F. Scott Fitzgerald, a titan of American literature, has long been admired for his evocative prose, vivid characterization, and incisive critique of the American dream. His iconic works, such as “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender Is the Night,” have cemented his reputation as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. However, as with all great artists, Fitzgerald did not emerge in a vacuum. His work was influenced and shaped by a variety of authors, from the classical to the contemporary. This essay will delve into the literary influences that helped shape Fitzgerald’s distinctive style, providing a more nuanced understanding of his work.
Joseph Conrad: The Power of Ambiguity
One of the most significant influences on Fitzgerald was Joseph Conrad, the Polish-British author renowned for his intricate narratives and psychological depth. Fitzgerald’s appreciation for Conrad’s work was no secret; he described “Victory” as his favorite Conrad novel and often recommended it to friends. The influence of Conrad’s complex, introspective narratives is evident in Fitzgerald’s focus on psychological depth and moral ambiguity. This is especially apparent in “The Great Gatsby,” where Fitzgerald, like Conrad, explores the murky moral waters that his characters navigate, refusing to present them as wholly good or bad.
Henry James: The Art of Characterization
Another influential figure for Fitzgerald was the American-British author Henry James, known for his nuanced character studies and deep exploration of consciousness. James’s influence is particularly noticeable in the intricate characterizations that are a hallmark of Fitzgerald’s work. Characters like Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan are not merely one-dimensional figures but complex, flawed individuals whose inner lives are as richly drawn as their outer lives. This attention to detail in character development is a direct reflection of the Jamesian style, where characters’ psyches are minutely examined and laid bare.
The Romantic Poets: The Allure of Beauty and Melancholy
Fitzgerald was also profoundly influenced by the English Romantic poets, particularly John Keats. Keats’s ethos of “beauty is truth, truth beauty” seems to resonate deeply with Fitzgerald, particularly in his preoccupation with beauty and its fleeting nature. The romantic, often melancholic tone of Fitzgerald’s work, embodied in his lyrical prose and the tragic ends of his characters, reflects the influence of the Romantics. For instance, the green light in “The Great Gatsby,” symbolizing Gatsby’s unattainable dreams, echoes the Romantic fascination with unfulfilled longing and the inherent tragedy of the human condition.
Mark Twain: The American Experience
An exploration of Fitzgerald’s influences would be incomplete without mentioning Mark Twain, whose “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Fitzgerald deemed the ‘first truly American novel.’ Twain’s influence is particularly evident in Fitzgerald’s exploration of uniquely American themes, such as the American dream and the class divide. Like Twain, Fitzgerald uses his narratives to critique American society, highlighting its inequalities and illusions, while simultaneously revealing its allure.
Ernest Hemingway: The Contemporary Peer
Finally, the influence of Ernest Hemingway, a contemporary and friend of Fitzgerald’s, should not be underestimated. While their writing styles were markedly different, with Hemingway’s prose more terse and direct compared to Fitzgerald’s more lavish descriptions, their shared experiences in the Lost Generation and mutual feedback inevitably shaped Fitzgerald’s work. Their bond is evident in their letters and Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” where he reflects on their friendship.