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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota—a social landscape Edmund Wilson called “the middle west of large cities and country clubs.” From boyhood Fitzgerald experienced both the conflict and the fluidity of class in American life. On his father’s side, his family, though they were descended from Francis Scott Key and possessed of what Fitzgerald called that “poor old shattered word ‘breeding’,” had come to be part of the genteel lower middle-class. His mother’s people, the McQuillans, were immigrant entrepreneurs who “had the money.” Not surprisingly, his mother nurtured social ambitions in her only son, and Fitzgerald was sent east to a Catholic prep school (Newman School in New Jersey), and then to Princeton.

At Princeton Fitzgerald courted academic trouble as he pursued success on the parallel tracks which were to mark his career as a writer. He wrote lyrics for the Triangle Club’s shows and published poems and stories in the Nassau Literary Magazine. Later on, he wrote story after story for the Saturday Evening Post and movie scripts for Hollywood while he struggled to write the novels for which he is chiefly remembered.

In the fall of 1917, his senior year at Princeton, Fitzgerald received a commission in the U.S. Army and was assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There and at Camp Taylor in Kentucky, Fitzgerald worked on the manuscript of the novel that was to become This Side of Paradise. While at Camp Sheridan, outside Montgomery, Alabama, Fitzgerald met and instantly fell in love with eighteen-year-old Zelda Sayre. Discharged from the army in February, 1919, Fitzgerald moved to New York and went to work for the Barron Collier advertising agency. When Zelda broke off their long-distance engagement in June, 1919, Fitzgerald decided to quit his job, return to St. Paul, and rewrite his novel as “a sort of substitute form of dissipation.” He wrote feverishly and by September, Scribner’s had reconsidered and accepted the book. He and Zelda were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 3, 1920, and their life embellished what Fitzgerald had already called the Jazz Age.

This Side of Paradise was both a sensation and success, and its reception set Fitzgerald’s course as a celebrity and a serious novelist. Though taken to task for this double identity by Edmund Wilson and others, Fitzgerald nevertheless expressed the social and psychological tensions of his life in his novels and short fiction. From This Side of Paradise to The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald interprets the contemporary American scene in relation to an unfolding sense of essential values. Foremost among these is a romantic sense of American history as “the most beautiful history in the world...the history of all aspiration—not just the American dream but the human dream.” Yet Fitzgerald tempered the romantic in him with a skeptic’s cold eye. Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, declares Gatsby’s dream dead not only personally but historically back in “that vast obscurity... where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” And with the disillusionment of the idealist, Fitzgerald embraces “the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not ‘happiness and pleasure’ but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.” Americans, Fitzgerald thought, at their best managed to keep alive a “willingness, of the heart” essential to the pursuit of happiness and citizenship.

“Sometimes,” Fitzgerald wrote his daughter near the end of his life, “I wish I had gone along with that gang [Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart], but I guess I am too much a moralist at heart and really want to preach at people in some acceptable form rather than to entertain them.” In “May Day” (1920) Fitzgerald mingles autobiographical incidents with details from contemporary history. In May of 1919 in the early hours of the morning after the interfraternity dance at Delmonico’s, he was bounced out of the Fifty-ninth-Street Childs for a disturbance similar to that created by Peter Himmel in the story. At the same time, the assault on the New York Trumpet by a mob of mostly inebriated returning soldiers recalls an actual raid on the socialist New York Call during the red scare of 1919. Like many of Fitzgerald’s stories in Tales of the Jazz Age, “May Day” has in it a “touch of disaster”—in this case the violent despair of the down-and-out Yale man Gordon Sterrett—which is set alongside the oblivious pursuit of pleasure by Gordon’s double, his wealthy, man-about-town classmate, Philip Dean.

John F. Callahan
Lewis and Clark College

In the Heath Anthology
Diamond Big as the Ritz (1920)

Other Works
This Side of Paradise (1920)
Flappers and Philosophers (1921)
Tales of the Jazz Age (1922)
The Beautiful and the Damned (1922)
The Vegetable or from President to Postman (1923)
The Great Gatsby (1925)
All the Sad Young Men (1926)
Tender Is the Night (1934)
Taps at Reveille (1935)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary
Biography, chronology, essays, articles, and bibliographic resources.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Hatteras Campfire
Web forum for discussing Fitzgerald's work.

Secondary Sources

Fitzgerald, Kuehl, Bryer, Dear Scott Sear Max: The Fitsgerald-Perkins Correspondence, 1991

Jackson R. Bryer, F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Perspectives, 2000

Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1981

John F. Callahan, The Illusions of a Nation: Myth and History in the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1972

Kenneth Eble, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1963

Robert L. Gale, An F. Scott Fitzgerald Encyclopedia, 1998

Alfred Kazin, ed., F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Myth and His Work, 1951

Richard H. Lehan, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction, 1966

James E. Miller, The Fictional Technique of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1957

Arthur Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise, 1951, revised edition 1965

Milton R. Stern, The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1970

Andrew Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, 1962

Brian Way, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fiction, 1980