Today in History

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

Portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald,
June 4, 1937.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964

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.

Panoramic view of St. Paul, Minn.
Panoramic View of St. Paul, Minnesota, 1911.
Taking the Long View, 1851-1991

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.

Jazz Baby. 1919
"Jazz Baby,"
Blanche Merrill, words,
M.K. Jerome, music,
1919.
Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were popularly viewed as prototypical children of the Jazz Age.

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.