Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: 3/26/2013
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s creativity, independence and sanity… eclipsed by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s alcoholism, envy and infidelity? Gossip and scrutiny certainly circulated around this golden literary couple of the Jazz Age.
Author Therese Anne Fowler lasers in on a more plausible story in her upcoming book Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. Based on correspondence between the two as well as letters Scott exchanged with others like Ernest Hemingway, Fowler writes in a voice compellingly faithful to Zelda.
This highly anticipated novel follows the Fitzgeralds’ tumultuous relationship from their 1918 meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, where Scott’s infantry was being deployed to France. Scott moves to New York City after the war ends and waits to marry Zelda until his writing career proved lucrative.
Through the upbeat letters Zelda signs Z, Fowler depicts Scott as undeniably in need of constant encouragement and support.
“Not wanting to think about what awaited him in France, I kept my reply cheerful. I told him I’d begun an oil-painting class at the encouragement of Mrs. Davis, who’d been my art teacher at Sidney Lanier High and thought I’d show real promise. I wrote, ‘We spent the entire first day learning to pronounce the technique terms Grisaille and Chiaroscuro, which don’t exactly roll off the Southern tongue.’”
Her charm, her two-step, her knack for telling good jokes; none of these saved Zelda from having to inhabit a flapper alter-ego to boost her husband’s literary career. His network of literary friendships from Princeton helped Scott’s short stories find publishing at Vanity Fair and the Saturday Evening Post.
Some of their influence would grow from design—as when Scott had explained to me the publicity game that he saw forming in our future, a game he’d conjure, almost, and wanted the two of us to play. Some grew from our giddy laughter in the Biltmore lobby at 2 and 3 a.m., from the singing that emanated from parties in our suite, from the dancing in the hallway, from the polite but firm request from management that sent us to finish our honeymoon in a new suite at the nearby Commodore Hotel. The future would be grander, stranger and more precarious than any of us knew.”
Drinking absinthe at parties with Tallulah Bankhead, arguing the finer points of literary style with Henry Mencken, lunching with Winston Churchill… these would all be part of their glittering future.
Shortly after giving birth to daughter Scottie, an editor for the New York Tribune asks Zelda to write a review of Scott’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned. When she informs Scott, he tritely responds, “Just listen to you. Next thing I know, you’ll want to be Dorothy Parker.”
Fowler includes in the novel some poignant recollections Zelda records in a ledger book: $10,000 for the sale of Scott’s This Side of Paradise to filmmakers; the crushing failure of his play, The Vegetable; Scott going missing for two days after the play closed; her first real spells of uncertainty and doubt. Also in the ledger, Zelda tallies their Great Neck parties and guests as well as “unmarked empty liquor bottles likeness of tired soldiers on our kitchen counters.”
The novel touches on the peculiarly close relationship of Scott and Hemingway. Fowler expertly tackles speculation that Hemingway might have been masking his sexuality behind macho exploits—the bullfighting, the boxing, the trophy fishing and hunting.
She hints at a “lovers’ spat” between the two men. Scott denies the accusations in a chapter where Zelda picks the lock of his private trunk to read letters from Hemingway dating back to July 1925.
“The most damning things I found were endearments that might , through a certain lens, seem a little too chummy—but those were plainly in jest, as were the occasional closing like With salacious sincerity, Ernestine.”
Fowler also revisits the trope that Zelda’s work might have been eclipsed by Scott’s prolific and lucrative literary output.
An editor suggested attributing her first short story “Our Own Movie Queen” to Scott, so she could get a $1,000 premium with publication in the Chicago Sunday Tribune. Fowler shows how Zelda, who cultivated her own literary network apart from the Stein-Hemingway-Scott salon, might have greenlighted the idea initially.
“This was my own doing. I agreed to let Harold sell the story as Scott’s, never guessing the result would depress me so. We’d gotten a thousand dollars, but where had that thousand dollars gone? What did I have to show for it—except this brooch that, pretty and thoughtful as it was, announced nothing of my talent, my imagination and skill.”
Z by Therese Anne Fowler is a highly worthwhile read for a fictionalized account of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald beyond the speculation and scrutiny surrounding their relationship.
Category: Historical Fiction