It’s unlikely that you’d consider someone who published only four novels – only two of which anyone who isn’t an English major could name – as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. But those two novels, Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby certainly qualify F. Scott Fitzgerald for the honor.
It’s also unusual to live in an era whose name you conceived. But Fitzgerald coined the phrase “The Jazz Age,” and he became associated with the ebullience and extravagance of the 1920s. It was a role that he and his wife, Zelda, loved to play.
The Great Gatsby was completed while the Fitzgeralds lived on the French Riviera. For the American intelligentsia, France was the place to be in the Twenties. It was published to great acclaim, and for good reason. It’s clearly one of the handful of best novels in the American literary canon. But Fitzgerald felt obliged to live up to the celebrity the book earned him, and the extravagance of drink and high living cost him dearly.
Faced with economic hardship and his wife’s failing health, Fitzgerald wrote short stories for popular magazines to make ends meet. Then he moved to Hollywood to work on scripts. He didn’t like the man he had become, which only exacerbated his alcoholism.
Fitzgerald died of a massive heart attack at the age of 44. His last novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon (originally published as The Last Tycoon), was completed by his friend and literary critic Edmund Wilson in 1941. Fitzgerald never matched the greatness of The Great Gatsby, but it remains as one of America’s best-loved and most-read classics.