“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” The Great Gatsby
Although I can’t remember when I first read F. Scott Fitzgerald, as an English major, it was most likely in a short story. To me his writing glittered, like the 1920s era in which he wrote. I promptly read all his novels but, to this day, I feel the most affinity for his elegant short stories—Flappers and Philosophers was the first collection I read–about the young, carefree, and very rich.
“I want to know you moved and breathed in the same world with me.”
He wrote during the same period as Ernest Hemingway—The Lost Generation–and, indeed, they were rivals of a sort. Both men were alcoholics and both lived as expatriates with their families in France during the 1920s. But Fitzgerald wrote autobiographical and often melancholy stories about youth, money, and the upper class–which he yearned to be a part of– while Hemingway’s writing featured very masculine protagonists and were often filled with tragedy and violence.
“Youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.”
Married to the vivacious Southern beauty, Zelda Sayre, the two embarked on legendary madcap adventures, including frolicking in fountains, living at the Ritz Hotel, and throwing wild parties, antics that often got them kicked out of hotels as well as rented houses.
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” The Great Gatsby
Zelda herself aspired to be a writer–Fitzgerald actually included fragments from her diaries in his second novel The Beautiful and Damned. In fact, she admonished him publicly in a tongue-in-cheek review of one of his books and this created resentment. Well, that as well as her spiral into mental breakdown, possibly caused in part by Fitzgerald’s discouragement.
“It seems to me,” she wrote in her review, “that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald — I believe that is how he spells his name — seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”
Fitzgerald recognized great critical success only after his death. In fact, during his lifetime, he was not a bestselling author. But his great success, in my opinion, were the short stories, little gems which he claimed he wrote merely to support his lavish lifestyle between novels; later it supported Zelda’s stays in various sanitariums as well as his daughter’s private school education.
“There is a moment—Oh, just before the first kiss, a whispered word—something that makes it worth while.”
With the May 10 release of the movie remake of Fitzgerald’s acknowledged masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, interest in Fitzgerald’s work may peak once again.