The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Author Biography

Professor Tony Bowers from the College of DuPage talks about the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald and how he came to write The Great Gatsby.

F. Scott Fitzgerald | Biography


Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father was an unsuccessful businessman, so the family lived off Fitzgerald's mother's sizable inheritance. His mother's wealth provided opportunities for young Fitzgerald to mingle with the social elite in his hometown, but the family wasn't quite rich enough to be welcomed into the highest class of the social hierarchy.

Much like Nick's character in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald left his Minnesota hometown for an Ivy League education (Fitzgerald attended Princeton, however, while Nick attended Yale), joined the army, and later moved to New York City. When he was 22 years old, he fell in love with socialite Zelda Sayre. Although Zelda claimed to love Fitzgerald, she refused to marry him until he was rich. It wasn't until Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920 that Zelda deemed him appropriate to marry.

As Fitzgerald's writing career blossomed, he and his wife enjoyed their celebrity with lavish parties, heavy drinking, and extensive travels. Despite the glamorous facade the family displayed to the public, the style and pace of the Fitzgeralds' life came at a price. For years Fitzgerald struggled with alcoholism and depression, which wreaked havoc on his career and health. Ultimately, these factors contributed to the heart attack that killed him on December 21, 1940, at age 44.

Many aspects of Fitzgerald's life—his successes and struggles—are mirrored in his work, including The Great Gatsby. The details are scattered throughout his stories in the form of character traits, story settings, and conflicts. When The Great Gatsby was first released, it received mediocre reviews and sold poorly. By the time of Fitzgerald's death, the author was largely forgotten. However, after the United States entered World War II, a group called the Council on Books in Wartime decided to improve the morale of the armed services by providing them novels to read. The Great Gatsby was one of the titles chosen and its inclusion radically affected the novel's popularity and sales. Total sales for The Great Gatsby in 1944 reached 120 copies, while today the book regularly sells 500,000 copies per year.

The chronological order of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels:

  • This Side of Paradise (1920)
  • The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
  • The Great Gatsby (1925)
  • Tender Is the Night (1934)
  • The Last Tycoon (unfinished; 1941)
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