This article is the follow up to my recent post, The Artist Within. It is a brief outline of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and illustrates how he became part of my collection of Tortured Souls.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the great American writers of the 20th Century. At 23 years old, he had achieved glittering success but sadly, he went on to live a life of excess, alcoholism and depression leading to an early death at the age of 44. By the time of his death, most of his works were out of print and his early achievement as a literary star was almost forgotten.
In the early days, alcohol softened the blow of rejection and camouflaged the pain of poverty. At the height of his career, he and wife Zelda lived the celebrity lifestyle, resembling that of the characters in his highly successful novel, The Great Gatsby. Extravagant parties with the elite, expensive liquors, hysteria and outrageous behaviour were all part of a regular day for the Fitzgerald’s. They revelled in the attention and were always agreeable to put on a show. Their relationship was fraught with dysfunction which they openly demonstrated to an appreciative audience. However, they were soon to become boozed up, burned out and broke. Their audience became bored with the frantic outbursts and tiresome arguments and The Fitzgeralds’ dwindling bank balance could no longer satiate their hungry, opulent appetites.
Scott’s alcoholism exacerbated and Zelda suffered from several mental and physical breakdowns. By 1930, Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia resulting in long stays in clinics which would become the course for the rest of her life. In 1936, Fitzgerald wrote, 'Of course all life is a process of breaking down .... For sixteen years I lived pretty much as this latter person, distrusting the rich, yet working for money with which to share their mobility and the grace that some of them brought into their lives…..,' from The Crack Up, a collection of personal essays and letters. This period became known as the Crack Up; Fitzgerald, was drunk, broke, living in hotel rooms and unable to write commercial stories. His stories about himself, his musings and his alcoholism were not well received and he was unable to command, the once high prices, he achieved from his magazine stories. By the end of the 30’s, his acute alcoholism was taking its toll. His health was dramatically deteriorating and he was badly affected by recurring bouts of tuberculosis. In late 1940, Fitzgerald suffered a heart attack and on the 21st December 1940, he suffered a further, massive heart attack, ending his short and troubled life.
The main resource for Fitzgerald’s stories was his own life, his relationships, tragedies and feelings of failure. He wrote, ‘all the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them, the lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamond mountains of my short stories blew up, my millionaires were as doomed as Thomas Hardy’s peasants.’ If Fitzgerald had lived an ordinary life, would he have had the imagination to create such great work? Are we born artists with a certain temperament, perhaps destructive, that fuels our craft?
Fitzgerald left behind The Last Tycoon, his final novel, unfinished at the time of his death. It was edited and published in 1941 by his friend and literary critic Edmund Wilson.