The Curious Case of F. Scott Fitzgerald
In the 1920’s, F.Scott Fitzgerald was the quintessential voice of his generation. In his novels, poetry and short stories, he captured the raw energy of young men and women who experienced World War 1 and were disillusioned about their world, their country and their place in it. The backdrop for his literary inspiration was when prohibition was the law of the land; when people were making money from the stock markets which provided new material wealth and a new musical genre coming from New Orleans called Jazz. Mr. Fitzgerald simply called this era ‘The Jazz Age’. In fact, the city of New Orleans played a pivotal role in providing him with a great deal of solitude and material for his work.
The New Orleans Connection
Before and during the failed experiment of prohibition, Mr. Fitzgerald lived off and on in New Orleans writing short stories for publications and developing his craft as a writer. He did this at a boarding house which is located in the Garden District (2900 Prytania Street) 2 blocks from where they filmed an adaption of one of his short stories - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the retirement home in which the main character grew up).
The short story that he definitely wrote in New Orleans was entitled, 'The Carmel’s Back' which was a part of a collection of his short stories called “Tales of the Jazz Age” (1922). In the book’s introduction Mr. Fitzgerald wrote:
“I suppose that of all the stories I have ever written this one cost me the least travail and perhaps gave me the most amusement. As to the labor involved, it was written during one day in the city of New Orleans, with the express purpose of buying a platinum and diamond wrist watch which cost six hundred dollars. I began it at seven in the morning and finished it at two o’clock the same night. It was published in the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ in 1920, and later included in the O. Henry Memorial Collection for the same year.”
Also in "The Complete Works of F.Scott Fitzgerald : Novels, Short Stories, Poetry", he included 2 pieces of correspondence to his editor - Mr. Perkins, dated January 21st and February 3rd of 1920 from 2900 Prytania Street, New Orleans. In these letters he writes about proofs and corrections; ideas for stories and stories already written. In these letters, you can see that Mr. Fitzgerald was truly honing his craft and cared about every detail in the stories he’d written.
One more definite nod to New Orleans, is in the May 25th,1929 issue of ‘The New Yorker’. The story he submitted was - 'A Short Autobiography', where he wrote - “1919: The Sazerac Cocktail brought up from New Orleans to Montgomery to celebrate an important occasion.”
The Jazz Age
It makes perfect sense that Mr. Fitzgerald labeled this era ‘The Jazz Age’ because he was in the epicenter of where Jazz began. It makes sense why he married a fiery southern belle from Alabama (Zelda); it makes sense that his writings are filled with sensitivity and humor; and it makes sense that he wrote and spent time in ‘The City that Care Forgot’.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with his contemporaries of that ‘Lost Generation’, were trying to find truth and meaning in a world that seemed to be turbulent. He said it best when he wrote, "Though the Jazz Age continued it became less and less an affair of youth. The sequel was like a children’s party taken over by elders."
The city of New Orleans in some small way helped shape Mr. Fitzgerald’s views in a time where contradictions were the norm. In this city, he found solitude and material for his work and that’s all an artist can ask for.