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About this book

From his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which brought him a blaze of youthful fame, to his last, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald's appeal as one of America's most quintessential artists has continued to maintain its hold on twenty-first century readers.

In this reader-friendly study of Fitzgerald's major fiction, Michael K. Glenday:
• offers new readings of the author's canonical works, including The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night,
• draws on the very latest research in his reassessment of the ideas and significance of Fitzgerald's major novels,
• explores the core themes of the novels, as well as their considerable contribution to the spirit and complexity of modern-day American culture.

Assuming no prior knowledge, this book is ideal for those seeking a lively, informed introduction to Fitzgerald's fiction, as well as those looking for fresh and original insights into his extraordinary work.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
A few months before he died aged 44 in December 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote what now seems an astonishing, deeply ironical letter to his old friend and editor Maxwell Perkins at the press of Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York. It tells of how completely he felt he had been forgotten by his readership in that final year of his life, and also shows him taking the measure of his place in American letters. The tone is strangely valedictory, and yet amidst the sad recognition that his public appreciation has dwindled away to nothing, there is a residual defiance, a refusal to allow his reputation to be extinguished:
I wish I was in print … Would the 25 cent press keep Gatsby in the public eye—or is the book unpopular. Has it had its chance? Would a popular reissue … make it a favorite with class rooms, profs, lovers of English prose—anybody. But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much. Even now there is little published in American fiction that doesn’t slightly bear my stamp—in a small way I was an original … I have not lost faith. (Life in Letters 445–6)
Michael K. Glenday

2. An Elfin Harlequinade: This Side of Paradise (1920)

Abstract
‘The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it’ (‘Who’s Who — and Why’, in Afternoon of an Author 83). Born in 1896, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this in 1920, the year This Side of Paradise, his first novel, was published. The statement is uncannily predictive of what would indeed be a writing life impeded by tragic, often self-imposed handicaps. Towards the end of that life Fitzgerald recognised but probably failed to relish the double irony that This Side of Paradise, perhaps his weak est novel, yet remained his most popular book in terms of first-edition sales. Its composition was also unusual in being accelerated rather than impeded by his personal circumstances at the time — most specifically the need to publish quickly a winning novel so as to impress his Southern belle, Zelda Sayre, whose commitment to their relationship was on the wane — ‘if I stopped working to finish the novel, I lost the girl’ (‘Early Success’, 57).
Michael K. Glenday

3. A Triumph of Lethargy: The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

Abstract
‘Thank God I’m thru with it’ (Turnbull, Letters 171). As he completed the finishing touches to the final draft of his second novel in late 1921, Fitzgerald’s accompanying sigh of relief is almost audible in these words to his editor Max Perkins. An early title for the novel had been The Flight of the Rocket, but when The Beautiful and Damned was eventually published on 4 March 1922, its reception by reviewers in many ways reflected Fitzgerald’s own private judgment of its flight as one burdened by some internal malfunctions, as he confided to Perkins that he was ‘almost, but not quite, satisfied with the book’ (Turnbull, Letters 170). This Side of Paradise had indeed rocketed Fitzgerald into early fame, with its ‘witty, flippant and lighthearted’ style (Meyers 85–6), but two years later, many readers and a significant majority of critics would in contrast see its successor as engaged with a very different register, in the words of Jeffrey Meyers, ‘ponderous and tragic, twice as long … more static’ (85).
Michael K. Glenday

4. Inside the Hyena Cage: The Great Gatsby (1925)

Abstract
Remembering his visit to Long Island and the Hamptons in 1999, the British peer Baron Hattersley recalled how attractions of the nearby sea strand — ‘orioles swooping on the still pool to catch invisible insects, pure white pebbles in the golden sand and a seaplane which looked as though it has flown in from the world between the wars’ — were for him yet overwhelmed by the magical memory of Jay Gatsby, who might also have walked those shores. Along with Gatsby’s friend and remembrancer Nick Carraway, ‘I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.’ Though it may not surprise us that a politician would admire what he calls Gatsby’s ‘wholly absurd indomitability’ — his refusal to acknowledge that he can never beat the odds, or even that there are any odds against him — Hattersley’s further point is more compelling: ‘The importance of the story is not that he failed to win [Daisy Buchanan] but the way in which he wooed and lost … Gatsby is the great tragic hero of 20th century fiction’ (14). This is right — and most certainly a large part of his enduring appeal. But more than this is the poetry of Jay Gatsby, the lucidity of his self-sacrificial dream which partakes of what Fitzgerald called ‘the magical glory’.
Michael K. Glenday

5. The Tragic Power: Selected Short Stories and Tender is the Night (1934)

Abstract
‘His information, to be sure, on the general history of this American phase is remarkable. His most trivial stories have a substantial substratum of information. It should yield more and more revealing, penetrating pictures of American life as he settles gravely down in the twilight of the thirties’ (Mosher 80). Writing for The New Yorker in 1926, John Chapin Mosher’s prediction as to the likely paths to be taken by Scott Fitzgerald’s career were to prove remarkably accurate. The twilight years of the twenties were darkened progressively by Zelda Fitzgerald’s decline into insanity. Her admission to the Malmaison clinic outside Paris in April 1930, only the first of a series of clinics that would give her some temporary respite in the years ahead, marked almost ten years exactly since the date of her marriage to Scott. Among his ‘ten most beautiful words in the English language’ he told a reporter in 1932, were ‘snap, wine, dark and ineluctable’ (“Cellar Door?” in Conversations 106).
Michael K. Glenday

6. The Heart of Hollywood: The Last Tycoon (1941)

Abstract
A year after Fitzgerald’s death his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon was published, edited for Scribner’s by Edmund Wilson. From the start Fitzgerald had connected the novel with renewed vitality, telling his daughter Scottie in a letter of October 1939: ‘Look! I have begun to write something that is maybe great …I am alive again’ (Life in Letters 419), and on reading the novel in 1941, Zelda Fitzgerald also said it made her want to live again (Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald 326). Such uplift needs to be put alongside moments of darker weight however, tragic insights into the futility of his labours, as in fatigue he sickened towards the imminent death he seemed to see coming upon him in a poem fragment in his death year of 1940:
There was a flutter from the wings of God and you lay dead. Your books were in your desk I guess & some unfinished Chaos in your head Was dumped to nothing by the great janitress Of destinies. (Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald 325)
Michael K. Glenday

7. Conclusion

Abstract
Writing to Zelda in March 1940, Fitzgerald knew the balance sheet made bleak reading: ‘Nothing has developed here. I write these “Pat Hobby” stories — and wait. I have a new idea now — a comedy series which will get me back into the big magazines — but my God I am a forgotten man’: Gatsby had to be taken out of the Modern Library because it didn’t sell, which was a blow’ (Life in Letters 439). With ‘absolutely no offers in many months’ (Life in Letters 441) from the Hollywood studios, his letters to Zelda in his last year of life are often heartbreaking studies in attrition, as, weakened by illness and continuing financial distress, he brooded over how writing stories and film scripts would make ends meet for himself, his wife, and daughter Scottie, then a student at Vassar College. The fiscal logic was stark. As he wrote to Zelda, ‘The main thing is not to run up bills or wire me for extra funds. There simply aren’t any and as you can imagine I am deeply in debt to the government and everyone else’ (Lift in Letters 442).
Michael K. Glenday
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