F. Scott Fitzgerald

01 Fitzgerald at Desk

“F. Scott Fitzgerald at Desk, circa 1921 (Princeton University Library)

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), author of This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and Damned (1922), The Great Gatsby (1925), Tender Is the Night (1934), and the unfinished and posthumously published The Last Tycoon (1941), appealed to two diverse audiences from the beginning of his career to the end: the popular magazine audience and the elite of the literary establishment. His short stories appeared regularly in the 1920’s and 1930’s in such mass circulation magazines as The Saturday Evening PostHearst’s InternationalCollier’sRedbook, and Esquire. The readers of these magazines early on came to ask for Fitzgerald’s flapper stories by name, expecting to find in them rich, young, and glamorous heroes and heroines involved in exciting adventures. Popular magazines in the 1920’s billed Fitzgerald stories on the cover, often using them inside as lead stories. Long after Fitzgerald lost the knack of writing the kind of popular stories that made him famous as the creator of the flapper in fiction and as the poet laureate of the jazz age, magazine headnotes to his stories identified him as such.

Those who recognized the more serious side of his talent as it was evidenced particularly in his best stories (“The Ice Palace,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and “Babylon Revisited,” for example) and his novels included Edmund Wilson, George Jean Nathan, H. L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, and T. S. Eliot, who offered criticism as well as praise. Fitzgerald was generous with advice to other writers, most notably to Ring Lardner, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe; but also to struggling unknowns, who wrote to him asking advice and got it. Many of Fitzgerald’s critical opinions became public when he published his Crack-up essays in Esquire in the late 1930’s, his dark night of the soul. Regarded by some in Fitzgerald’s time as self-pitying, these essays are now often anthologized and widely quoted for the ideas and theories about literature and life that they contain. After his death and the posthumous publication of his incomplete The Last Tycoon, a Fitzgerald revival, still in progress both in the academic world and in popular culture, began. With this revival, Fitzgerald’s reputation as a novelist (principally on the strength of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night), short-story writer, and essayist has been solidly established. As Steven Vincent Benét wrote in a Saturday Review of Literature tribute to Fitzgerald after his death, “This is not a legend—this is a reputation. It may well be one of the most secure reputations of our time.”

(Adapted from Bryant Mangum, “Introduction to the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald.”  To read article click here: “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” The Critical Survey of Long Fiction.)