Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald once said “Mostly we authors must repeat ourselves–that’s the truth. We have two or three experiences in our lives– experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up” (de Koster n. pag.). Fitzgerald’s works contain many themes that are based from experiences in his life. Many of these experiences he talks about were with the women in his life. People like his mother, Ginerva King, and Zelda Sayre all had major impacts on Fitzgerald. The women in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life influenced his writing in a number of ways.
The first major woman to make and impression on Fitzgerald’s life was his mother. Mary (Mollie) McQuillan was of Irish decent. Her parents were Irish immigrants who became rich as grocery owners in St. Paul (Bruccoli 1). Mollie inherited a fair amount of money from her family, but the family had difficulty maintaining the high standard of living they were accustomed to (Bloom 11). When they fell into financial trouble it was her father they turned to.
The fact that Fitzgerald’s mother, rather than his father, was the financial foundation for their family influenced Fitzgerald greatly. Even as a young boy he was aware of this situation. The theme that arose from this about a wife’s inherited money appears frequently in Fitzgerald’s writing (Magill 679). When the Fitzgeralds fell into financial trouble, the family had to depend on Mollie’s family’s money. When times like that came Mollie “abandoned the attempt to
keep up her personal appearance (neglecting both grooming and fashion), which embarrassed her fastidious son. Scott later recorded a dream in which he admitted being ashamed of her” (de Koster 15).
Furthermore, Fitzgerald’s attitude toward his mother influenced him as a person. Because two of Mollie’s children had died before Fitzgerald, she was very protective of him. She often worried about his health and babied him. But “her attempts to spoil him strengthened his distaste for her” (de Koster 15). She wanted her only son to have “social ambition” (“Brief Biography 1). Fitzgerald’s negative description of her in “An Author’s Mother” where he describes her as “a halting old lady” in a “preposterously high-crowned hat” reveals his feelings (de Koster 15). Fitzgerald was affected by all these emotions towards his mother in his personality and his work.
Another influence on Fitzgerald was his first love, Ginerva King. He met the 16-year-old during his sophomore year at Princeton and immediately fell in love (de Koster 19). She “matched his dreams of the perfect girl: beautiful, rich, socially secure, and sought after. The last qualification was important. His ideal girl had to be pursued by many men; there had to be an element of competition” (de Koster 19). His pursuit of Ginerva changed his attitude and personality. Characters based on her began to show up in his writing.
The first time Ginerva shows up in one of Fitzgerald’s works is in a short story called “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw.” Mathew Bruccoli explains:
The story develops a major theme in Fitzgerald’s fiction: the gifted man ruined by a selfish woman. The hero a scandalous middle-aged novelist who lost his Ginerva as a young man and never got over it. When he marries her after she is widowed, he stops writing. Much of Fitzgerald’s fiction would take the form self-warnings or self-judgements, and this story is the first in which he analyzed the conflicting pulls of love and literature. The girl is the writer’s inspiration… (de Koster 19).
The woman in his life at the time he was writing was his major influence.
In the story “Winter Dreams,” Dexter (meant to be Fitzgerald) pursues Judy Jones in Minnesota (fictionalized Ginerva in Illinois) (Kuehl 66). This theme about a man pursuing a woman shows up many more times in his works. In fact, the heroine in This Side of Paradise, Rosalind, along with many other female characters found in Fitzgerald’s works were modeled after Ginerva (de Koster 19). Her influence is apparent in the way she is used as a model for Fitzgerald’s characters. However, she was not the most influential person on F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In July of 1918, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre. Jeffery Meyers writes that she was “protected by the respectability and prestige of her family, [and] was known for her striking beauty, her unconventional behavior and her sexual promiscuity” (de Koster 22). Fitzgerald fell in love with her instantly, much as he had with
Ginerva, and began his pursuit. She wanted financial security, though, which Fitzgerald could not offer at the time. Zelda would not marry Fitzgerald until she felt he could support her. She even broke off their engagement when he failed to get his novel published, but later agreed to marry him when This Side of Paradise was published (de Koster 23).
Zelda was so influential on Fitzgerald that he wrote a story just about them. He explained that his short story “The Sensible Thing” was a “story about Zelda and me. All true” (Kuehl 52). This work also contains Fitzgerald’s characteristic theme about a man pursuing a woman. In it, the character George O’Kelley (fictionalized Fitzgerald) tries to court Jonquil Cary in Tennessee (meant to be Zelda Sayre in Alabama) (Kuehl 66).
Many other characters are also based on Sayre. In Taps at Reveille, a 19-year-old blond from Georgia is pursued by many World War I officers. This situation is much like Fitzgerald’s when he first met Sayre while still in the military (Kuehl 74). Also in “The Ice Palace,” the southern character Sally Carol is modeled after Zelda (Kuehl 34). The multiple characters based on her show her great influence on Fitzgerald’s work.
Fitzgerald and Sayre brought out each other’s wild side. Their life styles and social lives were “twisted” (de Koster 23). Because of their strange situation, Zelda began having emotional problems. At one point she even took an overdose of sleeping pills, one of several attempts at suicide that did not work.
Over the years she became more wild, strange, and uncontrollable. Zelda was then diagnosed with schizophrenia, thought to be brought on by her and Fitzgerald’s strange relationship (de Koster 23). As her condition worsened, Fitzgerald was forced to give up more and more of his time. His next work, Tender is the Night stressed the science of psychiatry as well as the lives and careers of psychiatrists (de Koster 158), which he was dealing with more and more because of Zelda’s problems.
The fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing was affected greatly by people in his life is apparent. Women like his mother, Ginerva King, and Zelda Sayre all greatly influenced his writing. The characters and themes based on these women reveal themselves many times in his works. Without the influence of his mother, Ginerva, and Zelda, Fitzgerald would not be the distinguished author he is today.