4/30/13 - zelda and scott fitzgerald

In today's selection -- in the shell-shocked aftermath of World War I, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were among the lost generation that led the literary world into the raucous and roaring Jazz Age. They both died young -- he of a heart attack and she in an asylum -- after lives laced with alcohol and desperate abandon:

"[F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)] exploded onto the lit­erary scene with his first novel at the age of twenty-one. The book, This Side of Paradise, was little more than thinly veiled autobiography -- a struggling Princeton graduate makes a living writing advertising copy -- but it was nonetheless an eye-opening look at the young men and women of his generation. ...

"While he rode the zeitgeist to literary bestsellerdom, Fitzger­ald did little to endear himself to the public. His comments about women are especially grating to the modern ear. 'I know that after a few moments of inane conversation with most girls I get so bored that unless I have a few drinks I have to leave the room,' he said. 'All women over thirty-five should be mur­dered.' (He was, one hopes, kidding.) He once told a reporter that the average Midwestern girl 'is unattractive, selfish, snob­bish, egotistical, utterly graceless, talks with an ugly accent and in her heart knows that she would feel more at home in a kitchen than in a ballroom.' Still, he wasn't entirely dismissive of the fairer sex. 'The southern girl is easily the most attractive type in America,' he said.

"His wife, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (1900-1948), was a southern girl, born and raised in Alabama. Scott proposed to her with his mother's ring in 1919. Zelda, however, wasn't yet sure if Scott was marriage material. She locked the ring away and cut off sexual relations with Scott until he showed signs of material success.

Zelda Fitzgerald

"At one point, Zelda even returned the ring to her fiancé and called things off. Fitzgerald went on a three-week bender. He wrote to his friend Edmund Wilson, 'Since I last saw you, I've tried to get married and then tried to drink myself to death.' Fitzgerald's prospects changed for the better after he sold his first novel for publication; Zelda readily agreed to get married as soon as possible. ...

"Early on in his career, Fitzgerald said, 'We were married and we've lived -- happily --ever afterwards. That is, we expect to.'

"But then came the parties, and then came Zelda's madness. Ah, the parties . . . Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald perfected the art of professional party crashing. They were prone to show up at the door uninvited, on all fours and barking like dogs. If they tricked the host into letting them into the house, they might strip naked and take a bath in the master bathroom tub. Zelda frequently shed her clothing in public, and stories abound of her panties or bra coming off at parties. Dorothy Parker found them 'too ostentatious for words. Their behavior was calcu­lated to shock.' "


Andrew Shaffer


Literary Rogues


Harper Perennial


Copyright 2013 by Andrew Shaffer


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