Book Review -- Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of the famous F. Scott, captured my interest back in junior high when we read Gatsby for the first time. I remember my teacher mentioning the fact that some of Daisy's behavior is thought to be inspired by Zelda--the impetuous flirting, the thirst for adventure and fairy-tale excitement, the inability to fully commit. However, while most Fitzgerald scholars will agree that Scott and Zelda's hard-partying ways certainly influenced the characters of Nick and Daisy, as well as part of the settings and framework of the novel, they also note that Daisy was actually inspired by Scott's first love, Ginerva King. (What a name, right?)
As for Zelda, here's the short version: she was a young, beautiful Southern belle who met Scott at a dance, where he immediately fell in love with her. Her family insisted she avoid him, due to his lack of financial stability, and Zelda agreed. The two exchanged letters for months (Scott still madly in love; Zelda enjoying the attention but dating others), and when Scott wrote that This Side of Paradise would be published, Zelda came to New York City and agreed to marry him on the spot. They lived, worked and played for the next several years in Europe, where Scott continued to write; however, Zelda too began to write and publish under Scott's name. They developed friendships with famous writers such as Pound and Stein, but Scott particularly relied on Hemingway for a drinking and writing buddy. Much research exists that suggests Hemingway and Zelda disliked each other to varying degrees. They had a daughter, Scottie. Zelda began to aggressively pursue her dream of becoming a ballet dancer, which some say led to her eventual admittance to an insane asylum, where she was diagnosed as bipolar. Zelda continued to write while confined, even publishing a work, but Scott supposedly stole much of her material and repurposed it for himself. For the majority of their marriage, and the remaining years of their lives, the two fought bitterly as Scott disappeared into his alcoholism and Zelda became sicker and sicker.
Therese Anne Fowler's Z provides the long version of their story, told from Zelda's perspective. It's well-researched with a hint of creative freedom, and Fowler includes a note at the end explaining what sorts of choices she made, and why, in terms of Zelda. Again, scholars live in one of two camps when it comes to Zelda: either they think she was a manipulative shrew who distracted Scott from writing and ruined his life, or she was a harmless party girl with multiple interests in a day and age that wasn't quite ready for her. Fowler proposes that perhaps Zelda is both sides of the coin, and it's incredibly interesting to consider what a life alongside Scott, the famed author, might have been like for her.
Z runs a bit long, but it's the type of novel you can easily pick up and put down for a quick escape to another time and place. I found myself constantly Googling different pieces of trivia to figure out the real versus the invented, which was half the fun. It also provides helpful commentary on the reality of a woman like Zelda's choices during the 20s and 30s from a political and social standpoint. I definitely recommend it for an easy, intriguing read about one half of one of literature's most famous couples.