Thursday, March 11, 2010

Profiles :: Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald

Image from Wikipedia. This file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.
For some reason it never occurs to me to wonder about the "better halves" of our great writers and poets. When I stumbled upon this funny quote by Zelda Fitzgerald, it was the first I had heard of the woman whom F. Scott Fitzgerald fell in love with.

F. Scott was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. In fact, the brownstone row house where he lived from 1919 to 1920 while writing This Side of Paradise has been designated as a national historic landmark. When I lived in St. Paul I loved to drive up Summit Avenue and see the sign in front of the F. Scott Fitzgerald House.

When World War I struck, F. Scott forfeited his plans to graduate from Princeton University and joined the army as a second lieutenant in 1917. After several transfers around the country, he wound up in Montgomery, Alabama, home of the southern belle, Zelda Sayre.

Zelda grew up the youngest of four daughters of an Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice. She seems to have been a young woman with a racy and audacious personality. Because F. Scott's finances were a bit shaky, Zelda would not marry him right away, and eventually he left Montgomery to go back to St. Paul to become a successful writer and convince her to marry him. This Side of Paradise (rejected once by Scribner's) was accepted for publication by Scribner's in 1920. Zelda agreed to marry him after receiving word via wire that the novel had been accepted for publication.

The Fitzgerald's became an iconic symbol for the era of The Jazz Age and the Roaring 20s, their exploits appearing in newspapers and popular magazines. Their turbulent marriage was full of animosity and jealousy and worry about insufficient income. When Zelda became pregnant in 1921, they briefly retreated to Europe to relax before the baby's birth, and then returned to St. Paul, where Frances Scott ("Scottie") was born in October. 

The family returned to Europe in 1924 to live for a time on the French Riviera. Here, Zelda developed a relationship with a young aviator. It is guessed that this relationship was not consummated, but F. Scott was upset when he discovered it and both he and Zelda used the affair in their writings. She, in Save Me the Waltz; he, in The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night.

Zelda seemed to feel the need to create her own artistic identity and wrote magazine articles and short stories before becoming obsessed with ballet at age 27. She began spending entire evenings practicing ballet routines in front of a large gilt mirror to "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," a tune which F. Scott says was engraved on every organ he possessed. 

The family moved to Paris so Zelda could study ballet, and she developed an almost manic obsession with her hobby. Zelda entered a clinic outside of Paris for a month before discharging herself, but spent most of the rest of her life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. When she entered the Sheppard Pratt Sanatorium in Maryland in 1930, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. While in the sanatorium, Zelda worked on the semi-autobiographical Save Me the Waltz. F. Scott was livid when he learned she used material from their life together to craft the novel, even though he did the same in Tender is the Night.

After 1934, the Fitzgerald's would never live together again. F. Scott moved to Hollywood in 1937, and Zelda saw him once before he passed away in 1940 in poor health. Zelda, heartbroken over F. Scott's death, spent several years in her mother's home in Montgomery, with occasional stays at the Highland Mental Hospital in North Carolina. 

Zelda spent the rest of her time working on a second novel, which was never completed, and painting. In 1947, unable to live on her own, she returned permanently to the hospital and was there in 1948, locked in her room waiting for electroshock treatment the next day, when a fire broke out in the hospital. She was one of nine women who did not survive the fire. 

It was not until the 1960s that her writing began to be seriously studied and she began to emerge from behind the shadow of her husband.

Works include:

Save Me the Waltz  

The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald (edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli) 

Wikipedia:, accessed 10 March 2010.
Prigozy, R.  The Fitzgeralds., accessed 10 March 2010.
Shurbutt, Sylvia Bailey. "Zelda Fitzgerald". The Literary Encyclopedia. 12 January 2005., accessed 10 March 2010.  

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