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A Brief Life of Fitzgerald


Literary opinion makers were reluctant to accord Fitzgerald full marks as a serious craftsman. His reputation as a drinker inspired the myth that he was an irresponsible writer; yet he was a painstaking reviser whose fiction went through layers of drafts. Fitzgerald’s clear, lyrical, colorful, witty style evoked the emotions associated with time and place. When critics objected to Fitzgerald’s concern with love and success, his response was: “But, my God! it was my material, and it was all I had to deal with.” The chief theme of Fitzgerald’s work is aspiration — the idealism he regarded as defining American character. Another major theme was mutability or loss. As a social historian Fitzgerald became identified with the Jazz Age: “It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire,” he wrote in “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” gatsbycover

Seeking tranquility for his work the Fitzgeralds went to France in the spring of 1924 . He wrote The Great Gatsby during the summer and fall in Valescure near St. Raphael, but the marriage was damaged by Zelda’s involvement with a French naval aviator. The extent of the affair — if it was in fact consummated — is not known. On the Riviera the Fitzgeralds formed a close friendship with affluent and cultured American expatriates Gerald and Sara Murphy.

The Fitzgeralds spent the winter of 1924-1925 in Rome, where he revised The Great Gatsby; they were en route to Paris when the novel was published in April. The Great Gatsby marked a striking advance in Fitzgerald’s technique, utilizing a complex structure and a controlled narrative point of view. Fitzgerald’s achievement received critical praise, but sales of Gatsby were disappointing, though the stage and movie rights brought additional income. fitzgeraldsinparis

In Paris Fitzgerald met Ernest Hemingway — then unknown outside the expatriate literary circle — with whom he formed a friendship based largely on his admiration for Hemingway’s personality and genius. The Fitzgeralds remained in France until the end of 1926, alternating between Paris and the Riviera. Fitzgerald made little progress on his fourth novel, a study of American expatriates in France provisionally titled “The Boy Who Killed His Mother,” “Our Type,” and “The World’s Fair.” During these years Zelda Fitzgerald’s unconventional behavior became increasingly eccentric.

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Photo captions:

The Great Gatsby jacket cover, 1925. (courtesy of Charles Scribner, III)

The Fitzgeralds on a street in Paris, 1924. (Harold Ober Associates Inc./Princeton University Library)