F. Scott Fitzgerald
by Kenneth Eble

To Melissa, Geoffrey, and James


In 1963, when the first edition of this study was published, I noted that “twenty years after his death, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his life and in his writing, is almost as fascinating to his audience as he was in the 1920's.” Now, a dozen years later, Fitzgerald is still a valuable commercial as well as literary property. The movie of The Great Gatsby (1974), the television special, “Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood” (1975), Sheilah Graham's The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald (1976) and other memoirs, and a continuing run of dissertations and scholarly articles attest to this author's durability. During this period, so many more of his works have been reprinted that very little remains that is not easily available to the general, reader. Indeed, with the reproduction in 1974 of the scrapbooks and the albums of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (The Romantic Egoists edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, and Joan P. Kerr), material that was once available only to scholars became the personal property of anyone willing to pay twenty-five dollars for a handsome coffee-table book.

The mixed reaction to the lavishly produced movie version of The Great Gatsby may suggest a diminishing of interest in both the Fitzgerald legend and the works. In the 1960's and after, Americans may not be so preoccupied with success as they were earlier in the century. If so, fascination with Fitzgerald's sudden success may draw fewer readers to his work. Filtered through the haze of commercial exploitation of nostalgia, the 1920's may not seem so much fascinating as quaint; and Fitzgerald's fiction may seem remote, both dated and mannered, as it seriously or joyously concerns itself with that bygone era. More important, post-World-War-II fiction is not like that of writers born at the turn of the century. By now, it is obvious that Realistic, socially conscious fiction is not the type of fiction which holds the interest of serious readers today. The popularity of John Barth, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, and Jerzy Kosinski does not rest on the view of either the fiction or the world that is found in Fitzgerald. For these writers, Realismno longer suffices as a means of comprehending experience, and their responses to modern life reach beyond specific criticism of American character and manners. As this century comes to an end, the Realist strain which established itself at the end of the last century is itself losing its vitality and is being replaced by different literary techniques embodying different sensibilities.

As Fitzgerald's work retains a place in American literature, I think it will be seen more and more as related to the novel of manners. What detracted from his claim to serious attention in the 1920's—that he was in his own life and in his writing the arch representative of the Jazz Age—may now be regarded as a more comprehensive interest in how people behave as social beings. The manners he describes best are not just those of New York in the gaudy 1920's, or even of an America at a crucial period when innocence was being corrupted, but the manners of those striving, whatever their time or place, for wealth or respectability, fame or love, or some idealistic fulfillment.

Fitzgerald's best work, The Great Gatsby, is one of literature's most successful embodiments of the Romantic response to life. “Gatsby is great,” Robert Ornstein asserted, “because his dream, however naive, gaudy, and unattainable, is one of the grand illusions of the race, which keep men from becoming too old or too wise or too cynical of their human limitations.” I do not make extravagant claims for the depth and precision of Fitzgerald's Romantic vision. He was not a Goethe, though the tightness of Gatsby and its central love story bear comparison with Part One of Faust. He was not a Keats, though few writers other than Fitzgerald have been more responsive to that poet or more moving in describing the effect of his poetry: “For a while after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.” Fitzgerald comprehended the Romantic vision and created characters who lived by it, and he preserved it by the characteristic act of the Romantic—by sweating over the written word as if to preserve something from the flux of life.

Even today, readers may have difficulty in reconciling the achievement of Gatsby with Fitzgerald's other popular fiction. There is still a mystery about how everything came together for Fitzgerald in this favorite novel and about how it is such a great advance over This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned. The mystery may be partially explained byrecognizing the magnitude of Fitzgerald's ambitions and his channeling of these ambitions into learning the craft of writing. By the time he experienced Princeton and had the chance to widen his acquaintance with other would-be writers, his ambitions had crystallized into the remark reported by Edmund Wilson, “I want to be one of the greatest writers who ever lived, don't you?”

In this short book that is an introductory one, full justice cannot be done either to the author's life or to all of his fiction. The biographical account in these pages owes greatly to the other exhaustive biographical works, but the shaping, the emphasis, and the interpretation are my own. I have not attempted to alter my book because of the greater understanding we now possess of Zelda Fitzgerald and of Scott and Zelda's relationship. The question of how much Zelda was victimized by Scott is, to me, still an open question; and the facts that have come to light seem not to alter the basic one that both the Fitzgeralds were not only self-destructive but destructive of each other. I have not, therefore, felt compelled to intrude new biographical facts or insights into the basic story of either Fitzgerald's swift rise or his slow but inexorable collapse. As I wrote in 1963, “Talented as he was, his crack-up and his early death are more than mere domestic tragedy, if somewhat short of the high tragedy rarely found outside the Greek theatre or Elizabethan playhouse. Observed as he observed it, written about it as he had to write about it, fought against in the very act of observing and writing, Fitzgerald's 'high trajectory' and his agonizing descent deserve the name of tragedy.”

Fitzgerald's literary achievement rests on a body of work-novels, short stories, and essays—distinguished for style, craftsmanship, and honesty and strength of vision. As more and more of Fitzgerald's work has been republished, a reader has a better chance to see Fitzgerald somewhat as he must have been in the 1920's—a popular writer who turned his hand wherever the opportunity afforded and still a writer with a talent which appears in flashes in passages of individual stories and novels but which sustains itself in his best work.

The chronology at the beginning of the book furnishes an outline of biographical facts; the separate chapters follow a chronological order but keep the works in the foreground. The chapters are not separate essays about individual works but parts of a continuous narrative designed to bring out the definingcharacteristics of Fitzgerald's writing. Since the novels have received the greater share of critical attention, somewhat more attention has been given to the short stories. In addition to minor changes here and there in the text, my main revisions appear in this new preface and in Chapter Ten, “Final Assessment.” This final chapter reflects my having read the Fitzgerald criticism that has appeared since the book's first publication in 1963 and my having incorporated my assessment of this material in it as well as in the annotated secondary bibliography.

I wish to acknowledge with thanks permission from the following publishers and publications: Houghton Mifflin Company and Arthur Mizener for material from The Far Side of Paradise; New Directions for material from The Crack-Up, copyright 1945; Charles Scribner's Sons for material from Fitzgerald's writings and from Andrew Turnbull's Scott Fitzgerald. A grant from the University of Utah Research Fund enabled me to consult the Fitzgerald materials at Princeton, and I acknowledge with thanks permission to use these materials granted by Alexander Clark, then Curator of Manuscripts at Princeton Library, and Mr. Ivan von Auw of Harold Ober Associates.

Kenneth E. Eble, University of Utah


1896 Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald born September 24, St. Paul, Minnesota.

1898-1908 Father employed by Proctor and Gamble; family lives in Buffalo and Syracuse.

1908 Father loses job; moves back to St. Paul.

1911 September: Fitzgerald sent to Newman School, Hackensack, N. J.

1913 September: enrolls in Princeton.

1915 December: leaves Princeton because of ill health and low grades; returns to St. Paul.

1916 September: begins at Princeton again.

1917 October: leaves Princeton without a degree; receives commission as 2nd Lieutenant; November 20, leaves for Fort Leavenworth.

1918 June: transfers to Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama. Receives news that Ginevra King is going to be married. Summer, meets Zelda Sayre, then eighteen.

1919 February 18, discharged from Army. Takes job with Barron Collier agency writing advertising copy; writes stories at night, all rejected.

1919 July: quits job and leaves for St. Paul to rewrite novel. September 16, This Side of Paradise accepted by Scribner's. September to December: writes and sells nine stories to Smart Set, Scribner's and the Post.

1920 March 26, This Side of Paradise published. April 3, marries Zelda Sayre in Rectory of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York.

1921 May 3, first trip to Europe; to France and Italy, back to London by end of June; returns to Montgomery, Alabama, in July.

1921 August: rents house in St. Paul; lives there and in vicinity for fourteen months; daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald born October 26.

1922 March 4, The Beautiful and Damned published; September: Tales of the Jazz Age.

1922 October: moves to rented house in Great Neck, New York; lives there for twenty months unable to make ends meet.

1923 November 19, The Vegetable opens and closes in Atlantic City.

1923 November to April, 1924, produces eleven stories and earns $17,000. Friendship with Ring Lardner.

1924 May: second trip to Europe; lives abroad—St. Raphael, Rome, Capri, Paris, Antibes—for next two and a half years. Meets Gerald Murphy.

1925 April 10, The Great Gatsby published; meets Ernest Hemingway.

1926-1927 Fallow period, “1000 parties and no work,” publishes only seven stories and two articles. Begins The Worlds Fair,a novel of matricide. Publishes “How to Waste Material,” praising Ernest Hemingway.

1926 December: returns to United States.

1927 January: goes to Hollywood for first assignment writing for the movies.

1927 March: moves into Ellerslie, outside Wilmington, Delaware.

1928 Zelda Fitzgerald gets dancing obsession; summer in Paris, back to Ellerslie in September.

1929 March: begins the second long stay in Europe—Riviera. Paris, Montreux, Algeria—for almost two and a half years.

1930 April: Zelda Fitzgerald has first major breakdown; goes to clinic in Switzerland for treatment. Meets Thomas Wolfe.

1931 January: death of Fitzgerald's father.

1931 September: returns permanently to the United States; to Hollywood for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer until January, 1932.

1931 November: death of Zelda's father.

1934 January: Zelda Fitzgerald back in sanitarium; is in and out of sanitariums through rest of Fitzgerald's life.

1934 April 12, Tender Is the Night published.

1935-1937 Period of “crack-up,” increasing alcoholism, physical illnesses; lives at Tryon, Hendersonville, and Asheville, North Carolina, and Cambridge Arms, Baltimore; Zelda in Highland Sanitarium near Asheville.

1936 September: death of Fitzgerald's mother.

1937 June: signed contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for six months at $1000 a week; option picked up for twelve additional months. Meets Sheilah Graham.

1940 April: works briefly for United Artists; continues work on last novel, The Last Tycoon.

1940 November: first heart attack; December 21, second heart attack, death.

1948 March 10, Zelda Fitzgerald dies in fire at Highland Sanitarium.

About the Author

Kenneth Eble, a professor of English at the University of Utah, specializes in the humanities and American literature. He received his M. A. degree from the University of Iowa and his Ph. D. from Columbia University in 1956 with a dissertation on William Dean Howells. He has published widely on Howells and other literary subjects, and his most recent book in American literature is a collection of critical essays about F. Scott Fitzgerald, published by McGraw-Hill in 1973.

Professor Eble has had an equally distinguished career as a writer and scholar active in support of higher education. His books include The Profane Comedy: American Higher Education in the Sixties and A Perfect Education, both for Macmillan, and Professors as Teachers and The Craft of Teaching (1976), for Jossey-Bass Publishing Company. He was chairman of Committee C on Research, Teaching and Publication of the American Association of University Professors from 1970 to 1976, and Director of the Project to Improve College Teaching for the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges from 1969 to 1971.

Professor Eble served as chairman of the Department of English at the University of Utah from 1964 to 1969, and he was the first faculty member to be named to the position of University Professor at Utah for 1976-77. He lives with his wife and three children in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Next: Chapter 1 The Boy from St. Paul.

Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald (Twayne’s United States Authors Series #36) by Kenneth Eble (revised edition 1977, first edition 1963).