In This Article F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Correspondence
  • Reception
  • Fitzgerald and Other Writers
  • Women in Fitzgerald’s Works
  • Religion, Race, and Ethnicity

American Literature F. Scott Fitzgerald
by
Jackson R. Bryer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0001

Introduction

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (b. 1896–d. 1940), named after his distant relative, the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and educated at private schools there and in the East. He attended Princeton University, dropping out to join the army after the United States entered World War I. While in the service, he began his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which he revised twice before its publication in 1920. It is a highly autobiographical account of its author’s teenage and college years; its frank descriptions of adolescent behavior and its unique literary form brought Fitzgerald literary success and made him and his glamorous young wife, Zelda, celebrities as the prototypical couple of the 1920s and its Jazz Age culture. His second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922), which, again partially autobiographically, follows the lives of a young couple through the tumultuous early years of their marriage, was not nearly as successful with the critics and the public as his first had been, but after a failed attempt at writing a play, The Vegetable (1923), he produced in The Great Gatsby (1925) the intricately patterned, poetic, and concise novel that is generally acknowledged as his masterpiece and one of the greatest American works of fiction. Thereafter, he struggled to complete his fourth novel, continuing to write short stories to offset his constant money problems, which were increased in the early 1930s by his wife’s mental illness. When Tender Is the Night appeared in 1934, its focus on wealthy young Americans on the Riviera was not received well by an America struggling through the Great Depression, but increasingly it has come to be regarded as, if not equal to The Great Gatsby, certainly a major literary work. Similarly, some of Fitzgerald’s short stories, which he tended to dismiss as potboilers written to support his often-extravagant lifestyle, are now thought to be among the best of that genre. Fitzgerald is admired for the skill and accuracy with which he depicted his era, for the beauty and artistry of his style, and for what his first biographer, Arthur Mizener, described in the introduction to Afternoon of an Author (Fitzgerald 1958, cited under Selected Works: Reprinted Material) as “the curious way in which he combined the innocence of complete involvement with an almost scientific coolness of observation” (p. 3).

General Overviews

Paradoxically, despite the abundance of critical and scholarly commentary on Fitzgerald, there remains a dearth of worthwhile full-length comprehensive studies. Mizener 1965, the critical biography that upon its original publication in 1951 essentially began a rediscovery of Fitzgerald’s work a decade after his death, remains the single best critical overview and can be read with profit by beginner and specialist alike, while Lehan 1966, Miller 1964, Perosa 1965, and Sklar 1967—all published within a four-year period—still are similarly useful overviews. Each has a slightly different emphasis, but they all are written in an accessible style and can serve as informed introductions to Fitzgerald’s work, as can Stern 1970 and Way 1980. Of the more recent books, Donaldson 2009 is slightly more appropriate for advanced students, while Curnutt 2007 is ideal for someone relatively unfamiliar with Fitzgerald’s work.

  • Curnutt, Kirk. The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511611032E-mail Citation »

    Excellent general introduction to Fitzgerald’s life and writing; authoritative and clearly written account that covers biography, historical context, and critical reception, with a thematically arranged analysis of the fiction.

  • Donaldson, Scott. Fitzgerald & Hemingway: Works and Days. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.7312/dona14816E-mail Citation »

    Reprints eleven uniformly worthwhile “substantially revised” (p. 5) articles and book chapters. Focus is on “the interconnectedness between biography and criticism” (p. 6) and on well-researched close readings of a variety of Fitzgerald’s writings.

  • Lehan, Richard D. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966.

    E-mail Citation »

    One of the best early books on Fitzgerald by one of his most astute critic-scholars. Excellent explications of the novels and some perceptive comparisons among Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway.

  • Miller, James E., Jr. F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique. New York: New York University Press, 1964.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1957 in a shorter version titled The Fictional Technique of Scott Fitzgerald (The Hague: M. Nijhoff), Miller’s early study remains one of the best for its focus on the development of Fitzgerald’s literary technique and on the literary influences on the work (H. G. Wells, H. L. Mencken, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Willa Cather, John Keats, and Edith Wharton). Includes worthwhile analyses of each of the five novels.

  • Mizener, Arthur. The Far Side of Paradise: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1951. Remains the single best comprehensive critical study, with extensive and informed text-based analyses of each of the five novels. Less attention is paid to the Short Fiction and Nonfiction, but virtually all the writing is mentioned.

  • Perosa, Sergio. The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Translated by Charles Matz and Sergio Perosa. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in Italian in 1961. Deals chronologically with the full range of Fitzgerald’s fiction, stressing its “interdependent links.” Important for its early coverage of the Short Fiction, The Vegetable, and The Last Tycoon. Emphasis on thematic resemblances often neglects relative literary merit.

  • Sklar, Robert. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoön. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

    E-mail Citation »

    Thesis is that Fitzgerald was the last important American novelist “to grow up believing in the genteel romantic ideals that pervaded late nineteenth-century American culture” (p. 3). Worthwhile primarily for sections on the influence of Booth Tarkington, James Joyce, and Mark Twain on Fitzgerald’s female characters (see Women in Fitzgerald’s Works), and on the relation of the Short Fiction to the Novels.

  • Stern, Milton R. The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

    E-mail Citation »

    Important in-depth study of Fitzgerald’s first four novels that strikes an effective balance between viewing the fiction through the life and seeing it as “the ‘identity crisis’ of our American time” (p. xi). Valuable as a series of individual, original, and provocative readings.

  • Way, Brian. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s, 1980.

    E-mail Citation »

    The best full-length study of the full range of Fitzgerald’s work in the context of the social, historical, and literary contexts of his day. Informed close readings of the Short Fiction and Novels that do not eschew distinctions based on literary quality.

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