Meet the top 100: F. Scott Fitzgerald

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, better known as F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born in Minnesota, USA, on 24 September 1896. His was an upper-middle-class family and his two siblings, including the sister he was named after, Louise Scott Fitzgerald, died before he was born. He would later write: “Well, three months before I was born, my mother lost her other two children… I think I started then to be a writer.”

He attended two Catholic schools, where he began as a published writer, having the first of his stories – a detective story – in print at the age of 13. He continued to hone his skills at Princeton University, where he wrote for the Nassau Lit, the Princeton Tiger and Princeton Triangle Club; his involvement in the latter led him to submit a novel to Charles Scribner’s Sons, which the editor rejected. At Princeton, he met Chicago socialite Ginevra King, who would eventually inspire many characters in his novels and stories, including Daisy in The Great Gatsby.

In 1917 he dropped out and joined the army, having spent more energy on writing than on his academic work. He was stationed at Fort Leavenworth under Dwight Eisenhower, future President and General of the Army. Fitzgerald continued to write, and Scribner’s rejected another novel – The Romantic Egotist – but encouraged him to keep trying.

He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and sent to Camp Sheridan in Alabama; that is where he met Zelda Sayre, who would become the love of his life. He was discharged from the army without having to join the war, and he headed to New York to work for an advertising agency, Barron Collier, in a bid to convince Zelda to marry him. She accepted his proposal, but soon broke it off, worried he wouldn’t be able to support her.

In 1919, Fitzgerald moved back in with his parents to rework his previously rejected novel, and he ended up fixing car roofs for money. Eventually the novel was published with instant success: This Side of Paradise sold over 41,000 copies within a year, convincing Zelda to marry him in 1921. They soon after had a daughter, Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald.

In May 1924, the three of them boarded the SS Minnewaska in New York, heading for Cherbourg in France; they would spend most of the 20s in Paris, with Fitzgerald joining the Lost Generation, along with writers like Ernest Hemingway. He published The Great Gatsby, which would eventually be his best-known novel, the following year. It was critically acclaimed, but still earnings from his first novel maintained their lifestyle. He also wrote stories for magazines, which he referred to as ‘whoring’ – he would write authentically, then change the stories to meet what he believed were the demands for publication.

Fitzgerald had been a heavy drinker since Princeton, and during his time in Paris this became more apparent. According to Hemingway, alcohol was a poison to Fitzgerald – in A Moveable Feast he recounts many strange episodes where a few glasses of wine would render him incapacitated. Hemingway also believed that Zelda would encourage her husband to drink so he would be less successful in his writing.

In a letter sent in 1922, Hemingway wrote: “I never had any respect for him ever, except for his lovely, golden, wasted talent. If he would have had fewer pompous musings and a little sounder education it would have been better maybe. But anytime you got him all straightened out and taking his work seriously Zelda would get jealous and knock him out of it.”

Indeed, there was some professional rivalry for a short time: Zelda published a novel of her own in 1932, Save Me the Waltz, but Fitzgerald saw it as her using his material – their relationship. He published his own novel about their relationship two years later: Tender Is the Night.

In the late 20s, Fitzgerald was invited to Hollywood to write a comedy movie. He met and started an affair with Lois Moran, who was his muse for a while. Having suffered with schizophrenia, Zelda’s health deteriorated and Fitzgerald had her admitted to hospital in North Carolina in 1936. The following year, he moved to Hollywood to continue working on movies.

By that time, his heavy drinking had taken its toll and he had two heart attacks, the second of which would kill him in 1940 at the age of 44.

Although he struggled to achieve fame and fortune in life, Fitzgerald became a legendary writer after his death. His five novels (including the posthumously-published The Last Tycoon) reflected the Jazz Age and ultimately became bestsellers; writers like T. S. Eliot and J. D. Salinger praised The Great Gatsby in particular, which would prove his most successful novel.

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote of Fitzgerald: “He had many good, good friends, more than anyone I knew. But I enlisted as one more, whether I could be of any use to him or not. If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one.”

Why is he on the list?

Every author on the list has earned their place through scores assigned to various prizes, sales, reader ratings and expert collections.

  • Best-selling books – Wikipedia (various sources)
  • Goodreads Best Books Ever
  • The Best 100 Authors
  • Ranker
  • The Book Depository
  • For the Love of Books
  • The Ideal Library
  • The Greatest Books of All Time
  • 100 life-changing books
  • 100 Greatest novels of all time
  • The 100 best novels written in English
  • Book awards: The 100 Favorite Novels of Librarians

Read about Fitzgerald

  1. Scott Fitzgerald on Writing by Larry W. Phillips
  2. Scott Fitzgerald by Arthur Mizener


Image: Wikimedia Commons