Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: With a poetic style and an insight into the lure of and the fallacies within the American Dream, Fitzgerald created some of the most distinctively American fiction.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father, Edward Fitzgerald, was a furniture manufacturer, and his mother, Mollie McQuillan Fitzgerald, the daughter of a wealthy St. Paul businessman. After Edward Fitzgerald’s business failed in 1898, he became a wholesale grocery salesman for Procter and Gamble in Buffalo, New York. Edward was transferred to Syracuse, New York, in 1901 (when Scott’s sister Annabel was born) and back to Buffalo in 1903 before losing his job in 1908. The family then returned to St. Paul to live off the money Mollie had inherited from her father.
Edward Fitzgerald, who had cowritten a novel when he was young, read from the works of George Gordon, Lord Byron and Edgar Allan Poe to his son and praised the boy’s attempts at writing, but he hoped that Scott would become an army officer. Mollie did not encourage his literary interests and wanted him to be a successful businessman like her father, to make up for Edward’s failure and to live up to the illustrious ancestors on his father’s side of the family, a long line of wealthy Maryland landowners, politicians, and lawyers. (Francis Scott Key was a distant relative.)
Because Scott’s family believed that he needed discipline, he was sent in 1911 to the Newman School, a Catholic preparatory school in Hackensack, New Jersey. At Newman, Fitzgerald met Father Sigourney Fay, a wealthy intellectual who introduced him to Henry Adams and other well-known literary figures. Fay became the boy’s surrogate father and is the model for Monsignor Darcy in This Side of Paradise (1920).
In 1913, Fitzgerald enrolled at Princeton University. He dreamed of becoming a college football star but did not make the team. He had worked on school publications throughout high school and began writing for the Princeton Tiger, the college humor magazine. He also wrote the books and lyrics for musical productions of the prestigious Triangle Club, and through such literary endeavors he made friends with fellow students Edmund Wilson, who became one of America’s most important critics, and John Peale Bishop, later a successful poet. Fitzgerald and Wilson wrote The Evil Eye for the Triangle Club in 1915. After a publicity photograph for that production of Fitzgerald dressed as a girl ran in The New York Times, he received an offer to become a female impersonator in vaudeville.
Earlier that year, Fitzgerald had met sixteen-year-old Ginevra King of Lake Forest, Illinois, at a party in St. Paul. For him, she was the embodiment of the perfect woman: beautiful, rich, socially prominent, and sought after. Ginevra, the model for many of the young women in Fitzgerald’s short stories, rejected him eventually because he was not wealthy.
That disappointment was not Fitzgerald’s only one in 1915. He was elected secretary of the Triangle Club, meaning that he would be its president during his senior year, but bad grades made him ineligible for campus offices. Fitzgerald had neglected his studies almost from his arrival at Princeton. At the end of the fall semester, poor grades and illness forced him to drop out of school.
Fitzgerald returned to Princeton in the fall of 1916 to repeat his junior year, and he continued to write stories for the campus literary magazine. He was never graduated, however, since the United States entered World War I, and he joined the army as a second lieutenant in October, 1917. On weekends, he began writing “The Romantic Egotist,” an early version of This Side of Paradise. In June, 1918, he was sent to Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama. At a country club dance that July, Fitzgerald met eighteen-year-old Zelda Sayre, and they fell in love two months later. Zelda came from a prominent Montgomery family, her father being a justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Zelda, considered the most popular girl in Montgomery, was attracted to Fitzgerald because they wanted the same things: success, fame, and glamour.
The war ended just as Fitzgerald was to go overseas. He was disappointed because he wanted to test himself in battle and because he saw the war as a romantic adventure. Yet more disappointments were the rejection of his novel by Charles Scribner’s Sons and the disapproval of Zelda’s parents, who believed that Scott was not stable enough to take proper care of their high-strung daughter. Nevertheless, Zelda agreed to marry him if he went to New York—where she desperately wanted to live—and became a success.
Fitzgerald began working for the Barron Collier advertising agency in February, 1919, writing advertisements which appeared in trolley cars. That spring, he sold his first short story, “Babes in the Woods,” to The Smart Set, the sophisticated magazine edited by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. Zelda, however, was too impatient for his success and broke off their engagement that June.
Fitzgerald quit his job in July, 1919, and returned to St. Paul to live with his parents while revising his novel. Maxwell Perkins, the legendary Scribner’s editor, accepted This Side of Paradise that September, despite objections to what his very conservative employer considered a frivolous novel. Perkins, whose suggestions helped Fitzgerald improve the book, said he would resign if Scribner’s did not publish it.
Shortly after the novel was accepted, Fitzgerald became a client of agent Harold Ober and began publishing stories in the Saturday Evening Post, at that time the highest-paying magazine in the field. Unfortunately, he also began a lifelong pattern of drinking and wild spending. He and Zelda seemed made for each other because of their youth, beauty, ambition, and excesses. They were married April 3, 1920, a few days after This Side of Paradise was published.
Scribner’s published three thousand copies of Fitzgerald’s autobiographical novel about a college student’s coming of age, and the book was sold out in three days. By the end of 1921, it had gone through twelve printings of 49,075 copies, a huge success for a serious first novel. This Side of Paradise, considered the first realistic American college novel, was read as a handbook for collegiate conduct. By presenting the new American girl in rebellion against her mother’s values, the novel also created the prototype of the flapper. Novelist John O’Hara later claimed that a half million Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty fell in love with the book.
The Fitzgeralds quickly became major celebrities in New York because of Scott’s success and the young couple’s good looks and flamboyant personalities. (Unfortunately, few photographs capture the charismatic good looks of Zelda, with her wavy hair, almond-shaped eyes, and oval face, and blond, blue-eyed, stocky Scott, whose impact is widely attested in contemporary accounts.) Zelda went from the center of attention she had been in Montgomery to the wife of a famous novelist, and she resented the change. She remained jealous of her husband’s artistic success and attempted, in the course...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
F. Scott Fitzgerald was educated at St. Paul Academy and at the Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey. While attending Princeton University he wrote for the Princeton Tiger and Nassau Literary Magazine. He left Princeton without a degree, joined the army, and was stationed near Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre. In 1920, they were married in New York City before moving to Westport, Connecticut. Their only child, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, was born in 1921. In the mid-1920’s the Fitzgeralds traveled extensively between the United States and Europe, meeting Ernest Hemingway in Paris in 1925. The decade of the 1930’s was a bleak one for the Fitzgeralds; Zelda had several emotional breakdowns and...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896. His mother’s side of the family (the McQuillans) was what Fitzgerald referred to as “straight 1850 potato famine Irish,” but by the time of his maternal grandfather’s death at the age of forty-four, the McQuillan fortune, earned in the grocery business, was in excess of $300,000. Fitzgerald’s father was a poor but well-bred descendant of the old Maryland Scott and Key families. Always an ineffectual businessman, Edward Fitzgerald had met Mary McQuillan when he arrived in St. Paul to open a wicker furniture business, which shortly went out of business. In search of a job by which he could support the family, Edward Fitzgerald moved his...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald is considered one of the three most important American authors (along with Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner) who wrote between the two world wars. On his father’s side he was a descendant of the Scotts and the Keys who produced Francis Scott Key, the distinguished lawyer who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Fitzgerald’s father, Edward Fitzgerald, was unable to hold a steady job; his mother was the eccentric and powerful Mary McQuillan, whose father had left her a million-dollar grocery business and a substantial personal fortune.
Fitzgerald’s childhood was a pampered...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, one of the most talented of American writers, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father, Edward, was unsuccessful in a variety of enterprises, and the family moved numerous times until Fitzgerald’s mother inherited sufficient money for them to settle in one of the more exclusive neighborhoods of St. Paul. Even as a young boy, Fitzgerald was acutely aware that his mother, rather than his father, provided the financial foundation of the family. It was a situation—a wife’s inherited money—that was to recur frequently in his writing.
In 1911, Fitzgerald...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Fitzgerald was an acute social observer and an incomparable stylist. His central concern was with the individual whose promise is destroyed by an uncaring or hostile world, a destruction made possible by some inherent flaw in an otherwise noble nature. Fitzgerald’s writings all have this viewpoint, which can best be described as romantic moralism.
Immensely popular with his first novel, highly successful with his short stories, and critically acclaimed for his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald has come to be recognized as one of American literature’s premier authors and the creator of some of its most memorable and individual characters. Although his work is clearly a product of and a reflection of...
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F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in September, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of an entrepreneur and salesman and his wife, a distant cousin of Francis Scott Key, author of ''The Star-Spangled Banner,'' for whom he was named. He displayed an interest in writing early on and in 1911, he moved to New Jersey to attend the Newman College Preparatory School. Two years later he entered Princeton University, and in 1917 he received a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Hoping to eventually see combat in World War I Fitzgerald was assigned to Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama supreme court justice. He was smitten by Zelda's charm, but was forced to turn his attention fully toward earning a living as a writer. Fitzgerald sold his first short story in 1919, and in September of that year Scribner's accepted his first novel, This Side of Paradise, for publication. It immediately became a financial and critical success, and Fitzgerald was suddenly a literary figure of national prominence.
Having achieved success as a writer, Fitzgerald resumed his courtship of Zelda Sayre, and they married in 1920. Their only child, a daughter named Scottie, was born in 1921. That same year, the Fitzgeralds undertook the first of several extended trips to Europe. On one such trip in 1925, Fitzgerald met aspiring novelist Ernest Hemingway whose career and work he championed until Hemingway's own fame and Fitzgerald's troubled personal life weakened their friendship. Fitzgerald's second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, was published to mixed critical reviews in 1922. Three years later, he published The Great Gatsby, his most popular and admired work, though it received several disappointing reviews upon publication, which discouraged him deeply. Although Fitzgerald had begun drinking heavily at Princeton, he became severely alcoholic in the mid 1920s, and his drinking, combined with his expensive tastes and Zelda's mental instability, began to seriously affect his health, finances, and productivity. After Gatsby in 1925, for example, he did not publish another novel until Tender Is the Night in 1934. The bulk of his income came from advances sent by his legendary editor at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins, and from the sale of his short stories to high-paying magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. Between 1919 and 1939 he sold 160 stories, primarily to pay his bills and thus buy him small windows of time to work on his novels.
Desperate for income to support his lifestyle and psychologically taxed by Zelda's treatment at mental sanitariums, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in 1937 to work as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios. Although he saw only one of his screenplays produced as a finished film, he continued to work on film treatments, short stories, and his last major work, the unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, until he died of a heart attack in December of 1940. In a posthumous collection of confessional Esquire pieces, The Crack-Up, Fitzgerald succinctly offered his own harsh epitaph for his last years: "Then I was drunk for many years, and then I died.''
Many autobiographical details shaped the content of ‘‘Babylon Revisited.’’ Like Charlie Wale's daughter Honoria, Fitzgerald's only child, Scottie (who was also nicknamed ‘‘Pie’’), was about nine years old at the time of the story's composition, and, like Charlie, Fitzgerald was confronted with the problem of Scottie's custody after Zelda's mental instability began to accelerate in 1930. Also like Charlie, Fitzgerald was also a prosperous Irish-American expatriate, and, as the evocative description of 1930 Paris in the story suggests, Fitzgerald was also intimately familiar with such Parisian landmarks as the Hotel Ritz, Josephine Baker's nude revue, and the club scene and restaurants of Paris nightlife. Most centrally, however, Fitzgerald, like Charlie, also wrestled painfully with his alcoholism, and his skillful evocation of the self-delusions and strategies Charlie adopts to convince himself of his rehabilitation were drawn directly from Fitzgerald's lifelong struggle with heavy drinking. Charlie's pre-1929 Paris escapades, alluded to throughout "Babylon Revisited''—squandered money, bitter marital disputes, and alcohol-fueled decline—are sharply autobiographical. Fitzgerald biographer Matthew Bruccoli has also pointed out that the baleful Marion Peters, Charlie's sister-in-law, was "obviously" based on Fitzgerald's own sister-in-law, Zelda's older sister Rosalind Smith, who questioned Fitzgerald's ability to raise Scottie properly.
In this Section:
- Timeline for F. Scott Fitzgerald
- List of Major Works
F. Scott Fitzgerald was an American novelist and short-story writer of the Roaring Twenties. Since his early work shows a romantic feeling for “the promises of life” at college and in “The East,” he acquired the epithet “the spokesman of the Jazz Age.” His first novel, This Side of Paradise, was the first American novel to deal with college undergraduate life in the World War I era. A handsome and charming man, Fitzgerald was quickly adopted by the young generation of his time. His second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned, is a lively but shallow book, but his third, The Great Gatsby, is one of the most penetrating descriptions of American life in the 1920s.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896 F. Scott Fitzgerald was the son of Edward Fitzgerald, who worked for Proctor and Gamble and brought his family to Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, for most of his son's first decade. Edward Fitzgerald's great-great-grandfather was the brother of the grandfather of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the poem “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This fact was of great significance to Mrs. Fitzgerald, Mollie McQuillan, and later to Scott. Mollie Fitzgerald's own family could offer no pretensions to aristocracy, but her father, an Irish immigrant who came to America in 1843, was a self-made businessman. Equally important was Fitzgerald's sense of having come from two widely different Celtic strains. He had early on developed an inferiority complex in a family where the “black Irish half … had the money and looked down on the Maryland side of the family who had, and really had … ‘breeding,’” according to Scott Donaldson in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Out of this divergence of classes in his family background arose what critics called F. Scott's “double vision.” He had the ability to experience the lifestyle of the wealthy from an insider's perspective, yet never felt a part of this clique and always felt the outsider.
As a youth, Fitzgerald revealed a flair for dramatics, first in St. Paul, where he wrote original plays for amateur production, and later at The Newman Academy in Hackensack, New Jersey. At Princeton, he composed lyrics for the university's famous Triangle Club productions. Fitzgerald was also a writer and actor with the Triangle Club at college. Before he could graduate, he volunteered for the army during World War I. He spent the weekends writing the earliest drafts of his first novel. The work was accepted for publication in 1919 by Charles Scribner's Sons. The popular and financial success that accompanied this event enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre, whom he met at training camp in Alabama. Zelda played a pivotal role in the writer's life, both in a tempestuous way and an inspirational one. Mostly, she shared his extravagant lifestyle and artistic interests. In the 1930s she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and was hospitalized in Switzerland and then Maryland, where she died in a fire.
For some time, Fitzgerald lived with his wife in Long Island. There, the setting for The Great Gatsby, he entertained in a manner similar to his characters, with expensive liquors and entertainment. He revelled in demonstrating the antics of the crazy, irresponsible rich, and carried this attitude wherever he went. Especially on the Riviera in France the Fitzgeralds befriended the elite of the cultural world and wealthy classes, only to offend most of them in some way by their outrageous behavior. Self-absorbed, drunk, and eccentric, they sought and received attention of all kinds. The party ended with the hospitalization of Zelda for schizophrenia in Prangins, a Swiss clinic, and, coincidentally, with the Great Depression of 1929, which tolled the start of Scott's personal depression.
In the decade before his death, Fitzgerald's troubles and the debilitating effects of his alcoholism limited the quality and amount of his writing. Nonetheless, it was also during this period that he attempted his most psychologically complex and aesthetically ambitious novel, Tender Is the Night (1934). After Zelda's breakdown, Fitzgerald became romantically involved with Sheila Graham, a gossip columnist in Hollywood, during the last years of his life. He also wrote but did not finish the novel The Last Tycoon, now considered to be one of his best works, about the Hollywood motion picture industry. Fitzgerald died suddenly of a heart attack, most likely induced by a long addiction to alcohol, on December 21, 1940. At the time of his death, he was virtually forgotten and unread. A growing Fitzgerald revival, begun in the 1950s, led to the publication of numerous volumes of stories, letters, and notebooks. One of his literary critics, Stephen Vincent Benet, concluded in his review of The Last Tycoon, “You can take off your hats now, gentlemen, and I think perhaps you had better. This is not a legend, this is a reputation—and, seen in perspective, it may well be one of the most secure reputations of our time.”
Timeline for F. Scott Fitzgerald
1896—F. Scott Fitzgerald born in St. Paul, Minnesota
1911-1913—attends catholic prep school in New Jersey
1913-1917—attends Princeton University; writes dramatic and humorous pieces
1917-1919—joins the army; meets Zelda Sayre in Montgomery, Alabama
1920—publishes This Side of Paradise; marries Zelda
1921—publishes first short story collection, Flappers and Philosophers; daughter Frances “Scottie” born
1922—publishes his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned
1923—satirical play, The Vegetable, fails
1925—publishes The Great Gatsby; befriends Ernest Hemingway in Paris
1926—publishes All the Sad Young Men
1927—moves family to Delaware; first attempt to write for Hollywood
1930—Zelda has first nervous breakdown in Paris
1934—publishes Tender is the Night
1935—publishes Taps at Reveille
1937—moves back to Hollywood as scriptwriter; begins affair with Sheila Graham
1940—dies in Hollywood; buried at Rockville, Maryland
1948—Zelda dies in fire at sanitarium in North Carolina
This Side of Paradise (1920)
Fitzgerald’s debut novel, an exuberant, semi-autobiographical coming of age story, recounts the romantic and social adventures of the sensitive and vain Amory Blaine. It was considered a guidebook for rebellious youth of the twenties.
The Beautiful and Damned (1923)
The Beautiful and Damned recalls the personal history of a wealthy, attractive young man, Anthony Patch, and his beautiful, selfish wife Gloria. From pampered childhood to alcoholic, debt-ridden decline, Fitzgerald explores the corruptive influences of money.
The Great Gatsby (1925)
His third and best novel, The Great Gatsby is considered one of the most important works in American literature. Gatsby tells the story of a self-made millionaire and the tragic pursuit of his lost love.
Tender is the Night (1934)
Set in Europe, Tender is the Night traces the decline of a brilliant American psychiatrist, Dick Diver, during the course of his marriage to a wealthy mental patient.
The Last Tycoon (1941)
Fitzgerald’s fifth novel, unfinished at the time of his death, promised to be his finest work. It tells the story of the heroic movie producer, Monroe Stahr, and his struggle for artistic integrity against the money-obsessed influences of Hollywood.
Fitzgerald wrote over 160 short stories, including “The Rich Boy,” “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “May Day,” “Babylon Revisited” and “Financing Finnegan.” Excerpted letters to his daughter were published in 1945 as The Crack-Up.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Edward and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald. From his father, a businessman, he inherited his predisposition for alcoholism and his romantic imagination; from his mother, an heiress, he developed an attraction to wealth, all of which would become major themes in his work. At a young age, Fitzgerald expressed an interest and a talent in writing as he began to write stories that echoed ones from popular magazines. The school magazines at St. Paul Academy and Newman School, where he attended school, published several of his short stories. Every summer from 1911 to 1914 he wrote plays that neighborhood children performed for charity groups.
He entered Princeton in 1913, where he wrote short stories, poetry, plays, and book reviews for the Nassau Literary Magazine and the Princeton Tiger, and wrote plays for the school's shows. His concentration on writing took him away from his studies, and as a result, he left in January, 1916. He returned a year later but never finished his degree. When World War I broke out, he was appointed second lieutenant in the army, although he never served overseas. During his stint in the army, he completed a draft of a novel, The Romantic Egotist. Scribner's publishers did not accept the manuscript, but they suggested that he continue working on it.
While stationed in Montgomery, Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre, daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. He soon fell in love with the beautiful but troubled Zelda and married her. Their life together would come to epitomize the excitement and tragedy of the Jazz Age, as often fictionalized in his work.
After his discharge in 1919, he returned to St. Paul determined to be, as he told a friend, one of the greatest writers who has ever lived. He began his literary career with a rewrite of The Romantic Egotist, renaming it as This Side of Paradise, which was accepted by Scribner's. The novel was well received by critics and the public, who applauded its accurate portrait of American society in the 1920s. In December 1922 Metropolitan Magazine published ‘‘Winter Dreams,’’ which was later included in his collection of short stories, All The Sad Young Men in 1926. The collection was a popular and critical success, cementing Fitzgerald's reputation as a chronicler of the destructive nature of the American dream.
Fitzgerald's subsequent novels and short stories were well received, but his and Zelda's extravagant lifestyle kept him constantly in debt. Eventually, Zelda would be hospitalized for mental illness and Fitzgerald would suffer a breakdown. At the end of his career, with few copies of his works being sold, he turned to script writing in Hollywood, where he worked on, among others, the script for Gone with the Wind. He died there of a heart attack, probably brought on by his alcoholism, on December 21, 1940.
Biography (Short Stories for Students)
IntroductionIs great art born of great misery? If so, that might help explain the success of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which is widely regarded as one of the most influential works of the twentieth century. Gatsby tells the story of Fitzgerald’s “Lost Generation” during the “Jazz Age.” Both terms describe those young people of the 1920s who, like Fitzgerald, felt purposeless in a world of excess. But Fitzgerald also wrestled with many personal demons, alcoholism in particular and the problematic relationship with his wife, Zelda Sayre. Zelda was from a markedly higher social ranking than himself, so Fitzgerald constantly struggled with feelings of inadequacy. And despite his many publications, Fitzgerald died believing himself a failure as a writer. History has judged otherwise, and today Fitzgerald is considered one of America’s most celebrated authors.
- Don’t underestimate the influence of Zelda Sayre on Fitzgerald’s work. She was the basis of the characters Judy Jones in “Winter Dreams” and Daisy Fay in The Great Gatsby. Later, Zelda’s mental illness would also influence his novel Tender Is the Night.
- Hemingway once ridiculed Fitzgerald’s famous line, “The rich are different than you and I,” by quipping, “Yes, they have more money.”
- Despite his successes, Fitzgerald was continually in debt and often had to write for magazines to support his family.
- During the last three years of his life, Fitzgerald worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood.
- A famous line from The Great Gatsby embodies Fitzgerald’s lifelong philosophy of trying to reclaim youth: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Biography (Magill Book Reviews)
Bruccoli’s work is the most comprehensive collection of Fitzgerald letters to date (including hundreds not previously published), but it is also the most revealing. For Matthew Bruccoli has organized the letters to give readers a glimpse into Fitzgerald’s life, in epistolary descriptions of his relationships, his travels, and his philosophy about writing. The letters detail the Jazz Age life that was the basis of the Fitzgerald myth from the 1920’s on, but they also reveal the other side of that glamorous expatriate life: his growing concern with his wife’s health (Zelda Fitzgerald was institutionalized for much of the 1930’s), his frantic attempts to raise money through his writings, his failed Hollywood career, his...
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