Today in 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise was published. The book launched his career as a writer and celebrity both in the United States and in Europe during the 1920’s and early 30’s. Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. His works have helped define the “Lost Generation” (the generation who fought in the First World War) for those of us who came after him.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1896, Fitzgerald was named after his famous distant relative Francis Scott Key. After attending various private schools, Fitzgerald entered Princeton University in 1913. When the United States entered World War One in 1917, he quit school and enlisted in the army.
It was during officer’s training at Camp Sheridan in Alabama that Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre. Zelda was from a wealthy and well-connected family, something to which young Fitzgerald aspired. The war ended before he could be sent overseas and the two were soon engaged. Fitzgerald moved to New York City alone to set up a life for himself and his betrothed. He worked in advertising and wrote short stories, but his efforts were not enough to convince Zelda that the couple could live the kind of life to which she had become accustomed. She broke off their engagement, which sent Fitzgerald packing back to his parents’ house in Minnesota.
Back home, the young writer began to revise a novel he had written during the war entitled The Romantic Egotist. After much work, he renamed the book This Side of Paradise. It was accepted by Scribner’s and first published in March, 1920; Zelda, evidently deciding that Fitzgerald showed promise after all, came back to him. The two were married a week later and had their first and only child, a daughter, in 1921.
During the rest of the 1920’s, Fitzgerald wrote many short stories, but only two more novels, The Beautiful and Damned and The Great Gatsby. The Fitzgeralds moved to Paris, where they ran in the same literary circles as Ernest Hemingway. Although Scott was famous and made good money, the couple’s lifestyle far outpaced his ability to earn. They were constantly in deep debt, a condition that required continual loans from Scott’s literary agent and editor.
Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1930, a condition that led her to be hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland in 1932. While living nearby, Scott wrote his fourth novel, Tender is the Night, about a young psychiatrist and his wife. Zelda would spend the rest of her life in and out of mental institutions.
Scott spent the second half of the 1930’s in Hollywood doing various writing jobs. He also began work on his fifth novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. The Fitzgeralds were separated by this point: Zelda was hospitalized on the East Coast and Scott was living with his mistress in California. Scott’s drinking, a problem since his college days, spun out of control. He had two heart attacks in 1940; he died the day after the second one on December 21, 1940. He was 44 years old.
Zelda lived another eight years, dying in a mental institution fire in Asheville, North Carolina in 1948. Scott never finished his last novel, although it was eventually published using notes and outlines he left behind.