Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre

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Born 24 July 1900, Montgomery, Alabama; died 10 March 1948, Asheville, North Carolina

Daughter of Anthony and Minnie Machen Sayre; married F.Scott Fitzgerald, 1920; children: daughter, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald Smith

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, the youngest of six children, was the daughter of a distinguished legislator and judge. She attended Montgomery public schools, graduating from Sidney Lanier High School in 1918. She married novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and had one daughter. The Fitzgeralds lived in Europe and were part of the expatriate group including Ernest Hemingway and Gerald and Sara Murphy. From 1928 to 1930, Fitzgerald struggled to develop her talent in dancing, writing, and painting. Her obsessive determination to become a professional dancer contributed to her first psychological collapse in 1930. A pattern of insanity followed by periods of calm continued throughout Fitzgerald's life.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, Fitzgerald wrote a number of articles and short stories for various periodicals. Some of these were revised by or written in collaboration with her husband, and some appear under a joint byline. Others were printed under Scott Fitzgerald's name alone, but in his ledger he credits Fitzgerald with the authorship. Save Me the Waltz (1932), Fitzgerald's only published novel, was written while she was at a psychiatric clinic in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a fictional account of Fitzgerald's experiences, first as a vivacious Southern belle, then as the glamorous wife of a flamboyant, popular writer. Fitzgerald makes little attempt to disguise the autobiographical elements of her novel. Her protagonist, Alabama Beggs, is determined to escape her father's suffocating morality and adopts a lawless philosophy. She marries David Knight, a professional artist who achieves a phenomenal success, but by retreating to the citadel of his art, he is as inaccessible to Alabama as was the impregnable fortress of her father's idealism. Alabama feels excluded by her lack of accomplishment and therefore attempts to emulate her husband's success through the medium of dance. A few days before her debut as a dancer, Alabama's foot becomes seriously infected and she is told she will never dance again. As the novel ends, Alabama and David, united only in their physical proximity, face a restless and unfulfilling future together. Alabama, however, becomes at last the choreographer of her own destiny. Accepting the emptiness of her future with her husband, she resolves to whip the "broken staccato" of their lives into the ordered configurations of the dance.

Save Me the Waltz is not a good novel. Fitzgerald's writing is pretentious, turgid, and sometimes unintelligible. Fitzgerald's descriptions are fraught with disjointed images and strained comparisons, and the imagery is strange, even grotesque. When Alabama falls in love with David, she imagines herself crawling "into the friendly cave of his ear" and stumbling hysterically through the "vast tortuous indentations" of his medulla oblongata! "It is more the expression of a powerful personality," wrote Scott Fitzgerald, "than the work of a finished artist."

The novel nevertheless occupies a unique place in literary history. Rarely has a marriage been so well documented as the Fitzgeralds', both in biography and fiction. In Tender is the Night (1934), Fitzgerald presents the deterioration of a brilliant young doctor as a direct result of his marriage to a beautiful madwoman, who saps her husband's energies as she gradually regains her equilibrium. This novel is considered, in part, to be Fitzgerald's response to the oblique charges made against him through the character of David Knight in Fitzgerald's novel, published two years earlier.

In Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald reveals the agonizing insecurity and the futile grasping for self-expression underlying the spectacle and drama of her marriage. Despite serious technical flaws, the novel memorably recreates the searing experiences of a tortured soul. Fitzgerald may have fallen short of imposing artistic form upon her material, but her sensitive presentation of the tragedy of blighted lives makes absorbing reading.

Other Works:

Bits of Paradise: Uncollected Stories of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (edited by S. F. Smith and M. J. Bruccoli, 1974).


Bruccoli, M. J., F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Descriptive Bibliography (1972). Bruccoli, M. J., et al., eds., The Romantic Egoists (1974). Callaghan, M., That Summer in Paris (1963). Colum, P., and M. Cabell, eds., Between Friends (1962). Cooper, D. M., "Form and Function: The Writing Style of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald" (thesis, 1986). Gabriel, C. A., "Social and Personal Conflicts in the Lives and Works of the Fitzgeralds" (undergraduate research paper, 1996). Hemingway, E., A Moveable Feast (1964). Love Letters to Remember: An Intimate Collection of Romance and Passion (1996). Mayfield, S., Exiles from Paradise: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Milford, N., Zelda (1970). Mizener, A., The Far Side of Paradise (1965). Piper, H. D., F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait (1965). Shafer, C., "To Spread a Human Aspiration: The Art of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald" (thesis, 1994). Smith, S. F., "The Maryland Ancestors of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald" in Maryland Historical Magazine (1983). Tomkins, C., Living Well is the Best Revenge (1972). Turnbull, A., Scott Fitzgerald (1962). Vigier, R., Women, Dance, and the Body: Gestures of Genius (1994). Volkert, G., An Assessment of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald's Novel Caesar's Things (thesis, 1989).

Other references:

Catalogue of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Manuscript Material (1982). Milford, N., Zelda (recording, 1982). Bookman (Oct. 1932). SR (Oct. 1932).


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