A Short Autobiography

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Overview

A self-portrait of a great writer. A Short Autobiography charts Fitzgerald's progression from exuberant and cocky with "What I think and Feel at 25", to mature and reflective with "One Hundred False Starts" and "The Death of My Father." Compiled and edited by Professor James West, this revealing collection of personal essays and articles reveals the beloved author in his own words.

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Overview

A self-portrait of a great writer. A Short Autobiography charts Fitzgerald's progression from exuberant and cocky with "What I think and Feel at 25", to mature and reflective with "One Hundred False Starts" and "The Death of My Father." Compiled and edited by Professor James West, this revealing collection of personal essays and articles reveals the beloved author in his own words.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

His life has been the subject of biographies, novels, movies, and even musicals; but unlike so many of his contemporaries, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) didn't write an autobiography. What he did leave us are 19 revealing personal essays that editor James L.W. West III has gathered and edited. Their topics and tones are various; from the exhilarating "What I Think and Feel at 25" to the reflective "The Death of My Father." Sides of a bestselling author we have never seen.

Library Journal
At the time of his death, Fitzgerald had not published an autobiographical work of any sort—something almost unimaginable in today's climate. Now James L.W. West III, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, has gathered 19 personal essays written from 1920 to 1940 and arranged them chronologically to disclose Fitzgerald's life story. From "What I Think and Feel at 25" to "One Hundred False Starts," these essays would seem to serve as an intellectual autobiography and should inspire Fitzgerald readers new or returning. With all the maundering memoirs out there, it should be a pleasure to read something like this, which carries more weight.
Kirkus Reviews

The title suggests something more significant than this collection of magazine essays delivers.

While the preface promises that this is "as close as we can now come to an autobiography" of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), most of these pieces for the likes of the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, College Humor et al. are breezy and slight, lacking the scope, depth and detail of autobiography—you'd never know from this volume that he'd wed a woman named Zelda or the nature of the troubles that ensued—let alone the richness of his fiction. Frequently strapped for cash, Fitzgerald had apparently proposed such a volume on at least a couple of occasions to his legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, who didn't think it to be worthy of a book. In fact, the title comes from one of the shorter pieces, a New Yorker casual from 1929 that traces a life through a progression of drink ("1923: Oceans of Canadian Ale with R. Lardner in Great Neck, Long Island"). Yet Fitzgerald fans will delight in the book's engagingly playful tone (which has the author switching from first to third person in referring to himself), the struggles of the creative process ("It would be nice to be able to distinguish useful work from mere labor expended. Perhaps that is part of the work itself—to find the difference") and the sense of literary mission in speaking to and for one's own generation. In the cheeky "What I Think and Feel at 25," Fitzgerald writes, "As old people run the world, an enormous camouflage has been built up to hide the fact that only young people are attractive or important." But, as the same essay acknowledges, "When I'm thirty I won't bethisme—I'll be somebody else."

This volume will mainly interest those who have already read everything else by and about the author ofThe Great Gatsby.

From the Publisher
"An intellectual autobiography [that] should inspire Fitzgerald readers new or returning...a pleasure to read." -Library Journal

“Jaunty, funny, sparkling, and self-mocking, and beneath the glinting wit, deeply reflective.” –Booklist

“Frequently funny and fast-paced.” –Associated Press

“Fitzgerald never wrote an autobiography, but this is the next best thing: A collection of 19 personal essays written over the course of his career. They include lighthearted, amusing pieces clearly designed to appeal to magazine editors and casual readers, as well as grimmer fare carved from the center of a broken heart..” –Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439199060
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 8/2/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 327,678
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1896, attended Princeton University, and published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920. That same year he married Zelda Sayre and the couple divided their time among New York, Paris, and the Riviera, becoming a part of the American expatriate circle that included Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos. Fitzgerald was a major new literary voice, and his masterpieces include The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. He died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of forty-four, while working on The Love of the Last Tycoon. For his sharp social insight and breathtaking lyricism, Fitzgerald is known as one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century.

Biography

The greatest writers often function in multifaceted ways, serving as both emblems of their age and crafters of timeless myth. F. Scott Fitzgerald surely fits this description. His work was an undeniable product of the so-called Jazz Age of the 1920s, yet it has a quality that spans time, reaching backward into gothic decadence and forward into the future of a rapidly decaying America. Through five novels, six short story collections, and one collection of autobiographical pieces, Fitzgerald chronicled a precise point in post-WWI America, yet his writing resonates just as boldly today as it did nearly a century ago.

Fitzgerald's work was chiefly driven by the disintegration of America following World War I. He believed the country to be sinking into a cynical, Godless, depraved morass. He was never reluctant to voice criticism of America's growing legions of idle rich. Recreating a heated confrontation with Ernest Hemingway in a short story called "The Rich Boy," Fitzgerald wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

The preceding quote may sum Fitzgerald's philosophy more completely than any other, yet he also hypocritically embodied much of what he claimed to loathe. Fitzgerald spent money freely, threw lavish parties, drank beyond excess, and globe-trotted with his glamorous but deeply troubled wife Zelda. Still, in novel after novel, he sought to expose the great chasm that divided the haves from the have-nots and the hollowness of wealth. In This Side of Paradise (1920) he cynically follows opulent, handsome Amory Blaine as he bounces aimlessly from Princeton to the military to an uncertain, meaningless future. In The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) Fitzgerald paints a withering portrait of a seemingly idyllic marriage between a pair of socialites that crumbles in the face of Adam Patch's empty pursuit of profit and the fading beauty of his vane wife Gloria.

The richest example of Fitzgerald's disdain for the upper class arrived three years later. The Great Gatsby is an undoubted American classic, recounting naïve Nick Carraway's involvement with a coterie of affluent Long Islanders, and his ultimate rejection of them when their casual decadence leads only to internal back-stabbing and murder. Nick is fascinated by the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who had made the fatal mistake of stepping outside of his lower class status to pursue the lovely but self-centered Daisy Buchanan.

In The Great Gatsby, all elements of Fitzgerald's skills coalesced to create a narrative that is both highly readable and subtly complex. His prose is imbued with elegant lyricism and hard-hitting realism. "It is humor, irony, ribaldry, pathos and loveliness," Edwin C. Clark wrote of the book in the New York Times upon its 1925 publication. "A curious book, a mystical, glamorous story of today. It takes a deeper cut at life than hitherto has been essayed by Mr. Fitzgerald."

Gatsby is widely considered to be Fitzgerald's masterpiece and among the very greatest of all American literature. It is the ultimate summation of his contempt for the Jazz-Age with which he is so closely associated. Gatsby is also one of the clearest and saddest reflections of his own destructive relationship with Zelda, which would so greatly influence the mass of his work.

Fitzgerald only managed to complete one more novel -- Tender is the Night -- before his untimely death in 1940. An unfinished expose of the Hollywood studio system titled The Love of the Last Tycoon would be published a year later. Still The Great Gatsby remains his quintessential novel. It has been a fixture of essential reading lists for decades and continues to remain an influential work begging to be revisited. It has been produced for the big screen three times and was the subject of a movie for television starring Toby Stephens, Mira Sorvino, and Paul Rudd as recently as 2000. Never a mere product of a bygone age, F. Scott Fitzgerald's greatest work continues to evade time.

Good To Know

In 1937, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood to pursue a screenwriting career. He only completed a single screenplay Three Comrades during this time before being fired for his excessive drinking.

He held a very romantic view of Princeton before attending the university in 1913. However, his failure to maintain adequate grades or become the football star he dreamed to be lead to an early end to his studies in 1917.

Fitzgerald owes a his name to another famous American writer. He was named after Francis Scott Key, the composer of "The Star Spangled Banner," who also happened to be a distant relative of Fitzgerald's.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (real name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 24, 1896
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Paul, Minnesota
    1. Date of Death:
      December 21, 1940

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Who’s Who—and Why

The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it.

When I lived in St. Paul and was about twelve I wrote all through every class in school in the back of my geography book and first year Latin and on the margins of themes and declensions and mathematic problems. Two years later a family congress decided that the only way to force me to study was to send me to boarding school. This was a mistake. It took my mind off my writing. I decided to play football, to smoke, to go to college, to do all sorts of irrelevant things that had nothing to do with the real business of life, which, of course, was the proper mixture of description and dialogue in the short story.

But in school I went off on a new tack. I saw a musical comedy called “The Quaker Girl,” and from that day forth my desk bulged with Gilbert & Sullivan librettos and dozens of notebooks containing the germs of dozens of musical comedies.

Near the end of my last year at school I came across a new musical-comedy score lying on top of the piano. It was a show called “His Honor the Sultan,” and the title furnished the information that it had been presented by the Triangle Club of Princeton University.

That was enough for me. From then on the university question was settled. I was bound for Princeton.

I spent my entire freshman year writing an operetta for the Triangle Club. To do this I failed in algebra, trigonometry, coördinate geometry and hygiene. But the Triangle Club accepted my show, and by tutoring all through a stuffy August I managed to come back a sophomore and act in it as a chorus girl. A little after this came a hiatus. My health broke down and I left college one December to spend the rest of the year recuperating in the West. Almost my final memory before I left was of writing a last lyric on that year’s Triangle production while in bed in the infirmary with a high fever.

The next year, 1916–17, found me back in college, but by this time I had decided that poetry was the only thing worth while, so with my head ringing with the meters of Swinburne and the matters of Rupert Brooke I spent the spring doing sonnets, ballads and rondels into the small hours. I had read somewhere that every great poet had written great poetry before he was twenty-one. I had only a year and, besides, war was impending. I must publish a book of startling verse before I was engulfed.

By autumn I was in an infantry officers’ training camp at Fort Leavenworth, with poetry in the discard and a brand-new ambition—I was writing an immortal novel. Every evening, concealing my pad behind “Small Problems for Infantry,” I wrote paragraph after paragraph on a somewhat edited history of me and my imagination. The outline of twenty-two chapters, four of them in verse, was made; two chapters were completed; and then I was detected and the game was up. I could write no more during study period.

This was a distinct complication. I had only three months to live—in those days all infantry officers thought they had only three months to live—and I had left no mark on the world. But such consuming ambition was not to be thwarted by a mere war. Every Saturday at one o’clock when the week’s work was over I hurried to the Officers’ Club, and there, in a corner of a roomful of smoke, conversation and rattling newspapers, I wrote a one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand-word novel on the consecutive week-ends of three months. There was no revising; there was no time for it. As I finished each chapter I sent it to a typist in Princeton.

Meanwhile I lived in its smeary pencil pages. The drills, marches and “Small Problems for Infantry” were a shadowy dream. My whole heart was concentrated upon my book.

I went to my regiment happy. I had written a novel. The war could now go on. I forgot paragraphs and pentameters, similes and syllogisms. I got to be a first lieutenant, got my orders overseas—and then the publishers wrote me that though “The Romantic Egotist” was the most original manuscript they had received for years they couldn’t publish it. It was crude and reached no conclusion.

It was six months after this that I arrived in New York and presented my card to the office boys of seven city editors asking to be taken on as a reporter. I had just turned twenty-two, the war was over, and I was going to trail murderers by day and do short stories by night. But the newspapers didn’t need me. They sent their office boys out to tell me they didn’t need me. They decided definitely and irrevocably by the sound of my name on a calling card that I was absolutely unfitted to be a reporter.

Instead I became an advertising man at ninety dollars a month, writing the slogans that while away the weary hours in rural trolley cars. After hours I wrote stories—from March to June. There were nineteen altogether, the quickest written in an hour and a half, the slowest in three days. No one bought them, no one sent personal letters. I had one hundred and twenty-two rejection slips pinned in a frieze about my room. I wrote movies. I wrote song lyrics. I wrote complicated advertising schemes. I wrote poems. I wrote sketches. I wrote jokes. Near the end of June I sold one story for thirty dollars.

On the Fourth of July, utterly disgusted with myself and all the editors, I went home to St. Paul and informed family and friends that I had given up my position and had come home to write a novel. They nodded politely, changed the subject and spoke of me very gently. But this time I knew what I was doing. I had a novel to write at last, and all through two hot months I wrote and revised and compiled and boiled down. On September fifteenth “This Side of Paradise” was accepted by special delivery.

In the next two months I wrote eight stories and sold nine. The ninth was accepted by the same magazine that had rejected it four months before. Then, in November, I sold my first story to the editors of the “Saturday Evening Post.” By February I had sold them half a dozen. Then my novel came out. Then I got married. Now I spend my time wondering how it all happened.

In the words of the immortal Julius Caesar: “That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.”

Saturday Evening Post, September 18, 1920

© 2011 James L. W. West III

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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Textual Note xiii

Who's Who-and Why (1920) 1

An Interview Mr. Fitzgerald F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920) 5

Three Cities (1921) 8

What I Think and Feel at 25 (1922) 11

Imagination-and a Few Mothers (1923) 25

How to Live on $36,000 a Year (1924) 35

How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year (1924) 51

"Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own!" (1924) 72

How to Waste Material-A Note on My Generation (1926) 85

Princeton (1927) 92

A Short Autobiography (with acknowledgements to Nathan) (1929) 105

Girls Believe in Girls (1930) 109

Salesmanship in the Champs-Élysées (1930) 116

The Death of My Father (unfinished) (1931) 118

One Hundred False Starts (1933) 121

Author's House (1936) 133

Afternoon of an Author (1936) 141

An Author's Mother (1936) 149

My Generation (1939/1940) 154

Annotations 163

Acknowledgments 195

About the Author 197

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