Monday, September 24, 2007

Happy Birthday to the King of the Jazz Age

I was scrolling through my e-mails this morning and ran across my daily literary message, The Writer's Almanac, produced by the same folks who put together "A Prairie Home Companion." It's a really interest daily posting of famous dates in literary history, typically the birthdates of world famous writers.

Today is the 111th birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my top five favorite authors of all time. If you've never read any of his work, I highly recommend you do; I was first introduced to Fitzgerald when I read The Great Gatsby during my senior year in high school, and I haven't turned back. I've been particularly drawn to his short stories, including The Pat Hobby Stories, and I've tried to tackle several of his novels over the years. Ultimately, I'd like to finish all of them -- but his books are definitely not things that you should rush through. They should be savored and enjoyed slowly, like a good bourbon -- and the more times you go back and revisit them, the more you're going to find and the more you're going to carry away with you.

Equally as interesting as the tragedy found in many of Fitzgerald's stories, however, is the tragedy of his life. Even now, it's heartbreaking to read about how his life turned out, and how he spent his final years not as the celebrated novelist of the Jazz Age, but rather as a struggling screenwriter in Hollywood. And even after his death in 1940, the tragedy didn't end; when he was brought back to Rockville, Maryland, for burial, the Catholic Church refused to allow him to be buried in his family's plot in their churchyard because of the fact he had fallen away from the church over the course of his life. Instead, he was buried in the old Rockville Union Cemetery, and it wasn't until long after his death that the church changed its mind and allowed for Scott and Zelda to be reinterred in the St. Mary's churchyard (shown here and below).

I wasn't even aware that Fitzgerald had a connection to the area until a few years ago, and now from time I like to make the drive up to Rockville with a copy of one of his books and sit in the churchyard for a while. The photo at the top was taken on one of my first visits, and it's still one of my favorite sites to visit in this area. Had the Washington Post not run their little day-trip column back in 2003 that included the Fitzgerald family plot, I wonder just how many people would have known that hidden in their midst was a small marker to one of the largest personalities in American literary history?

So happy birthday, Scott. Break out the champagne, turn on the old Victrola, grab one of his novels, and throw yourself headlong into a time that -- even 80 years later -- still brings to mind thoughts of Long Island parties, New York dance halls, and people who celebrated the moment and left tomorrow for another time.


rdl said...

Sounds good to me!!
I read Gatsby so long ago, might have to read it again. Thanks for the info.

Dave said...

I have to admit, I've never read anything by Fitzgerald! He was never assigned to me in high school and I've passed him by ever since. But not now. I'm going to read "The Great Gatsby"! There's a copy sitting right here. I'm going to start right this minute!

Dad said...

I read The Great Gatsby - long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Have you seen the abbreviated version by Annie Berke? (

Daisy, I made all this money for you, because I love you.

I cannot reciprocate, because I represent the American Dream.

Now I must die, because I also represent the American Dream.
(Gatsby DIES.)

I hate New Yorkers.


Sarah R. said...

That is hilarious, Dad! Pretty much sums it up - I hope it doesn't spoil the book for anyone who hasn't yet read it.
I always liked the book, but HATED Gatsby as a character. (Although Redford was pretty good in the movie.) On the contrary, I liked Daisy's character, but HATED Mia Farrow in the movie. She seemed a little out of it in all her scenes, but if I'd been married to Frank Sinatra, I'd be out of it for a while, too.

Dave said...

So I read Gatsby this weekend. It was quick, easy to get into, didn't waste time or get bogged down in overly fancy literary pretensions, kind of to my surprise. I thought for all the acclaim the books gotten that it would have been longer, deeper, more demanding on the reader or SOMETHING but I think that a big part of its popularity is how accessible the story is, yet how one can find deeper layers of meaning in it if so inclined.

I also found it interesting to consider the time in which it was written, the aftermath of the Great War but a few years before the stock market crash and ensuing depression. A unique moment in American cultural history with one big calamity in the recent past and an even bigger one just around the corner.

Reading this book also got me thinking a lot about Citizen Kane. To me there seems to be an obvious overlap between the stories but I don't know if that connection is made commonly by scholars and critics or not? Anything to say about that Matt?