F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, but the Middle West was not the setting for any of his major works. After he entered New Jersey's socially prestigious Princeton University he tried to eradicate his origins, though he was unhappy at college in many ways and felt keenly his inferiority to such classmates as the brilliant literary critic Edmund Wilson, and to all those others who were born rich and born Easterners. When the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Army, and in a training camp in Alabama met Zelda, the Southern belle who became his wife and who was the model for most of the beautiful, gay heroines of his fiction. He became a writer to earn enough money to marry her, and his life with her furnished his greatest happiness as well as his greatest misery and pain.
His first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published in 1920, the same year as Sinclair Lewis's Main Street, but the two novels reflect two completely different worlds. Fitzgerald's concerns the world of youth, excited though somewhat cynical, and the parties and love affairs of the rich and the would-be rich; Lewis' deals with solid middle-class citizens of Minnesota, where both writers were born not too many miles apart. Fitzgerald was the spokesman for youth; he sensed the romantic yearnings of the time, and the yearnings of the Jazz Age, and he put them into his fiction. By comparison, Lewis' young heroine seems old-fashioned. Stodgy and idealistic, not at all the "new" woman.
Fitzgerald's best novel, The Great Gatsby, was published in 1925. By then Fitzgerald was himself rich, though his earnings could never keep pace with his and Zelda's extravagance. He had attained undeniable success as a writer, a serious novelists, and prolific producer of pot-boilers¡Xshort stories for slick magazines.
He also knew that between the peaks of joy were periods of sorrow; and as the decade went on, the high points became fewer, the sorrow truly terrible. The Great Gatsby reflects Fitzgerald's deeper knowledge, his recognition that wanting to be happy does not insure one's being so and that pursuit of entertainment may only cover a lot of pain.