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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533

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The heart of The Crack-Up is a series of three articles entitled “The Crack-Up,” “Handle with Care,” and “Pasting It Together.” These first appeared in the February, March, and April, 1936, issues of Esquire magazine. In these articles, F. Scott Fitzgerald recounts his physical, emotional, and spiritual breakdown at age thirty-nine and elaborates upon its consequences. Fitzgerald died in 1940, and two years later his old friend and fellow Princetonian Edmund Wilson put together a book composed of ten articles Fitzgerald had written between 1931 and 1937. They are arranged chronologically—the first, “Echoes of the Jazz Age,” was published in November, 1931; the last, “Early Success,” was published in October, 1937. Wilson states in an introductory note that the articles form an autobiographical sequence vividly expressing Fitzgerald’s point of view and the state of his mind during the later years of his life. The book begins with Wilson’s long dedicatory poem in iambic-pentameter couplets. The content of the poem merges the warmth of Wilson’s friendship with his high regard for Fitzgerald’s writing—an appropriate tone, since the articles themselves combine impressive literary craftsmanship with candid self-revelation. Wilson’s choice of the heroic couplet is further evidence of the worth he assigns to his subject matter.

The articles are followed by excerpts from the Notebooks, grouped alphabetically under twenty-one headings devised by Fitzgerald himself (from “Anecdotes” to “Youth and Army”). This section is followed by two groups of selected letters, the first group addressed to Fitzgerald’s friends and the second to his daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald. The book was finally expanded to its ultimate length of 347 pages by the inclusion of letters written to Fitzgerald by literary notables (John Dos Passos, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, and Thomas Wolfe) and pieces written about Fitzgerald by Paul Rosenfeld, Glenway Wescott, Dos Passos, and John Peale Bishop.

Some of these letters and pieces by others date from the mid-1920’s. While interesting, they tend to diffuse the focus of the book, which is the Fitzgerald of a decade later. The first two-thirds of The Crack-Up is arranged very precisely, chronologically or alphabetically. The organization of the final third is far looser. Most readers may not be bothered, however, since Fitzgerald’s crash in the 1930’s is so inextricably linked with his dizzying success during the 1920’s.

The publication of The Crack-Up followed the posthumous publication of Fitzgerald’s uncompleted novel, The Last Tycoon, in 1941. These largely rehabilitated his literary reputation, which had markedly declined during the 1930’s. Fitzgerald’s loss of popularity, paradoxically, was a direct result of his immense popularity during the 1920’s. He was regarded as the spokesman for the Jazz Age, a chronicler of the United States’ boom times. With the coming of the Great Depression and the literary emergence of the proletariat, Fitzgerald seemed passe. The disappointing reception of Tender Is the Night (1934), a novel about the unhappy rich on the French Riviera, seemed to confirm his fallen state. A year later, Fitzgerald found his life in ruins: His literary celebrity had passed, his wife was institutionalized, he was tubercular and alcoholic. He cracked “like an old plate.” It is of these black days that he writes in The Crack-Up.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 122

Aldridge, John W. “Fitzgerald: The Horror and the Vision of Paradise,” in After the Lost Generation, 1951.

Bishop, John Peale. “The Missing All,” in The Collected Essays of John Peale Bishop, 1948. Edited by Edmund Wilson.

Cowley, Malcolm. “Third Act and Epilogue,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, 1951. Edited by Alfred Kazin.

Cross, K. G. W. “Afternoon of an Author,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1964.

Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

Morris, Wright. “The Function of Nostalgia: F. Scott Fitzgerald,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1963. Edited by Arthur Mizener.

Troy, William. “F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Authority of Failure,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, 1951. Edited by Alfred Kazin


Critical Essays