(1900 - 1948)
Unwell, this side of paradise
Elaine Showalter on the sordid power struggles behind the decline of the Jazz Age's golden couple, Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald
Saturday October 5, 2002
Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise
512pp, John Murray, £25
Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
ed Jackson R Bryers and Cathy W Barks
387pp, Bloomsbury, £20
"I used to wonder why they kept princesses in towers," the romantic and possessive young officer F Scott Fitzgerald wrote to the Alabama belle Zelda Sayre. Zelda was charmed at first, but quickly noticed that he seemed obsessed with the image. "Scott, you've been so sweet about writing," she replied, "but I get so damned tired of being told that - you've written that verbatim, in your last six letters!"
Eerily, the fairytale life they both imagined took on an ominous gothic form, as the jonquil-haired boy and the golden girl, the most legendary couple of the 1920s, faced the grim realities of alcoholism and mental illness, infidelity and literary rivalry, of a marriage in which, according to their friend Ring Lardner, "Mr Fitzgerald is a novelist and Mrs Fitzgerald is a novelty".
Zelda's story was first told in Nancy Milford's splendid feminist biography of 1970; but as Milford later wrote, Scottie Lanahan, the Fitzgeralds' daughter, was so upset by the manuscript that she threatened suicide. Milford cut much of the detail about Zelda's diagnoses, treatments and her homosexual crushes, and the family restricted much of the medical material in the Princeton University archives.
Generally biographers and friends have taken the side of one of the partners, at one extreme endorsing Hemingway's view that Zelda was a madwoman who undermined Scott's sexual and artistic self-confidence and drained him emotionally and economically, and at another seeing Scott as a monster who drove Zelda mad and destroyed her chances to succeed as an artist in her own right. Both of these books take a more balanced approach, blaming neither partner; but the selection from the Fitzgeralds' correspondence edited by Jackson Bryers and Cathy Barks, and pre-emptively called "love letters", repeats the legend of a great and timeless romance, while the exhaustively researched biography by Sally Cline powerfully undermines it.
Without making Scott the villain, Cline argues that both partners were victims of a social system and psychological practice that punished creative women, especially those married to creative men. Cline points out that Zelda's hospital letters - which form the bulk of her side of the correspondence - were censored by her caretakers, and have to be seen as written by a prisoner to her jailer.
Although she often expressed an extravagant love for Scott, and he loyally supported and wrote affectionately to her, they quarrelled bitterly and endlessly over her ambitions as a writer and painter, her sexuality, and her right to work and to be independent. Zelda repeatedly said that she wanted a divorce, but without any money of her own, and without the means of earning any, she was utterly powerless in the relationship.
Named for the gypsy heroine of a sensational novel, Zelda had been the most popular and daring girl in her set back in Montgomery, Alabama - a "top girl". By winning her, Scott also engaged in an unconscious merger with his male rivals, perhaps a version of the homosexuality he wrote about (through Nick Carraway's pick-up in The Great Gatsby, for example), and violently repudiated. Zelda was also original and imaginative: "I'm so full of confetti I could give birth to paper dolls," she declared at a ball. Paper dolls were a metaphor for the hyper-feminine domestic art of American women to which she was destined by her birth and class.
The crack-up of the marriage and their lives came quickly; by 1930, after less than a decade of fame and high living in New York, the Riviera and Paris, they had entered what would become a long decline. Just as their married life had been lived in hotels, Zelda's post-1930 life became an odyssey between hospitals and clinics; some were four-star European establishments with all the luxuries of a spa resort, some much more basic and punitive with cold baths, strait-jackets and long hikes.
A belated effort to became a ballerina in Paris had driven her to anorexia and obsessive behaviour, but Scott's chief reasons for having her committed were sexual; she declared an attraction to her ballet teacher, and, in the asylum, was caught masturbating. Her sexual frankness conflicted with his anxieties and pruderies, especially with his own fascinated dread of homosexuality. "The nearest I ever came to leaving you," he told her, "was when you told me that I was a fairy in the Rue Palatine."
Zelda felt that she had lived the life of a pampered child: "I don't seem to know anything appropriate for a person of 30." Confinement in a series of institutions certainly made it hard for her to grow up. Scott was a control freak who wanted to arrange and order every detail of her life, as he would also for their daughter, but he also did his best to find her the most advanced care.
Zelda's doctors included many of the famous names of psychiatric medicine of her day, but their understanding and treatment of women's psychological conflicts was lumbered with traditional expectations that healthy, normal women should be content to limit themselves to secondary domestic roles. Zelda was forced to restrict or give up her dancing, painting and writing and to submit to versions of the rest cure that made her worse. As she wrote: "Enforced inactivity maddens me beyond endurance."
Diagnosed as schizophrenic, although she did not meet most of the criteria for the illness, Zelda was regularly subjected to insulin shock therapy, which induced memory loss and weight gain, and dosed with a battery of drugs including morphine, belladonna, potassium bromide and horse serum. From the beginning, Zelda perceived her treatment as "a sort of castration". Scott, meanwhile, was not institutionalised for his drinking. Moreover, he insisted that she was the real drunkard, while he needed drink in order to work.
The biggest crisis in their marriage and its tenuous balance of power came in 1932, when Zelda wrote an autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, drawing on the same material with which he was struggling in Tender is the Night. Scott was outraged that Zelda should presume to poach on his territory. He wrote in fury to his publisher Max Perkins, to whom she had sent the manuscript, telling him not to publish.
In May 1933, the Fitzgeralds sat down with Zelda's doctor for a debate on the subject which was transcribed by a stenographer and ran to 114 pages. The transcripts, Cline says, read more like a trial than a negotiation. Scott demanded "unconditional surrender" - he accused Zelda of being an opportunist and called her "a third-rate writer" and a "useless society woman" with an "amazonian and lesbian" personality. "It seems to me that you are making rather a violent attack on a third-rate talent then," Zelda replied. She wanted a divorce and stressed her need to be independent.
In a journal entry outlining his divorce strategy if Zelda insisted on continuing to write fiction, Scott noted: "Attack on all grounds. Play (suppress), novel (delay), pictures (suppress), character (showers), child (detach), schedule (disorient to cause trouble), no typing. Probable result - new breakdown." In the event, Zelda capitulated and Scott allowed the novel to be published with several cuts.
Zelda's letters are saturated with the need to find meaningful work and to support herself. But Scott could not consent, and gradually Zelda developed symptoms of religious mania and suicidal depression.
In the late 1930s, when Scott was too hard up to pay her hospital fees, he moved her to Highlands Hospital in North Carolina, where Dr Robert Carroll believed in vigorous physical activity and reprogramming rebellious women through electro-shock treatments into "wholesome" wives and mothers. Although Carroll eventually relented enough to support Zelda's painting, he was also involved in a case of raping a female patient. Another psychiatrist, Dr Irving Pine, told Cline that "Dr Carroll took advantage of several women patients, including Zelda".
Scott predeceased her, in 1940, and after his death, Zelda spent much of her time in Montgomery with her family. Cline argues that the years until her death in 1948 were among Zelda's most creative, although her unfinished novel from the period, Caesar's Wife, is the product of her religious obsessions.
In 1975, the Catholic archdiocese overturned an earlier decision and allowed Scott and Zelda to be buried together in St Mary's Church cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. Their inscription quotes the last line of Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
The Fitzgeralds had many admirable qualities, and, separately and together, exhibited far more of Hemingway's "grace under pressure" than Hemingway did himself. But Cline's clear-headed and careful study should make clear that their relationship can no longer be regarded as a great love story. Instead, it demonstrates the terrible danger of such romantic fairytales, and the melancholy dangers of a culture, like that of the American South or the Lost Generation, that sacrifices the present to the imagined glories of the past.
Showalter's books include Inventing Herself (Picador)
Zelda and the Jazz Age
Biographies O O
F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The sensible Thing
The F. Scott Fitgerald Society Home Page
"Sometimes Madness is Wisdom. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald: A Marriage"
By Kendall Taylor
For the love of literature
Scott Fitzgerald stole Zelda's ideas, plagiarized her diaries and even pushed her into an affair. He was arguably the worst husband of his generation -- and that made him its best author.
By Jonathon Keats
Aug. 25, 2001 | When F. Scott Fitzgerald's second novel was published, a newspaper editor asked the author's wife whether she'd consider reviewing it for the New York Herald Tribune. As she read her husband's book with the sharp eye of a paid professional, she recognized not only the autobiographical tenor of "The Beautiful and Damned," but also, cleverly attributed to a female lead much like herself, whole passages authored by her:
"It seems to me," she wrote in her review, "that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald -- I believe that is how he spells his name -- seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home."
She was being modest. The truth is that Scott used a great deal of Zelda's writing, credited to characters he modeled after her, in every book he completed in his abbreviated life. That Zelda was Scott's muse is hardly news, and it comes as no surprise that her frank sexuality, the wild abandon with which she flaunted her body at parties, gave color to his stories: More has been written about the Fitzgeralds, their antics and affairs, than they can possibly have known about themselves.
Yet, while others have certainly noted the spill of life into art, and even marked passages of Scott's books actually written by Zelda ("What grubworms women are to crawl on their bellies through colorless marriages"), Kendall Taylor's new biography of the couple, "Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom" (to be released in September) is the first to provide adequate groundwork for a thorough account of literary custody. Examining sources new and old to find just where within the Fitzgerald home plagiarism began, and at what madhouse it ended, Taylor attempts to make the case that "In effect Zelda was Scott's co-author."
Taylor's documentation is formidable, and were she simply out to argue that Scott could be a despicable creature, a liar and a cheat and a philandering drunk, we could shrug our assent and go back to Gatsby's house party or Dick and Nicole Diver's swath of Riviera beach. But the contention that, as literature, Scott's novels are in any meaningful degree a creation of Zelda is as insupportable as that the Mona Lisa be reattributed to the young wife of Francesco del Giocondo who sat, with that famous smile, as its model. Technically, Scott was a plagiarist. Artistically, that makes no difference.
Like their marriage, the Fitzgeralds' creative relationship went to extremes no couple could be expected to endure, not quite innocent from the start. Young Scott, an Army lieutenant stationed in Alabama awaiting orders to fight overseas, had always found it easy to interest girls by talking up his literary ambitions and asking them, "What sort of heroine would you like to be?" He quickly perceived, though, that to attract 17-year-old Zelda Sayre would demand more: Locals had to wait months for a date, and Army aviators vying with one another to get her attention regularly flew stunts over the Sayre family home risky enough to cause a collision.
So Scott, suited in a uniform of Brooks Brothers cut, not only boasted that he intended to be a famous author and had Francis Scott Key as an ancestor, but also suggested that the female lead in his novel-in-progress was a girl a lot like her. That was true -- albeit only because she resembled the young heiress who'd dumped him in Chicago. Still he intrigued her, enough to take him seriously, and try him out sexually, in spite of his poverty and her intention to marry wealth.
A tacit agreement was reached. As she expressed it to one of his Princeton classmates, "If Scott sells the book, I'll marry the man, because he is sweet." After that, she gave Scott all her support, sending him love letters full of spirited encouragement and quotable wit: A running account of night after night on the town with the heir to one or another Southern fortune.
Stung by jealousy, Scott used those letters, as well as material she let him copy from her diaries, to nuance the novel that would become "This Side of Paradise," a book he almost wholly rewrote to meet his image of her. But, while he flattered Zelda by showing her scenes in which she was depicted as could only be accomplished by a spectacularly talented writer in a state of hopeless infatuation, she cut off all sexual relations with him, and locked the engagement ring he'd offered her (borrowed from his mother) away in a box until he proved himself a literary success.
"This Side of Paradise" was rejected by Charles Scribner's Sons twice, with massive revisions including an about-face from first-person to third. Finally the estimable publisher of Henry James and Edith Wharton offered to print an initial run of 5,000 copies. After that, Zelda tentatively consented to an engagement, and when Scott bought her a diamond-studded wristwatch from Cartier with the earnings of a story he sold to the movies, her parents made their plans public.
Yet Zelda, romantic pragmatist, refused to marry Scott until the novel was in print. She'd broken off his attempted engagement once already, using words he'd promptly written into his book. ("I can't be shut away from the trees and flowers, cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you. You'd hate me in a narrow atmosphere. I'd make you hate me.") If the book flopped, Zelda Sayre, Southern belle, could always replace her beloved with any moneyed bachelor she liked.
His book sold. More than half the edition ran out in the first three days. Almost as quickly, Scott got Zelda to a church and, without waiting for her parents or his, had her to hold -- for richer and poorer -- in their honeymoon suite at New York's Biltmore Hotel. There they stayed for weeks. As he explained to one reporter, "I married the heroine of my stories."
Ring Lardner Jr. had a different way of phrasing it: "Scott is a novelist and Zelda is a novelty." The Fitzgeralds were New York's most notorious couple in the early 1920s, and by encouraging Zelda's antics, Scott had material enough to supply countless short stories to the Saturday Evening Post at an obscene $2,500 apiece -- $25,000 by today's standards -- funding their dipsomaniacal lifestyle while reserving for his second novel the most memorable episodes.
Zelda's behavior remains almost as mythical as Scott's fiction: Her fountain dives and dancing on tabletops, and her outré way of making Scott's friends help her undress and bathe her, were astonishing enough that William Randolph Hearst hired a reporter to cover the couple full-time. But Scott proved more diligent still, writing down on odd scraps of paper for future adaptation anything amusing his wife did or said. He was even there to record her words at the birth of their child: "Goofo, I'm drunk," Zelda told him. "Isn't she smart -- she has the hiccups. I hope it's beautiful and a fool -- a beautiful little fool." That language appeared several years later in "The Great Gatsby," with Daisy saying of her newborn child, "I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
Zelda may have been right. In any case, already her own life was beginning to go wrong: Both she and Scott must have been aware of the precarious role she'd taken, and both seem to have been equally eager to avoid seeing the inevitable catastrophe, the catastrophic inevitability, of continued acceleration. That's the context of her most serious affair. They were living on the French Riviera by then, Scott busy with "The Great Gatsby." As Zelda's sole occupation was as the famous novelist's novelty wife, she found herself out of work while he wrote.
Naturally she was bored. So she found someone new to interest her, and to make her, once again, more interesting to Scott than mere fiction. The man was a French lieutenant, as dark and handsome as required, given the role he had to play. At first Scott encouraged the time she spent with him, but what began as a convenient distraction became a serious matter when Zelda informed her husband that she'd fallen in love and wished for a divorce.
Scott wasn't ready to lose his best character, and ended the affair by force. Whether that involved a duel, as he later boasted to a mistress, seems doubtful, but it hardly matters since the month-long house arrest he inflicted on his wife effectively broke her will. That he could mete out such a punishment is distressing, and the danger done to her psyche would haunt them both to the grave, but more disturbing still is that he later confessed to encouraging the affair before he crushed it. He recognized that by watching his wife's behavior toward her French lover, he could depict Daisy's affair with Gatsby with greater veracity. So human decency bowed its head to artistic excellence, and somewhere within the misery of two people, neither quite innocent, was born "The Great Gatsby," novel of its generation.
Things went from bad to worse for Scott and Zelda both. As in Jay Gatsby's life, the affair marked a turning point in the Fitzgerald marriage. Just how it contributed to Zelda's madness and Scott's alcoholism is open to speculation, but one clear effect was Zelda's determination to find her own voice apart from Scott's novels. She didn't mean to do so through writing. Her first passion was for ballet: She meant to be the next Isadora Duncan, an almost impossible goal made still more difficult by her age and lack of practice since childhood. Nevertheless, she enrolled with one of Europe's premier instructors, a woman retired from the Ballets Russe, and worked herself so hard that she and Scott barely even spoke. He resented the expense of what he considered a waste of her time, and she despised equally her financial dependence on him.
So, to earn some of her own money, she did what came naturally to her in all those letters and diaries: She wrote stories. Scott's agent got top dollar for her prose sketches of popular female types, but only by selling them under their joint byline, or, in the case of one piece the Saturday Evening Post purchased for $5,000, under Scott's name alone. The articles were well done, but certainly not literature, and if Scott got credit he didn't deserve, Zelda made money on a reputation she hadn't earned. It hardly seems worth determining who got the better of whom.
But what happened when Zelda opted to write her own novel is another matter. She intended "Save Me the Waltz" to be a bestseller, and he intended to prevent her from writing it in the first place. His claim to her life as literature had already been challenged a decade earlier when Smart Set editor George Jean Nathan offered to publish her diaries. Zelda expressed interest, but Scott insisted he needed them as "inspiration" for future novels, to support their extravagant lifestyle. He got his way, she had a brief affair with Nathan and all was forgotten.
Matters were rather different 10 years later. "The Great Gatsby" had been a financial failure, and a mental breakdown had forced Zelda to give up ballet. Sexually estranged and alienated by Scott's public courtship of a 17-year-old movie starlet named Lois Moran, she saw the creative potential of authoring a novel, and found in her unhappy marriage spectacular material. She argued in a letter to Scott that their ruined life was "legitimate stuff, which has cost me a pretty emotional penny to amass." Fearful for what damage an autobiographical novel by his wife could do to his image, and for what would be left for him to write, Scott browbeat Zelda into making paper dolls instead.
Another breakdown put her back into an asylum where she was encouraged to write for therapeutic effect. She finished "Save Me the Waltz" and sent it to Maxwell Perkins, Scott's editor at Scribner's. Perkins was impressed. Scott was not. "My God," he said, "my books made her a legend and her single intention in this somewhat thin portrait is to make me a non-entity."
That novel is the only significant work completed by Zelda, and the version Perkins eventually published was considerably abridged by Scott. In spite of extensive damage done to make his character less obviously alcoholic, the novel is a work of extraordinary beauty, written in a voice absolutely original and pitch-perfect. Unfortunately, few have read it; Scott prevented Scribner's from providing publicity, and a mere 1,392 copies sold. Nor was Zelda helped by his judgment of her talent, an opinion he made so public that she parroted it in her book: "I hope you realize that the biggest difference in the world," the character she modeled on him proclaims, "is between the amateur and the professional in the arts."
But Scott was mistaken. Truth be told, the biggest difference in the world is between life and art. That's the flaw in any argument on behalf of Zelda as Scott's co-author. Maybe she would have been as good a writer as Scott. We can't even rule out that she'd have been greater. But that's only because we lack adequate evidence to judge. "Save Me the Waltz" shows that anything could have happened had she realized her potential as a novelist. For a whole host of reasons, she didn't. The only potential she ever realized was as a novelty.
Zelda was the novelty of the decade, even the century, and we ought to appreciate the originality that involves. Even had she not written "Save Me the Waltz," she'd deserve as much credit as Scott for the role she played in making the '20s roar. In all their antics, they were collaborators. They set one another up and watched each other fall. But Scott did something more. He wrote novels that will be read for as long as humanity endures. They will be read after anyone remembers, or even cares, what happened in the decades they were written. They will be read after the whole society they depict is gone. They will be read in the spirit that we already appreciate Sophocles anad Shakespeare, for the high color that great tragedy lends our perception of the human condition. And they will be read for the redemption to be found in anything of true beauty.
Three charges may be leveled against Scott in Zelda's bid for joint custody of his literary progeny. The first, and most easily dismissed, is that he prevented her from writing to protect his own work. Of course he's guilty as charged, and his characteristic cowardice and intense jealousy (to which he readily confessed) are no excuse for the abuse he inflicted on his wife. But that doesn't make a difference when assessing his literature, any more than Jean Genet's prose is less or more compelling on account of his criminal record. Contrary to what Scott believed, greatness among authors is not an either/or proposition, and words are in unlimited supply. Neither "Save Me the Waltz" nor anything else that might have come from Zelda's pen could adversely affect the literary worth of what was written by Scott.
So, having roundly condemned Scott as a husband, we can turn to the serious business of judging him as an author. The second case that might be advanced against him is that he relied on Zelda so completely for inspiration that the part her character plays in his novels isn't honestly his creation.
To begin with, we make a crucial factual error when we assume that Scott acted just as an observer. More to hold against him as a husband, sure: Anyone who would encourage a spouse to have an affair for his benefit deserves to be divorced with extreme prejudice. Yet the fact remains that most of what Zelda did, and especially the stage on which she acted it out, depended on them both.
Maybe her scenes belong to her at least in part? In life yes, but certainly not in art. The crucial distinction is between originality and creativity. The former is all around us, boundless. It may involve great wit, verve, beauty. What it lacks, though, is any underlying structure. Zelda's novelty was a scene unframed by a camera, a performance without footlights or curtain. Scott's work as a novelist involved the organization of wit and verve and beauty into discrete units of meaning. Even in "The Beautiful and Damned," his most autobiographical novel and his weakest, Scott made the omissions and insertions that transformed a senseless summer spent drunk on Long Island into an emblem of an era gone to waste.
Scott could be candid about the subservience of others, and even himself, to his work: "I have just emerged not totally unscathed, from a short violent love affair," he confessed toward the end of his life in a letter to a friend. "Still it's done now and tied up in cellophane and -- and maybe someday I'll get a chapter out of it. God, what a hell of a profession to be a writer." He'd run himself down, written off what was once human in him as surplus equipment. "I remember him telling me," one prostitute he hired later recounted, "that he only made love to help him write."
Or look at it in another way. Compare Kendall Taylor's thoroughly competent biographical account of the Fitzgeralds to the literature Scott distilled from their life together. "At dinner parties, after falling into a stupor," Taylor reveals of the summer spent on Long Island, "[Scott] would often crawl under a table and babble incoherently, or try to eat his soup with a fork." That's good material, an apt example of Scott's immaturity, his drunken instability, yet it has no lift, no significance above and beyond the specific. So, describing the same period in "The Beautiful and Damned" Scott skipped that dumb prank. With much less, he accomplished far more: "There was an odor of tobacco always -- both of them smoked incessantly; it was in their clothes, their blankets, the curtains, and the ash-littered carpets. Added to this was the wretched aura of stale wine, with its inevitable suggestion of beauty gone foul and revelry remembered in disgust."
Beyond the intoxicating effect of Fitzgerald's fluency is the vast difference between his own sophomoric behavior and the brilliant use to which his fiction puts that drunken era. The accumulation of sordid details is much more than a biographer's collection of facts and figures, or the raw moment of life itself. The reason why biographies of Scott and Zelda can't compete with those novels, no matter how deep the research, is that the Fitzgeralds themselves can't compete.
Of course, in addition to animating Scott's work, Zelda contributed to the actual wording on the page. "Plagiarism begins at home," she teased in her review of "The Beautiful and Damned," and by the publication of "Tender Is the Night" saw to her horror that, with neither her permission nor her knowledge, Scott had copied letters she'd sent him from the asylum, to lend greater realism to mad Nicole Diver. So, here at last is a substantive claim against Fitzgerald the novelist, a potential case of copyright infringement and certainly grounds for grammar school detention. As a claim against Scott's art, though, it still doesn't hold: No matter how much he copied down Zelda's conversation or quoted without attribution from her letters and diaries, he committed plagiarism only in fact -- which, contrary to popular opinion, is not a matter of any literary significance.
Our poor middlebrow society loathes plagiarism. We hate it with such passion that a minor instance nearly tarred and feathered the previously unimpeachable reputation of Martin Luther King. We ought to take a moment, though, to ask why. We ought to question whether we condemn it just because we're told to do so, encouraged in print by writers for whom such theft of language matters more than anything in all the world.
Legally speaking, we ought to be outraged: An author's words are his intellectual property, as worthy of statutory protection as ownership of an automobile, say, or a ukulele. For somebody else to use them without permission and attribution, to kidnap them (as the word plagiary once literally meant) is to gain unfairly something of value at its author's expense. But that can't alone account for the degree of our disgust: Had Martin Luther King merely robbed a bank, his reputation would hardly have suffered so much so many decades after the fact. Put in other terms, we would still accuse someone of plagiarism were they, like Fitzgerald, given unrestricted permission to use material not their own but, again like Fitzgerald, not to provide attribution of the material used. So our ire isn't merely a healthy legal concern: There also lingers an anxiety about artistic creation.
Godless as our culture may be, we seem still to believe that books are born as wholly and independently as Zeus begat Athena. But that's patently false. Literary creativity isn't truly an act of creation. A writer doesn't manufacture words. Rather, he chooses them: He chooses to include some and to exclude others, by those means to kidnap their implications with greater or lesser precision of phrasing. A writer gives structure to preexisting cultural associations, finding new meanings by arranging them in previously unimagined juxtapositions. So it goes with scenes and chapters, an entire book.
We take for granted that individual words are the building blocks of writing, but only because most authors adhere to that tradition. Fitzgerald didn't. He wasn't trying to sneak something by his readers: He jotted Zelda's bon mots in public, sent a typescript of her diaries to Maxwell Perkins and on his letterhead ironically titled himself "hack writer and plagiarist." He told people openly that Zelda was his source for stories such as "The Ice Palace." He didn't mean by that to offer her credit for his fiction; given his radical notion of authorship, well ahead of its day, such nonsense would never have occurred to him.
In the end, Fitzgerald's unprecedented talent justifies his unorthodox tactics. The first test of literature is whether the whole is greater than the parts. As difficult as it is to manipulate the meanings loaded into individual words, to make literature by arranging whole sentences and paragraphs, to work with material as full of itself as Zelda's diaries and letters, and to make it support a whole worldview, is a monumental feat. We already venerate F. Scott Fitzgerald the wordsmith as even he couldn't have dreamed. Now with more reason than ever to deplore him as a man and a husband, we equally, astonishingly, have means to appreciate the sublimation of his wife, her novelty, into art.
About the writer
Jonathon Keats is the author of the novel "The Pathology of Lies." He is currently at work on a novel about a plagiarist.
Sunday Herald - 25 August 2002
Beautiful but damned
Sometimes madness is wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, a marriage by Kendall
Taylor (Robson Books, £18.95)
Reviewed by: Lesley McDowell
'IN my next incarnation, I may not choose again to be the daughter of a famous author,' wrote Scottie Fitzgerald once, in an introduction to a volume of her father's letters. 'People who live entirely by the fertility of their imagination are fascinating, brilliant and often charming but they should be sat next to at dinner parties, not lived with.'
There are two points here that Kendall Taylor's authoritative, highly readable and knowledgeable biography returns to again and again. First is the omission of Scottie's mother, Zelda -- she is the daughter only of a 'famous author' -- which Taylor wants to counterbalance; the second is the long-fabled impossibility of ever 'living with' an artist, especially when the artist uses intimate details from that cohabitation for his or her work.
Had teenage Southern belle Zelda Sayre merely plumped her bottom down next to the Yankee Princeton student Scott Fitzgerald, a troubled mind and an even more troubled marriage might not have resulted. Similarly, a body of literature some consider the greatest produced in the 20th century might not have resulted either. For Fitzgerald used his wife's diaries, her mental illness and other intimate details of their relationship for his books, particularly the character of Daisy in The Great Gatsby and the Divers' doomed marriage in Tender Is The Night.
It is not controversial that Fitzgerald did this -- male writers have long utilised the women in their lives in this way, the most famous perhaps being James Joyce, who fictionalised his partner Nora Barnacle as Molly Bloom in Ulysses. So what if characters and scenes in Fitzgerald's fiction came directly out of his marriage? Who cares if passages from Zelda's diaries were quoted verbatim, unacknowledged and sometimes without permission? The end result, we are reminded, is genius, and that excuses everything.
But not according to Taylor, which is refreshing to hear. Happy to smash that particular myth -- along with many others, like the one that decrees female madness is sexy rather than disturbing -- Taylor presents a persuasive argument that says no, using another's life for the purpose of art is not to be tolerated. In this she surprisingly has the unwitting support of Fitzgerald himself, who, while happy to use his marriage and his wife's mental instability for his novels, did all he could to prevent his wife's own attempt to fictionalise their relationship. When Zelda did produce her one novel -- Save Me For The Waltz -- about their life together, Fitzgerald was furious: 'Turning up in a novel signed by my wife as a somewhat anaemic portrait painter with a few ideas lifted from Clive Bell, Leger, etc, puts me in an absurd position and Zelda in a ridiculous position. My God, my books made her a legend and her single intention in this somewhat thin portrait is to make me a nonentity.'
The 'legend' that Fitzgerald created was born and brought up in the small Southern town of Montgomery in Alabama, the youngest of six children. The daughter of a well-respected local judge, Zelda's place in the local community was high and pretty well untouchable, even when, along with the Bankhead girls, one of whom, Tallulah, would later become the famous Hollywood actress, she made a name for herself as a wild girl who would ride in cars with boys, drink too much at dances and go skinny-dipping at midnight. The archetypal 'flapper' girl, immortalised in fiction by Owen Johnson's 1914 novel The Salamander as 'passionately adventurous, eager and unafraid, neither sure of what she seeks nor conscious of what forces impel or check her', Zelda knew one thing -- that her life would not be boring.
Perfectly suited to what Fitzgerald would term 'the Jazz Age', Zelda would keep her eager suitor hanging by a thread, dating other men while promising to marry him only when he could prove that he could afford to keep her. Her fate was sealed when This Side Of Paradise was published in 1920 and the two married. Their honeymoon quickly set the pattern of their married life together -- lots of writer friends, lots of alcohol, lots of fights and lots of being thrown out of hotels.
Fitzgerald was a new media darling thanks to the success of his first book. Now, married to the carefree, daredevil Zelda, who matched every one of her husband's drunken excesses with her own, he became media fodder. Extremes of quiet -- the public needed another novel, and The Beautiful And The Damned was its reward -- contrasted with periods of intense party-going as Zelda found marriage to a writer sometimes the very thing she feared most -- boring and isolating. The birth of her only child Scottie did not help and within a year or two both had embarked on affairs.
Infidelity was to characterise their marriage as much as alcohol abuse and it affected Zelda particularly badly. By 1930, her attempts to find a life for herself apart from one as Fitzgerald's wife led her to take up ballet, painting and writing. This last ambition seems to have finished the marriage -- Fitzgerald would not take on competition from his wife, who was a highly gifted writer, especially not as his own star seemed to decline. Unable to bear Fitzgerald's discouragement, Zelda's sanity began to waver and a series of hospitalisations, which was to last until the end of her life, began. When Tender Is The Night appeared, detailing Zelda's breakdowns, it seemed to be the last straw.
Throughout her life, Scottie maintained her distance from her parents, determined not to take part in what she called the 'tragedy' of their lives. In that term, not only is the sense of missed opportunities evoked, but also the sense of performance. Zelda Fitzgerald emerges from this biography somewhat restored to the stage of literary lives, not merely as the muse of a great writer but as an individual in her own right, who, given a different set of circumstances, might have achieved a great deal. One cannot help but think from this account it may have been Fitzgerald's good fortune to have married Zelda Sayre; it was perhaps her misfortune to have married him.
Zelda really just too great a rival for Scott?
Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent
Sunday September 22, 2002
She was a socialite who fell apart in the glare of transatlantic publicity, her apparent madness blamed for bringing down her genius husband. But now a British biography of Zelda Fitzgerald is to challenge the image of her as a wilful, privileged lunatic who hindered the work of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Research by Sally Cline, a Cambridge University and University of East Anglia academic, has uncovered a story of misdiagnosis, marital oppression and sanctioned medical poisoning. 'Zelda has always been represented as the mad wife,' Cline said. 'But she suffered as much from the treatment as the illness itself.'
After talking to surviving doctors and friends and looking at previously sealed medical notes, Cline has put together a story of creative rivalry and physical cruelty. Fitzgerald immortalised his Southern Belle bride in The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, while at the same time refusing to remove her from hospital. He argued she would disrupt his writing.
When the glittering couple married in 1920, Zelda made the gossip columns by jumping into the fountain in New York's Washington Square. She was already renowned for dancing on tables and cartwheeling in hotel lobbies.
Dubbed the 'first American flapper' by her husband, she was a talented artist and dancer who wanted to write novels. But as his drinking worsened and her mental stability faltered, she was banned from dancing, then from writing. 'One psychiatrist thought they should be treated together,' said Cline. 'But Fitzgerald would not agree to this diagnosis of folie à deux . He forbade her from writing about their life, even insisting publishers cut large sections from her book, Save the Last Waltz, that covered the same ground as his own work-in-progress, Tender is the Night.' He also suggested her articles be printed under both their names, or just his.
Cline maintains Zelda never suffered from writer's block. 'Instead she fought the block on her writing imposed by a fellow writer.'
Zelda's unfinished second novel, Caesar's Things, is now about to be published, while her startling paintings are to go on show in America, Paris and London. Cline predicts an artistic reappraisal. She believes Fitzgerald used his wife's illness as an excuse for drinking. At first she was referred to as 'eccentric', then as 'mentally disordered', then as 'schizophrenic'. Yet, Cline argues, she produced her best work as a writer, dancer and artist during her time in and out of hospitals.
Writing from inside one institution, Zelda complained to her alcoholic husband: 'You blamed me when the servants were bad, and expected me to instil into them a proper respect for a man they saw morning after morning asleep in his clothes.'
Her most desperate letters were reproduced in Tender is the Night, when Nicole writes to Dick Diver: 'I am completely broken and humiliated, if that was what they wanted. I have had enough and it is simply ruining my health and wasting my time pretending that what is the matter with my head is curable.'
Fitzgerald was defended by friends such as Ernest Hemingway and John dos Passos, who said he was trying to 'do the best possible thing for Zelda, to handle his drinking and keep a flow of stories into the magazines to raise the enormous sums Zelda's illness cost'. Anxiety attacks, eczema and lesbian infatuations were all cited as evidence of Zelda's schizophrenia by Dr Eugen Bleuler, the Swiss psychiatrist who first coined the term. Yet Dr Irving Pine, the last psychiatrist to treat her, told Cline he felt Zelda was consistently misdiagnosed. 'He disputed the label "schizophrenia" and suggested that psychiatrists had failed to take her talents seriously,' writes Cline. 'Bleuler saw her as a woman competing publicly with her more famous husband in an inappropriate manner.'
heavily drugged and given insulin and electric shock treatments for years. On
her occasional outings, she continued to behave erratically, once stripping
naked during a game of tennis before being carried away screaming by hospital
attendants. In 1948, eight years after her husband's death, she was killed in a
fire at a mental hospital.
LRB | Vol. 25 No. 12 dated 19 June 2003 | Nina Auerbach
Vampire to Victim
Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise by Sally Cline | John Murray, 492 pp, £25.00
Zelda Fitzgerald would probably call herself a post-feminist today, but when she was alive, she made herself a flapper. In 1926, F. Scott Fitzgerald's charmingly wild wife told an interviewer that she hoped her daughter's generation would be even 'jazzier' than her own: 'I think a woman gets more happiness out of being gay, light-hearted, unconventional, mistress of her own fate, than out of a career that calls for hard work, intellectual pessimism and loneliness. I don't want Pat to be a genius, I want her to be a flapper, because flappers are brave and gay and beautiful.'
Did Zelda really say all this? So many creeds have been thrust on her by adoring Pygmalions, from Scott Fitzgerald himself to Sally Cline in this passionately partisan biography, that the real Zelda long ago drowned in images, including her own. Still, if she did not shower these particular scintillating adjectives on her flapper-self, her life proclaimed them.
A flapper in the 1920s, like a post-feminist today, hovers between defiance and compliance. She embraces the subordination the previous generation fled, but calls it 'brave and gay and beautiful', not self-sacrificial or boring. Because Zelda thought work was depressing as well as desirable, she is not my favourite biographical subject: she reminds me too much of my younger colleagues, who find it grim to buck the systems of profession and family it was so elating in the 1970s to defy. Unlike my own female heroes, Zelda never defined herself; she just flailed about under the aegis of her brilliant husband. As a girl, she did everything she was supposed to do: she was a Southern belle who married a dapper genius once he became rich enough to keep her. Until money and energy ran out, they lived the media-starred life of Beautiful People in New York and Paris, drowning domesticity (and, almost, their stoical daughter) in servants, fun and champagne.
Belatedly, Zelda saw that she was patronised as a tart-tongued appendage to glittering Scott. Jealous of his fame, she snatched at a career, but not in the frumpy way 'that calls for hard work, intellectual pessimism and loneliness'. She flung herself into three arts simultaneously - ballet, painting and writing - with such ferocity that she plummeted into the madness that consumed her last 18 years, most of which were spent in mental hospitals and, finally, under the suffocating surveillance of the Alabama family from which Scott had been her escape.
Zelda lived to please, but nobody much liked her. Ernest Hemingway, who detested women writers, saw her as an insane harpy who destroyed Scott's work. Though Cline insists, often on flimsy evidence, that Zelda was an authentic artist, she is fair-minded enough to surround her with women who really did make their careers on their own: Rebecca West, Dorothy Parker, Natalie Barney and Zelda's Montgomery classmate and friend Sara Haardt, who fled belle-dom to write fiction; the serious and tubercular Sara eventually married H.L. Mencken and died shortly afterwards. These women were more or less kind to Zelda (Dorothy Parker bought two of her drawings in 1934, though she found them too tortured to hang), but she was not their peer. She may have been too angry for Hemingway, but she was too wifely for professional writers.
Yet in 1970 Zelda's life, not the careers of her successful contemporaries, became, potentially, our own. Nancy Milford's extraordinary biography gripped and chilled young literary women in America. I still recall the shock of her book, though as a Scott Fitzgerald fan I had thought I knew the story: the fame, the fun, the crash, the crack-up, the hospitals, the drain of money and love, and the ignominious trapped deaths - for him in the waste of Hollywood in 1940, for her in an asylum fire eight years later. Smart, stylish, funny, unmoored, Zelda had always seemed the figurehead of a lost generation, but in 1970 she became the symbol of lost women.
It had never occurred to me that Zelda Fitzgerald had a life outside her husband's lyrical prose. Of course women writers had lives, but did wives? Did they need them? Milford's revelation, which shouldn't have been a shock, was that Zelda had lived outside Scott's metaphors. In fact, his images of a shimmering golden girl, who in the great novels Gatsby and Tender Is the Night becomes something like a vampire, entangled Zelda in his fantasies; so did the role of wife itself. Pillaging her letters, her journals, her language (it was supposedly Zelda who said, at her daughter's birth: 'I hope it's beautiful and a fool - a beautiful little fool,' a blessing/curse with which Scott would pinion Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby), Scott did not glorify Zelda, but, according to Milford, drained her incipient identity.
Scott Fitzgerald was most women's favourite Modernist, as Keats was our favourite Romantic, especially compared to myopic, preening Wordsworth. Compared to his sometime friend, the posturing bully Hemingway, Fitzgerald seemed gentle, almost girlish, breathlessly embracing his charmed fictional world. But Milford showed us another Fitzgerald face, one that appeared when his wife began to write.
In the traditional reading of her life, Zelda's belated lunge at art (she was 27 when she threw herself into dancing) was a symptom of insanity. In hospital, she wrote, in an astonishing three weeks, her autobiographical novel Save Me the Waltz. Scott, labouring for years over Tender Is the Night and transcribing his wife's symptoms into its mad heroine, exploded when he read Zelda's first draft. He claimed that she had stolen his material (her own life) and made him look like a weak fool (in the first draft, Zelda named the ineffectual husband Amory Blaine, the glamorous hero of Scott's bestseller This Side of Paradise).
Save Me the Waltz is in fact vividly different from Scott's work. For Zelda, marriage is a shadowy affair: the novel springs to life in ballet school, a female world of muscles, sweat, competition and community. Unlike Scott, intoxicated by hazy images, Zelda lives in bodies and smells. 'Do you still smell of pencils and sometimes of tweed?' she wrote longingly to Scott from hospital. Perhaps because he thought his wife was stealing his material, or perhaps because she had access to a tactile world beyond his, Scott did his hysterical best to enlist Zelda's psychiatrists in suppressing not only her novel, but all her artistic aspirations. His collusion with her doctors in a ghastly attempt to 're-educate' Zelda into wifehood was, for me, the shocking centre of Milford's book. Mad Zelda went from vampire to victim, lovable Scott from victim to oppressor. Like the wife in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 story 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' which was reprinted around the same time Milford's biography appeared, Zelda Fitzgerald was broken by an alliance among those quintessential good men, husbands and doctors.
Milford's biography is saved from polemic by its grace and tact. Her own commentary is spare; most of the story is told in irresistible letters, by the principals and the many writers in their circle, so that the dynamic of a wife's wreck becomes irrefutable, not imposed. Milford never denies that Zelda was ill as well as insulted. Scott is allowed his agony, romantic, creative and financial. Zelda's story remains the one we knew, but told from a viewpoint that restores the life she experienced.
After Milford's achievement, does Zelda Fitzgerald need another biography? I don't think so, though Sally Cline's account is lush and readable, with some telling new material. Cline, whose last book was a biography of Radclyffe Hall, gives full and fascinating accounts of the Fitzgeralds' fraught relations with the homosexual community in bohemian Paris. We knew of the paranoid obsession with 'fairies' that terrorised Hemingway, Zelda and Scott himself (for Fitzgerald, some evil homosexual abstraction, not competitive tension, killed his friendship with Hemingway: 'I really loved him, but of course it wore out like a love affair. The fairies have spoiled all that'). But Zelda's undefined association with the lesbian community of Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney and Djuna Barnes, her insistence during her first breakdown that she was in love with Barney, and also with her ballet teacher Lubov Egorova, are new to me. The obsessed Fitzgeralds, flayed with a terror of desires that were beyond the pale, present a touching picture of American innocents abroad, and also of the tortured artistic generation that came of age after Oscar Wilde's trials in 1895. Adultery, of course, remained not sick but sophisticated: Scott had a series of affairs. She also itemises his alcoholic binges, whose details more reverent biographers want to forget. Cline places her characters in a tougher, less glamorous world than we are used to.
Still, her advocacy of Zelda is overwrought. Cline has written the sort of adoring biography Zelda herself might have conceived. Its subtitle, 'Her Voice in Paradise', has a double meaning. On the surface, of course, it echoes ironically the title of Scott's famous first novel, This Side of Paradise, but there is a Spiritualist dimension as well, evoking a glorified Zelda dictating from the afterlife. Cline's Zelda is so brilliant, so conspired against, ultimately so triumphant, that her life loses its contours.
For one thing, the quotations from the Fitzgeralds' letters and journals that Cline uses are so truncated - no doubt because many others have already published this material - that she seems to be forcing a story rather than letting one unfold. From the harrowing series of letters that follow Zelda's early hospitalisations, in which Scott rages about her stealing his material and she tries to mollify him, Cline quotes the following snippets:
Scott could not contain himself. 'So you are taking my material, is that right?'
'Is that your material?' Zelda asked. The asylums? The madness? The terrors? Were they yours? Funny, she hadn't noticed.
It takes a sharp reader to notice that the final five accusatory sentences are Cline's, not Zelda's, as if Cline were now the medium through which her subject vindicates herself.
Cline's Scott is an unmitigated villain. She insinuates vast conspiracies, not typical sexist ignorance, in Scott's and the doctors' assumption that Zelda's ambition and her sexuality were symptoms of insanity. She is equally conspiratorial about Zelda's misdiagnosis as a schizophrenic. Scott did not invent his times: until quite recently, 'schizophrenic' was indeed a catch-all category for mental illness; throughout most of the 20th century, it was a commonplace that ambitious, sexually driven women were, by definition, mad.
Today, Zelda would no doubt be diagnosed as a manic depressive (hence her frenzied bouts of creative fever, followed by weeks of silence and withdrawal); she would probably have responded to lithium, a drug that was not used until the 1970s. Scott was no more responsible for medical ignorance than H.L. Mencken was responsible for Sara Haardt's early death from tuberculosis. In fact, out of the welter of Scott's laments and accusations comes some prophetic sense: 'I can't help clinging to the idea that some essential physical things like salt or iron or semen or some unguessed at holy water is either missing or is present in too great quantity.' Psychopharmacology has discovered the truth in Scott's wild guess, but Zelda is not the only hectored patient who might have been cured had she been born later.
Cline accuses Fitzgerald of out-and-out plagiarism in his literary use of Zelda's material. This is a shaky charge: before our own litigious days, writers were licensed sponges. Moreover, we would lose voices like Dickens's, Sylvia Plath's and Philip Roth's if their pillaged intimates had the right of censorship. Scott did publish some of Zelda's stories under his own name, as Milford showed, but they might not otherwise have been published at all. Zelda's achievement as a writer is not brilliant. Save Me the Waltz, her one published novel, is often violently alive, but it is also patchy and disconnected. When it appeared, it sold almost no copies. Her unfinished novel, Caesar's Things, and her long play, Scandalabra, sound barely coherent. Cline puts an angry caption under a photograph of Sara Haardt: 'Sara always received more encouragement from her husband H.L. Mencken than Zelda did from Scott.' But Haardt was a professional writer long before she met Mencken. Finally, writers write their own careers. Encouragers are incidental.
For all his overbearing accusations, Scott seems to have helped as much as he impeded. In the early days, Zelda was glad enough to use Scott Fitzgerald's name to promote her stories; his editor Max Perkins handled a slightly cut version of Save Me the Waltz; Scott tried tirelessly to edit the welter of Scandalabra into a presentable shape. His friends loyally attended Zelda's art shows and bought her paintings; after his death, she exhibited in Montgomery, where, thanks to Scott, she was something of a local celebrity. But even before her illnesses, she made few attempts to strike out on her own.
Zelda was always on the verge of an independent identity she never embraced. In 1929, a ballet company in Naples invited her to join it as a soloist: she turned down the job and shortly afterwards became a professional invalid. In a vivid section of Save Me the Waltz, the heroine does go to Naples, not just as a soloist, but as the prima ballerina in Swan Lake. She is lonely and adrift. When her snooty daughter visits, she is embarrassed by her relative poverty. Naples sickens the child; both the girl and the dancing mother are relieved when she returns to her father. Shortly thereafter, as if in punishment, an infected foot ensures that the heroine will never dance again. Instead of living out this dark dream, even finding within it a possible happy ending, Zelda cracked up.
The Naples invitation makes nonsense of the condescending assumption that Zelda's dancing was a pathetic symptom, not a vocation, but her refusal to follow through was, I think, the turning point of her life. Cline does her best to blame Scott for this failure of nerve with the vague suggestion that he somehow hypnotised his wife: Zelda's 'strange passivity at this critical moment implies an emotional fatigue from many months of professional subservience'. But if Zelda had wanted to go to Naples, her husband could have stopped her only by locking her in the closet. By that time, I suspect, he would have been relieved - and freer to work - had Zelda begun to make a career on her own. But she shrank from an opportunity she associated with 'hard work, intellectual pessimism and loneliness'. One can blame something amorphous, such as 'the backlash' or 'the times' or whatever else might brainwash young women into associating careers with deprivation rather than challenge and power and fun, but it's unreasonable to blame Fitzgerald for depriving his wife of a chance she refused to take.
I hope it isn't reverting to the old 'angelic Scott, demonic Zelda' stereotype to grant Zelda Fitzgerald the power of all women to create her own failures as well as to endure them. Moreover, Cline seems to see no failures in Zelda's three truncated careers. Not only does she enthusiastically insist on her talent at all three - about which she is surely right - but she also makes grandiose claims I find ridiculous. She solemnly compares Zelda's prose to Faulkner's (as well as Scott's), her paintings to those of Picasso, O'Keefe and Van Gogh. Is Zelda really on a par with them, or is she flailing around for a style of her own? Since Cline reproduces only a handful of her paintings, referring the reader to others (her mother destroyed most of them after her death), we must take her achievement on faith. Cline does reproduce Zelda's unused jacket design for The Beautiful and Damned, in which a naked Zelda looks pertly out of a glass of champagne. It's cute, but it looks less like a book jacket than an invitation to a party. The late flower paintings, which Brendan Gill provocatively called 'the expression of a violent, undischarged rage' and thus 'radically unsuited to the New Yorker', sound intriguing, but they might be better read about than seen.
One of Scott Fitzgerald's cruellest remarks is also one of his truest: 'Now the difference between the professional and the amateur is something that is awfully hard to analyse, it is awfully intangible. It just means the keen equipment; it means a scent, a smell of the future in one line.' Zelda could smell bodies, but she did not have the scent of the professional. In Victorian England, her trio of talents would have been cooed over as 'accomplishments'; in all times, women are loved for remaining amateurs. It was Zelda's tragic flaw, not the fault of any man, that she would not take the leap into professionalism.
Instead, she became a professional patient, and thereby lost both husband and career. Cline tries to decorate these losses with Wagnerian triumphal strains: while Milford titled the section depicting Zelda's first hospitalisations 'Breakdown', Cline calls it 'Creative Voices'. Milford designated Zelda's last drifting years as Scott's widow, spent largely in her mother's custody, 'Going Home'; Cline calls it 'In Her Own Voice'. We all would like Zelda Fitzgerald to have ended in feminist triumph, but Milford's sad, simple words seem to be more appropriate to her lost life. Cline's rhetorical elation makes me nervous about our own times. In thirty years Zelda Fitzgerald has gone from case history to cult figure. The life of this wrecked if gallant woman has become, not the cautionary tale it was in 1970, but an achievement to applaud.
Nina Auerbach teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Her study of Daphne du Maurier is out in paperback.
Zelda comes into her own
Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise by Sally Cline. New York: Arcade, 2002, 492 pp., $27.95 hardcover.
Reviewed by Nancy Gray
ONE OF THE MOST ENDURING, and romanticized, images we have of early 20th-century art and culture is that of the Jazz Age. Consider the artists, writers, and dancers whose works we continue to revere. Think of the stories and exploits, the heady tales of living high and dying young, the image of expatriates squeezing every last drop of experience out of the years between the two world wars. There in the midst of it all is Zelda Fitzgerald, icon extraordinaire--a Southern belle married to one of the most celebrated writers of her day, the flapper who jumped into fountains and got her picture in the papers, the woman who had it all and then went famously mad. Her story is paradigmatic of the era, or at least it has seemed so. And it is here, in the tensions between what seems and what is, that biographer Sally Cline has found her richest material. Her aim is to set the record straight, "to give Zelda a life of her own," separate from as well as intertwined with Scott Fitzgerald's and their "golden couple" image. The structuring device Cline has chosen for this task is that of voice: Each of the book's six parts is structured around the "voices" that shaped Zelda's life, culminating in "her own voice." By that Cline means above all Zelda as artist, the aspect she feels has been most neglected by other biographers in favor of the more mythic Zelda.
Though the Fitzgeralds themselves wrote repeatedly about the costly underside of maintaining their glamorously troubled image, that image has persisted--largely, according to Cline, because Fitzgerald biographers have insisted on it. Cline's book is quite another matter. It's possible to come away from it feeling as if you know Zelda and Scott too well. Her access to published and unpublished letters, journals, manuscripts, institutional records, library archives, and people who knew or were related to Zelda is extensive, frequently going beyond that available to previous biographers. She digs carefully and relentlessly into the details behind competing or incomplete accounts, noting that even some of her interviewees who knew Zelda "found it hard to distinguish between their memories and their readings of what has become an abundance of Fitzgerald material." Cline manages to make the distinctions sharp while recognizing the connections, even the collusion, between fiction and reality in Zelda's life. What emerges is a scrupulously researched account of a woman who was always in the limelight yet was ill-equipped either to deal with it or to do without it, a complex mixture of Southern belle, Jazz Age wild child, wife, mother, and seriously ambitious artist. Cline gives us a Zelda of contradictions, a woman "both intensely private and publicly outrageous," whose competing sensibilities overwhelmed her as much as they fed her creativity. As Zelda's life with Scott moves from high adventure to bitterness, rivalry, jealousy, and illness, she seems undone by having no solid foundation to hold onto. In the end, her story reads as tragedy, her death a needless waste, leaving one wondering what she might have accomplished had things been otherwise.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Cline's approach is her liberal use of fiction as evidence for fact. Her reason for doing so is persuasive:
Zelda and Scott flourished as capricious, merciless self-historians, writing and rewriting their exploits. They used their stormy partnership as a basis for fiction, which subsequently became a form of private communication that allowed fiction to stand as a method of discourse about their marriage. (pp. 1-2)
For them, Cline says, "imagination was always more powerful than fact." Nowhere is this issue more evident than in Cline's account of the debates over Zelda's role in Scott's writing. While for the most part Cline takes an even-handed view of these two difficult personalities, her focus on what Zelda lost along the way is (perhaps inevitably) marked by impatience, if not anger, with Scott's part in it. She points out, for instance, that what Scott's biographers refer to in his work as "inspired by" Zelda's letters and remarks was in fact, "not a matter of 'inspiration' but a direct borrowing of Zelda's lines." She debunks Zelda's supposed acquiescence, reinforcing Zelda's public quip that Scott "seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home" with detailed examples of Zelda's crossing out of Scott's name on story manuscripts and replacing it with her own, or inserting "No!" and "Me" where he used her words as his own. Cline duly revisits the well-known example of Scott's insistence that Zelda remove large passages from her novel Save Me the Waltz (written while he was struggling to complete Tender Is the Night) as they, in his view, usurped his literary right to their shared experiences. Referring to Zelda's original manuscript and draft revisions as "mislaid," Cline points out that while there is no direct evidence of what deletions Zelda actually made, Zelda firmly insisted in a letter to Scott that she would revise strictly "on an aesthetic basis." Cline uses the incident to demonstrate Zelda's determination to be an artist in her own right and to stand up to Scott in the process.
WRITING IS ONLY ONE of Zelda's "three arts"; the other two are dancing and painting. Zelda's determination to train, at the late age of 27, to be a ballet dancer and her remarkable if limited success, are already well known. Most of Cline's material here will be familiar enough; but her interpretation of the effects of Zelda's commitment to her teacher, Madame Egorova, are worth noting. Both Zelda's doctors and her husband blamed her first breakdown on her "obsession" with dancing. Dancing, however, was the least of it, according to Cline. Zelda's devotion to Egorova was, in Scott's view, "abnormal," and became the basis for his accusations that she had lesbian relationships. While this may have been so while Zelda was hospitalized, Cline believes that Zelda's commitment to dancing had more to do with Zelda's desire to become independent of Scott and his need to control her. Cline covers a good deal of ground here, teasing out and correcting suppositions about their affairs; their attitudes toward sexuality (both of them more or less "bisexual" in manner and appearance, but he loudly homophobic, she speaking in terms of "desire"); their talk of divorce; Zelda's suicide attempts; and the varying states of her mental health. Cline links Scott's frantic disapproval of Zelda's dancing and his obsessive control of her writing to Zelda's increasingly frustrated and erratic behavior. She contends that Zelda's arts came most fully to the fore between 1929 and 1934, the period of her first breakdowns and hospitalizations, and suggests that art was Zelda's lifeline in her struggle to hang onto a sense of self and sanity as her life fell apart. Wistfully evoking a mythical ability to live in fire, Zelda wrote, "I believed I was a Salamander, and it seems I am nothing but an impediment." But as an artist she was a self with vision and passion of her own.
Interestingly enough, while most of Zelda's doctors agreed with Scott that Zelda's writing and dancing were signs of her instability, they referred to her painting as "therapeutic." From Cline's descriptions of the paintings, as well as from the one reproduced on the book jacket (Ballerinas Dressing), it's clear that Zelda was not at all interested in depicting typical feminine forms. Yet her painting may have been accepted because it was seen as a less serious threat than writing or dancing to Scott's work and his status as her husband-protector. Cline regards painting as central to Zelda as a person and as an artist, as well as the art most in need of reclaiming on Zelda's behalf. She speculates that early biographers paid scant attention to it because so much of it was lost or destroyed. But Cline was able to see more than two-thirds of the paintings themselves (held mostly in private collections) and slides of the rest. Citing Zelda's visual art as "the most successfully refined of her three gifts," she examines the work Zelda produced from 1925 until her death in 1948. She interprets Zelda's technique, influences, recurrent themes, and productivity as proof of talent and as a rich source of clues about the artist behind the work. For instance, she is able to counter views of Zelda as an indifferent mother by examining the paper dolls Zelda created to delight and instruct her daughter Scottie. The hours spent painting and playing with the hundreds of fairy-tale scenes attest to Zelda's parental attentiveness. In addition, Cline looks at the characters Zelda dressed in multiple and unexpected personas as examples of her nonconformist sensibilities: "Though Zelda is partly making children's art for Scottie," Cline says, "she is at the same time subverting the conventional childhood approach by using dolls to transgress male/female boundaries." Cline argues that Zelda's unconventional vision, present in all aspects of her life, was most fully realized in her visual arts. In her view, painting stands as Zelda's greatest claim to being an artist in her own right. And because Zelda continued to develop this art so assiduously right to the end, Cline uses it, along with a careful study of hospital records, to correct previous depictions of Zelda during the eight years after Scott's death as hopelessly lost in madness.
Between 1930 and 1948, Zelda resided for varying lengths of time in seven mental clinics on two continents. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic--though her last psychiatrist told Cline that manic-depression was more likely the case--and subjected to a remarkable array of debilitating treatments. Until Scott died in 1940, he was intimately involved with Zelda's treatment as well as financially responsible for it. Cline sees his role as reflecting his need to see himself as "a junior consultant almost on a par with her doctors," who knew better than anyone else what was best for Zelda. Cline's tone becomes one of increasing indignation as she traces Zelda's experience with "madness" (the quotation marks are hers.) Criticizing Scott and the medical establishment for doing as much harm as good, she details treatments aimed at "reinterpreting" Zelda's behavior as "disappointed ambition" inappropriate to a wife, and "reeducating" her "toward femininity, good mothering and the revaluing of marriage and domesticity." Cline makes the case that Zelda's illness was at least in part a response to feeling invisible and trapped, and that her art constituted a viable attempt to break free of the roles in which she was cast.
Cline's last chapter is devoted primarily to countering the "overwhelmingly powerful myth" of Zelda as a "left-over widow" who, when not hospitalized, wandered the streets "lugging her Bible on a one-woman mission to convert the residents." Instead she shows Zelda living quite competently on her own in Asheville, North Carolina, checking herself in and out of Highland Hospital as needed and approaching life with a good deal of "clarity, healthy activity, above all enormous creative output." This is a Zelda damaged by the events of her life but, Cline suggests, coming finally into her idiosyncratic own. Yet even at the end she did not escape the mystery that had always followed her. Cline cites conflicting accounts of the hospital fire in which Zelda perished and provides no clear answers as to what really happened and why, only the conviction that Zelda died needlessly at the age of 48, still struggling to achieve all that she could. Finally, then, the voice that Cline restores to Zelda is "the voice of aspiration." It seems a fitting legacy.
Scott Fitzgerald Dies at 44;
Chronicler of 'Lost Generation'
Author of 'This Side of Paradise' and 'The Great
Gatsby,' Who Voiced the Growing Disillusion
of the Jazz Age, Passed in Hollywood
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 22 (AP)-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist, short-story writer and scenarist, died at his Hollywood home yesterday. He was forty-four years old. He suffered a heart attack three weeks ago.
Wrote of "Lost Generation"
F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have invented the so-called "younger generation" of two decades ago. At any rate, he was the most articulate writer about the rich, young set which was also variously referred to as "the lost generation" and the "post-war generation," and as such he acquired a reputation far out of proportion to his works, which were limited to four novels and several volumes of short stories.
All four novels were characterized by rich, loose-living characters, who grew older as Mr. Fitzgerald grew older. Invariably they met disillusionment and despair. In commenting on Mr. Fitzgerald's last novel, "Tender Is the Night," Clifton Fadiman, book critic for "The New Yorker," summed up Mr. Fitzgerald's career with the words:
"In Mr. Fitzgerald's case, at any rate, money is the root of all novels. In 'This Side of Paradise,' Mr. Fitzgerald's first and most successful novel, the world of super-wealth was viewed through the glass of undergraduate gayety, sentiment and satire. With `The Great Gatsby' the good-time note was dropped, to be replaced by a darker accent of tragic questioning.
"Questions Become Sharper"
"The questions have become sharper, bitterer in 'Tender Is the Night,' but the world of luxurious living remains his only world. This universe he both loves and despises. It is the contradictoriness of this emotional attitude that gives his novels their special quality, and is also in part responsible for some of their weaknesses."
Mr. Fitzgerald came of an old Southern family. His great-grandfather's brother was Francis Scott Key, composer of "The Star Spangled Banner." The author was named after him. His father's aunt was Mrs. Suratt, one of the conspirators hanged for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. Fitzgerald's father went through several severe financial reverses, which gave his son an understandable fear of poverty. The family, however, was able to send him to Princeton University, where his undergraduate escapades are still remembered. He passed his entire freshman year writing a show for the Triangle Club, which was accepted, and then tutored in the subjects in which he had failed so he could come back and act in it.
Quit to Join Army
In 1917, in his senior year, he quit college to join the Army as a second lieutenant. He missed the train which was to take his regiment to Camp Sheridan, Ala., and according to the story he told friends, commandeered an engine and cab by telling Pennsylvania Railroad officials that he possessed confidential papers for President Wilson. He caught up with the troops in Washington. In camp he wrote his first novel, first titled "The Romantic Egotist."
The war ended before his unit saw service and Mr. Fitzgerald tried to sell the novel. It was rejected. After holding a job in advertising in New York a few months, he quit and returned to St. Paul, where his family was living, and rewrote "The Romantic Egotist" under the title "This Side of Paradise."
It was published in 1920 and was tremendously successful. The hero, Amory Blaine, a young Princeton undergraduate like Mr. Fitzgerald, was considered a composite of all the sad young men of the post-war flapper era, and the novel became a sort of social document of its time. Mr. Fitzgerald, who was only twenty-three years of age, was greeted as one of the most promising of young writers.
Married in Same Year
The same year Mr. Fitzgerald was married to Miss Zelda Sayre, daughter of Anthony D. Sayre, an Alabama Supreme Court Justice. In 1922 his second novel, "The Beautiful and Damned," appeared. It was the story of a rich young married couple dancing on the edge of doom, and Mrs. Fitzgerald in a newspaper article said that several of the passages appeared to have come from her diary.
In 1923 he wrote "The Vegetable," a satire in play form, and in 1925 "The Great Gatsby," which was generally regarded as his best novel. It is the story of a mysterious man, whose money, it is implied, comes from something dishonest. In the end he is broken, not by his sins, but by his aspirations. Mr. Fitzgerald's "Tales of the Jazz Age," a book of short stories, was also popular.
The Fitzgeralds lived in France from 1925 to 1928, where Mr. Fitzgerald wrote short stories later incorporated in "All the Sad Young Men." Returning in 1928, he said that "the French are as far above us as we are above the African Negro." After an interval of nine years his last novel, "Tender Is the Night," was published in 1934. Critics commented that he had never quite lived up to his early promise.
Called Himself "Cracked Plate"
In 1936, in a magazine article, Mr. Fitzgerald described himself as "a cracked plate."
"Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering," he wrote. "This is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general, but at 3 o'clock in the morning the cure doesn't work-- and in a real dark night of the soul it is always 3 o'clock in the morning."
A reporter once asked him what he thought had become of the jazz-mad, gin-drinking generation he wrote of in "This Side of Paradise."
His answer was: "Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows. Others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters. And a few became successful authors."
For the last three years, Mr. Fitzgerald had been in Hollywood. He had done little screen work recently, however, and his writing consisted of a few short stories for magazines and a play he was working on.
Surviving, besides his wife, who is living in Montgomery, Ala., is a daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald.
New York Herald Tribune
F. Scott Fitzgerald
It was only twenty years ago that a novel called "This Side of Paradise" was published, and the world became aware of the existence of the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, a young man of rare talent. The story was deft, romantic, gay, alcoholic and bitter. It was the first year of prohibition. Flaming youth was rampant. People talked of the post-war moral let-down. Raccoon coats were coming in. There were rumors of strange goings-on in the colleges. It was the beginning of a fantastic era (how long ago it seems!), and Fitzgerald, handsome, insouciant and possessing unusual gifts for story telling, instantly became its prophet and its interpreter. Flappers adored him; moreover, the grave gentlemen who sit in judgment on literary products agreed that here, indeed, was one who showed magnificent "promise."
Fitzgerald, who died yesterday at the tragically early age of forty-four, continued to show "promise" all through his tortured career. He turned out many glittering short stories which were commercial successes. His admirers kept hoping for the elusive something which would be called great. In 1925, with a compact and brilliant novel, "The Great Gatsby," the story of the rise and fall of a Long Island bootlegger, he renewed their faith. As literature it was perhaps the best thing he ever did. Then came long periods when he did little, or nothing. He was ill, troubled, unhappy. In 1934, with "Tender Is the Night," he had another success-- but again the critics, while admiring much of it, confessed that they had been expecting something better. Once more he had shown the high promise that somehow always fell just short of fulfillment. And yet, it cannot be taken away from him that he left a substantial literary legacy. He could write prose that was extraordinarily smooth, but it was never soft. It had, as the saying has it, "bones" in it.
The gaudy world of which Fitzgerald wrote-- the penthouses, the long week-end drunks, the young people who were always on the brink of madness, the vacuous conversation, the lush intoxication of easy money-- has in large measure been swept away. But Fitzgerald understood this world perhaps better than any of his contemporaries. And as a literary craftsman he described it, accurately and sometimes poignantly, in work that deserves respect.
New York Herald Tribune
Death Takes Fitzgerald,
Heart Attack Fatal to Eloquent Voice of
World War Generation
All the sad young men-- those now grown-up members of the World War generation-- had lost their spokesman yesterday.
F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in Hollywood at the age of 44.
Immediately after word of the death of the author of "This Side of Paradise" was telegraphed to his wife at Montgomery, Ala., arrangements were made through Pierce Bros. mortuary to send his body to Baltimore, Md., his family home, for burial.
Readers of the 1930's did not know Fitzgerald as did those of the postwar era.
For he was the latters' most articulate voice.
His own early life paralleled that of his recurrent protagonist: the young man, caught in a turbulent age, uncertain, seeking.
Born at St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 24, 1896, he was christened Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, after the composer of "The Star Spangled Banner," an ancestor on his mother's side. He was first educated at Hackensack, N.J. Then he attended Princeton.
There he found much of the atmosphere which fills his first books.
It was wartime. In 1917, deserting the university in his senior year, he entered the Army as a second lieutenant in the 45th Infantry. Two years later he left the service. He was 23.
First Novel Hailed
In 1920 "This Side of Paradise" appeared.
Its hero, Amory Blaine, approximated "all the sad young men" of the distracted time. (That phrase was to become the title of a Fitzgerald short-story collection six years later.) Hailed by critics as a great first novel, "This Side of Paradise" was a period piece, a sort of social paper.
At 26, Fitzgerald was in Who's Who. His clubs were listed as Cottage (Princeton) and Sound View Golf. His politics was Socialist. One critic described his works as documentary "in their vivid presentations of adolescent life, its turbulent spirit, swift tempo, charged atmosphere, excesses and boldness, as well as its uncertain psychology and groping to know itself in new and unadjusted conditions."
His books also were milestones of this topsy-turvy epoch.
"The Beautiful and Damned" came in 1922, two years after his first novel and "Flappers and Philosophers." Later he wrote "The Great Gatsby" and "Tender Is the Night." He saw his generation as truly lost. One of his collected volumes was titled "Taps at Reveille."
In recent years Fitzgerald wrote no novels. Instead, he came to Hollywood in 1937. He adapted Gatsby to the screen, then did the scenario for Remarque's "Three Comrades."
Second Attack Fatal
Three weeks ago he had his first heart attack.
Saturday he succumbed to a second.
His life in Hollywood had been quiet. His hobbies were children and water sports. He was a connoisseur of fine wines. Occasionally a Fitzgerald short story would appear in a national magazine. But mostly he worked on his last play for the New York stage. He lived at 1403 N. Laurel Ave.
In 1920 he married Zelda Sayre, daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court justice. They had one daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald.
Los Angeles Times
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Almost as if he were typifying his uncertain and groping generation even in his early death, F. Scott Fitzgerald has passed from a world gripped again by the same kind of war hysteria that first made him famous. The author of "Taps at Reveille" has indeed left a troubled life before his time. His articulateness was that of a turbulent age. By the time he died he still must not have found the answers to the queries that he was asking all his life: Whither youth, whither the nations of the earth?
Fitzgerald had an importance-- only time will tell whether it was ephemeral-- because he made himself the voice of youth crying in the wilderness of political and social and moral muddling. The youth he knew was dissolute, but it was also courageous. It was unstable, but it was also questing. It was a phenomenon of the postwar, Turbulent Twenties, a hangover from Versailles. Youth sensed that security had not been secured, but it did not know what to do about it. Neither did Fitzgerald. But he made people think. And that was something.
He was a brilliant, sometimes profound, writer. That his work seemed to lack a definite objective was not his fault, but the fault of the world in which he found himself. He has left us a legacy of pertinent questions which he did not pretend to be able to answer. That was not the smallest part of his greatness.
F. Scott Fitzgerald Buried
ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 27 (AP)-- After a private service, the body of Francis Scott Fitzgerald, noted novelist, was buried today in the Rockville Union Cemetery. His body was brought to Rockville after a funeral service conducted by the Rev. Raymond P. Black, pastor of the Christ Episcopal Church of Rockville, at a funeral home in Washington. The 44-year-old writer of novels of the Twenties died Sunday in Hollywood, Calif., where he had been a motion picture scenarist.
The New York Times
Fitzgerald Will Filed
Author Left to His Family an
Estate of 'Over $10,000'
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21 (AP)-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, author and playwright, who died a month ago, left his estate of "over $10,000" to his widow and daughter. His will, filed for probate today, established a trust, half of which is to be used for the support of Mrs. Zelda Fitzgerald of Montgomery, Ala., and the rest for payment of $100 a month to the daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, a student at Vassar College, until she is 23. Miss Fitzgerald then will receive her share of the fund.
Sie liebten sich zu Grunde
Zelda und F. Scott Fitzgerald führten ein Leben im Rausch und landeten im Chaos. Ihre Liebesbriefe von sind Chronik einer einzigartigen Affäre
von Susanne Kunckel
"F. Scott und Zelda Fitzgerald - Lover! Briefe" (hrsg. v. Jackson R. Bryer und Cathy W. Barks) erscheint am 15. März bei DVA, 19,90 Euro
Artikel erschienen am 7. März 2004
Ein Tummelplatz für Traumtänzer. Gelackte Gentlemen in weißen Anzügen und "flappers", frivole Damen mit reichlich Rouge auf den Wangen. So stürzten sie sich ins bodenlose Vergnügen, konsumierten Champagner und Sex, suchten schnellen Ruhm und Reichtum. Man lebte unverschämt rauschhaft im New York der "Golden Twenties" und tänzelte im Rhythmus des Jazz. Mittendrin stand F. Scott Fitzgerald als eine Art Superstar des durchgedrehten Jahrzehnts.
Der Mann aus Minnesota verwandelte die "teuerste Orgie der Geschichte", die 1929 in der Depression endete, zur Weltliteratur. Lässig und ironisch ist seine Prosa, voll von schnoddrigem und verzweifeltem Witz. 160 Erzählungen und vier Romane, vor allem "Der große Gatsby", machten den smarten Dichter berühmt und reich. Die Dollars verprasste er mit seiner Frau Zelda, einer Südstaaten-Schönheit mit Schriftsteller-Ehrgeiz.
Ein Traumpaar, das sich inszenierte, exzessiv lebte, liebte und schrieb, zwischen New York, der Riviera und Paris pendelte und durch die Gazetten glitzerte mit Extravaganzen und Exzessen. Die Leidenschaft wurde zur Tragödie. Im Wirrwarr aus erfundenem und gelebtem Leben, künstlerischen Rivalitäten, Eifersucht und Schaffenskrisen verloren die Fitzgeralds den Halt, stürzten innerhalb von zehn Jahren in finanzielle Krisen, Alkoholismus und Wahnsinn.
Liebe und Hass, Höhenflüge und Zermürbungen des Glamour-Paares sind in einem umfangreichen Briefwechsel dokumentiert, der jetzt erstmals in deutscher Übersetzung erscheint. Ein exzentrischer Streifzug durch die 20er- und 30er-Jahre, der tiefe Einblicke in die Werkstatt der beiden ebenbürtigen Künstler gewährt, die ihr Leben für die Literatur plünderten, ehe sie daran verzweifelten. Nur in ihren Briefen überlebte die Liebe bis zum bitteren Ende - Fitzgerald starb 1940 mit 44 Jahren an Herzversagen. Zelda verbrannte 1948 in einer Nervenheilanstalt.
Begonnen hatte die große Traum-Symphonie in Dur - 1918 in Montgomery/Alabama, als Leutnant Fitzgerald, damals 22, die 18-jährige Zelda zum Tanzen aufforderte. In ihrem autobiografischen Roman "Darf ich um den Walzer bitten", den sie 1932 in einer psychiatrischen Klinik verfasste, schwärmt Zelda von Scotts Uniform, die "so wunderbar nach neu duftete" als sie beim Tanzen "ihr Gesicht zwischen sein Ohr und seinen steifen Offizierskragen schmiegte". Scott vermerkt knapp: "Habe mich verliebt."
Ein Jahr später teilt Zelda ihm mit: "Ich möchte nicht leben - ich möchte vor allem lieben und nebenbei leben - Lover, ich werde zu dir kommen, wenn du bereit bist." 1920, nach dem Sensationserfolg seines ersten Romans "Diesseits vom Paradies", war er zur Ehe bereit. 1921 kommt die Tochter Scottie zur Welt. Die pausenlose Party beginnt. Nebenbei schreibt Zelda humoristische Stücke für Zeitungen und Scott seinen zweiten Roman "Die Schönen und Verdammten", eine Ehegeschichte, in der sich der Held durch Alkohol zu Grunde richtet. Als das Paar 1924 nach Europa an die Riviera reist, bekommt die Liebe Sprünge. Zelda betrügt Scott mit einem französischen Flieger, Scott flirtet so intensiv mit Isadora Duncan, dass seine Frau sich aus Wut die Treppe hinunterstürzt. Für Ablenkung sorgen Partys mit Picasso, Rudolpho Valentino, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein und Hemingway, die sich ebenfalls an der Riviera und in Paris amüsieren, nach dem Motto: "Gut leben ist die beste Rache". Zurück in Amerika verliebte sich Scott in eine 17-jährige Schauspielerin. Zelda schmiss sein Hochzeitsgeschenk, eine Platinuhr, aus dem Fenster. Sie nahm Ballettunterricht, begann später manisch zu malen, kämpfte verbissen um eine eigenständige Künstlerkarriere und brach erschöpft zusammen. Fitzgerald klagte Hemingway: "Neuerdings neige ich dazu, gegen 11.00 Uhr zu kollabieren, wobei mir Tränen aus den Augen strömen oder mir der Gin bis zu den Lidern hochsteigt ..."
Aus einer Schweizer Klinik schrieb Zelda 1930 gehässig: "Wenn ich deine guten Eigenschaften aufliste, finde ich auch nicht eine einzige, auf die man eine mögliche Beziehung gründen könnte, außer deinem guten Aussehen ..." Fitzgerald konterte: "Die beschissenen Briefe, die du mir schreibst, stecke ich einfach unter Z in meine Kartei ...", fügt dann aber hinzu: "Ich bringe die Härte auf, dir so brutal zu schreiben, weil ich an die unendliche Liebeswoge denke, die dich umgibt." Die Sorge um die Tochter und die Trauer um vergangene Traumtänzerei sind Konstanten dieses Briefwechsels, in dem sich bei beiden zunehmende gesundheitliche Zerstörungen manifestieren. "Liebster, mein Liebling", schreibt Zelda 1932, "das Leben ist kalt und technisch ohne dich, eine Totenmaske seiner selbst." Über ihren ersten Roman "Darf ich um den Walzer bitten" geriet die marode Beziehung in neue Turbulenzen. Scott, der mit seinem vierten Roman stagnierte, verübelte Zelda, dass sie für ihr Buch "sein" Material, ihr ge- meinsames Leben, ausgeschlachtet hatte. An dem Erstling jedenfalls verdiente Zelda im Erscheinungsjahr nur 120 Dollar. Zu wenig für ein unabhängiges Leben, während Fitzgerald sich in Hollywood als Drehbuchautor durchschlug. Zelda, inzwischen von religiösen Wahnvorstellungen verfolgt, klagte: "Jetzt, da das Glück verweht und die Heimat verloren ist und es nicht einmal mehr Vergangenheit gibt ..."
In den Briefen scheint sie auf: Glück, Verschwendung, das hemmungslose Spiel mit dem Leben. Aber auch das Bewusstsein, in rauschhaften Zeiten nahe am Abgrund getanzt zu haben.