F. Scott Fitzgerald by Howard Greenfeld

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F. Scott Fitzgerald Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Despite showing his subject in all of his complexities, Greenfeld is a moralist who clearly disapproves of the decadent life-style of Fitzgerald. Moreover, throughout the book, he depicts Fitzgerald as an utter failure: as a football player, as a socialite, as a war hero—after receiving basic training he was not sent to Europe—and as a husband and father. Yet, despite this didactic tone—one clearly directed at teenage readers—Greenfeld manages to moralize without condescension, even when describing some of the bizarre and tasteless pranks for which the Fitzgeralds became famous. While it is generally the custom to find in the idiosyncrasies of the rich and famous only evidence of their charmed uniqueness, Greenfeld, implicitly rejecting this basically amoral stance, shakes his head sympathetically but in disapproval.

As befits a literary biography, the works of Fitzgerald are given a more than cursory examination. It might even be said that Greenfeld’s treatment of the subject stands up well as an introduction to Fitzgerald the author. Simple expositions, simple explanations, and simple elucidations—all these features characterize this exemplary work. The literary judgments rendered by Greenfeld, however, are the hand-me-downs of prevailing critical opinion. For example, he says of Fitzgerald’s first novel—widely praised at the time of its publication in 1920 and even given the seal of approval by H. L. Mencken—that despite its daring, even risqué depiction of the United States during Prohibition, This Side of Paradise has not stood the test of time. On the other hand, The Great Gatsby, long considered Fitzgerald’s best novel and praised by such contemporaries as T. S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein, is exalted by Greenfeld as an American classic. While Greenfeld merely echoes generally accepted views, however, a straightforward synthesis of prevailing opinions seems to be more valuable than originality, given the audience that he is addressing.

Greenfeld devotes much of his book to Fitzgerald’s relationship with his temperamental, impetuous, schizophrenic wife, Zelda. As this relationship did influence the course of Fitzgerald’s career more than any other single factor, such an approach can hardly be faulted. What can be faulted,...

(The entire section is 551 words.)