On March 26, 1920, Scribner’s publishing house released “This Side of Paradise, ” the debut novel by author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book sold out its first print run in only three days, vaulting the 23-year-old writer to literary stardom. Fitzgerald would spend spent the rest of the 1920s and 30s chronicling the excesses of the “Jazz Age” in short story collections and novels like “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender is the Night.” Along the way, he struggled with alcoholism and engaged in an emotionally fraught love affair with his wife, Zelda. Ninety-five years after he published his first book, learn 10 surprising facts about the glamorous and tragic life of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated writers.
1. He was named after a famous ancestor.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul Minnesota on September 24, 1896. He was named for Francis Scott Key, the lawyer and writer who penned the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812. The two were only distantly related—Key was a second cousin three times removed—but Fitzgerald was known to play up the family connection. While driving past a statue of Key in an alcoholic haze in 1934, he supposedly hopped from the car and hid in the bushes, yelling to a friend, “Don’t let Frank see me drunk!”
2. He was a poor student and an atrocious speller.
Fitzgerald read widely and demonstrated early talent for writing, but he was a lousy student who struggled to achieve passing marks in both grade school and in college. He had a penchant for cutting classes during his time at Princeton University, and nearly failed out before abandoning his studies to join the military. Despite his legendary command of the written word, Fitzgerald was also a poor speller and may have suffered from dyslexia. After reading a typo-filled version of “This Side of Paradise, ” literary critic Edmund Wilson—a classmate of Fitzgerald’s during his Princeton days—declared it “one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published…full of English words misused with the most reckless abandon.”
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