Some years ago I read a biography about both of the Fitzgeralds. So I knew quite a lot about them. While the other book handles both characters equally you can easily see that Linda Wagner-Martin dislikes Scott. Not without reason but she holds his flaws more against him than she does it with Zelda.
Zelda grows up to be the beloved and youngest child of the Sayre Family. Her family is not wealthy but well known. Her father is Judge Sayre. She is pretty and becomes a real Southern Belle.
Scott as a boy is arrogant and confident. He knows he wants to become a famous writer. He meets Zelda when he volunteered to serve in WW1. He comes to Zelda’s hometown to wait for his transfer to Europe. They both complement each other, in good things as in bad. After a few struggles they become a couple and got married. Scott archives his first success as a writer and they become the glamorous couple we all know about. But Scott is an alcoholic. That makes it difficult to work and write. He begins to write short stories and essays to earn money. Zelda sees herself as a writer, too. She also writes short stories and they get published, but most of the time labeled as Scott’s. Scott is very competitive. He complaints about Zelda spending money but does nothing to earn it herself. But he does not want her to write. He wants to be the writer in the family.
Zelda was trained as a ballet dancer while she was young and the teacher told her that she got real talent. When she starts taking dance lessons again in her mid-twenties Scott only laughs about it and calls her a third-class dancer. He admires other women for earning money but he wants to keep Zelda small.
Scott began quite early in their relationship to use material from Zelda’s diaries in his own stories. What I found quite astonishing was the fact that both were very good with words. They could write. But they both had a lack of imagination. Both only used their own life, their relationship for their stories. Both never really wrote a fiction-only story. And that was the problem because Scott claimed their life only as his material. Zelda should not write about them. She should not write at all only when it helped him.
Zelda herself felt inferior to him. She was incredibly depended on Scott. She moved from her parents care to Scott. She had a lot of ideas, wanted to dance or to be a movie star. But she did nothing. She became a mother, a housewife and a party girl. She was part of the glamorous scene only because of Scott. When she took her ballet lessons her teacher offered her a role in a ballet. But she did not take the chance. There is no record that she did ever answer to that offer. She just stood with Scott and carried on taking lessons. She somehow never grew up. Taking lessons meant to her that she was still young, not an adult, that she was still not ready and on her way.
I had problems with understanding Zelda’s character when I read that biography I mentioned above. Same is here. I don’t get her. It is quite hard to understand why such an intelligent and gifted woman really did nothing with her life. She devoted it to Scott. She traveled the world, she met a bunch of interesting people (Hemingway, Gertrude Stein) but she was somehow not able to be more than the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She was part of his work, she inspired him and she wrote many of his stuff or he copied it from her. They were both somehow so similar, only he was the dominant one and she the devoted one. It’s hard to say today which kind of mental problems she suffered and what made her stay in institutions for so many years. Her lack of discipline and nursing the idea of chances and things to happen made her still do nothing really fulfilling with her many talents.
The writing is informative but a little dull. The author did a good job and writes very detailed. But it is also just “than-happened-that-and-than-happened-that”. It was a bit dry. I enjoyed the other biography more, it was more like a novel and captured more of the roaring-twenties-feeling. But this is all right and very informative when you are interested in the Fitzgeralds.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review