F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fscottsm By Erik Hare

“Fitzgerald loved, hated, and was obsessed by St. Paul.”
– Charles Baxter, author and U of Minnesota Professor

F. Scott Fitzgerald is probably the best known of Saint Paul’s many favorite sons in the arts.  His fables chronicling the Jazz Age have been lauded by critics, readers, and English teachers throughout the world.  The most famous of these, “The Great Gatsby”, is often chosen as the greatest American novel.  What gave him this clear, concise voice of his time?

Deep inside of him, Fitzgerald was always a Saint Paulite. Born in 1896 into a middle class Irish family with a few old money roots, he was able to make his way to college “back East” at Princeton.  The taste of an upper class world of easy money hooked him hard, but he could not shake off his roots.

The feelings of inferiority that came from “being the poorest boy in a rich boy’s school” were never resolved by Fitzgerald, and probably led to his becoming an alcoholic.  Saint Paul was everything that was good and decent to him, but he always felt it had to be left behind.  His ability to see the flappers and the Jazz Age from a view inside yet apart comes from this terrible conflict.

When he was 24 he returned to Saint Paul with his wife Zelda, and began his writing career. Their relationship was difficult, at best, as Zelda’s developing schizophrenia played off of Scott’s incredible drinking habit.

In 1992, the city of Saint Paul first discussed putting up a statue of Fitzgerald in Rice Park (pictured above) A very old woman who was a neighbor on Portland Avenue as a young girl told the Pioneer Press of the late night drunken shouting matches between Scott and Zelda that woke her up.  True to Saint Paul fashion, Fitzgerald was only honored after this woman (and everyone that knew Scott and Zelda) had died.

Eventually, Scott hit it big with “The Great Gatsby”, and could afford to live in New York and Paris and wherever he saw fit.  He was restless when he was away from Saint Paul, and drank even harder. Never being able to duplicate the fame that “Gatsby” brought him, he died after his second heart attack in 1940 at the age of only 44.

Leaving Saint Paul was a big part of what made Fitzgerald immortal, but it ultimately used him up as a writer and killed him.  This was his home, and he made it clear to the world in the elegiac final chapter of “Gatsby:

“One of my most vivid memories is of coming back west from college at Christmas time.  … we caught the site of old acquaintances and the matchings of invitations: “Are you going to the Ordways’?  The Herseys’?  The Schultzes’?” and the long green tickets clasped firmly in gloved hands.  And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.”

“I see now that this has been a story of the West after all – Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we all possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.”

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5 Replies to “F. Scott Fitzgerald”

  1. What does the F stand for?

  2. His full name was:

    Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

    While his family was Irish, they did have a distant link back to the writer of “The Star Spangled Banner”. He was generally known as “Scott”, and his daughter was known as “Scottie”.

    I chose to not mention it, because frankly it’s mentioned a bit too prominently in bios of the guy for my taste, plus I was writing about his (unrelated) Saint Paulishness. But since you mentioned it, it’s a good thing to have in the footnotes of the comment field. Thanks!

  3. Wow… Great entry! Fitzgerald is hands down my favorite writer. I hadn’t thought too much about his St Paul roots…

  4. Maggie McQuillan says:

    Hi Erik! Sure was funny to run into this and find you writing about my distant cousin, Francis Scott (no Key) Fitzgerald. His mother was a McQuillan (Molly as she was known), and it was her father’s money that supported the family. His own father had trouble holding down a job. The link to Francis Scott Key, who penned the Star Spangled Banner, is through the Fitzgerald line, not the the McQuillan. P.F. (Phillip Francis), Molly’s father, came to St. Paul about 1854 from Galena, Ill. and ended up owning a very prosperous dry goods and merchantile store downtown. His brother’s came after and were farmers and plumbers – the McQuillan Brothers Plumbing of today.
    See ya!

  5. Hi, Maggie! (the rest of you have to appreciate how many of us are neighbors)

    Sorry about the “Key”, I thought I looked that up but I guess I got lazy and remembered it wrong on top of that.

    Your story is a very important one to Scott, I think, because his relationship with money and the rich was the driving force of his writing. Coming from a family that had some, but wasn’t doing so well now, had to weigh on him.

    Like many Irish at that time, there were opportunities for upward mobility that weren’t available before. In a place like Saint Paul, I think this was a given, but Princeton probably had a different story. Like my great-grandmother Catherine Shaw, this whole tale is something Irish people were particularly aware of – and, I’d like to think, blazed a trail for later generations.

    What I like best about his stories is how people like the Ordways and the Herseys seem rather quaint, but Fitzgerald is a tragic figure we can still relate to. Jay Gatsby was more enduring than even the largest inheritence.

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