Customer Reviews: Scott Fitzgerald
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This biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald is now fifty years old, but it wears well and I could not ask for more in a biography. Andrew Turnbull set out to write a biography that focused on Fitzgerald's personality (as opposed to his literary works), and he succeeded admirably.

In preparation for this work Turnbull interviewed or corresponded with literally hundreds of people. (At the Plaza Hotel in New York he found only one person who remembered Fitzgerald - a bellboy.) Turnbull was aided, and no doubt inspired, by his own recollections of Fitzgerald. They met when he was eleven, Fitzgerald was thirty-six, and Fitzgerald rented an old Victorian house on the Turnbull family estate outside Baltimore. Fitzgerald and his daughter Scottie, joined for periods by Zelda (when she was not in a sanatorium in Baltimore), lived there for about two years, during which time Fitzgerald was quite accessible to and friendly with the Turnbull family.

Fitzgerald could be a showman and a show-off, and frequently he was a boor - especially when he was drunk (a state more common for him than for most people, even more common than for most writers). But the essential Fitzgerald was a Romantic and an archetypal Irishman, a combination that perhaps made the alcoholism inevitable. He was unusually magnanimous, both with his money and his time and attention. He was devoted to Zelda, even after she slipped the traces and drifted off into her own worlds of schizophrenia. He promoted and encouraged numerous other writers. And, of course, he was a brilliant writer himself. Among the tributes from Turnbull: "No one had written more gorgeously than he of America's last fling at adolescence. The gay chic of his style, with the wit and tenderness constantly breaking through, had suited a time whose very tawdriness, in a work like 'Gatsby', he had transformed into lasting beauty."

Turnbull pays due attention to Fitzgerald's relationships with other literary luminaries of the time, especially his friendships with Edmund Wilson and Ernest Hemingway. For a time Hemingway had no bigger fan than Fitzgerald, but Papa did not repay Scott in kind. Towards the end, Scott realized that Hemingway "is quite as nervously broken down as I am but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is towards megalomania and mine toward melancholy."

And, of course, much of the book deals with Scott and Zelda. "It was hard to say whether he or she was the leader in this chaos. They complemented each other like gin and vermouth in a martini, each making the other more powerful in their war with dullness and convention. * * * Both were unstable; when they should have called a halt, they egged each other on. They faced life not ignobly but with a mad sort of daring, committed to doing as they pleased and never counting the cost." They both flamed out, in different ways. The book includes a letter that Zelda wrote to Scott in 1936, during one of her lucid moments while at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina (where she died, eight years after Scott, in a fire in 1948). It is one of the most poignant letters I have ever encountered. As a beautiful, mystical, yet tragic love letter, it ranks with anything that Heloise wrote to Abelard. It alone is worth the price of the book.

SCOTT FITZGERALD is a sensitive, affectionate portrayal of one of America's quintessential writers. Plus, it is superbly written and very readable. Anyone looking for a "non-literary" biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald need look no further.

ADDENDUM (25 July 2012): I just finished reading "Hemingway Vs. Fitzgerald", by Scott Donaldson. It was written almost forty years after Turnbull's biography, with access to many letters and papers that were not available to Turnbull. In it, Scott Fitzgerald is somewhat shabbier and a little less noble than in Turnbull's biography, and the dreadful alcoholic that he became receives more attention. Also, in Donaldson's book Zelda Fitzgerald is zanier and less likeable than she is in Turnbull's. That said, I still recommend Turnbull's biography.
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on January 17, 2009
Andrew Turnbull's well-written biography brings F. Scott Fitzgerald to life. While the book is well researched and organized, ultimately it is Turnbull's wonderful language that makes this book shine. He carefully and lyrically describes, not just people's physical characteristics, but also their personalities and personal energy. And Turnbull focuses his book's attention on his subjects' most lively and engaging interactions, quoting letters and discussions at length only when they are truly fascinating. Turnbull, who knew Fitzgerald personally and considered him a friend, obviously loved the subject of this book - and that love helped to bring its subject to life. It helps, of course, that Fitzgerald led a wild, legendary existence.

The best I can do, to give a sense of this book, I think, is to quote a few passages, half-randomly, directly from Turnbull's prose:

In describing Fitzgerald's school headmaster: "He was almost pure albino with thin flaxen hair, white eyebrows and lashes, and pink watery eyes that jiggled behind thick lenses. His soft bulk, his round face with a button nose surmounting several rolls of chin -anyone could see that Fay liked to eat" (Turnbull 1962, 39).

In describing Fitzgerald's final years: "Now was the time of hospitals, nurses, night sweats, sedatives, and despair. Fitzgerald seemed to be slipping back into the morass of 1935-6. Half-crazed with worry and isolation, he was also blocked in his work and 'a writer not writing,' he once remarked, 'is practically a maniac within himself'" (Turnbull 1962, 298).

In describing Zelda, Fitzgerald's wife: "Zelda, too, was acting strangely. With her angry sidelong glances and barbed remarks there was something crouching and inimical in her posture. She was a wily antagonist who lay in wait for you conversationally and gave compliments that turned out to be brickbats. 'Did you ever see a woman's face with so many fine, large teeth in it?' she might say of some one she didn't like - after which she would retreat into herself. But the Murphy's remained fond of her and she of them" (Turnbull 1962, 165-166) . . . "Her willfulness had modulated into a bizarre petishness. Out with a group of friends, she would suddenly want fresh strawberries or watercress sandwiches and make everyone thoroughly uncomfortable until she got them" (Turnbull 1962, 177).
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on November 29, 2012
As a devotee of F. Scott Fitzgerald, this is by far the definitive biography of this very special writer. Written by a man who, as a child and young man, knew him personally. Fitzgerald lived in a vastly interesting time and was the voice for his era. Battling money woes and alcoholism, he ended his brilliant career pretty much as a has-been and a movie hack writer in Hollywood. A colorful and tragic figure, after his untimely death, a critic wrote of his last book (published after his death) -- "You can take your hats off now, gentlemen, and I think perhaps you'd better."
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on May 12, 2013
This is the first biography of Fitzgerald I read back when I was in high school (don't ask!), and it's still the best. Turnbull, who had a passing acquaintance with Fitzgerald, was a fine writer who sadly took his own life after completing this biography. For those readers who want to "dig deeper" into the story F. Scott Fitzgerald, in preparation for DeCaprio's turn at Gatsby, Turnbull also edited a book of Fitzgerald's letters to his daughter "Scottie" F. Scott Fitzgerald - Letters to His Daughter. I was drawn to Turnbull because of his sympathetic yet thorough biography of THOMAS WOLFE (one of the first); I think it is still the best "Wolfe" biography I've ever read Thomas Wolfe. Both biographies were well recieved when first published, but it is very, very sad to see that his fine work about Wolfe has been overshadowed, and nearly forgotten, since its publication in 1962(fortunately, his biography of Fitzgerald has fared better with this edition plus two paperback reissues). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TO ANYONE WHO ADMIRES WOLFE OR FITZGERALD.

A Footnote:

For someone who is just discovering the world of Fitzgerald, Wolfe, or Ernest Hemingway, they might want to read about MAXWELL PERKINS who had the extraordinary luck to be the editor for all three writers at Scribners from 1920s through the 1940s. Their stories are extraordinary. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius or The Sons of Maxwell Perkins: Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and Their Editor.
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on November 4, 2015
While his "Scott Fitzgerald" will be very well received by fans of that author, I found Turnbull's biography of Thomas Wolfe to be an overall more polished accomplishment. Maybe I just got tired of so many recollections of Fitzgerald's drunken escapades and collapses.
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on February 14, 2014
I enjoyed how the author wrote. It was a more intimate account than I've read before.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Mr. Fitzgerald.
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on October 15, 2014
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