F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Roaring Twenties (Part I)

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was named after his cousin, Francis Scott Key—the composer of the “Star-Spangled Banner. He was born in Minnesota to a fairly well-off Catholic family. He attended Princeton University in 1913, mostly concentrating on developing his talent as a writer for the school’s drama group and newspaper. He dropped out of college in 1917 and joined the U.S. Army, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1)
F. Scott Fitzgerald

While serving in the Army, Scott first met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre. He was never deployed to Europe during World War I and was discharged in 1918 after the war ended and moved to New York. Zelda accepted his marriage proposal in 1919 after his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was accepted for publication by Charles Scribner. That firm published it in 1920, and its instant success launched Fitzgerald’s writing career. The couple’s only daughter,”Scottie” was born in 1921.

Zelda Fitzgerald
Zelda Fitzgerald

F. Scott began writing professionally in the 1920’s, during the period when American culture became the epicenter of world popular culture. He noted that “America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it.” This series of Litchatte columns will discuss the changing culture of the Roaring 20’s and consider how Fitzgerald’s writing reflected the hopes, excesses, and disillusionments of that “Jazz Age.” During this period, new fashions, music, and lifestyles were cropping up in almost every aspect of American life. The gap between the rich and everyone else was very great by 1928, with 1% of the households controlling over 50% of the wealth. Newly minted millionaires indulged in every whim. Their cars, homes, clothes, vacations, and schools were luxurious, and their means to achieve even greater wealth were more accessible than most Americans. Their parties were wild, the jazz was hot, and the fads were completely off the wall. Women became the target of all kinds of new products and fashions. They embraced new freedoms, cutting their hair, applying makeup, and tossing out dowdy fashions of the past for shorter skirts and slinkier form-fitting attire and sex was the new openly hot topic.

fashions of the 20's

New Fashions of the 1920’s

With the new right to vote, women began to express themselves at the polls. They also took up vices that long had been the province of men: smoking, dancing, drinking, and all-around bawdy behavior. International Travel via lavishly designed ocean-liners became more luxurious than ever. Several of the most famous American writers and celebrities, like the Fitzgerald’s and Ernest Hemingway, moved to Paris, where they either began or completed several of their most famous short stories and novels. However, writer and feminist, Gertrude Stein, coined these Americans as the “Lost Generation,” because she sensed that they were disillusioned and without goals or values.

Portrait of Gertrude Stein
Portrait of Gertrude Stein

In the next Litchatte, I will consider some other trends of the Roaring Twenties and look at how some of Fitzgerald’s Short Stories reflected this important period of American History.

Dr. Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education from Temple University (1973), a Master’s Degree of Arts in English Literature from Virginia Commonwealth University (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech (1988). He is married and has three adult daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. He is the founder and chief editor of this literary blog and is an editor for the International Correctional Education Journal. He is Co-Editor of the 2017 Poetry Book, Mystic Verses by Shambhushivananda. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, and the Facilities Planning Committee Coordinator at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, VA, and writes a monthly column for the Museum website, thepoeblog.org. He has taught literature classes on Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and F.Scott Fitzgerald (thus far) at the OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Richmond. He is the organizer and Coördinator of The First Fridays Classic Book Club, and is the co-organizer, along with Rebecca Elizabeth Jones, of the VCU Working Titles Book Club. Contact Murray at ellisonms2@vcu.edu, or leave a Comment at the bottom of any post.


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