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Go and Read: F Scott Fitzgerald

Scott Fitzgerald's works are love and unhappiness and beauty and drunkenness. His writing is poetry masquerading as prose that rises and rages like a piano sounding and then falls soft and leaves the reader with an ache. His books are the joyous party that ends with a broken-heart and a hangover. He is a great of American literature who died with only a few around his grave and slipped away quietly into nothingness for a decade. The world was slow to wonder where he'd gone but his name was redeemed in the mid-50s. His novels and short stories deserve visits and revisits. Fitzgerald was famous by 1920 for his first novel This Side of Paradise, published that year. He was 23 and hopelessly romantic, writing to win back the great love in his life, Zelda Sayre. The book allowed him to live off his short story fees. He was a hit, capturing the essence of "the Lost Generation" in pieces for the Saturday Evening Post and publishing three story collections in six years. The Beautiful and Damned was out by 1922 and this second novel captured the glittering life he and Zelda lived. The book held within it the glorious decadence of their early years and the unravelling, tumultuous havoc husband and wife inflicted upon each other and themselves. Fitzgerald's darkest feelings about his drinking emerge toward the end pages in a frightening, unredeemable downward spiral. His writing in these books was sad and magnificent, his descriptive work able to capture a bar of a song and the perfume of the couple dancing to it within a single sentence. What followed were parties and, as he coined it, the Jazz Age. The 20s made legend of his exploits; he and Zelda - beautiful, depressive Zelda - became known for their outrageous behaviour and drunken abandon. Stories circulated of them arriving at parties in their pyjamas, having been told to 'come as you are', or of them playing in fountains of fine hotels or stripping off to shock diners. They were young and lived as if insatiable. The spirit of the early marriage is perhaps best considered by example; the wedding night, where they consummated their vows on table no. 7 of favourite New York speakeasy Chumley's. Then 1925. The Great Gatsby. Though there have been a good few nominees, this masterpiece may fairly be considered The Great American Novel. Fitzgerald crafted and revised all his writing continuously and consequently each word is an exquisite pleasure. His talent was perhaps how he wrote rather than what he wrote, though this seems unfair of a man who penned his way out of mountainous debt with a short narratives. Gatsby should have been enough to secure his place in the 20th century Canon, but initial sales were poor and his light began to flicker. Though he only wrote sober and went months wringing dry, Scott had partied too hard and washed thin his health with continued abuse of gin and long sleepless nights. He became a caricature. He wrote to Zelda: "God, I am a forgotten man." His exploits were no longer told at dinner parties in loud laughing voices light with praise, but whispered with disdain and embarrassment. By the 1930s, Zelda was mad and Scott lost. He completed one more novel, the bleak but captivating Tender is the Night (1934), and died before another, The Love of the Last Tycoon, was completed. He went with a heart attack, knowing he was broken, calling himself 'a cracked plate.' If Fitzgerald is a gin-soaked ghost somewhere, he can be happy his contribution to modern literature stands upright. Hunter S. Thompson famously typed out the whole of The Great Gatsby on an ancient typewriter so that he might learn the writing style. Scott's short story character 'Basil' was an uncomfortable youth, confused with his own introspective thoughts and ill at ease with those around him; JD Salinger found success calling him Holden Caulfield and putting him in The Catcher in the Rye. Fitzgerald also encouraged and edited Ernest Hemmingway's work during the late 1920s, helping to shape the magnificent genius of his friend. Forever remembered for making the 20s roar, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald died 71 years ago this winter. His work remains as youthful and vivid as it did when written and as despairing as a reader can take. He wrote with time, and time is needed to appreciate his delicate turns of phrase and sharp satires. Reading him in a night is like drinking three bottles of damned good wine in one go - it's just too much. Go slowly with him, saviour his victories and hurt with the tragedies. )

Next article in issue 46

Headsup Sheffield Jazz.

Sheffield Jazz is a mainstay on the local circuit, having operated in its current form since 1992. Hosting a show every two weeks throughout…

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