cover image Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald

David S. Brown. Harvard Univ., $29.95 (413p) ISBN 978-0-674-50482-0

Elizabethtown College historian Brown (Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography) writes a tight, finely observed character study of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), one of America’s most cherished authors. Though remembered as an epicurean and chronicler of the Roaring Twenties, Fitzgerald was, in Brown’s view, a nostalgic moralist with a broad historical imagination. Like Frederick Jackson Turner, Sigmund Freud, and T. S. Eliot, he was an avid observer and critic of the modern age. Brown draws the figure of a sentimental romantic, perplexed by the collapse of pre-WWI taboos, who idealized a declining Anglo-Saxon elite to which he did not belong. Fitzgerald’s early success with This Side of Paradise made him a literary superstar. An erratic private life of high living in Europe and country houses followed, complicated by his mentally unstable wife, Zelda. Soon enough came the alcoholic crash and burn in Hollywood, an affair with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, and an early heart attack. Brown deftly explores the great uncertainties of social class in Fitzgerald’s day and the outsider feelings that clouded his life and psyche. Making sense of his time-bound views of African Americans and women proves more of a challenge. Carefully researched and a pleasure to read, Brown’s persuasive, original account will entice Fitzgerald fans and cultural historians alike. (May)