“Zelda: A Biography” by Nancy Milford
I tried to read this book during Banned Books Week 2011, as F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most frequently challenged authors around. However, as I was mere weeks away from delivering a baby, it got cast aside back onto the bookcase, where it’s just chilled out ever since.
I probably should have tried a little harder to read it a year ago — because this is some good reading.
Zelda Fitzgerald was a train wreck.
Of course, many book nerds are already aware of this.
Me, I knew she was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “crazy” wife, the woman to whom “The Great Gatsby” is dedicated, and considered by many to be the original flapper.
Here are some things I DIDN’T know about Mrs. Fitzgerald until I read Nancy Milford’s thorough and engaging biography.
- Zelda HATED Ernest Hemingway, who had a bit of a bromance with F. Scott. She even called him “bogus,” which is a word that isn’t used nearly enough.
- Zelda, above all things, loved the ballet, and – as an adult – dedicated herself fully to being a professional dancer, even to the point of exhausting herself.
- Zelda was a talented writer, probably even on par with her husband in many respects.
- Zelda was a schizophrenic.
Born in the south and raised an Alabama debutante, Zelda was a playgirl with a load of boyfriends who met and fell passionately in love with her husband, and the two became celebrities before she was even 21. Hanging in glittery circles with all sorts of luminous famous friends, the Fitzgeralds drank to excess and fought like the Dickens. They also had a baby girl, but she was really (sadly) quite inconsequential to their story. There was jealousy and fighting and finally Zelda wound up committed to an institution and diagnosed as bi-polar. Zelda died in Hollywood in 1948, when the hospital she was checked into caught on fire.
Nancy Milford’s biography relates the tragic tale of this promising woman’s life in the very best of ways, by letting the letters, journals, newspaper articles, and the stories written by the Fitzgeralds do the talking. The biographer never seems to get in the way of this tale, which is a good thing. The book flies by, and leaves you with a sense that this was a life that didn’t have to end with so little to show for itself.
It reminds me a little of the opening line to the musical, “Chicago,” which is also about the jazz age.
“You are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery—all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts.”
Well, at least there wasn’t murder.