Pigeonholed in popular memory as a Jazz Age epicurean, a playboy, and an emblem of the Lost Generation, F. Scott Fitzgerald was at heart a moralist struck by the nation’s shifting mood and manners after World War I. In Paradise Lost, David Brown contends that Fitzgerald’s deepest allegiances were to a fading antebellum world he associated with his father’s Chesapeake Bay roots. Yet as a midwesterner, an Irish Catholic, and a perpetually in-debt author, he felt like an outsider in the haute bourgeoisie haunts of Lake Forest, Princeton, and Hollywood—places that left an indelible mark on his worldview.
In this comprehensive biography, Brown reexamines Fitzgerald’s childhood, first loves, and difficult marriage to Zelda Sayre. He looks at Fitzgerald’s friendship with Hemingway, the golden years that culminated with Gatsby, and his increasing alcohol abuse and declining fortunes which coincided with Zelda’s institutionalization and the nation’s economic collapse.
Placing Fitzgerald in the company of Progressive intellectuals such as Charles Beard, Randolph Bourne, and Thorstein Veblen, Brown reveals Fitzgerald as a writer with an encompassing historical imagination not suggested by his reputation as “the chronicler of the Jazz Age.” His best novels, stories, and essays take the measure of both the immediate moment and the more distant rhythms of capital accumulation, immigration, and sexual politics that were moving America further away from its Protestant agrarian moorings. Fitzgerald wrote powerfully about change in America, Brown shows, because he saw it as the dominant theme in his own family history and life.