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Fitzgerald, F. Scott (1896–1940)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald, c.1920.

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald is a cultural icon of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age. His work, although largely under-appreciated during his lifetime, reflects the thoughts and feelings of his generation.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24th, 1896, in St. Paul, the first surviving child of Edward Fitzgerald and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald. Mary's family was established in St. Paul high society; their home was at 481 Laurel Avenue in the wealthy Summit Avenue neighborhood. Scott's father, Edward, was a businessman. His career was marred by failure, so the McQuillans provided financial support for the family.

Fitzgerald's experiences with St. Paul's elite profoundly influenced his life. He loved, and loathed, the life of wealth. He desperately sought acceptance from elites, but also recognized the emptiness of their lives. This theme is evident in his writing. Works such as This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby reflect Fitzgerald's personal struggle with social acceptance and success. They also demonstrate his self-awareness.

Despite his aptitude for literature, Fitzgerald was never a particularly good student. He attended the Catholic Newman School in New Jersey where he pursued his primary interests in literature and theatre. From there, he went on to Princeton University, where he struggled academically. Fitzgerald ultimately dropped out of Princeton and enlisted in the military in 1917. World War I ended shortly after, and he never saw combat.

Fitzgerald met his wife, Zelda Sayre, while based in Alabama as part of his military service. She was from a prominent Southern family but had a wild reputation. She was also renowned for her beauty. In Zelda, Fitzgerald saw his own wit, personality, and social aspirations. At first, she rejected his marriage proposal, unconvinced that he could support her lifestyle. They were married after the publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, which Fitzgerald completed back at home in St. Paul. Shortly after, the couple were celebrities. They exemplified the carefree and wild lifestyle of the new Jazz Age and acquired a reputation for partying and expensive habits.

Despite being known for wild and eccentric behavior, Fitzgerald was observant. He was constantly aware of the complexities of social and class structure. His work vividly portrays the leisurely and intellectual spirit of post-World-War-I America. It also provides a window into his personal search for meaning and truth.

In 1921, Zelda gave birth to the couple's only child: a daughter, Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald. The family spent the next few years in France, where it was easier to support their expensive lifestyle. There, Scott became friends with novelists Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

Scott and Zelda's health deteriorated shortly after the publication of The Great Gatsby in 1925. Zelda was later hospitalized for her emotional state and erratic behavior, while Scott suffered from the effects of excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption. Their relationship was also damaged by an affair Zelda had while they were in France. The couple returned to the United States in 1931.

The Great Depression brought new feelings and literary tastes to American culture. Fitzgerald's stories about the carefree lives of the elite and privileged class of society were no longer appealing. Scott and Zelda were largely forgotten by the public. Fitzgerald spent much of the 1930s in Hollywood as a screenwriter, trying to make a living. There, in the apartment of his lover, Sheilah Graham, he died of a heart attack in 1940. He was forty-four years old.

Fitzgerald gained renewed popularity in the 1950s and 60s, when American economic revival shifted literary tastes yet again. Scott and Zelda became romantic figures, embodying the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. Although The Great Gatsby received a poor reception in the author's lifetime, it is now considered to be one of the greatest novels in American history.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Curnutt, Kirk, ed. A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

——— . The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott; James L. W. West III, ed. A Short Autobiography. New York: Scribner, 2011.

Prigozy, Ruth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Woodstock,NY: Overlook Press, 2001.

——— , ed. The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his mother on Laurel Avenue, St. Paul
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his mother on Laurel Avenue, St. Paul
F. Scott Fitzgerald House
F. Scott Fitzgerald House
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at Dellwood the month before Scottie's birth.
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at Dellwood the month before Scottie's birth.
F. Scott Fitzgerald at desk
F. Scott Fitzgerald at desk

Turning Point

In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald publishes his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which launches him into the public eye.



F. Scott Fitzgerald is born in St. Paul.


Fitzgerald attends St. Paul Academy.


Fitzgerald enrolls at the Newman School in New Jersey.


Fitzgerald enters Princeton University.


Fitzgerald leaves Princeton and joins the army.


Fitzgerald becomes engaged to Zelda Sayre and publishes This Side of Paradise.


Zelda gives birth to a daughter, Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald.


The Fitzgerald family travels to France.


The Great Gatsby is published.


Zelda suffers a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized.


The Fitzgeralds return to the United States; Zelda is admitted to Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins University.


Fitzgerald moves to Hollywood and begins a relationship with actress Sheilah Graham.


Fitzgerald dies from a heart attack in the apartment of Sheilah Graham.


Zelda is killed in a fire at the Highland Hospital in North Carolina.