Free: The Great Gatsby & Other Major Works by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In some pop­u­lar imag­in­ings, F. Scott Fitzger­ald becomes so asso­ci­at­ed with the jazz age friv­o­li­ty he keen­ly observed, and the social climb­ing of his best-known char­ac­ter, that much of his pre- and post-Gats­by writ­ing gets occlud­ed. While Fitzger­ald may have been an alco­holic spend­thrift who pre­ferred the fin­er things and those who wore them, he was also a very dis­ci­plined and seri­ous writer, espe­cial­ly of short sto­ries, which were his sole source of income through­out much of the ‘20s. Fitzgerald’s des­per­ate­ly pro­lif­ic out­put in the form means that there are a few hasti­ly-com­posed pieces, some light­weight, whim­si­cal fan­tasies, but all of the work is beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten and a joy to read.

The fan­tasies (which include the now-famous “The Curi­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton”) reveal quite a bit about Fitzgerald’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with arti­fice. He was a very well-read, if not par­tic­u­lar­ly deep, thinker who approached lit­er­a­ture through fairy tales—Orientalist fables, adven­ture sto­ries, Edmund Spencer’s allegories—and his ear­ly sto­ries mix a boy­ish imag­i­na­tion with the feigned world­li­ness of a Prince­ton under­grad­u­ate. The most sub­stan­tial of those ear­ly sto­ries “May Day,” almost a novel­la, opens in a post-World War One New York City described as a fairy king­dom in the throes of mar­ket-mad­ness:

So gai­ly and nois­i­ly were the peace and pros­per­i­ty impend­ing hymned by the scribes and poets of the con­quer­ing peo­ple that more and more spenders had gath­ered from the provinces to drink the wine of excite­ment, and faster and faster did the mer­chants dis­pose of their trin­kets and slip­pers until they sent up a mighty cry for more trin­kets and more slip­pers in order that they might give in barter what was demand­ed of them. Some even of them flung up their hands help­less­ly, shout­ing:

“Alas! I have no more slip­pers! and alas! I have no more trin­kets! May heav­en help me for I know not what I shall do!”

This excerpt from the open­ing sec­tion of “May Day” reads like Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen, but with the sly satir­i­cal under­tone of one of Oscar Wilde’s children’s sto­ries. The sto­ry then shifts to a real­ist mode, intro­duc­ing the famil­iar Fitzger­ald themes of extrav­a­gant wealth and privilege—and their pre­car­i­ous nature. Some of the char­ac­ters embody­ing these traits, a group of Yale grad­u­ates, soon show the moral fail­ings exem­pli­fied by Gats­by’s Buchanans: cal­lous indif­fer­ence to the needs of oth­ers and vain self-regard.

The main plot of “May Day” goes to a very dark place, deal­ing with the kind of upper-class despair Bret Eas­t­on Ellis trades in, with a doomed main char­ac­ter quite obvi­ous­ly a stand-in for Fitzger­ald him­self. A some­what clum­sy sub­plot reach­es at times for a com­ic foil but also sounds a grim note. The story—with its almost vicious depic­tion of class division—is a minor work with major ambi­tion and a com­plex inter­weav­ing of Fitzgerald’s major themes.

“May Day”—first pub­lished in The Smart Set mag­a­zine in 1920 and lat­er appear­ing in the col­lec­tion Tales of the Jazz Age—draws from events of the Cleve­land May Day riots of 1919 and some New York expe­ri­ences in Fitzgerald’s life. Once asked, how­ev­er, if the sto­ry was auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, the author replied, “there are no good biogra­phies of nov­el­ists because they are so many peo­ple.”

You can encounter all of the var­i­ous peo­ple Fitzger­ald car­ried with­in him in the sto­ries and nov­els we’ve gath­ered in our col­lec­tions of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books. (Find them below.) And to learn more about Fitzger­ald, in rela­tion to two oth­er 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can mas­ters, you might want to check out Wai Chee Dimock’s Open Yale online course, “Hem­ing­way, Fitzger­ald, Faulkn­er,” avail­able on YouTube and iTunes. It oth­er­wise appears in our col­lec­tion of 700 Free Cours­es Online.



  • Flap­pers and Philoso­phers
  • The Curi­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton
  • Tales of the Jazz Age
  • The Great Gats­by
  • This Side of Par­adise

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sev­en Tips From F. Scott Fitzger­ald on How to Write Fic­tion

F. Scott Fitzger­ald in Drag (1916)

Ernest Hem­ing­way to F. Scott Fitzger­ald: “Kiss My Ass”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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