F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) is one of the most important writers in American literature. He has been credited with writing the ‘great American novel’ and his stories and novels have come to epitomise the Jazz Age: the age of cocktails, parties, and excess in 1920s America.
But there’s much more to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work than this, as his five novels and numerous short stories attest. What are the best Fitzgerald stories and books, though? Below, we introduce ten of his finest …
1. Tender is the Night.
Its title taken from John Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, Tender is the Night (1934) is Fitzgerald’s best-known and most widely read novel after The Great Gatsby (see below). Fitzgerald actually considered Tender is the Night to be his greatest novel. It was his fourth novel, and the last novel he completed before his death in 1940.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of the French Riviera, the novel focuses on a group of American expatriates living there after the First World War. A young actress befriends a glamorous couple and considers having an affair with the husband, a psychiatrist. But it turns out there is more to this couple than meets the eye. The novel is almost a roman a clef mirroring Fitzgerald’s own struggles with alcoholism and his affair with an actress, Lois Moran.
Recommended edition: Tender is the Night: A Romance (Penguin Modern Classics)
2. ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’.
This 1922 novella (sometimes classed as a short story) is about a young man who meets another man, Percy Washington, who boasts that his father is so rich that he owns ‘a diamond bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’. Percy’s family owns the only five square miles of land in the whole of the United States that’s never been surveyed, on which was discovered not only a diamond mine, but a mountain consisting of one solid diamond which is indeed bigger than the Ritz hotel.
3. The Beautiful and Damned.
Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned is about Anthony Patch, a New York socialite. Like many of Fitzgerald’s later works, the novel deals with the themes of marriage, alcoholism, and social status. It is also a novel about romantic infatuation – another key Fitzgerald subject – and what happens when two people realise they no longer ‘love’ each other.
Recommended edition: The Beautiful and Damned (Collins Classics)
This is probably Fitzgerald’s best-known short story, especially since it was adapted for the big screen in 2008 by David Fincher, with Brad Pitt in the title role.
Published in 1922, the story tells of how the titular character ages backwards, being born in 1860 as a 70-year-old man and then working backwards across his threescore years and ten until he (presumably, though this happens ‘off-stage’) dies a baby. Button is the ultimate outsider: living his life on an alternate and opposite trajectory to everyone else, even those closest to him.
5. This Side of Paradise.
This was Fitzgerald’s first published novel, appearing in 1920. It’s his most explicitly ‘post-war’ novel, dealing with the fallout from the Great War on a group of young American friends. Its protagonist is an aspiring writer, and fittingly enough, Fitzgerald wrote the novel quickly and for that noblest of motives: to try to impress a woman.
Fitzgerald and his girlfriend Zelda had been an item for a short while, but she broke up with him. He wrote This Side of Paradise in order to become a successful writer and win her back. It worked: the novel was published on 26 March, and before the month was out the first print run of 3,000 copies had sold out and Zelda had agreed to marry him.
Recommended edition: This Side of Paradise (Oxford World’s Classics)
6. ‘Babylon Revisited’.
This is a slightly later story than the others on this list, written in 1930 and published the following year. Whereas earlier works had depicted the Jazz Age of the 1920s, this story responds to the fallout from the 1929 Wall Street crash, although the story also features flashbacks to the time of plenty that was the Jazz Age.
The story follows a man, Charlie Wales, who is haunted by his past mistakes: it is among Fitzgerald’s most nostalgic works. Among other things, the story focuses on his troubled relationship with both his wife and his daughter.
7. The Last Tycoon.
Fitzgerald’s final novel, it was left unfinished at the time of his death in 1940. Published in 1941 as The Last Tycoon, it exists in another version, The Love of the Last Tycoon, as well. Based on the real-life director of the Hollywood film company MGM (Fitzgerald died while working in Hollywood), the novel revisits some of Fitzgerald’s most popular themes, including infatuation, disappointment, and status.
Recommended edition: The Last Tycoon (Penguin F Scott Fitzgerald Hardback Collection)
8. ‘Winter Dreams’.
This 1922 short story is widely regarded as one of Fitzgerald’s finest works, and is a powerful portrayal of the loss of youthful illusions (a common theme in Fitzgerald’s writing). Based, like Tender is the Night, on Fitzgerald’s own love life (here, his infatuation with, and failure to seduce, the socialite Ginevra King), the story is about a young man from Minnesota who works at a local golf club, has his heart broken by a girl, and goes off to fight in the First World War.
The story prefigures The Great Gatsby in the central character’s romantic infatuation and social climbing, and is regarded as the strongest story associated with the so-called ‘Gatsby cluster’ of works.
9. ‘The Ice Palace’.
This 1920 short story is based on a real ice palace that appeared at the 1887 Winter Carnival in Fitzgerald’s home town of St Paul, Minnesota. Sally Happer, a young woman from Georgia, travels north to meet the family of her fiancé. The title refers to an epiphany Happer experiences in the titular ice palace, when she reassesses her attitude to her fiancé and overcomes her disillusionment with the cold north. The epiphany is a common feature of modernist short stories, and ‘The Ice Palace’ is one of Fitzgerald’s most overtly modernist works.
10. The Great Gatsby.
Our tenth and final choice in this pick of classic F. Scott Fitzgerald stories could only be one title: his best-known novel. The Great Gatsby was originally titled Trimalchio in West Egg (a reference to a character from a scurrilous Roman novel), Under the Red, White and Blue, and even The High-Bouncing Lover (yes, really). Thankfully, Fitzgerald was persuaded to change the title.
Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, is a young man who has come to New York to work on the stock exchange. He lives on the island of West Egg, where his neighbour is the wealthy Jay Gatsby, who owns a mansion. He soon ushers the mysterious Gatsby into his confidence, and discovers a whole world of heartbreak underpinning Gatsby’s material success.
Gatsby has been called the great American novel, and is certainly a contender for that title. We have analysed the novel here.
Recommended edition: The Great Gatsby (The Penguin English Library)