I watch the infamous party scene from The Great Gatsby with the exact same intensity I watch a Lanvin show. With that bottled up combustible excitement. Each and every time I am completely bowled over. The amount of fabulousness all in one place is overwhelming and deliciously tempting. Oh how I would still do anything to be at that party, amongst all that glitz and glamour. To wear those dresses and pile them up with the fanciest of accessories, drink those cocktails, smoke from those cigarette holders (even if I think smoking is ghastly) and dance the Charleston in the Roaring Twenties.
I learned and fell in love with the roaring twenties; the flappers, the slickers, the slang, the excess and the scepticism that came along with it through reading the literature of the man who wrote it to perfection. I can’t imagine this glittering era without my mind instantly painting a picture that has been conjured up by language as evocative as a John Held illustration. It is indeed the astounding Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald that I have fallen in love with. I liked him in Jelly Bean, Bernice Bobs her Hair and A Diamond as Big as the Ritz. I was infatuated by him in This Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night and by the time I read The Beautiful and Damned I had decided it was a full blown wondrous affair- as exciting and passionate as any flapper romance or cocktail party.
The books of my Fitzgerald collection are like indexes, with self adhesive tabs that I use to indicate all the reasons I love the twenties, literature and Fitzgerald. How I had read myself around the world, Roberto Bolano and Paulo Coelho of Spain, Melissa Panarello of Sicily, Gabriel Garcia Marques of Colombia, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico and Isabelle Allende of Chile, before reading the man that would change the way I read literature forever is a wonder. He is to me, the great novelist that puts into context all the other great novels of the world.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul Minnesota, in 1896. His debut novel, This Side of Paradise, was published in 1920. It was the first novel that would delineate the younger generation and possibly even helped to shape it. The 1920s was the earliest era in which children were relieved the duties of adults. Teenagers had the luxury of their adolescence and youth began to form its own culture.
The impact of this debut novel could not have been predicted, it became a bestseller in just two weeks. He became the man that was on the tips of everyone’s tongues, the media celebrated him, the debutantes formed their lives around him and parents winced, with the hope that this new flapper was just a fictitious character. She attended petting parties, she enjoyed flirting, she was at her best when the centre of a man’s attention and took great pleasure in watching herself being admired. This was a completely different mindset to the Victorian parents of these children and their reaction may explain why Fitzgerald’s novels were rejected in the outset.
Fitzgerald wrote continuously throughout his childhood and managed to have plays, short stories and musicals published in school publications, staged in school productions and eventually in his local theatre. But it wasn’t until 1917 that Fitzgerald he would begin to pen the novel that has made him the famous literary that he is today. Fitzgerald wrote one hundred and twenty thousand words in just three months. The novel was titled The Romantic Egotist and like many of his novels was a semi-autobiographical tale. Unfortunately the novel was rejected, with a letter accompanying the manuscript stating that, ‘It was too crude and too incoherent.’ B. F Wilson for the Smart Set wrote in 1924. Desperate for money and keen to write, Fitzgerald applied to work as a News reporter, but was unsuccessful in finding work. Eventually he found a day job as a Copywriter for Barron Collier and wrote short stories in the evening. Fitzgerald collected over one hundred and twenty two rejections of his short stories from editors. He tried his hand at writing advertising concepts, poems, songs and movies but this was with no avail. Still determined to be published Fitzgerald quit his copywriting job and put his heart and soul into rewriting The Romantic Egotist, which soon became published as This Side of Paradise. Two months after Fitzgerald found himself the literary celebrity all nine of his short stories were printed in magazines.
He made his sweetheart, Zelda Sayre his wife the same year his novel was published. The couple began to live out the material which would be the life line of his novels. They had a great hunger for life and lived it with an enthusiasm that was almost limitless. They were icons in New York, became part of the literary expat crowd in Paris and the Riviera, where they socialised with the likes of Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos, and flocked to Italy where Fitzgerald wrote. Just two years after Fitzgerald’s claim to fame he published his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned. The novel documents the romantic and tragic story of his life and love for his wife, the flapper he made iconic.
Fitzgerald was crowned the chronicler of the flapper, renowned for his sensationalism of this young girl. He wrote them with a faultless and astute observation. Although at times this new modern girl may have exasperated him, he was undeniably intrigued by her and all that she thought she was afforded. With the power of literature, the press and publicity Fitzgerald had created the flapper that every girl wanted to be and every man wanted to marry. The most enviable and coveted flapper was indeed a Fitzgerald flapper – she was Mrs Zelda Fitzgerald (Grace Patch), the woman he marries in The Beautiful and Damned. Between the artistic couple they have documented the flapper’s readings, her dancing, her fashion and her makeup. They critiqued her morals, made observations on her love life, debated her ambitions and made her one of the most fascinating women in literature and history today. It would appear that the fast life caught up with Fitzgerald, died in 1940 of a heart attack at just forty years old, leaving his novel The Last Tycoon unfinished.
- Fitzgerald’s Long Winding Road (writeabetternovel.net)