A Blaze of Work and Liquor: The Intertextuality of Drinking in Fitzgerald
Fifty years after his death on December 21, 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known perhaps as well for his drinking as for his writing. There are a number of reasons for this: the notorious first-hand accounts of his drinking found in Beloved Infidel, a book written by Gerold Frank and Sheilah Graham, his companion during his last years in Hollywood; the sensational, personal account of Fitzgerald's drinking in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast; the generous attention to Fitzgerald's drinking found in biographies by authors such as Matthew Bruccoli, Scott Donaldson, Arthur Mizener, and Andrew Turnbull; and the recent critical examinations of alcoholic authors, Tom Dardis' The Thirsty Muse and Thomas Gilmore's Equivocal Spirits, which have analyzed in great detail Fitzgerald's drinking and its possible effects on his writing. When these accounts of his drinking are set alongside the drinking represented in Fitzgerald's fiction, it is easy to understand the source of his reputation as American literature's best-known drunk. Current critical opinion, adhering to the present trend of fascination with the personal weaknesses of great writers, holds that drinking destroyed Fitzgerald's health and writing career. But while his health was inarguably eroded by excessive drinking, it is my contention that Fitzgerald's writing and drinking cannot be separated. Drinking provides the basis of coherence for Fitzgerald's writing. In Fitzgerald's five novels there are over three hundred incidents of drinking-an astounding average of about one incident for every four pages of text! If drinking were detrimental to his writing, a full quarter of the prose in Fitzgerald's novels must be judged as inferior product. with what would the critics replace this significant one-quarter of Fitzgerald's subject matter? And what would have provided the coherence and structure of his fiction had Fitzgerald not been a drinker? Moreover, the current literary biographies of Fitzgerald cannot be used to answer these questions because they presume to fix the character of Fitzgerald for all time as the alcoholic (and therefore less-than-exemplary) novelist. In other words, they are founded upon the very assumption that requires examination. The problem may lie in the nature of literary biography as a form of inquiry. It is the conception of biography as the ultimate judgment of the author's life that needs to be changed. My intention is to re-characterize the relationship between Fitzgerald's drinking and his writing, and in so doing I hope to suggest a more fruitful approach to the literary biography. For to speak of a non-drinking yet writing F. Scott Fitzgerald is to name a completely unfamiliar author; to speak of Fitzgerald is to name a drinking writer. Rather than mourn his drinking and try to eliminate it from his prose by biographical fascination or psychological explanation, it is better to analyze the one-in-four pages of his novels which concern drinking, and to do so for the sake of determining the precise nature of the relationship between his drinking and his writing. Such a study would reveal, I shall argue, that the treatment of drinking over the course of Fitzgerald's literary career was an effort to examine, to evaluate, and to come to terms with his own drinking. In this manner I hope to reveal the weaknesses of the biographical approach to Fitzgerald and to also demonstrate that the real purpose of drinking is to serve as an intertextual connection, a common bond, between his five novels.
DescriptionProgram year: 1990/1991
Digitized from print original stored in HDR
SubjectF. Scott Fitzgerald
Burke, Andrew (1991). A Blaze of Work and Liquor: The Intertextuality of Drinking in Fitzgerald. University Undergraduate Fellow. Available electronically from