Though he was in dire financial straits and critically neglected when he died, F. Scott Fitzgerald is now considered one of the great American writers of fiction. That reputation rests largely on The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934), as well as a number of masterful short stories including “The Rich Boy” (1926), “May Day”(1920), and “Winter Dreams” (1922). Sometimes mistakenly viewed as a mere chronicler of the Roaring Twenties—an era evocative of flappers in bobbed hair and short skirts, easy Wall Street riches, and parties soaked with wild jazz and prohibited alcohol—Fitzgerald most rewards readers with graceful prose, psychological acumen, and a heartrending awareness of the fragility within American dreams. Critics also admire Fitzgerald’s fiction for its serious moral and philosophical insights.
His debut novel, This Side of Paradise launched Fitzgerald’s fame in the 1920’s. Widely reviewed, the book was praised by most critics for its fresh depiction of America’s youth, with the hard-to-impress H. L. Mencken going far and calling it “a truly amazing first novel.” Other reviewers, however, were disturbed by the characters’ seemingly dissolute behavior. A review in the Springfield, Massachusetts, Union complained that “the leading persons are of a nature disgusting to the average taste.” Matthew J. Bruccoli observes that, served well by his good looks and even by negative reviews, the twenty-three-year-old Fitzgerald became almost instantly famous. Selling out its first printing in three days, This Side of Paradise earned for Fitzgerald the large sum of sixty-two hundred dollars in 1920 alone.
The novel documents a national youth culture, vividly capturing its mores, attitudes, and tastes. While today the behavior of the young characters may not scandalize, Fitzgerald rather boldly depicts the “petting” of the...
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