A fresh biography of the great American writer.
Early on in this engaging portrait, Brown (History/Elizabethtown Coll.; Beyond the Frontier: The Midwestern Voice in American Historical Writing, 2009, etc.) draws our attention to two of Fitzgerald’s homes: an 1842 Greek Revival mansion alongside the Delaware River and a “rambling Victorian” north of Baltimore. For Brown, they personify a key theme in Fitzgerald’s life: a consistent yearning for America’s glorious past. Fitzgerald was a writer who beautifully captured his own time, the flapper-filled Jazz Age, while still being deeply influenced by his patrician father. Fitzgerald’s personal favorite, Tender Is the Night, with its aristocratic father, Dick Diver, “captures Fitzgerald’s historical vision more completely than anything else he ever wrote.” Brown draws extensively on the autobiographical aspects of Fitzgerald’s novels and stories. He also downplays Fitzgerald’s alcohol abuse. Despite being a lackluster student, he got into Princeton on sheer will power. He struggled there, too, but his close friendship with fellow student John Peale Bishop stimulated his love of literature and reading. After marrying Zelda Sayre, his work flourished. During the Depression, he published 65 stories in the Saturday Evening Post at $4,000 each. Shepherded by Maxwell Perkins, a young editor at Scribner, who would later become a close friend, confidant, and moneylender, Fitzgerald published This Side of Paradise closely followed by the “confessional” The Beautiful and the Damned. Brown suggests that The Great Gatsby was composed in the shadow of Joseph Conrad, and Tender Is the Night was his “masterwork.” Fitzgerald died in 1940 of a heart attack in the “hideous town” of Hollywood, still working. The Last Tycoon was published a year later.
A well-organized and sensitive portrait of a writer living to the fullest in his own time but always desirous of a “paradise lost.”