Monday, September 24, 2007

"Gatsby believed in the green light."

From today's Writer's Almanac
It's the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, born in St. Paul (1896), who was a student at Princeton University when he fell in love with a beautiful rich girl named Ginevra King. She got engaged to somebody else because Fitzgerald didn't have many prospects. He later said, "She was the first girl I ever loved ... [and] she ended up by throwing me over with the most supreme boredom and indifference."

But that experience gave Fitzgerald an idea for a novel about a young man named Amory Blaine, who falls in love with a beautiful blond debutante named Rosalind Connage and then loses her because she doesn't want to marry someone with so little money. Fitzgerald struggled to write the book in his parents' home in St. Paul, pinning revision notes to his curtains and eating all his meals in his bedroom. He called the novel This Side of Paradise, sent it out for publication in early September of 1919, and a couple of weeks later got word that it would be published. Fitzgerald was so excited that he ran outside his house and shouted the news to passing cars and people in the street. He later wrote, "That week, the postman rang and rang, and I paid off my terrible small debts, bought a suit, and woke up every morning into a world of ineffable toploftiness and promise."

The publication of This Side of Paradise in 1920 made Fitzgerald famous almost overnight, and it won him the heart of a woman named Zelda Sayre, whom he'd met while he was in the military. He finally got the girl, he got to be a star, and he got to be rich. He went off to Paris to write his great masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), about a wealthy bootlegger who wears pink suits and throws extravagant parties and is obsessed with winning back the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald was never entirely satisfied with the main character, Jay Gatsby. He said, "I never at any one time saw him clear myself — for he started as one man I knew and then changed into myself." The novel got good reviews, but it flopped with readers and never even sold out its first printing. By the time the stock market crashed in 1929, Fitzgerald's marriage was falling apart and his books weren't selling anymore.

When Fitzgerald's last complete novel, Tender is the Night, came out in 1934, it got mixed reviews. He died in 1940 at the age of 44. That year, all of his books sold a total of 72 copies, with royalties of $13. Today, The Great Gatsby sells about 300,000 copies a year.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story."


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