As a follow up to reading F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories, I read his biography, Under the Influence, by E. Ray Canterbery and Thomas D. Birch. I assigned myself the goal of learning about the man as an author and a person for research toward a novel I’m working on.
As I suspected, my opinion of him hasn’t changed, and I’m seriously reconsidering the other Fitzgerald commentaries, biographies, and novels I had planned to read to gain a better understanding of him. The role to which he will be assigned in my new novel doesn’t warrant more than what I’ve already completed.
Under the Influence was well-written, highly informative, and laid a large portion of the blame for Fitzgerald’s failure at Zelda’s feet. It is well known now that Zelda suffered from schizophrenia and that her mental illness wreaked havoc upon their marriage. However, one must step back and analyze why Fitzgerald married Zelda in the first place.
Fitzgerald had lost the love of his life, Ginevra King, who represented two of his lifelong ambitions: wealth and power. Zelda, also beautiful and rich, seemed a means to an end where his desires were concerned. Then there was the fact that she was the rebound girl, and everybody knows you don’t fall in love with, let alone marry, the rebound girl. His actions make me question whether he truly loved either woman or was simply satisfying his need for a “top girl.”
I don’t blame Fitzgerald for not being able to predict Zelda’s illness, but he could have handled it better once she started displaying signs. Even before she was diagnosed, when she was unable to curb her outlandish conduct, instead of exercising maturity and control, more often than not Fitzgerald would join her in bizarre behavior. The biography presents him as a caring family man, but responsible family men don’t indulge bad actions.
While Zelda was a victim of a condition not of her own choosing, Fitzgerald was a prisoner of a condition of his own making. He alone was responsible for his excessive drinking and all the negative effects it had on his life, his family, and his writing. Throughout his life, Fitzgerald relied on alcohol to bolster his insecure nature, and it cost him both personal and professional relationships as well as reputation among fellow authors.
The biography reinforced my belief that Fitzgerald wrote himself into much, possibly all, of his work. His fictional characters reflect his ambitions, goals, beliefs, failures, and successes. One really doesn’t need to read the autobiographical Crack Up essays to obtain a clear picture of the man. Although I don’t care for his writing, I still find it sad that he squandered his talent chasing the idea of the American Dream, specifically the portion where he was steeped in wealth.