Today in History: September 24
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, best known for his classic American novel The Great Gatsby, was born on September 24, 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Named for his distant cousin Francis Scott Key, author of the "The Star-Spangled Banner," Fitzgerald was descended, on his father's side, from a long line of Marylanders. His mother, Mary McQuillan, was the daughter of an Irish immigrant who made his fortune as a wholesale grocer in St. Paul.
Fitzgerald achieved fame almost overnight with the 1920 publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise (external link). The novel, which draws heavily upon his years at Princeton, tells the story of a young man's quest for fulfillment in love and career. The success of this novel enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre, whom he had met while stationed at Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama. Over the course of the next decade and a half, while struggling to cope with the demons of his alcoholism and her emerging mental illness, the Fitzgeralds enjoyed a life of literary celebrity among the American artists and writers who had expatriated to Paris after the First World War. The American artistic community in Europe included such notable figures as Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish, John Dos Passos, and Gertrude Stein.
In 1924, Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, considered his greatest work. Although it initially met with little commercial success, the novel about the American aspiration for material success has become one of the most popular, widely read, and critically acclaimed works of fiction in the nation's literature.
Fitzgerald continued to publish novels and stories during the 1920s and 1930s. By 1936, however, both his marriage and his health were deteriorating. He spent the years 1936-1937 in the vicinity of Asheville, North Carolina, where his wife was receiving psychiatric treatment for recurrent schizophrenic episodes. For the last years of his life, Fitzgerald lived in Hollywood, earning his living as a screenwriter. Fitzgerald died on December 21, 1940 at the age of forty-five, leaving his final novel, The Last Tycoon, unfinished.
- Browse the collection, Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929 to learn more about the economic background of the era between the two World Wars. The "Roaring Twenties" was a period of great prosperity but Gertrude Stein dubbed the Fitzgeralds and their artist friends as the "Lost Generation."
- Search on jazz in the collection Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920 to find music of the twenties.
- Search the Today in History Archive on writer, poet, or playwright to read more about the lives and works of such illustrious American authors as Eugene O'Neill, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Zora Neale Hurston. Also visit the Today in History feature on legendary jazz pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton, whose career flourished in the twenties.
- See the special presentation on Arts and Literature in the collection Words and Deeds in American History, as well as the Item List of materials available on this subject.
- Search across the American Memory collections on the keyword Irish to explore materials chronicling the experience of the Irish in America. Find, for example, The Irish in America in the collection The Nineteenth Century in Print: Books.