Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, was largely autobiographical and dealt with love and greed. Almost overnight, the 24-year-old Fitzgerald became one of the country's most promising writers. He embraced his overnight celebrity and ended up becoming quite the playboy, although his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, "helped to cement his status as one of the great chroniclers and satirists of the culture of wealth, extravagance and ambition that emerged during the affluent 1920s—what became known as the Jazz Age."
In 1924, Fitzgerald moved to France where he wrote what would become his greatest novel, The Great Gatsby." In this book he critiques materialism, love, and the American Dream. Even though the book was received well, it didn't really reach its true stature until the 1950's and 60's as "the definitive portrait of the "Roaring Twenties," as well as one of the greatest American novels ever written."
Fitzgerald's later years were a progressive decline into alcoholism and writer's block. His wife suffered from mental illness and had to be hospitalized. However, in 1934, Fitzgerald published his fourth novel, Tender is the Night, which was a commercial failure, yet has become one of the "great American novels." He began work on a fifth novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, but succumbed to a heart attack when he was only half finished in December, 1940.
Although Fitzgerald died believing himself to be a failure, his works, in particular The Great Gatsby, went on to become one of the greatest American novels and is now required reading for most high school students in the United States and Canada.
And this is where I insert my personal note of having taught and still teach the novel The Great Gatsby. The first time I read it, I was overwhelmed at the way Fitzgerald has with words. He describes so many things with such colourful (and I really do mean colourful) language. There is the green light at the end of the dock of Daisy's place, the grey of the Valley of Ashes, the white clothes Daisy wears, along with gold, silver, blue, pink, red, and yellow. In the latest movie version of the story, starring Leonardo dicaprio, the colours are brilliant and obvious. dicaprio states that he remembers "reading the book in high school and always thinking of Gatsby as this strong, stoic, suave, mysterious man who had everything under control. But when I read it as an adult I realised he is a hollow man, a shell of a person trying to find meaning, who is not completely in touch with reality. He’s a great tragedy and the story’s a great tragedy, too."
Personally, I'd like to go back to view the original movie that starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow so that I can compare and contrast the two movies. I saw it so long ago and remember not really liking it. However, now that I've dissected the book in order to help my students, I'd like to take a second look.
If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend the latest version.
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