F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St Paul Minnesota, in 1896, and studied at Princeton during World War I. In 1917 he dropped out to enlist in the army but the war ended before he could be deployed. He published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to great acclaim in 1920. That year he married Zelda Sayre and their daughter was born in 1921.
They lived for a time in Europe, where Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, saying of it: ‘I want to write something new—something extraordinary and beautiful.’ Many consider it the great American novel. He captured the Jazz Age in his writing and his life seemed to embody all that it stood for—a decadent, intoxicated ‘carefree madness’.
Zelda’s emotional health had long been fragile when she suffered a breakdown in 1930 and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Fitzgerald went on to write screenplays in Hollywood. He was estranged from Zelda and working on a novel when he died of a heart attack in 1940, aged forty-four. After Fitzgerald’s death, the New York Times said that he ‘was better than he knew, for in fact and in the literary sense he invented a “generation”’.
Fitzgerald wrote almost two hundred short stories and five novels, including The Beautiful and Damned (1922), Tender Is the Night (1934) and The Love of the Last Tycoon (1941), his last, unfinished work, which was published posthumously. Ernest Hemingway said, ‘His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings.’
In a letter to his daughter, Fitzgerald said, ‘All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.’