Form and Content

The subject of Howard Greenfeld’s excellent biography F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the United States’ most celebrated twentieth century writers. The third child of Edward Fitzgerald and Mary McQuillan, and the only one to survive infancy, Fitzgerald spent his brief life precariously poised between opulence and destitution and between devotion to his craft and drunken dissoluteness. In the meantime, his travels took him to virtually every major region of the United States, as well as to England, Italy, and, most significantly, France. These general facts, which lend the book a monumental sweep, are dutifully fleshed out with a plethora of relevant, never trivial details, portioned out in seven chapters of roughly equal length and importance.

As Fitzgerald is of interest first and foremost as a writer, his life as author can be divided into different periods primarily on the basis of his writings. Although no such categorization is explicitly offered by Greenfeld, such periods can be deduced from the facts that he presents. Thus, Fitzgerald’s novels This Side of Paradise (1920), The Great Gatsby (1925), and Tender Is the Night (1934) can all be said to have ushered in fairly distinct periods: early, middle (mature), and late (decadent), respectively. Nevertheless, in a literary biography that by its very nature is more concerned with the writer in many contexts than with the works as disembodied entities, periods can be defined by the events and acquaintances that compose them. This way of distinguishing periods is implicit in Greenfeld’s book. Therefore, the author has included a series of black-and-white photographs, interspersed throughout the book, of Fitzgerald as he appeared at successive junctures of his career and of those persons who played significant roles in his life.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is a well-paced narrative account of this figure and of those characters and circumstances who helped to shape his life. The writer is presented in all of his complexities and contradictions. For example, he is shown to have been a remarkably objective critic of himself yet also to have had at least as strong a propensity to indulge in romantic fantasies.

In putting together this fascinating account of Fitzgerald’s life, Greenfeld drew on such basic sources as the writer’s correspondence; his fiction, which is naturally partly autobiographical in nature; and earlier biographies of Fitzgerald, as indicated by the book’s selected bibliography. An index is also appended.