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Bruce Bawer

Bruce Bawer a freelance journalist who lives in New York, is working on a study of American poetry, The Middle Generation. The generation includes Delmore Schwarz, Jarrell, Berryman and Lowell.

Fairyland

Bruce Bawer, 2 May 1985

Scott Fitzgerald – who was renowned in his lifetime as much for his escapades with Zelda as for his contribution to literature – would doubtless be gratified to know how profoundly most literate citizens of the English-speaking world now admire The Great Gatsby, Tender is the night, and a number of his short stories. Yet one wonders how he would react to the news that, in 1985, the world continues to be even more fascinated by his magical, misguided life than by his fiction. Certainly there cannot be many who are unfamiliar with the outlines of the Scott Fitzgerald story: the early years in St Paul as the humiliated son of a failed businessman (and as the inordinately proud descendant of Francis Scott Key, author of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’); the glorious salad days at Princeton University, which he left without a degree; the wartime courtship of Zelda Sayre, the belle of Montgomery, Alabama; the sudden fame – and the marriage to Zelda – that followed the publication of This Side of Paradise in 1920; the wild, drunken parties in New York and Maryland, on Long Island and the Riviera, during the roaring Twenties; the flapper stories for the Saturday Evening Post which set the tone of the ‘Jazz Age’ while paying the Fitzgeralds’ bills for a decade; the friendships with Edmund Wilson, Ring Lardner, Gerald and Sara Murphy, and above all with Hemingway; the insanity that crippled Zelda during the Thirties, and the alcoholism that devastated Scott; the prolonged composition and demoralising failure of Tender is the night; Zelda’s institutionalisation in North Carolina and the attempted resuscitation of his career by means of a scriptwriting stint in Hollywood; the affair with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, who helped him climb back on the wagon and encouraged his return to novel-writing with the never-completed but extremely impressive The Last Tycoon; and, finally, the heart attack at the age of 43.’

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