Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Short Story Criticism)
F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940
(Full name Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, scriptwriter, dramatist, and poet.
The following entry presents criticism on Fitzgerald's short fiction from 1990 through 2003. See also criticism on Fitzgerald's short story “Babylon Revisited,” The Great Gatsby, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Contemporary Literary Criticism.
Fitzgerald is regarded as one of the most influential novelists and short-story writers of the twentieth century. He is viewed as the spokesman for the Jazz Age, America's decade of prosperity, excess, and abandon, which began soon after the end of World War I and concluded with the 1929 stock market crash. As such, in his novels and stories, Fitzgerald examined an entire generation's search for the elusive American dream of wealth and happiness. Most of his stories were derived from his own experiences and portray the consequences of his generation's adherence to false values. The glamour and insouciance of many of Fitzgerald's writings reveal only one side of a writer whose second and final decade of work characterized a life marred by alcoholism and financial difficulties, troubled by personal tragedy, and frustrated by lack of inspiration.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fitzgerald grew up in a wealthy family and showed an early interest in writing plays and poetry. As a young man he emulated the rich, youthful, and beautiful, a social group with whom he maintained a lifelong love-hate relationship. In 1913 he enrolled at Princeton University, and his first stories were published in Nassau Lit, the university's literary magazine, which was edited by his friend and fellow student Edmund Wilson. Leaving Princeton for the army during World War I, Fitzgerald spent his weekends in boot camp writing the earliest draft of his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920). The acceptance of this work for publication by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1919—and the ensuing popular and financial success it achieved—enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre, a socially prominent young woman he had met and courted during his army days. Zelda significantly affected her husband's life and career. During the 1920s, she was Fitzgerald's private literary consultant and editor, while publicly she matched Fitzgerald's extravagant tastes and passion in living for the moment.
While continuing to illuminate the manners of the Roaring Twenties, Fitzgerald's second and third novels, as well as the story collections published between novels, evidenced a growing awareness of the shallowness and brutal insensitivity that are sometimes accoutrements of American society. These weaknesses and America's lost ideals are movingly described in Fitzgerald's strongest and most famous work, The Great Gatsby (1925). Although it gained the respect of many prominent American writers and is now considered a classic, The Great Gatsby was not a popular success and marked the beginning of the author's decline in popularity. Another commercial disappointment, Tender Is the Night (1934) reflected the disillusionment and strain caused by the Great Depression and Zelda's gradual deterioration from schizophrenia and eventual breakdown. These events scarred Fitzgerald, contributing to a deep, self-reproaching despair that brought his career to a near standstill during the mid-1930s. Fitzgerald described his tribulations in detail in the three confessional “Crack-Up” Essays of 1936, which brilliantly evoke his pain and suffering. Trying to start anew, he became a motion picture scriptwriter and began The Last Tycoon (1941), a novel based on his Hollywood experiences, which remained unfinished when Fitzgerald died in late 1940.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Fitzgerald's short stories have often been dismissed as slick, commercial productions intended to capitalize on the successes of his novels. The author's own disparaging remarks regarding his stories have also helped lend discredit to their status as works of literature. Yet, since the 1960s, critics have come to regard many of Fitzgerald's short pieces as works that reflect themes characteristic of his most significant writings while experimenting with new techniques and subjects. In “The Rich Boy,” for example, Fitzgerald writes about the life of the wealthy and privileged. The protagonist of the story, the wealthy Anson Hunter, has developed a sense of superiority and aloofness, a need for dominance, and contempt for commonplace life—attitudes that result in alienation from those who would love him and separation from happiness. Instead of a means to fulfill his dreams, wealth has become for Anson an obstacle to self-realization. Another early tale, “Winter Dreams,” relies, like many of Fitzgerald's writings, on his recollections of childhood. In this story a young boy's longing for the “glittering things” of life guide his actions over the years until he realizes as a successful and wealthy adult that the greatest value of dreams resides in dreaming and striving, not in fulfillment.
In other stories, Fitzgerald portrays the socioeconomic divisions that characterized the early twentieth century. His story “May Day” is perceived as a somber and complex tale that many critics have interpreted as a remarkable evocation of the imminent collapse of the Jazz Age. The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three young protagonists—wealthy Phillip Dean; Dean's penniless former Yale roommate, Gordon Sterrett; and shallow, pretty Edith Bradin—during the May Day Parade in New York City in 1919. In “Babylon, Revisited,” overwhelmingly Fitzgerald's most frequently anthologized and analyzed short story, the author expands on his characteristic themes. Set against the backdrop of expatriate Europe during the 1930s, this story focuses on Charlie Wales, wealthy playboy of 1920s Paris whose excesses contributed at least in part to the death of his wife and subsequent placement of his daughter into the custodianship of his bitter and resentful sister-in-law, Marion. He has now returned to Paris, having put aside his careless ways and reestablished himself as a responsible member of society, to reclaim his daughter. Marion's suspicions of Charlie's insincerity are apparently confirmed, however, when two acquaintances from his halcyon days emerge to momentarily divert his attention. As a result, Marion will not relinquish the child. The story ends as Charlie resolves to return and try again to regain his daughter, believing that “they couldn't make him pay forever.”
At the time of his death, Fitzgerald was virtually forgotten and unread. Since the 1950s, however, a growing Fitzgerald revival has led to the publication of numerous volumes of stories, letters, and notebooks. Critics have universally praised Fitzgerald's mastery of style and technique that renders even his most trivial efforts entertaining and well-executed. Numerous critical studies on Fitzgerald's short fiction have been published, exploring his stories from socioeconomical, feminist, psychoanalytical, and autobiographical perspectives. Recent critical studies have examined the relationship between his novels and short stories, asserting that although earlier critics dismissed his short fiction as inferior efforts intended to capitalize on the successes of his novels, the stories are valuable for their insight into Fitzgerald's characteristic, thematic concerns and deserve a well-considered place in Fitzgerald's fictional oeuvre. He is regarded as a profound and sensitive artist, as well as the unmatched voice of the Jazz Age.
Flappers and Philosophers 1920
Tales of the Jazz Age 1922
All the Sad Young Men 1926
Taps at Reveille 1935
The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1951
Afternoon of an Author: A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays (stories and essays) 1957
Six Tales of the Jazz Age, and Other Stories 1960
The Pat Hobby Stories 1962
The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 1909-1917 1965
Babylon Revisited, and Other Stories 1971
The Basil and Josephine Stories 1973
Bits of Paradise: Twenty-One Uncollected Stories by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald [with Zelda Fitzgerald] 1973
The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1979
The Fantasy and Mystery Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1991
Jazz Age Stories [with Thomas Hardy] 1998
This Side of Paradise (novel) 1920
The Beautiful and Damned (novel) 1922
The Vegetable (drama) 1923
The Great Gatsby (novel) 1925
Tender Is the Night (novel) 1934
The Last Tycoon (novel) 1941
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SOURCE: Varet-Ali, Elizabeth M. “The Unfortunate Fate of Seventeen Fitzgerald ‘Origins’: Towards a Reading of The Pat Hobby Stories on Their Own Merits Completely.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 14 (spring 1990): 87-110.
[In the following essay, Varet-Ali praises the originality of The Pat Hobby Stories and considers their place within Fitzgerald's oeuvre.]
I'm awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow, as there doesn't seem to be so much money in it, and I'd like to find out if people read me just because I am Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don't read me for the same reason. In other words it would fascinate me to have one of my stories stand on its own merits completely and see if there is a response. Letter to Arnold Gingrich, 7 February 1940.
Fitzgerald wrote the seventeen Pat Hobby Stories from late Summer 1939 to June 1940. At his death, he was still busy revising each story again before its first public appearance in Esquire.1 He had plans for a complete revision of the whole series. His Correspondence reveals that he had accepted the idea of having them dramatized into a play.2
As the fiftieth anniversary of Fitzgerald's death is drawing near, one can hope that the Pat Hobby Stories will at last be allowed to take the place they...
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SOURCE: Drushell, Barbara. “Fitzgerald's ‘The Ice Palace’.” The Explicator 49, no. 4 (summer 1991): 237-38.
[In the following essay, Drushell investigates the role of earth, air, fire, and water in “The Ice Palace.”]
In “The Ice Palace,” F. Scott Fitzgerald's interest in the lasting influence of birthplace on his characters1 is manifested in the central conflict of the story: Can the protagonist, Sally Carrol Happer, from Tarleton, Georgia, go through with her marriage to the northerner Harry Ballamy? She yearns to escape the “lazy days and nights” of the South and to embrace the “energy” of the North, where “things happen on a big scale.”2 But Fitzgerald's descriptions of the earth, air, fire, and water of the two locations, as Sally Carrol perceives them, preclude any possibility of the proposed nuptials.
Though earth and air in Georgia are “dusty” (113), the “tangled growths of bright-green coppice and grass and tall trees” bring cool comfort, as does the “savoury breeze” (117). Over the “soft grass” (120) where Sally Carrol and Harry sit on his visit to Tarleton, the evening air is “flower-filled” and dotted with fireflies (115). And the southern heat is “never hostile, only comforting, like a great warm nourishing bosom” (118). Quite different is the atmosphere of Harry's native St. Paul, Minnesota, during...
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SOURCE: Mangum, Bryant. “Fitzgerald and Literary Economics.” In A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Short Stories, pp. 3-7. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1991.
[In the following essay, Mangum explores the relationship between Fitzgerald's novels and short stories and discusses the reputation of his short stories as inferior fiction written only for financial gain.]
From the beginning critics have argued that Fitzgerald prostituted his talent by writing slick magazine fiction when he could have devoted his energy to the production of more novels. Consequently, his career is often viewed as a study in literary schizophrenia. In a 1935 review of Taps at Reveille, T. S. Matthews mirrored the contemporary critical opinion that Fitzgerald's short stories were weaker than his novels because they were written for popular audiences: “Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to be a case of split personality: Fitzgerald A is the serious writer; Fitzgerald B brings home the necessary bacon. … There seems to be a feeling abroad that it would be kinder not to take any critical notice of the goings-on of Fitzgerald B, since his better half is such a superior person and might be embarrassed.”1 Margaret Marshall, surveying Fitzgerald's achievement a month after his death, concluded that he did not fulfill his early promise, partly because he could not resist the high prices that...
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SOURCE: Bucker, Park. “‘Each Time in a New Disguise’: The Author as a Commercial Magazinist.” In F. Scott Fitzgerald: Centenary Exhibition, September 24, 1896-September 24, 1996, pp. 47-8. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press for The Thomas Cooper Library, 1996.
[In the following excerpt, Bucker provides a brief overview of Fitzgerald's career as short story writer for commercial magazines.]
On February 21, 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald entered the commercial magazine marketplace when The Saturday Evening Post published “Head and Shoulders,” a bittersweet comedy of young love. With a circulation of more than 2,750,000 weekly readers and a cost of one nickel, the Post offered writers the highest prices and the widest outlet for popular fiction in America. By the end of May 1920, the Post published five more stories by Fitzgerald, placing them prominently and listing his name on the magazine's cover. That spring his first novel, This Side of Paradise, appeared to critical praise, and he married Zelda Sayre after a tumultuous courtship. All before he was twenty-four years old.
Within the space of a few months the young author had experienced financial, romantic, artistic, and popular success; he had achieved the happy ending. Thirteen years after this early triumph, Fitzgerald maintained in “One Hundred False Starts” that all authors repeat...
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SOURCE: Beegel, Susan F. “‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’: Fitzgerald's Jazz Elegy for Little Women.” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 58-73. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Beegel contends that Fitzgerald borrows the key plot elements and thematic concerns for his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.]
In 1915 nineteen-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a remarkable letter to his younger sister Annabel, criticizing her social deportment and arguing that a successful debutante's popularity is composed of a concerted appeal to male egotism (“Boys like to talk about themselves … always pay close attention to the man.”) and accomplished acting (“Your natural laugh is good, but your artificial one is bum.”) Abandoning the traditional role of elder brother as protector of innocence, he both instructs Annabel in the rudiments of sex appeal and endeavors to inoculate her with cynicism: “Learn to be worldly. Remember that in society nine girls out of ten marry for money and nine men out of ten are fools.” Fitzgerald saved the letter and between November 1919 and February 1920 transformed it into a short story for the Saturday Evening Post—“Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Lest anyone doubt the short story's origin, Fitzgerald scribbled “Basis of Bernice”...
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SOURCE: Prigozy, Ruth. “An Unsentimental Education: ‘The Rubber Check’.” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 206-18. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Prigozy asserts that “The Rubber Check” is one of Fitzgerald's most complex and important stories.]
Five years have rolled away from me and I can't decide exactly who I am, if anyone.
—Letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, May 1932
Sometimes he was able to forget that he really wasn't anybody at all.
—Fitzgerald, “The Rubber Check”
Fitzgerald wrote “The Rubber Check” in May 1932, probably at the Hotel Rennert in Baltimore, Maryland, during one of the bleakest periods of his life.1 After the Fitzgeralds' return to the United States in September 1931, following Zelda Fitzgerald's release from Prangins Clinic in Switzerland, they took a six-month lease on a house in Montgomery, Alabama, where Fitzgerald continued to produce short stories to reduce the enormous debt that had resulted from his wife's illness. (He had written eight in 1930 and the same number by September 1931.) He then spent several months in Hollywood but had to return quickly when Zelda Fitzgerald suffered a...
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SOURCE: Hays, Peter L. “Philippe, ‘Count of Darkness,’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Feminist?” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 291-304. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Hays argues that the four Count of Darkness stories—“The Kingdom in the Dark,” “In the Darkest Hour,” “The Count of Darkness,” and “Gods of Darkness”—reveal insights about Fitzgerald, particularly his sympathy for the feminist movement.]
In April 1934 Fitzgerald began a series of four linked stories set in ninth-century France, the nucleus of a historical novel he never finished.1 Known as the Philippe or Count of Darkness stories, they were rejected by the Saturday Evening Post and purchased somewhat grudgingly by Redbook, as a favor to Fitzgerald, and published by Redbook in October 1934 and June and August 1935; the fourth and final story was not released until after Fitzgerald's death, in November 1941.2 For a time, Fitzgerald considered extending the four stories rather than writing The Last Tycoon. He projected taking Philippe from the age of twenty, when the stories open, to the age of seventy, with eight stories or chapters dealing with his youth (with only four of the eight ever written), three chapters with his maturity, and two “great episodes” with his old...
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SOURCE: Gale, Robert L. “Fitzgerald's ‘A Snobbish Story’.” The Explicator 55, no. 3 (spring 1997): 154.
[In the following essay, Gale identifies the source for Josephine Perry's nickname in “A Snobbish Story,”]
In F. Scott Fitzgerald's “A Snobbish Story” (1930), the Chicago Tribune reporter John Boynton Bailey, who is also a would-be socialist playwright, derisively labels as “Miss Potterfield-Swiftcormick” the heroine Josephine Perry, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman.
This name satirically combines the names of Chicago merchant-capitalist Potter Palmer (1826-1902) and perhaps his wife, the art collector Mrs. Potter Palmer (née Bertha Honoré), Chicago merchant-philanthropist Marshall Field (1852-1906), Chicago meat-packing capitalist Gustavus Franklin Swift (1839-1903) and his five meat-packing sons, and Chicago journalist-politician and Tribune proprietor Joseph Medill McCormick (1877-1925).
Although for a while Josephine associates with Bailey, once the chips are down she promises herself to consort “with the rich and powerful of this world forever” and thus deserves her label.
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SOURCE: Jolliff, William G. “The Damnation of Bryan Dalyrimple and Theron Ware: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Debt to Harold Frederic.” Studies in Short Fiction 35, no. 1 (fall 1998): 85-90.
[In the following essay, Jolliff investigates the influence of Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware on Fitzgerald's “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong.”]
F. Scott Fitzgerald's debt to the fin de siècle American naturalists is well known. Princetonian Amory Blaine gives the most famous suggestion of the influence in This Side of Paradise when he finds himself “rather surprised by his discovery through a critic named Mencken of several excellent American novels: ‘Vandover and the Brute,’ ‘The Damnation of Theron Ware,’ and ‘Jennie Gerhardt’” (209). Henry Dan Piper notes that “Fitzgerald wrote this particular passage during the summer of 1919, when he revised his novel for the last time. It is likely that he had heard about all three books very recently” (“Norris and Fitzgerald” 395). That is not to say, however, that Fitzgerald did not come upon the novels of Norris, Dreiser, and Frederic at an important time in his literary formation. On the contrary, he discovered them just as he was writing—for the third time—This Side of Paradise (“Norris and Fitzgerald” 393); and although by then, as Piper suggests, it was too late for them to have much of an influence on...
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SOURCE: Bruccoli, Matthew J. Introduction to Before Gatsby: The First Twenty-Six Stories, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, pp. xv-xxxii. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Bruccoli enumerates the reasons for the popularity of Fitzgerald's early short stories.]
The proper assessment of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short-story achievements has been impeded by allegations that he squandered or damaged his genius by selling out to the high-paying mass-circulation magazines: that he deliberately wrote bad commercial stories to satisfy the requirements of the market. Their popularity was cited as evidence of their triviality. Fitzgerald wrote stories in order to sell them, but that is not the same thing as selling out. The commercial writer Samuel Johnson stated that “Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” The admission that Fitzgerald wrote them for money does not diminish the quality of writing in his stories. He was not two writers operating under the same byline—one who wrote stories for The Saturday Evening Post and the other who wrote novels for Charles Scribner's Sons. Fitzgerald also expected his novels to make a great deal of money. He never wrote for the celebrated “fit audience though few.”
Fitzgerald's stories were crowd-pleasers for clear reasons: interesting plots; attractive new characters—especially his...
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SOURCE: Mangum, Bryant. “The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” In The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Ruth Prigozy, pp. 57-78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
[In the following essay, Mangum traces the relationship between Fitzgerald's early short stories and his novels, asserting that he used the shorter pieces as a “workshop for subjects, themes, and techniques that he would continue to develop in later stories and novels.”]
In an all-too-brief professional career of approximately twenty years, Fitzgerald wrote 178 short stories, most of them for sale to commercial magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. Thirty-nine of these stories were collected in four separate volumes, one accompanying each of the four novels which Scribners published during Fitzgerald's lifetime: Flappers and Philosophers (1920) was the companion volume for This Side of Paradise (1920); Tales of the Jazz Age (1922) for The Beautiful and Damned (1922); All the Sad Young Men (1926) for The Great Gatsby (1925); and Taps at Reveille (1935) for Tender Is the Night (1934). In addition, he wrote a play, The Vegetable, published by Scribners in 1923, and scores of nonfiction pieces, many of which appeared in commercial magazines during his lifetime. At the time of his death he was working on an elaborately conceived novel, The Last...
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SOURCE: Goren, Lilly J. “A Man of Will.” In Seers and Judges: American Literature as Political Philosophy, edited by Christine Dunn Henderson, pp. 87-100. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2002.
[In the following essay, Goren examines the theme of the tension between the United States and Europe in “The Swimmers.”]
Of his short story “The Swimmers,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Harold Ober, that it was “the hardest story I ever wrote, too big for its space + not even now satisfactory. … However, its done + its not bad.”1 Written while Fitzgerald was in Cannes, France during the summer of 1929, “The Swimmers” examines Fitzgerald's enduring theme of the tension or contrast between the United States and Europe by presenting a glimpse of a period in the life of Henry Marston, a character who would provide some of the form for Fitzgerald's subsequent novel, Tender Is the Night. Little is written about this Fitzgerald short story, a story that examines familiar themes but that is dissimilar from much of Fitzgerald's writing because of its sentimental and patriotic ending. In surveying scholars of Fitzgerald's work who have given this story some attention, many of these observers note the story's merits as well as its difficulties while also puzzling over the story's fate in obscurity.2
The conflict or tension between America and Europe...
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SOURCE: Balkun, Mary McAleer. “‘One Cannot Both Spend and Have’: The Economics of Gender in Fitzgerald's Josephine Stories.” In F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Ruth Prigozy, and Milton R. Stern, pp. 121-38. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2003.
[In the following essay, Balkun views the theme of emotional bankruptcy as central to Fitzgerald's Josephine stories.]
It has long been a given that the idea of emotional bankruptcy is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's central themes. However, critics have tended to focus upon the “emotional” aspect of the equation, the protagonist's eventual inability to feel and experience fully, rather than to consider the economic implications of the expression.1 A “bankrupt” is one who no longer has the means for exchange, one who has overextended him- or herself. The language of the marketplace—trade, value, profit, and loss—is also the language of Fitzgerald's sequence known as the Josephine stories. Considered from the perspective of the sexual economy—what Emma Goldman called “the traffic in women”—emotional bankruptcy is the inevitable result of a social system that situates women as sexual objects to be possessed and as consumers without independent means or power. It occurs when a woman attempts to exert her sexuality and/or beauty, the forms of currency she does possess, to...
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Hatwalkar, Kavita S. “The Allure and Illusion of the East in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Basil Stories.” In MidAmerica XXVII, pp. 78-83. East Lansing, Mich.: The Midwestern Press, 2000.
Underscores Fitzgerald's interest “in the cultural geography of the United States and especially with the binary oppositions he constructed between the North and South and the East and the Midwest” in his Basil stories.
Hearn, Charles R. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Popular Magazine Formula Story of the Twenties.” Journal of American Culture 18, no. 3 (fall 1995): 33-40.
Examines the association between Fitzgerald's short stories written for periodicals and other popular formula fiction of the 1920s.
Additional coverage of Fitzgerald's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: American Writers; American Writers: The Classics, Vol. 2; American Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 1; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 24; Authors in the News, Vol. 1; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 1; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1917-1929; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 110. 123; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 4, 9, 86, 219; Dictionary of Literary Biography...
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