F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is widely regarded as one of the most influential works of the twentieth century, and if great art is born of great misery, that might help explain Gatsby's success. The novel 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 his 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • 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.”


(History of the World: The 20th 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.

Early Life

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.

Life’s Work

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 entire section is 3034 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Novels for Students)

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, is considered one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century,...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 one—though somewhat unstable, owing to frequent moves—and included two years at the St. Paul Academy...

(The entire section is 1205 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 entered Newman School, a Catholic institution in Hackensack, New Jersey. It was there that he decided upon...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 127 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

F. Scott Fitzgerald (Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a businessman and an heiress....

(The entire section is 476 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in September, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of an entrepreneur and salesman and his wife, a distant...

(The entire section is 701 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Novels for Students)
F Scott Fitzgerald Published by Gale Cengage

In this Section:

  • Biography
  • Timeline for F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • List of Major Works

(The entire section is 1191 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
F. Scott Fitzgerald Published by Gale Cengage

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Edward and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald. From his father, a...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896, to Edward and Mary (“Mollie”) Fitzgerald. In 1898,...

(The entire section is 763 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

It is part of the romantic myth of the artist to say that someone was "born to be a writer," but in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the myth...

(The entire section is 850 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 262 words.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography

(Novels for Students)

Born in 1896 to an Irish Catholic family with connections to the American aristocracy, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald grew up in the elite...

(The entire section is 419 words.)