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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

'No Second Acts'

 “My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Born in September of 1896, Fitzgerald is one of the greatest American writers with a remarkable output during his very short life.  In his 44 years his star burned brightly in the writing universe, primarily through brilliant short stories – which many find surprising because of his very well-known novel The Great Gatsby.  But Fitzgerald wrote hundreds of short stories that truly were reflective of what’s known as “The Jazz Age” and the writers who inhabited it, “The Lost Generation.”

A native of St. Paul, Minn., where his childhood home is still open to visitors, Fitzgerald attended Princeton, but dropped out to join the army during World War I.  It was at Princeton that he began his writing and in the early years of the army that he met his future wife Zelda, also a major influence on his writing efforts.  

A few years ago I purchased a set of Fitzgerald novels, marketed as key examples of the writings of the Lost Generation.  At the time, I thought these were just four of his many works.  Instead they were THE four of his novels – Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, and Tender Is the Night.  He said he kept wanting to write more, but never could generate his earlier enthusiasm.  It led to his famous statement, “There are no second acts in American lives.”

F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald was named for his distant cousin, the famous poet Francis Scott Key, and at times said he felt too much pressure to produce.  That, many said, drove him to drink and early death.  But it might just as well have been the pressure to produce that led to his death.  “At 18 our convictions are hills from which we look; at 45 they are caves in which we hide,” he wrote in anticipation of that upcoming birthday, which he never reached.

“All good writing,” he said, “is like swimming under water and holding your breath.”

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