Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iridescent city of 1919

March 16, 2011

Author, Lost Generation spokesman, and 1920s Jazz Age icon F. Scott Fitzgerald was once just like millions of New Yorkers before and after him: a struggling writer trying to make his mark.

In a posthumous essay collection called My Lost City, he chronicled his move here in 1919—renting a room, working at an ad agency, and waiting for Zelda Sayre to leave Alabama and marry him:

“New York had all the irridescence of the beginning of the world. The returning troops marched up Fifth Avenue and girls were instinctively drawn east and north towards them—this was the greatest nation and there was gala in the air.

“As I hovered ghost-like in the Plaza Red Room of a Saturday afternoon, or went to lush and liquid garden parties in the East Sixties or tippled with Princetonians in the Biltmore Bar, I was haunted always by my other life—my drab room in the Bronx, my square foot of the subway, my fixation upon the day’s letter from Alabama—would it come and what would it say?—my shabby suits, my poverty, and love. . . .”

“One by one my great dreams of New York became tainted. . . . I wandered through the town of 127th Street, resenting its vibrant life; or else I bought cheap theatre seats at Gray’s drugstore and tried to lose myself for a few hours in my old passion for Broadway. I was a failure—mediocre at advertising work and unable to get started as a writer. Hating the city, I got roaring, weeping drunk on my last penny and went home….”

Of course, Zelda did marry him, and together they defined the excesses of Jazz Age New York.

Any struggling writer or artist can probably relate to what he’s getting at: The awe of being in New York, socializing at all the right places but still feeling like an outsider, pining for success and worrying that the city will defeat you.

The “valley of ashes” in a 1920s Queens dump

November 15, 2010

The copious amount of ash produced by coal-burning furnaces throughout the city had to go somewhere, and one dumping ground was in Corona, Queens.

Called the Corona Ash Dump and nicknamed Mount Corona, it received daily ash deposits, rising like a mountain along the Flushing River.

The dump must have been an incredible sight. F. Scott Fitzgerald apparently thought so; he used it as a symbol of industrial society’s decay and the waste produced by the rich in The Great Gatsby:

“This is the valley of ashes, a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”

Fitzgerald may have been surprised to learn of the fate of his Valley of Ashes; in the late 1930s, it was cleared away so the city could build Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, site of the 1939 World’s Fair.