzgerald had difficulty getting out of debt, though he wrote prolifically and published short stories in high-paying magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. He abused alcohol, and in 1930 Zelda suffered a mental breakdown, which would lead to her spending much of the remainder of her life in mental institutions. After the stock market crash of 1929, Fitzgerald, like many other American expatriates, returned to the United States, where he wrote and published a fourth novel, Tender Is the Night (1934), which chronicles the decline of a young American psychiatrist, Dick Diver, whose marriage to a dependent patient interferes with his career. Though critics generally praised the novel, it sold poorly, and Fitzgerald tried screenwriting. He completed only one full screenplay, Three Comrades (1938), and was fired because of his drinking, which eventually ruined his health. He died of a heart attack when he was only forty-four.

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