LLR Books

Celtic Scribes: F. Scott Fitzgerald

By Ray Cavanaugh
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in Minnesota. He had Irish blood from both sides and at least one grandparent who grew up in the old country. After a promising adolescence, he headed east seeking Ivy League glory. These grand ambitions, however, went on hiatus – he ignored his homework, boycotted his exams, and followed fellow Celtic Scribe Eugene O’Neill’s example by dropping out of Princeton with a G.P.A. lower than his blood-alcohol content.
Fearing dad’s half-Irish temper, Fitzgerald opted to enlist for service in WWI. Although future drinking pal Ernest Hemingway was submerged in a shrapnel bloodbath, Lieutenant Fitzgerald lucked out, seeing more girls than corpses. When back at camp, he would polish his gun and work on a semi-autobiographical novel, The Romantic Egoist. The book got a rejection slip, so Fitzgerald revised it and used a different title, This Side of Paradise.
The rewrite worked like a dream, bringing its writer critical acclaim, a few extra bucks and a meteoric rise in social status. Fitzgerald went to the hottest shindigs, drank the bubbliest wine, and married a celebrated belle named Zelda who, in spite of her drunkenness, disorderly conduct, incipient psychosis, habitual complaints and financial demands, was a splendid cocktail-party date.
The roaring 1920s were in full swing, and Fitzgerald roared with the best of them. Still, he found time to write The Great Gatsby, in which an enormously successful bootlegger throws huge parties to lure a past love – Gatsby gets his wish for two weeks, then ends up face down in his pool with slugs in the head and a mouthful of chlorine. Fitzgerald deserves full marks for making this extravagant crook one of the most eminent tragic heroes in American letters.
Fitzgerald and Hemingway comprised the backbone of the much-romanticized American ex-pat literary circle. Both friends and rivals, their relationship was complex and often turbulent, as the notoriously cantankerous Hemingway would ridicule his comparatively mild counterpart for a number of perceived offenses, especially Fitzgerald’s composition of certain stories for the primary purpose of monetary gain - an act which the eminently macho Ernest perceived as being akin to “whoring”.
As wife Zelda’s troubles intensified, Fitzgerald was compelled to earn more to cover her elaborate medical expenses. He moved to Hollywood and began scripting sitcoms, an undoubtedly reluctant career move which confirmed his status as beneficent spouse, but sent Hemingway into a prolonged “whoring” tirade. From her institution, Zelda accused the belligerent Hemingway and her husband of having together partaken in romantic relations.
Though most would agree that Fitzgerald peaked with Gatsby, the writer was good for at least one more full novel, Tender is the Night, in which a promising shrink falls for his dreamiest schizophrenic - a poignant romance ensues, one ultimately ruinous to the MD’s career, as the would-be Freud becomes a jaded caretaker. 
The book packed all the touching pathos of autobiography: Fitzgerald’s energies were spent on his ever-more-troubled wife, who met an appalling fate within a flame-engulfed psych ward. Distraught and weary, the once-brilliant writer tried to rediscover the muse…lurking ghostlike at the end of countless bottles and cigarettes. In time, his liver gave out, and he died at age forty-three. 
For a full anthology of Celtic Scribes, see celticscribes.com