Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, better known on the page as F. Scott Fitzgerald, has been alternately maligned and praised as a literary giant, one who encapsulated the luminosity and decay of the Jazz Age (a term he coined) with equal parts excitement and pain. Virtually all teenagers coming up through American high schools are familiar with The Great Gatsby. Its pages are filled with a timeless sense of longing. There’s something about the outward polish of the 1920s combined with a pervasive sense of inner ambivalence that resonates thoroughly with our own predicament today in the age of the internet.
In 1920, five years before Gatsby’s arrival on the scene, Fitzgerald’s debut novel, This Side of Paradise, was published. The story’s protagonist, Amory Blaine, bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the 24-year-old author. Both spent their early years in the Midwest, both are somewhat rakish, both attended Princeton University and attempted to write there, both failed in their attempts to court their first loves. As for second loves, Blaine fumbles and stumbles with his, and Fitzgerald likewise endeavors to impress a woman named Zelda Sayre and initially fails. Following Paradise’s publication, however, Zelda agreed to marry Fitzgerald, and so began their famously passionate, competitive, and self-destructive union.
Most recently, the Fitzgeralds were brought to life again in the popular imagination through Woody Allen’s 2011 film, Midnight in Paris. The movie sketches some of the after hours goings-on in the Paris of the golden twenties. Allen gestures toward the precariousness of the Fitzgeralds’ relationship in one scene during which the movie’s protagonist stumbles upon Zelda weeping by the banks of the Seine and contemplating throwing herself in. “He doesn’t really love me,” she sobs, referring to her husband. In real life, Zelda struggled with depression, and attempted suicide on more than one occasion. She and Fitzgerald’s close friend, Ernest Hemingway, bitterly disliked one another, Zelda seeing him as competing with her for Scott’s affection and Hemingway seeing her as distracting Scott from his work. Even in Midnight, Hemingway’s character plays it true to life, voicing his disdain for Zelda. Filtered through Allen’s fantasy, the highs and lows of the Fitzgeralds’ relationship vivify in their brief time on the silver screen.
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