Thursday, September 24, 2015

BIRTHDAY: Sept. 24–F. Scott Fitzgerald ("Oxonian" Great Gatsby)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896-1940.
This day was born F[rancis] Scott Fitzgerald, in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1896. His father was an entrepreneur in the furniture manufacturing business, but not a successful one. Fitzgerald said he felt like a "poor boy in a rich town."

His aunt paid for him to attend Princeton. He had five great disappointments in his early life:
  • He failed to make the Princeton football team.
  • When World War I broke out, Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton and entered the Army, wearing a Brooks Brothers-tailored uniform, but Fitzgerald's time at an officer training camp in Alabama ended too late for him to go to Europe. 
  • He fell in love with a beautiful young socialite who in due course married a wealthy business associate of her father's.
  • His novel was rejected.
  • His fiancée, debutante Zelda Sayre, called off her engagement when his book was rejected. 
Fitzgerald's revised book came out in 1920 as This Side of Paradise. It was a triumph. Zelda took another look and married him that year, when he was 24. They became the "it" New York couple in the 1920s of the Jazz Age, to which Fitzgerald gave the name. Nancy Milford wrote a book, Zelda, suggesting that Zelda Sayre's talents were not properly recognized and that she contributed greatly to her husband's successes.

Five years after his first successful novel, Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is linked in the book to Trinity College, Oxford. Challenged for details in Chapter 7, Gatsby says
I only stayed five months [...] an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice [...] to any of the universities in England or France.
An alumnus of Trinity College, Ian Flintoff, has recently published a book that describes Gatsby's "five months" at Trinity College in 1919-20. I have read it and enjoyed it. The book is filled with some authentic background information about what it was like to be at Oxford soon after the Great War. It is written for the non-Oxonian, explaining all the Oxford traditions in great and accurate detail.

Failure later returned to Fitzgerald's life. He and Zelda both drank to excess. He died in Hollywood in 1940, 44 years old, in debt and anonymity. Zelda was in a mental hospital. He said:
Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.
Fitzgerald's daughter Scottie said about her parents,
People who live entirely by the fertility of their imaginations are fascinating, brilliant and often charming, but they should be sat next to at dinner parties, not lived with.

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