F. Scott Fitzgerald turned twenty-one on September 24, 1917. He was attending Princeton, but his involvement in various literary and theatrical societies was causing his coursework to suffer. He was on academic probation by his birthday in 1917. On November 20, 1917, Fitzgerald dropped out of school to report for duty as an infantry second lieutenant in World War I. The picture above was drawn from a photo taken while he was in the military. He grew worried that he would die on a battlefield in Europe, so he hurriedly finished a draft of the novel The Romantic Egoist while stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At first, publishers rejected this work but, by March 1920, it had become the acclaimed novel This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald was still twenty-one when he met Zelda Sayre while stationed outside Montgomery, Alabama. Fitzgerald would not marry Zelda until 1920.
The average temperature in Princeton, New Jersey on September 24 is 73°, and Fitzgerald was probably enjoying the autumn scenery despite his worries about low grades and the ongoing war. Fitzgerald was just beginning to cultivate the alcoholic habit that would lead to his premature death; on his twenty-first birthday, he was probably boozing with his charismatic friends, including the future critic Edmund Wilson, the poet John Peale Bishop, and various debutantes.