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A Brief Life of Fitzgerald

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business and unwilling to live on his small salary, Zelda Sayre broke their engagement.

Fitzgerald quit his job in July 1919 and returned to St. Paul to rewrite his novel as This Side of Paradise. It was accepted by editor Maxwell Perkins of Scribners in September. Set mainly at Princeton and described by its author as “a quest novel,” This Side of Paradise traces the career aspirations and love disappointments of Amory Blaine. firstpublished

In the fall-winter of 1919 Fitzgerald commenced his career as a writer of stories for the mass-circulation magazines. Working through agent Harold Ober, Fitzgerald interrupted work on his novels to write moneymaking popular fiction for the rest of his life. The Saturday Evening Post became Fitzgerald’s best story market, and he was regarded as a “Post writer.” His early commercial stories about young love introduced a fresh character: the independent, determined young American woman who appeared in “The Offshore Pirate” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Fitzgerald’s more ambitious stories, such as “May Day” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” were published in The Smart Set, which had a small circulation.

The publication of This Side of Paradise on March 26, 1920, made the twenty-four-year-old Fitzgerald famous almost overnight, and a week later he married Zelda Sayre in New York. They embarked on an extravagant life as young celebrities. Fitzgerald endeavored to earn a solid literary reputation, but his playboy image impeded the proper assessment of his work.

After a riotous summer in Westport, Connecticut, the Fitzgeralds took an apartment in New York City; there he wrote his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, a naturalistic chronicle of the dissipation of Anthony and Gloria Patch. When Zelda Fitzgerald became pregnant they took their first trip to Europe in 1921 and then settled in St. Paul for the birth of their only child, Frances Scott (Scottie) Fitzgerald, who was born in October 1921.

The Fitzgeralds expected to become affluent from his play, The Vegetable. In the fall of 1922 they moved to Great Neck, Long Island, in order to be near Broadway. The political satire — subtitled “From President to Postman” — failed at its tryout in November 1923, and Fitzgerald wrote his way out of debt with short stories. The distractions of Great Neck and New York prevented Fitzgerald from making progress on his third novel. During this time his drinking increased. He was an alcoholic, but he wrote sober. Zelda Fitzgerald regularly got “tight,” but she was not an alcoholic. There were frequent domestic rows, usually triggered by drinking bouts.

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Photo caption:

This Side of Paradise jacket cover, 1920.
(Princeton University Library)