You are currently viewing Who is F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Who is F. Scott Fitzgerald?

F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Man & His Work

F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose writings epitomized the great jazz age, believed that he was a failure when he died of a heart attack at the age of 44. Best known for his novel “The Great Gatsby”; Fitzgerald was a proliferate writer who became very well known for his short stories in The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers Magazine, and Esquire (Wikipedia). An all-embracing look into Fitzgerald and his work may confirm my belief that he was in fact one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, or it may prove that he was a drunken hack who embellished his personal life in the name of a great story. This is sure to be a stimulating ride, so hold on tight as we examine his life, his writings, and the connections between them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 24th, 1896. His father, Edward Fitzgerald, came from a prominent Maryland family that could trace their roots back to the seventeenth century (Donaldson, 1-2). Edward Fitzgerald was a failed business owner who could not seem to hold a job once his wicker furniture manufacturing plant shut down. He worked briefly for Procter & Gamble, but the family returned to St. Paul after he was fired from that job. This was a frightening experience for young Scott, and he “prayed silently that they might not have to go to the poorhouse” (Mizener, 9). From that point, the family lived in St. Paul on Mollie’s inheritance. (Donaldson, 1-2; Mizener, 2-9)

His mother, Mary (Mollie) McQuillan, was the oldest daughter of a successful Irish immigrant (Mizener, 2). Mollie Fitzgerald was an eccentric woman with a direct, outspoken manner. Her hair was often in disarray, her manner of dressing was slipshod, and she had been known to wear “one old black shoe and one new brown one, on the principle that it is a good idea to break in new shoes one at a time” (Mizener, 3). She spoiled her son shamelessly, and Scott became quite angry with her when he discovered that the rest of the world would not treat him in the same manner. “He alternated between being ashamed of her eccentricity and devoted to her” (Mizener, 8), and at one point even wrote a droll ballad about a young man who murdered his mother…

Just a boy that killed his mother

I was always up to tricks

When she taunted me, I shot her

Through her chronic appendix (Donaldson, 8).

In spite of Scott’s feelings towards her, Mollie continued to dote on her son. Perhaps she was even unaware that such feelings existed. Nonetheless, she attempted “to launch both Scott and his sister Annabel into St. Paul society” (Donaldson, 9). Scott attended dancing school with the children of the most prominent citizens and was often invited to dances at their homes. However, Scott was well aware of the differences in their social standings. His father never really amounted to much, and the family just did not have the money required to move about freely in the upper circles. As one acquaintance recalled, Scott was like “a little boy who wanted to play but wasn’t quite sure of his welcome” (Donaldson, 42). This uncertainty was to remain with him for all of his life.

Although his parents sent him to school at the age of four, Scott made such a commotion that they removed him after the first day. It wasn’t until he was seven that Scott began to go to school. His academic career began at the Holy Angel’s Convent in Buffalo. His outspoken ways and innate curiosity often landed him in trouble with the teachers. He had the habit of questioning the validity of his lessons; a problem that was to plague him throughout his school years. The Fitzgeralds moved a great deal in those early years, and Scott never really had the time to fit in with the neighborhood. It was not until he was twelve that this nomadic lifestyle decreased, but with the family’s return to St. Paul in 1908, Scott was finally able to become a member of the group. (Mizener, 9 – 12)

Although he was attractive and charming, and he enjoyed a certain amount of success with the ladies, Scott was never very popular with his schoolmates. He tended to be a bit if a braggart, and often came on too strong, almost desperate in many ways. This was largely due to his preconceived notions of his precarious social position. He was not a very athletic boy, although that did not stop him from trying. He played football, but his heart really was not in it. He played more for how it would look to others rather than for a love of the game itself. At all times he seemed insecure about his place in the world. He did have better success with the females in his circle.  Unfortunately, these social difficulties would follow Fitzgerald throughout his life. (Mizener 15-17)

Fitzgerald entered Princeton at the young age of seventeen. This school would dominate much of his world from that day forward. He had discovered that football was not his forte and decided that the literary world would be where he made his mark. Still plagued with many of the social and academic problems that had haunted him throughout his grade school years, Scott was still able to find a place for himself in college life. During his freshman year, Fitzgerald tried out for the campus humor magazine “The Tiger” and by May of his sophomore year he was a part of that team. However, these literary forays did not help him in his other classes, and he habitually had to make up classes. (Donaldson, 18-21)

In November of his junior year, Fitzgerald somehow contracted Malaria, and was forced to drop out of college. He did not return until the following year, and not having made up the classes he missed, was “formally set back into the class of 1918 (Donaldson, 20). Scott did exceptionally well in his English classes but failed most of his other courses. The result of his poor academic performance made Scott ineligible to participate in many of the extracurricular activities he wished to be a part of, which often left him disheartened with college life. By the time Fitzgerald left Princeton, he had set himself on becoming a literary master, and was reported to have said to a friend, “I want to be one of the greatest writers [sic] who have ever lived, don’t you” (Mizener, 35). (Donaldson, 18-21)

Fitzgerald began his writing career long before he entered Princeton. His first story was published in 1909 while he was still in grade school. It was called “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” and it was “printed in Now and Then” that September (Mizener, 18). Once in Princeton, Fitzgerald began to be serious about his craft. Not only did he write for The Tiger, but he also composed plays and lyrics for The Triangle Club. “It puzzled and angered him to find that important things like the Triangle Club and his career as a Big Man could be interfered with by the academic authorities” (Mizener, 46). In the end he was “stripped of every office and on probation” (Mizener, 54), and he failed to graduate from the school he loved so much (Donaldson, 36).

Scott’s first venture into love began when he met Miss Ginevra King in January of 1915. Ginevra was everything Scott wanted in a female companion. She was exceedingly beautiful, came from a privileged background, and had a reputation for sexual daring. She was also way out of his league; as evidenced by a remark he overheard while visiting her that summer in Lake Forest; “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls” (Donaldson, 50). Despite his lack of wealth, Fitzgerald pursued her with all his passion, often writing page after page professing his love for her. Ginevra was a bit of a trollop with a string full of admirers wrapped around her finger. By 1917 she had tired of Scott. “The hurt of losing her never really left him and thinking about it invariably brought tears to his eyes” (Donaldson, 51). Ginevra King was Scott’s golden girl, and she was the role model for many of his female characters throughout his literary history. (Donaldson, 48-51)

When the United States entered WW1 in 1917, Fitzgerald had the perfect escape from academia, and from his memories of Ginevra King. “He joined the infantry and was commissioned a second lieutenant” (Baughman et al, 17). Convinced that he would die in battle, Scott spent the three months of basic training working on his first novel; then titled The Romantic Egoist. Sadly, this novel was rejected twice in as many months by Scribner’s publishing house. Undaunted by this failure, Fitzgerald forged ahead. While stationed at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Alabama, Scott met the woman he was to marry.  Zelda Sayre was the eighteen-year-old daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. “She was a celebrated belle with a reputation for independence and unconventional behavior” (Baughman et al, 17). Now only was she beautiful and intelligent, Zelda also shared Scott’s desires for a glamorous lifestyle. The couple was engaged by the time Scott was discharged from the army early in 1919. (Baughman et al, 17-18)

All was not paradise in this stormy relationship. Both parties had a penchant for flirtation, and both were beset with fits of jealousy.  Zelda was unsure of Scott’s financial prospects. Scott had taken a low paying job with the Barron Collier advertising agency. It was not enough for Zelda, and in June of 1919, she broke off their engagement. Fitzgerald was heartbroken. He promptly quit his job and went on a drunk that lasted for three weeks. Then he returned to his childhood room and rewrote his first novel. This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s first truly successful story, was published on March 26th, 1920. Scott and Zelda were married within a week, and the rest, as they say, is history. (Baughman et al, 17-19)

The Fitzgeralds had a turbulent life together right from the beginning. They both drank rather excessively, and they had a penchant for living far beyond their means. “Like a fairy-story hero and heroine they lived in a world in which the important things were romance and thrills – both of which could be bought on a roof garden in New York if you just had enough money” (Mizener, 116).  Scott was often resentful of the fact that he had to prostitute his talent in order to make enough money for them to live the life they had become accustomed to. He got into the habit of borrowing advances from his agent against stories that had not yet been produced. Fitzgerald himself admitted that he was “crippled…by my inability to handle money” (Mizener, 127). However, money was not the only problem the Fitzgeralds faced. (Mizener, 116 – 127)

Both Scott and Zelda were plagued with jealousy over the flirtatious nature of their partner, and both liked to be the center of attention. Deeply in love, they had a great capacity to hurt each other. Scott craved admiration and had always enjoyed great success with the ladies. According to Zelda’s recollection he “carried on various flirtations” (Donaldson, 71). Of course, Zelda was no angel herself.  In 1925 she had an affair with Edouard Jozan which “marked the beginning of a permanent rift between them” (Donaldson, 70). Scott’s retaliatory affair in 1927 with Lois Moran widened the rift, and it seems that the damage done by both parties was irreparable. According to Judith S. Baughman in Literary Masters F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda suffered her first nervous breakdown in 1930, and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. She was hospitalized and spent many of her remaining days in one clinic or another.  (Baughman et al, 28; Donaldson, 70-71)

Fitzgerald continued to support his wife throughout her illness; writing stories for the Saturday Evening Post to pay for her hospitalization. Fitzgerald’s drinking continued, and his “health deteriorated as his alcoholism intensified” (Baughman et al, 31). He was hospitalized numerous times, and on December 21st, 1940, he died of a heart attack while in the apartment of his girlfriend Sheilah Graham. Fitzgerald was only forty-four when he died. “The newspaper and magazine obituaries were condescending, describing him as a failed writer and ruined man” (Baughman et al, 34) According to the obituary in the New York Herald Tribune, 23 December 1940, on page 18, he “continued to show “promise” all through his tortured career” (Fitzgerald Obituaries). The Los Angeles Times on 24 December 1940, Part II, p. 4. is quoted as stating:

He was a brilliant, sometimes profound, writer. That his work seemed to lack a definite objective was not his fault, but the fault of the world in which he found himself. He has left us a legacy of pertinent questions which he did not pretend to be able to answer. That was not the smallest part of his greatness. (Fitzgerald Obituaries)

That his life was cut short is but one in the long list of the tragedies in Fitzgerald’s life. (Baughman, et al, 31-34)

While he was alive, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a proliferate writer who wrote four novels, more than one hundred and sixty short stories, and numerous plays. He had a certain flair for characterization and storytelling. His characters and stories came directly from his life experiences, so people could relate to the heartaches and troubles these people faced. He suffered throughout his life from insecurity, and many of his tales have a slightly immature tone. However, he had a unique style that was all his own, and he had a flair for words that made his fiction come alive. Was he a drunken hack or a genius? I cannot say for sure, but I believe he was a little bit of both. One thing is certain; his literary works, and his life story, will forever have their place in literary history.


Baughman, Judith S., and Matthew J. Bruccoli. Literary Masters Volume 1. Farmington Hills: The Gale Group, 2000.

Donaldson, Scott. Fool for Love. New York: Dell Publishing, 1983.

"Fitzgerald Obituaries.” F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary. 04 Dec. 2003. University of South Carolina. 16 Aug. 2005 <>.

Mizener, Arthur. The Far Side of Paradise. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1949.

"Wikipedia." F. Scott Fitzgerald. 10 Jul. 2005. Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia. 15 Jul. 2005 <>.