illustrated portrait of American author F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Four novels, four short-story collections, and a play make up the nine F. Scott Fitzgerald books published in his lifetime. They were issued in uniform editions by Scribner’s with a British edition of each. His short stories were widely anthologized in the 1920’s and 1930’s in collections such as The Best Short Stories of 1922, Cream of the Jug, and The Best Short Stories of 1931. The Vegetable: Or, From President to Postman (1923) was produced at the Apollo Theatre in Atlantic City, and, while Fitzgerald was under contract to MGM, he collaborated on such screenplays as Three Comrades, Infidelity, Madame Curie, and Gone with the Wind. There have been numerous posthumous collections of his letters, essays, notebooks, stories, and novels; and since his death there have been various stage and screen adaptations of his work, including film versions of The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934).


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F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered “the poet laureate of the Jazz Age,” is best remembered for his portrayal of the “flapper” of the 1920’s, a young woman who demonstrated scorn for conventional dress and behavior. Fitzgerald’s fiction focuses on young, wealthy, dissolute men and women of the 1920’s. His stories written for popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and, later, Esquire were very much in demand. Fitzgerald’s literary reputation, however, is chiefly based on the artistry of stories such as “Babylon Revisited” and “The Rich Boy,” as well as the novel The Great Gatsby. In this important novel, Fitzgerald uses rich imagery and symbolism to portray lives of the careless, restless rich during the 1920’s and to depict Jay Gatsby as the personification of the American dream, the self-made man whose quest for riches is also a futile quest for the love of the shallow, spoiled Daisy.

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Charles Scribner’s Sons published nine books by F. Scott Fitzgerald during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. In addition to the first four novels, there were four volumes of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), All the Sad Young Men (1926), and Taps at Reveille (1935); and one play, The Vegetable: Or, From President to Postman (pb. 1923). The story collections published by Scribner’s contained fewer than one-third of the 165 stories that appeared in major periodicals during his lifetime; now, virtually all of Fitzgerald’s stories are available in hardcover collections. Fitzgerald also wrote essays and autobiographical pieces, many of which appeared in the late 1930’s in Esquire and are now collected in, among other places, The Crack-Up (1945). Fitzgerald’s Hollywood writing consisted mainly of collaborative efforts on scripts for films such as Gone with the Wind (1939) and others, although during his life and since his death there have been various screen adaptations of his novels and stories. Fitzgerald’s notebooks, scrapbooks, and letters also have been published.


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Curiously, F. Scott Fitzgerald has appealed to two diverse audiences since the beginning of his career: the popular magazine audience and the elite of the literary establishment. His work appeared regularly in the 1920’s and 1930’s in such mass-circulation magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Hearst’s, International, Collier’s, and Redbook . The readers of these magazines came to ask for Fitzgerald’s flapper stories by name, expecting to find in them rich, young, and glamorous heroes and heroines involved in exciting adventures. Popular magazines in the 1920’s billed Fitzgerald stories on the cover, often using them inside as lead stories. Long after Fitzgerald lost the knack of writing the kind of popular stories that made him famous as the creator of the flapper in fiction and as the poet laureate of the Jazz...

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Age, magazine headnotes to his stories identified him as such.

Those who recognized the more serious side of Fitzgerald’s talent, as it was evidenced particularly in his best stories and novels, included Edmund Wilson, George Jean Nathan, H. L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, and T. S. Eliot, who offered criticism as well as praise. Fitzgerald was generous with advice to other writers, most notably to Ring Lardner, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, but also to struggling unknowns, who wrote to him asking for advice, and receiving it.

Many of Fitzgerald’s critical opinions went into the public domain when he published essays in Esquire in the late 1930’s, his dark night of the soul. Regarded by some in Fitzgerald’s time as self-pitying, these essays are now often anthologized and widely quoted for the ideas and theories about literature and life that they contain. At the time of his death, Fitzgerald seemed nearly forgotten by his popular readers and greatly neglected by literary critics. After his death and the posthumous publication of his incomplete The Last Tycoon, a Fitzgerald revival began. With this revival, Fitzgerald’s reputation as a novelist (principally on the strength of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night), short-story writer, and essayist has been solidly established.

Discussion Topics

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The style of This Side of Paradise is described as “highly rhetorical.” What does this phrase mean? Is it a strength or a weakness?

What is the significance of the “green light” in The Great Gatsby?

Is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s habit of depicting woman as the cause of man’s downfall a sexist weakness?

Consider Nick Carraway as an observer-narrator. How do his motives and relationship to the other characters differ from George Willard’s in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919)?

The setting of The Great Gatsby seems quaint and remote by modern-day terms, yet the novel remains popular in the twenty-first century. How do you account for its capacity to outlive the era that it depicts?

Fitzgerald ends “Babylon Revisited” without a clear-cut resolution of the situation. What are the potential denouements? Does Fitzgerald tip the balance in favor of one of them?


Critical Essays