Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, American novelist, essayist, short story and screenwriter, is born into an Irish Catholic family on September 24, 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is best known for his novels depicting the flamboyance and excess of the Jazz Age, a term he popularized. During his lifetime, he publishes four novels, four collections of short stories, and 164 short stories. Although he achieves temporary popular success and fortune in the 1920s, he receives critical acclaim only after his death, and is now widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.
The son of middle-class Irish Catholics Edward and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald is raised primarily in New York. He attends Princeton University, but owing to a failed relationship with socialite Ginevra King and a preoccupation with writing, he drops out in 1917 to join the United States Army. While stationed in Alabama, he romances Zelda Sayre, a Southern debutante who belongs to Montgomery‘s exclusive country-club set. Although she rejects Fitzgerald initially, because of his lack of financial prospects, she agrees to marry him after he publishes the commercially successful This Side of Paradise (1920). The novel becomes a cultural sensation and cements his reputation as one of the eminent writers of the decade.
Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922), propels him further into the cultural elite. To maintain his affluent lifestyle, he writes numerous stories for popular magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s: The National Weekly, and Esquire. During this period, he frequents Europe, where he befriends modernist writers and artists of the “Lost Generation” expatriate community, including Ernest Hemingway. His third novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), receives generally favorable reviews but is a commercial failure, selling fewer than 23,000 copies in its first year. Despite its lackluster debut, The Great Gatsby is now widely praised, with some labeling it the “Great American Novel.” Following the deterioration of his wife’s mental health and her placement in a mental institute for schizophrenia, he completes his final novel, Tender Is the Night (1934).
Struggling financially because of the declining popularity of his works amid the Great Depression, Fitzgerald turns to Hollywood, writing and revising screenplays. While living in Hollywood, he cohabits with columnist Sheilah Graham, his final companion before his death. After a long struggle with alcoholism, he attains sobriety only to die of a heart attack on December 21, 1940, at the age of 44. His friend Edmund Wilson completes and publishes an unfinished fifth novel, The Last Tycoon (1941), after Fitzgerald’s death.
At the time of his death, the Roman Catholic Church denies the family’s request that Fitzgerald, a non-practicing Catholic, be buried in the family plot in the Catholic St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. He is buried instead with a simple Protestant service at Rockville Union Cemetery. When Zelda Fitzgerald dies in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in 1948, she is originally buried next to him at Rockville Union. In 1975, Fitzgerald’s daughter Scottie successfully petitions to have the earlier decision revisited and her parents’ remains are moved to the family plot in Saint Mary’s.