Dana Biggers on “The Influences of F. Scott Fitzgerald”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name will be forever linked to the 1920’s as the epitome of the “Jazz Age,” a term he coined, especially by his more popular novel The Great Gatsby (Drowne). This novel exemplifies his own personality, desire for wealth and fame, and living beyond their (his and his wife’s) means. Fitzgerald’s writing depicts the immorality and aimlessness of the Lost Generation after World War I. He moved back and forth from America to Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, never settling in one city for long. He often said himself, “The American in Paris is the best American” (Byron 223). This is ironic because Fitzgerald moved back to the United States in his final years which suggested that he did not view himself in the highest regards and possibly did not see himself as one of “the best American[s]” (Byron).
Europe, mainly Paris, had its ups and downs for Fitzgerald. As an unmarried young man, he traveled and lived in the Riviera where he said he had written This Side of Paradise. However, after having married Zelda, Paris was never the same inspiration for Fitzgerald. In Paris, he learned that Zelda had been having an affair with a French aviator which called his masculinity into question. He began to idolize overly masculine men such as Hemingway.
In his earlier years, he submitted his first novel to be published, but even with praise, it was denied. This began his pattern of constant revising and editing would later characterize his writing style for the rest of his career. After he met Zelda while serving in the army, he decided to resubmit his novel but was denied for a second time. Unfortunately, his lack of fame and income was not enough to convince Zelda that Fitzgerald could take care of her and so broke off their engagement until the time he would become famous. He became determined to have a novel published and on the books third attempt as This Side of Paradise, he was finally able to be the man she wanted him to be; even exclaiming “I have so many things dependent on its success – including of course a girl” (Willett).
This girl, Zelda, was possibly his biggest inspiration and also his biggest downfall. She had become mentally unstable throughout their years of marriage and even though she had an affair, Fitzgerald continued to love and take care of her. He spent majority of his wealth on mental institutes to provide for Zelda and began drinking more heavily which became bad for his health. Both Fitzgerald and Zelda drank in excess, which was the trend for expatriates. Sara Mayfield points out that both Zelda and Fitzgerald were “fast drifting into the emotional slum in which all too many expatriates ended up abroad – working too little, drinking too much…roaming aimlessly about Europe in search of some romantic paradise, lost with the first flush of their youth” (Mayfield 114).
Fitzgerald drank alcohol as a coping mechanism when many of his novels and Hollywood movie scripts were rejected. He continued to write short stories to earn money, but was often in terrible debt due to the pressure of providing for Zelda’s care and his daughter’s education. He had become “hopelessly in debt, unable to write, nearly estranged from his wife and daughter, and incapacitated by excessive drinking and poor physical health” (Willett). For Fitzgerald, even though Zelda was a major inspiration in his plots and characters in numerous novels, she was possibly the black hole of his life and career and was said to have ultimately led to his demise.
Byron, William. F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Biography. Trans. Andre Le Vot. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
Drowne, Kathleen. A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald by Kirk Curnutt. Vol. 38, No. 2. Midwest Modern Language Association, Fall 2005. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
Mayfield, Sara. Exiles from Paradise, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Delacorte Press, 1971. Web. 26 Nov. 2014
Willett, Erika. “The Sensible Thing: Biographies.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
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