For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, here at White Rose of Avalon, I have chosen to write about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. Zelda was the wife of iconic novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, and she was a woman who flouted convention. She inspired many of his most iconic characters, and in fact was called by Scott “The First American Flapper.”
Zelda was a brilliant writer in her own right, and she was highly creative. Sadly her creativity was most often overshadowed by her husband’s own literary ambitions! Time and time again Scott used Zelda’s personality, and even her own diaries and letters to create amazing female characters. He justified using her personality by stating that his literary career payed the bills. Which it did, that is when he had an income (to support all of their Jazz Age excess).
Zelda kept diaries her whole life, and was known to be eccentric in her way of speaking and carrying herself. This unique way of living made her a true icon of the Jazz Age, and unfortunately someone who is today best remembered for being crazy. She was institutionalized for mental illness. However, it is unclear what mental illness she had, as they had less of an understanding of mental health in the 1920s and 1930s. Today many psychologists who review her case state that although they cannot diagnose (given you cannot diagnose anyone you haven’t seen in a clinical setting) that she had the markers of bi-polar disorder. Back in her day this was called manic depression. Ironically, the term manic depression perhaps describes the disorder best. It is an extreme of emotions either positive (mania) or negative (depression).
During her hard partying days with Scott she proved to be a woman who had deep passions. In her late twenties she became obsessed with ballet and made great strides to becoming a great dancer (after remembering a childhood love of the dance). However, as an adult with only some childhood experience she did not gain the career in dance she wished for. After all, it does take a lifetime of study to be a professional dancer.
When she was institutionalized she would write her only novel, Save Me the Waltz. It is a beautiful novel with much depth of emotion that was written in only a couple of months. Many scholars cite it as not incredibly well written, and even a bit juvenile. However, I believe the novel is beautiful, and shows how talented she was. Had she had a better editor, and a supportive spouse, it could have been better! F. Scott Fitzgerald hated the book as he was utilizing similar biographical data for his final novel Tender is the Night. It is also likely that he was jealous at the ease in which his wife wrote this book. She was in a mental institution, yet she was able to write this freely (is just flowed out). He, on the other hand, battled alcoholism in order to write at all. It is well known Fitzgerald suffered with writers block thought out his career, and it was at these points he often stole from Zelda.
In The Beautiful and Damned he quoted from Zelda’s letters and diaries in writing Gloria. In The Great Gatsby he used Zelda’s actual comment upon the birth of their daughter “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Daisy Buchanan echoed Zelda’s words here. Even his first novel was published so that he could prove to Zelda he could make a living as a writer, in order to marry her!
During her years reigning as Queen of the Flappers, she wrote about Flappers for magazines, critiqued her husband’s works, and even tried to get into silent films (that did not take off, and the idea is said to have horrified Scott). At the end of the day this very complicated woman was a deeply creative and vulnerable person who has been often maligned thanks to her portrayal by her husband. She was especially maligned by her husband’s good friend Ernest Hemingway, who portrayed her as a heartless gold digger. In truth she was much more complicated than any one portrayal showed of her!
I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about Zelda. I also hope you will join me for next Femme Fatale Friday. Let me know your thoughts in the commits below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Zelda Sayre in 1917, before her marriage to Scott. I found the image on wikipedia.org.
- Zelda Fitzgerald by Sally Cline
- Flapper by Joshua Zeitz
- Invented Lives: F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald by James R. Mellow
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald