F. Scott Fitzgerald by Ruth Prigozy

F. Scott FitzgeraldPrigozy’s slim biography, filled with beautiful photographs of Fitzgerald and the people and places important to him, depicts a young man who was obsessed with attaining a romantic image of glamour and wealth. He grew up in Minneapolis in a Catholic family which had some wealth from the grocery store business of his mother’s Irish immigrant family. However, tales of the poor but genteel Southern heritage of his father’s family haunted young Scott, as though something beautiful and glamorous was lurking just out of his reach. His father’s failure in business and his shame at being supported by his wife’s family contributed to Scott’s own fear of failure.

Scott attended Princeton, but left without graduating and joined the army. While stationed in Montgomery, Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre at a dance at the country club. Scott went open-eyed into the relationship with this volatile and wildly popular belle, as he later explained in a letter to a friend:

. . . I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect . . . I love her and that’s the beginning and end of everything. You’re still a catholic but Zelda’s the only God I have left now.

Scott was desperate to convince Zelda to marry him, but she refused on the grounds of his limited financial prospects. Following a two-year courtship, they finally married in 1920, just one week after the publication of Scott’s first novel, This Side of Paradise.

From then on, Fitzgerald’s life reeled from the mad drunken parties that Zelda enjoyed, to occasional sober periods when he wrote stories and novels to recoup some of the money they spent so lavishly. Despite the success of his writings, financial and emotional difficulties continued to plague him. Beginning in 1930, Zelda was in and out of mental institutions, while Scott struggled to pay for their daughter Scottie’s expensive schooling and Zelda’s hospitalizations.

Throughout Fitzgerald’s short life—he died of a heart attack at age 44—he always seemed to be reaching for something that eluded him, perhaps because it was impossible to attain. He wanted the moment of fulfillment to last forever. The peak of his life, the only time he seemed to have grasped this golden dream, was just after the publication of his first novel, when Zelda finally agreed to marry him. One of his short stories describes a time “when the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled in a single gorgeous moment.” This quest for what Prigozy calls “the mythology of success” is at the heart of Fitzgerald’s life and work.

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