F. Scott Fitzgerald

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F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a professional writer who was also a literary artist. In practical terms this meant that he had to support himself by writing short stories for popular magazines in order to get sufficient income, according to him, to write decent books. Indeed, most of the money that Fitzgerald earned by writing before he went to Hollywood in 1937 was earned by selling stories to magazines. In his twenty-year career as a writer, he published 164 magazine stories; other stories were never published. All but eight of the stories that originally appeared in magazines became available in hardcover editions.

As one would expect of a body of 164 stories written in a twenty-year period mainly for popular consumption, the quality of the stories is uneven. At the bottom of this collection are at least a dozen stories, most of them written for Esquire during the last years of his life, which have few redeeming qualities; at the top of the list are at least a dozen stories which rank among the best of American short stories. One should not, however, be led to believe that these, as well as the hundred or more “potboilers” in the middle, do not serve a useful role in his development as an artist. Fitzgerald in the 1920’s was considered the best writer of quality magazine fiction in America, and his stories brought the highest prices paid by slick magazines; the Saturday Evening Post, for example, paid him four thousand dollars per story even during the Depression. Dorothy Parker commented that Fitzgerald could write a bad story, but that he could not write badly. Thus each story, no matter how weak, has the recognizable Fitzgerald touch—that sparkling prose which Fitzgerald called “the something extra” that most popular short stories lacked. Fitzgerald also learned at the beginning of his career that he could use the popular magazines as a workshop for his novels, experimenting in them with themes and techniques which he would later incorporate into his novels. An understanding of a Fitzgerald story should take into account this workshop function of the story as well as its artistic merits.

Fitzgerald’s career as a writer of magazine fiction breaks logically into three periods: 1919-1924, years during which he shopped around for markets and published stories in most of the important periodicals of the times; 1925-1933, the central period characterized by a close association with the Saturday Evening Post—a relationship which almost precluded his publication of stories in other magazines; and 1934-1940, a period beginning with the publication of his first Esquire story and continuing through a subsequent relationship with that magazine which lasted until his death. During the first of these periods, Fitzgerald published thirty-two stories in ten different commercial magazines, two novels (This Side of Paradise, 1920, and The Beautiful and Damned, 1922), two short-story collections (Flappers and Philosophers and Tales of the Jazz Age), and one book-length play (The Vegetable). In the second period, during which The Great Gatsby and a third short-story collection (All the Sad Young Men) appeared, he enjoyed the popular reputation he had built with readers of the Saturday Evening Post and published forty-seven of the fifty-eight stories which appeared during this nine-year period in that magazine; the remaining eleven stories were scattered throughout five different magazines. In the final period, Fitzgerald lost the large Saturday Evening Post audience and gained the Esquire audience, which was smaller and quite different. Of the forty-four Fitzgerald stories to appear between 1934 and his death, twenty-eight appeared in Esquire. In addition to Tender Is the Night, which was completed and delivered before Fitzgerald’s relationship with Esquire began, Fitzgerald published his final short-story collection (Taps at Reveille); he also drafted The Last Tycoon (1941) during the Esquire years. Twelve stories, nine of which have appeared in Esquire ,...

(The entire section is 3,782 words.)