Author: Nancy Milford
Publisher/Date: Harper Collins/1970
Read: 3/9/17 - 4/19/17
Here is the story of Zelda Sayre, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She was also an author, artist, dancer and mother. As a child, Zelda’s mother indulged her, the Montgomery, Alabama townsfolk labeled her “smart as a whip” and “quick as a steel trap”. Indeed, she was a young hellion. One day to get attention she climbed up on the roof after calling the fire department and telling them there was a child on the roof who couldn’t get down. Her father, Judge Sayre, had no sympathy for such pranks. Perhaps being named for a gypsy queen in a novel entitled Zelda gave way to her precociousness.
Before her twentieth birthday she had met and married Scott. They were the epitome of the roaring twenties – rich, living the life of the young and happy by partying, drinking, smoking. Scott became a celebrity for This Side of Paradise. The newlyweds discovered they were “being heralded as models in the cult of youth.” And they proceeded to lap up their newly found fame.
Zelda was in love with Scott and he with her. She saw how well Scott wrote and decided she wanted to follow in his footsteps. And follow she did, with his help. At first with each article she wrote, his name appeared first in the by-line. As she got bolder with her desires to be published she angered Scott by plagiarizing his work. He was very demanding and tried to make her change or delete parts of her novel, Save Me the Waltz, that were in his book, Tender is the Night.
Dampened by Scott’s over-zealous nature and jealousy, Zelda turned to ballet dancing, something she aspired to in her younger years. Yet at 27 she was too old to be any good. Living the good life included for Zelda watching her husband with a 17 year old actress. She became so enraged at their affair, “she burned all of the clothes she had designed in the bathtub of their bungalow.” They rowed endlessly over his demands that she do something worthwhile and her inability to please him and herself at the same time. She desperately wanted to be her own person. More and more of their verbal abuses resulted in Zelda becoming hysterical.
As her mental state deteriorated, she spent months here and there in mental institutions, mostly in Europe. Scott, too, suffered from his constant smoking and drinking, becoming depressed and “over-nervous about small things.” Scott “complained of a fever and cough” in 1940. He experienced a cardiac spasm in November of that year. He felt himself lucky that he hadn’t suffered a major heart attack. However, on December 20, he died.
By 1946, Zelda devoted more time to their now-married daughter, Scottie, and her new husband and baby son. Zelda never totally regained her health. In the spring of 1948, at a local health facility she took a “series of insulin treatments and was moved to the top floor of the main building.” On March 10, a fire broken out in a kitchen in that building, and shot up a dumbwaiter shaft to the roof. “Nine women were killed, six of them trapped on the top floor. Zelda died with them.”