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THE GREAT GATSBY – The life of the roaring twenties was immortalized in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book and has been brought to life repeatedly by Hollywood, mainly due to his liking to hang around in ritzy mansions with lots of classy dames!
From Virginia Commonwealth University:
Curiously, 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, 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 the 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 age, magazine headnotes to his stories identified him as such. Those who recognized the more serious side of his 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 advice and got it.
Many of Fitzgerald’s critical opinions went into the public domain when he published his Crack-up 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, still in progress, 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.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896. His mother’s side of the family (the McQuillan side) was what Fitzgerald referred to as “straight 1850 potato famine Irish,” but by the time of his maternal grandfather’s death at the age of forty-four, the McQuillan fortune, earned in the grocery business. was in excess of $300,000, Fitzgerald’s father was a poor but well-bred descendant of the old Maryland Scott and Key families. Always an ineffectual businessman, Edward Fitzgerald had met Mary McQuillan when he had come to St, Paul to open a wicker furniture business, which shortly went out of business, In search of a job by which he could support the family. Edward Fitzgerald moved his family from St. Paul to Buffalo, New York, in 1898–then to Syracuse and back to Buffalo. When Fitzgerald was eleven, the family returned to St. Paul and the security of the McQuillan wealth.
With McQuillan money, Fitzgerald was sent for two painfully lonely years to private school, the Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey. Discovering there a flair for writing musical comedy, Fitzgerald decided that he would attend Princeton, whose Triangle Club produced a musical comedy each year. At Princeton, Fitzgerald compensated for his feelings of social inferiority by excelling in the thing he did best, writing for the Triangle Club and the Nassau Literary Magazine. During a Christmas vacation spent in St. Paul, Fitzgerald met Ginevra King, a wealthy Chicago debutante whose initial acceptance of Fitzgerald was a supreme social triumph; her later rejection of him became one of the most devastating blows of his life. He kept her letters, which he had typed and bound and which ran to over two hundred pages, until his death.
In 1917, Fitzgerald left Princeton without a degree, accepted a commission in the army, and wrote the first draft of what was to become his first novel, This Side of Paradise. During the summer of 1918, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre while he was stationed near Montgomery, Alabama; and having recently received word of Ginevra King’s engagement, he fell in love with Zelda. Zelda, however, although willing to become engaged to Fitzgerald, did not finally agree to marry him until he could demonstrate his ability to support her. Fitzgerald returned to New York, worked for an advertising firm, and revised his novel, including in it details from his courtship with Zelda. When Charles Scribner’s Sons agreed in September, 1919, to publish the novel, Fitzgerald was able to claim Zelda, and they were married in April of the following year.
The first two years of their marriage were marked by wild parties, the self- destructive mood of which formed the basis for some of the scenes in Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned. After a trip to Europe, the Fitzgeralds returned first to St. Paul and then to Great Neck, New York, where they lived among the Astors and Vanderbilts while Fitzgerald accumulated material that would figure in The Great Gatsby.
In the decade that followed the publication of that novel, the Fitzgeralds lived, among other places, on the French Riviera, which would provide the background for Tender Is the Night. Zelda headed toward a mental collapse, a fictionalized version of which appears in the novel; Fitzgerald
sank into alcoholism. In 1930, Zelda was institutionalized for the treatment of her mental condition. The rest of Fitzgerald’s life was spent writing stories and screenplays that would pay for her treatment, both in and out of institutions. In 1937, Fitzgerald went to Hollywood, met Sheila Graham, worked under contract for M-G-M, and accumulated material for his last novel, while Zelda remained in the East. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940, while working on his unfinished novel. The Last Tycoon.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked in the late 1930’s, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” At his best–in The Great Gatsby, in parts of Tender Is the Night, in the unfinished The Last Tycoon, and in parts of his first two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald demonstrates the kind of intelligence he describes, an intelligence characterized by the aesthetic principle of “double vision.” An understanding of this phrase (coined and first applied to Fitzgerald’s art by Malcolm Cowley) is central to any discussion of Fitzgerald’s novels. “Double vision” denotes two ways of seeing. It implies the tension involved when Fitzgerald sets things in opposition such that the reader can, on the one hand, sensually experience the event about which Fitzgerald is writing, immersing himself emotionally in it, and yet at the same time retain the objectivity to stand back and intellectually criticize it. The foundation of double vision is polarity–the setting of extremes against each other; the result in a novel is dramatic tension. By following the changes in Fitzgerald’s narrative technique from This Side of Paradise to The Beautiful and Damned to The Great Gatsby and finally into Tender Is the Night, one can trace the growth of his double vision, which is, in effect, to study his development as a literary artist.
The major themes of Fitzgerald’s novels derive from the resolution of tension when one idea (usually embodied in a character) triumphs over another. Amory Blaine, the protagonist of Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, is a questing hero armed with youth, intelligence, and good looks. Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned has a multimillionaire grand- father, a beautiful wife, and youth. Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby possesses power, newly made money, and good looks. Finally, Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night has a medical degree, an overabundance of charm, and a wealthy wife. The common denominators here are the subjects with which Fitzgerald deals in all of his novels: youth, physical beauty, wealth, and potential or “romantic readiness”–all of which are ideals to Fitzgerald. Set against these subjects are their polar opposites: age, ugliness, poverty, squandered potential. Such conflict and resulting tension is, of course, the stuff of which all fiction is made. With Fitzgerald’s characters, however, partly because of the themes with which he deals and partly because of his skillful handling of point of view, the choices are rarely as obvious or as clear-cut to the main characters at the time as they may be to a detached observer, or as they may seem in retrospect to have been. Daisy, for example, so enchants Gatsby and the reader who identifies with him that only in retrospect (if at all) or through the detached observer, Nick, does it become clear that she and the other careless, moneyed people in the novel are villains of the highest order. It is Fitzgerald’s main gift that he can draw the reader into a web of emotional attachment to a character, as he does to Daisy through Gatsby, while simultaneously allowing him to inspect the complexity of the web, as he does through Nick. That is what Fitzgerald’s double vision at its best is finally about.
For the origins of Fitzgerald’s double vision, it is helpful to look at several ingredients of his early life, particularly at those facets of it which presented him with the polarities and ambiguities that would later furnish the subjects and themes of his art.
“In a house below the average on a block above the average” is the way that Fitzgerald described his boyhood home. A block above the average, indeed. At the end of the “block” on Summit Avenue in St. Paul lived James J. Hill, the multimillionaire empire-builder referred to by Gatsby’s father in the last chapter of The Great Gatsby. The Fitzgerald family, however, nearly in sight of such wealth, lived moderately on the interest from his mother’s inheritance, taking pains not to disturb the capital; for Fitzgerald’s father, in spite of his idealistic gentility and an ancestral line that linked him to the Maryland Scott and Key families, was unable to hold a good job.
One of Fitzgerald’s most devastating memories was of his father’s loss of a job with Proctor and Gamble, which left the older Fitzgerald, then beyond middle age, broken and defeated. When Fitzgerald was sent East to boarding school and then to Princeton, it was with his mother’s money, less than a generation earned, and with considerably less of it than stood behind most of his classmates. Early, then, Fitzgerald, a child with sensitivity, intelligence, and good looks–qualities possessed by most of his heroes and heroines–was impressed with the importance of money, at least to the lifestyle of the moneyed class. Yet Fitzgerald’s participation in that lifestyle, like that of many of his fictional creations, was limited by something beyond his control: the fixed income of his family. In addition, he watched his father, an idealist unable to compete in a materialistic world, defeated.