May Day:
An Introduction

"May Day," Fitzgerald's first great novelette--published during his first year as a professional writer--appeared in July 1920. Fitzgerald presumably sold it directly to Smart Set editors H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan without offering it to The Saturday Evening Post, or any other magazine, because the material was too strong or realistic for the slicks. "May Day" was the most successful work inspired by Fitzgerald's temporary interest in the school of naturalistic or deterministic fiction. Although it was read by the people Fitzgerald wanted to reach, The Smart Set paid him only $200 for this masterpiece.

"May Day" drew upon Fitzgerald's feelings of failure during the spring of 1919 when he was working for a New York advertising agency. He provided this comment when the story was collected in Tales of the Jazz Age (1922):

"This somewhat unpleasant tale, published as a novelette in the "Smart Set" in July, 1920, relates a series of events which took place in the spring of the previous year. Each of the three events made a great impression upon me. In life they were unrelated, except by the general hysteria of that spring which inaugurated the Age of Jazz, but in my story I have tried, unsuccessfully I fear, to weave them into a pattern---a pattern which would give the effect of those months in New York as they appeared to at least one member of what was then the younger generation."

The text of May Day.

Fitzgerald Centenary Comments

This page updated 6 September 1996.
Copyright 1996, the Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.