When I think about F. Scott Fitzgerald, I think of the roaring 1920s, flapper dresses, jazz, and his books – full of gracefully flowing sentences.
I think about the iconic American novel, The Great Gatsby, also This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned. But what of the man behind all of this?
If you want to know about F. Scott Fitzgerald the man, start with something he wrote about himself, entitled The Crack-Up.
This is a short piece on the perceived failings of his time and his mind. The tale of his past, a pull into reality with undue hurry and confusion, and also the “big sudden blow” – his deliberate and weak self-vacuuming from it all.
He writes, “All in the same month I became bitter about such things.”
Singular in its honesty, The Crack-Up is Fitzgerald’s self-deprecating fumble, it's about his hermitic idiosyncrasies and social ponderings, also about the excitement that Hollywood movies ripped out from under the novel. His words administer a serious pull and maybe a smile, because we recognize them in ourselves.
This rambling is also a statement, his sheer determination to start from the bottom and make the climb back up.
The young Fitzgerald was an idealist. It is important to realize, he was first an observer, a Nick Carraway swept up wide-eyed by the jewels of Manhattan in the nineteen-twenties. From midwestern nobility to a Princeton dropout, Fitzgerald was obsessed with social standing and class, though it was a love-hate obsession. He writes, “I would always cherish an abiding distrust, an animosity, toward the leisure class.” As we can see from Gatsby’s iconic race to embody a lifestyle of prestige, so it was as well for Fitzgerald. When This Side of Paradise was published in 1920, his fame swiftly arrived. Newfound fame flooded the young couple into the heightened and glamorous partying spree of NYC and later, Paris.
The Crack-Up was written in 1934. When originally published in Esquire, his friends were grasping to get rid of it, surprised, confused or mad. Fitzgerald was writing this while pieces of his personal life and fading celebrity reputation slowly separated; a fissure that never repaired. Patricia Hampl, in the American Scholar, writes of The Crack-Up, “Though he describes his psychological and spiritual breakdown, he doesn’t spill many autobiographical beans.”
During this year, Fitzgerald was living in Baltimore, working and scratching at what would become Tender is the Night. Two years ago his wife, Zelda, had been admitted back-and-forth to the Johns Hopkins hospital for psychiatric care with schizophrenia, although there is dispute on this diagnosis. During this period he was fiddling, writing and steadily drinking, waiting out for something. Three years later in 1937, Fitzgerald abandoned his institutionalized wife and private-schooled daughter. He ran away from his part in the once glorious but now dispersed family and moved to LA to work as a screenwriter. He died three years later, probably from alcoholism, almost finishing The Last Tycoon, at age 44.
“All rather inhuman and undernourished, isn’t it? Well that, children, is the true sign of cracking up.”
Some links of Interest:
The Crack-Up and other stories (Full text on page 13)
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