The Great Gatsby Comparative Studies
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
F Scott Fitzgerald (1896 –1940), the author of “The Great Gatsby” was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are evocative of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. He finished four novels. Fitzgerald also wrote many short stories that treat themes of youth and promise along with despair and age.
Irish upper class Catholic family
Born in Minnesota to an Irish upper class Catholic family, Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy, but was expelled for neglecting his studies. He entered Princeton University in 1913 and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club—a kind of musical-comedy society. A poor student, Fitzgerald left Princeton to enlist in the US Army during World War I; however, the war ended shortly after Fitzgerald’s enlistment.
While at Camp Sheridan, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre the “silver girl”, in Fitzgerald’s words. The two were engaged in 1919, and Fitzgerald moved into an apartment at 1935 Lexington Avenue in New York City to try to lay a foundation for his life with Zelda. Working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince Zelda that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement.
Scott returned to his parents’ house. His novel about the post-WWI flapper generation was accepted by a publishing company in 1919, and Zelda and Scott resumed their engagement. Scott and Zelda were married. Their only child, Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921.
The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald’s development. The Great Gatsby, considered his masterpiece, was published in 1925. Fitzgerald made several excursions to Europe, notably Paris and the French Riviera, and became friends with many members of the American expatriate community in Paris, notably Ernest Hemingway.
Fitzgerald’s friendship with Hemingway was quite vigorous, as many of Fitzgerald’s relationships would prove to be. Hemingway did not get on well with Zelda. In addition to describing her as “insane” he claimed that she “encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Scott from his ‘real’ work on his novel,” the other work being the short stories he sold to magazines.
This “whoring”, as Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Gatsby”, and subsequently Hemingway, called these sales, was a sore point in the authors’ friendship. Fitzgerald claimed that he would first write his stories in an authentic manner but then put in “twists that made them into saleable magazine stories.”
Fitzgerald′s marriage was mixed
Fitzgerald’s marriage was mixed—both destructive and constructive. Fitzgerald drew largely upon his wife’s intense and flamboyant personality in his writings, at times quoting direct passages from her letters and personal diaries in his work.
Zelda made mention of this in a 1922 mock review saying that “It seems to me that on one page I recognised a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar.
In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home”. But the impact of Zelda’s personality on his work and life is often overstated, as much of his earliest writings reflect the personality of a first love, Ginevra King.
In fact, the character of Daisy as much represents his inability to cultivate his relationship with King as it does the ever-present fact of Zelda, although Gatsby’s economic failure to immediately wed Daisy in 1917, with an eventual return in financial triumph, does closely mirror Fitzgerald’s own experiences with his future wife.
New York celebrities
Although Fitzgerald’s passion lay in writing novels, only his first novel sold well enough to support the opulent lifestyle that he and Zelda adopted as New York celebrities. As did most professional authors at the time, Fitzgerald supplemented his income by writing short stories for magazines as, and sold movie rights of his stories and novels to Hollywood studios.
Because of this lifestyle, as well as the bills from Zelda’s medical care when they came, Fitzgerald was constantly in financial trouble and often required loans from his literary agent, Harold Ober, and his editor Maxwell Perkins. When Ober decided not to continue advancing Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Gatsby” the author severed ties with his longtime friend and agent.
Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalised.
Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits, and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts and his fifth and final novel. Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the East Coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a gossip columnist, in Hollywood. From 1939 until his death, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack.
Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis, but some dismiss it as a pretext to cover his drinking problems.
Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940. He moved in with Sheilah Graham. As the two were leaving the theatre one night, Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had trouble leaving; upset, he said to Ms. Graham, “They think I am drunk, don’t they? The following day,” Fitzgerald died of a massive heart attack.
The publication of The Great Gatsby prompted T. S. Eliot to write, in a letter to Fitzgerald, “It seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James.” J. D. Salinger expressed admiration of Fitzgerald’s work, even saw himself for some time as “Fitzgerald’s successor.”
Richard Yates, called The Great Gatsby “the most nourishing novel he ever read…a miracle of talent…a triumph of technique.” It was written in a New York Times editorial after his death that Fitzgerald “was better than he knew, for in fact and in the literary sense he invented a generation, The Great Gatsby.
He might have interpreted them and even guided them, as in their middle years they saw a different and nobler freedom threatened with destruction.”
Values of the Time
- Decadence and wealth were very important to the upper classes and often society was so shallow that you had friends while you were wealthy and none when you were poor. True friendship, and even true romantic relationships or other depths of feeling were rare for these emotionally numb times.
- Greater independence for women followed after WWI and the rise of the flapper as someone who deliberately went against social niceties regarding a woman’s traditional role led to affairs being the norm, and there were “petting parties” where women would openly make out with men – something which was never done in public in polite society. Such women were often openly contrary, independent and selfish – they didn’t need men unless those men came with fringe benefits such as expensive presents or social contacts.
- Prohibition didn’t mean that people couldn’t access alcohol, it just meant they had to go underground to do it. So along with questionable social morality, the upper classes now freely consorted with criminal elements such as the mafia in order to get their booze. In fact, there was probably more drinking during the 1920s because of prohibition.
- Aside from all the partying, there was a sense of loss and decay. If one felt the apocalypse was coming and the world was at an end, they might as well get drunk and have a party and try not to care. This attitude sums up the Modernist disillusionment with society and their feeling that life was cheap and meaningless.