Monday, December 29, 2014

Zelda by Nancy Mitford

Books seem to appear before I even know I wanted them--serendipity in action.

When I was researching John Quincy Adams for my quilt that is part of the Presidents Quilts exhibit to tour in 2017 I stumbled across two JQA books; one amongst a thousand in a thrift shop and the other in a small town library sale.

At the time I was reading  Maureen Corrigan's book And So We Read On about The Great Gatsby--which I then reread. At that same small town library sale I found The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald's novel in process when he died. I read that. And a few weeks later at a church used book sale I found Zelda by Nancy Mitford, her 1970 biography on Zelda Fitzgerald. And I discovered the NetGalley offering of Stewart O'Nan's novel West of Sunset, a novel about Fitzgerald's last years in Hollywood--That review will appear on January 5, 2015.

I had not planned to read all these F. Scott books. I had read his "Gatsby Girls" stories and The Beautiful and The Damned about the time the Gatsby film came out and thought I was done. But since these books threw themselves at me, I have read them. And am glad I did.

An INTERNET search about Scott and Zelda will bring up everything you want to know about them. They were the 'it' couple of the Flapper age: charming, beautiful, carefree, talented, free spirited, young. And for a while rolling in money.
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald and F. Scott Fitzgerald 
"Sometimes I don't know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we are characters in one of my novels." F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Named for a gypsy queen in a novel, Zelda was golden haired, athletic, fearless, and undisciplined. She chaffed against the Southern Belle expectations, drinking, and smoking, and "boodling" in cars. She was voted the prettiest in her high school senior class. Then she meet the living image of the Arrow Shirt man: Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. Scott had the whole package: charm, looks, a Princeton education, and he was already a writer. They had in common great confidence and romantic self-images. Scott seemed worldly to the small town Zelda. He was on his way to financial success and fame. He wanted her along for the ride. And she hopped on the train.

Zelda was Scott's muse. His heroines are versions of Zelda. His stories hearken back to their own stories. Their triumphs and tragedies became fodder for their fiction.

The 1920s high life style caught up with them both. Scott was an alcoholic, and a mean one when drunk. His short stories sold like hot cakes. The lived in the moment. But Zelda wanted something of her own. She thought about an affair. She revived her girlhood dream of becoming a  ballet dancer. She became obsessive about her ballet, and insisted they move to Paris for her studies. They fought. Zelda had a break down and was hospitalized and eventually was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Zelda and Scott never lived together again. He supported her, loved her for their shared past love, but they were unable to live together. Scott was furious when Zelda wrote about her life, using the same "material" he was working with in his book. He encouraged Zelda's painting. Scott fell in love with Sheila Graham and died in Hollywood of heart disease. Zelda died in a horrible fire. People forgot his books.
"They imagined things about themselves, then forgot the thread of the current romance and disintegrated through the fumes of the night in search of the story of their lives." Zelda Fitzgerald in "Caesar's Things"
Until the Armed Services Edition of The Great Gatsby created a buzz among the soldiers of WWII. And the high school and university literature courses took the book up as a good short read. I wrote about that on my post about When Books Went To War by Molly Guptail Manning.

Scott wondered if Zelda were already exhibiting mental instability when he married her. Had he fallen for an insane woman? And if he did, what did that indicate about HIM?

I still have to read Tender is the Night, the book Scott was written while Zelda was showing the early signs of her illness.