Scott began to accumulate evidence.
He was convinced that the ‘stinking allegations and insinuations’ Zelda had thrown at him arose from her own loathsome behaviour.1 Together they visited the studio of the lesbian artist Romaine Brooks. Scott noticed Zelda’s interest in Romaine’s portrait of Natalie Barney brandishing a whip and several portraits of women in male attire. That Zelda was intrigued by Romaine’s art hardly registered with him. Zelda described the studio as ‘a glass-enclosed square of heaven swung high above Paris’.2 For Scott it was a disagreeable exposure to a distasteful underworld.
For some months Zelda had been attracting considerable attention from women. She became close to Lucienne, a fellow ballerina in Egorova’s studio. ‘Lucienne was sent away … I didn’t know why there was something wrong. I just kept on going,’ she recalled later.3 Some time after this, at a dinner given by Nancy Hoyt, bisexual novelist and sister of poet Elinor Hoyt Wylie, Nancy ‘offerred her services’ but Zelda, who told Scott later ‘there was nothing the matter with my head then’, refused.4 On other occasions Scott watched with fury Zelda’s effect on the women at Barney’s salon.
In the Parisian urban jungle, Zelda saw Barney’s 300-year-old mansion, in particular its rambling garden, as an oasis of calm. A curtain of ivy blanketed the walls, in the cobbled courtyard a massive gnarled tree overhung the house.5 Amidst the plants and flowers Zelda felt at peace with her turbulent new emotions which troubled her as much as they troubled Scott, though they did not cancel out her underlying bond with him.
Matters came to a head over Zelda’s friendship with Oscar Wilde’s exotic niece Dolly Wilde.6 Born in 1895, three months after her uncle’s notorious trials, she was fussed over by the Sitwells, photographed by Cecil Beaton, and in the artistic circles of Paris, London and Hollywood tales of her outrageous antics were discussed as indiscreetly as she discussed them herself. Dolly’s kohl-rimmed eyes, gold lame scarves, vivid animation and dedication to drugs7 initially fascinated both Fitzgeralds, who toured Paris with her.
Together with Victor Cunard, Mercedes de Acosta, Radclyffe Hall, Esther Murphy, Bettina Bergery and Djuna Barnes, they danced till dawn, floated down the Seine in a luxurious houseboat and tried strange cocktails at the Ritz.8 Dolly’s wit was sharp but her actions were self-destructive. Her words flew out like soap bubbles, she glittered for an entranced public, but alone at a table in Les Deux Magots, waiting for a fix, a follower or a Fitzgerald, she sat with artfully posed pale hands and frightening apathy, reminiscent of her Uncle Oscar just before his end in 1900, the year of Zelda’s birth.
Dolly, lover of both Natalie and the journalist Janet Flanner,9 constantly looked around for new women. One evening at the salon she looked intently at Zelda. Zelda, very drunk, looking back, saw a woman sculptured like a statue with two huge violets for eyes.10 The novelist Rosamund Harcourt-Smith described those eyes as ‘grapes in a greenhouse before the blue bloom gets rubbed off. When she was pleased they had a velvety lustre … when angry … the blue grapes became splintered glass.’11
When Dolly made a pass at Zelda in front of Natalie and Scott, her eyes were doubtless velvety at Zelda’s intense response but splintered like glass as Scott furiously intervened.
Zelda felt that if Scott did not quite encourage her, he did at least facilitate her behaviour. ‘You introduced me to Nancy Hoyt and sat me beside Dolly Wilde one moment,’ she wrote later to him, ‘and the next disparaged and belittled the few friends I knew whose eyes had gathered their softness at least from things I understood.’12
Scott’s entry in his May 1929 Ledger is so terse it is as if he had his emotions in a stranglehold. Before his relieved acknowledgement of the bisexual ‘Esther’s Marriage’ he wrote only the curt phrase: ‘Zelda & Dolly Wilde’. For some insight into his feelings of wrath and repulsion at lesbians generally, in particular Dolly Wilde, we have the evidence of several cancelled episodes from two early manuscript versions of Tender Is The Night where Scott fictionalizes Dolly as Vivian Taube.13
The scene is a bar in Paris where Francis Melarky is to meet Wanda, whom he had met and desired a few days earlier. She is accompanied by three tall women in black tailored suits, with mannequin heads waving like venomous snakes’ hoods. ‘The handsomest girl swayed forward eagerly like a cobra’s head.’14 She was Miss— (Vivian Taube). The three tall rich American girls intimidate Francis with their height and critical gaze, Vivian most of all. ‘To be a tall rich American girl can imply … an attitude towards “this man’s world” … It was increasingly apparent to him that the bigger one was a lesbian.’15 He is sexually attracted to Wanda but alienated from those three women, ‘who didn’t like him any more than he liked them’.16 When Wanda informs him they will all dine together, Francis, furious, ‘contented himself with thinking that they were witches’.17 After dinner he tells Wanda he wants her, but Wanda refuses to leave them: ‘it was now apparent to him that Miss— the bitter one was a Lesbian.’18 By using the terms ‘bigger’ and ‘bitter’ Scott consciously draws on lesbian stereotypes operating in the Twenties, still prevalent today. Melarky continues to watch Miss Taube.
There was a flick of the lip somewhere, a bending of the smile, toward some indirection, a momentary lifting and dropping of the curtain over a hidden chamber. This was all he thought until an hour later he came out … to a taxi whither they had preceded him and found Wanda limp and drunk in Miss—’s arms. His first impulse was to think how sweet — then he was furious. Wanda was for him. ‘What’s the idea?’ he demanded. Miss— smiled at him … ‘I love Wanda,’ said Miss—. ‘Vivian is a nice girl,’ said Wanda.
Vivian urgently repeats she loves the girl. Melarky, rage escalating, insists she gets out of the cab. ‘In answer Wanda drew the girl close to her again.’ In a spasm of fury Melarky pulls Vivian/Dolly out of the taxi and heaves her on to the kerb. Angrily he then takes Wanda to her disorderly apartment. He sits ‘robbed and glowering’: ‘he had actually seen this thing in practise and it enfuriated him. He knew it had spoiled some things for him, some quiet series of human facts … as it had when he had first realized that about homosexuality some years before.’19 In Wanda’s apartment they row: Wanda is furious he pulled Vivian out into ‘the public gutter’, Francis confident ‘it’s where she belongs’. Wanda fires a pistol in the bathroom, then says sneeringly she had wanted to see if she could sleep with him, but she can’t and won’t. He is to get out. ‘He hated her for intangling him in this sordidness — it was unbelievable he had ever desired a rotten hysterical Lesbian … He would have liked to have hit her.’ He leaves, thinking, ‘God damn these women.’20
In A Moveable Feast Hemingway suggested that Zelda threatened Scott by having lesbian women friends as early as 1925, whilst biographer Mellow suggests that Zelda’s reason was to make Scott jealous by using women as she had formerly used men. This seems unlikely. Although jealousy was one possible consequence of Zelda’s actions her motive was probably another attempt to do something for herself, to express new desires separate from Scott. That these tentative sexual expressions usually came only after she was drunk was because they were accompanied by anxiety.
In the Twenties lesbianism for some women was glamorized, for others stigmatized, for most risque. An American survey in the late Twenties of 2,200 mainly middle-class women showed that more than half had experienced ‘intense emotional relationships with women’, and half again specified that these were sexual.21 But most out of the public arena eventually married. Those in the public eye behaved differently. On Broadway Katherine Cornell and Eleonora Duse, and in Hollywood Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck and Louise Brooks would later become lesbian icons. On Paris’s Left Bank Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Colette, Djuna Barnes and Natalie Barney took their sexuality more seriously, several holding feminist-lesbian views.
Compton Mackenzie, who had danced with them to Romaine Brooks’s Decca portable on Capri, wrote a spoof, Extraordinary Women, which satirized their lesbianism as a wilfully chosen bizarre mindset.22 But years later Mackenzie emphasized that in the Twenties lesbianism was as taboo as male homosexuality had been in Wilde’s era.23
In 1928 Radclyffe Hall, another member of Barney’s circle, found her outspoken lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness banned in Britain and initially, prior to appeal, in the USA.24 Though Hall’s literary career never recovered she, being monied, upper-class, eccentric, bold and British, outfaced prejudice and to some extent got away with it.25 Women without those advantages did not. Zelda was American and, more significantly, she was from the Deep South, where lesbianism was an unspeakable word. Zelda, Sara Mayfield and Tallulah Bankhead, all bisexual at different stages in their lives, having been conditioned as Southern Belles confronted a special stigma.26
Camella Mayfield, Sara’s cousin, explained:
In the Deep South in those days those kind of sexual proclivities and by that I mean homosexual or bisexual were seen as terrible … Zelda and Sara might have rebelled against what people thought was the right way for Southern Belles to behave but those attitudes of shaming oneself and one’s family if you went off the correct path, were their foundation. No matter what they did, Sara and Zelda would know what people in the South thought. And it would have mattered to them.27
Previous researchers seem unaware that Sara Mayfield had an irregular but continuous correspondence for several years with both Zelda and Tallulah.28 When Sara edited her papers in the late 1960s before donating them to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, she destroyed Zelda’s letters as well as many from Tallulah. She told the then university archivist and her cousin Camella, the Mayfield Collection’s literary executor, that she was doing it to protect her friends’ privacy, most especially Zelda’s.29
Some critics in Montgomery believe that Sara, being a writer/researcher, would never have destroyed those letters, but both the current University of Alabama archivist and Camella Mayfield are convinced they were destroyed.3 °Camella, who read and typed the original manuscript of Sara’s study of the Fitzgeralds, said firmly:
It was 1959 when Sara told me about the letters from Zelda. They were of a deeply personal nature and may have included confidences about their troubled private lives which is why Sara destroyed them. There are two things in the Deep South which in that period would have been seen as deeply personal and shaming and would bring stigma on the family. One was anything sexual being homosexual or bisexual, the other was anything that could be construed as psychotic behaviour. Sara was not going to include any facts of that nature in the biographies of Zelda or Tallulah nor would she give Zelda’s or Tallulah’s letters to the University of Alabama.31
In her study of Zelda, Mayfield is at pains to say that neither Fitzgerald is homosexual ‘in the exact meaning of the word’.32 Camella offers a reason:
From the start Sara cleaned up those biographies. She said the facts were ‘too too personal’ and it was from square one that she did her censoring … I typed the first draft and the final draft of Sara’s Exiles about Scott and Zelda which … had been sanitized. She did clean up Zelda’s character. Sara wanted to protect Zelda but she may have also wanted to protect herself.33 [Camella added: ] it was never confirmed publicly within the family that Sara had lesbian relationships though people had gotten a whiff of it from several places. If it had been known publicly that Sara had relationships with women it would have made her persona non grata in the South. It would have been the same for Zelda.34
This, then, was the context for Zelda’s anxieties during 1929, in particular her complex feelings of desire and shame when Dolly made a pass at her, soon after which she transferred some of those emotions into an accusation about Scott and Ernest.
Later, when Zelda wrote to Scott about the attitudes of Barney’s circle to their sexuality, she focused on Dolly Wilde and Emily Vanderbilt. Whereas several of Barney’s set were at ease with their lifestyle ‘Dolly Wilde was the only one who said she would do anything to be cured.’35 Though Dolly had been born in London’s Chelsea and Zelda in America’s Deep South, they shared a sense of sexual shame which in Zelda’s case was specifically Southern. Emily initially held a more autonomous attitude. Zelda recalled that Emily seemed ‘to represent order and independance to me’. But Emily too began to waver and Zelda’s view of her changed later that summer: ‘I was sorry for her, she seemed so muddled and lost in the grist mill.’ Zelda wrote to Scott that although she herself ‘was much stronger mentally and physically and sensitively than Emily … you said … that she was too big a poisson for me’. Reasonably Zelda asked why. ‘She couldn’t dance a Brahm’s waltz or write a story — she can only gossip and ride in the Bois and have pretty hair curling up instead of thinking — Please explain.’36 Perhaps Scott couldn’t explain that he felt competitive about the bisexual Emily with the pretty curling hair, who was too big a poisson for Zelda but perhaps not for him. He began to see Emily socially in Paris, for according to playwright Lillian Hellman Emily was a handsome woman seen at every literary cocktail party.37
Hellman, who remembered meeting Emily first after the opening night of her play The Children’s Hour,38 said: ‘Emily … was to marry Raoul Whitfield, a mystery story writer. A few years after the marriage she was murdered on a ranch they bought in New Mexico, and neither the mystery story expert nor the police ever found the murderer.’39 Hellman slightly fictionalized these facts and got the date of their meeting wrong, for Emily killed herself with a pistol at Dead Horse Ranch on 24 May 1934.
Emily’s violent death followed a life led with both men and women which was of such extraordinary fascination to both Fitzgeralds that after her dramatic suicide, each of them unbeknownst to the other cut out the newspaper reports about the tragedy and folded away the cuttings in their separate scrapbooks. During research for this biography the two aged yellow cuttings fell out on the desk. Neither Fitzgerald had forgotten the fish that got away.
Emily’s ambivalent sexual desires may not have been as ‘muddled’ or ‘lost’ as Zelda perceived them, but they certainly contrasted with Natalie Barney’s belief that coming to terms honestly with your sexual feelings was a decided advantage. Zelda, who felt in need of clarity, revealed to Scott how much Natalie influenced her. She needed Scott’s help to come to terms with her own sexual feelings. She begged him to acknowledge ‘the Beauty of homosexuality as our marital relationship’. God, she said, had willed it as a means of requiting ‘the second of our sexual functions … Thus there will no longer be any necessity for the use of catatonic and homosexual controls which have sold too many of us into bondage.’40 Scott ignored all such pleas.
Rows about women, rows about Ernest, rows about Scott’s drinking escalated. For Zelda every day seemed ‘more barren and sterile and hopeless’.41 She still had problems with staff. She had disliked intensely Mlle Bellois, the new governess, who had arrived in May 1929. If Scottie was with her Zelda consciously avoided them. Scottie disliked her too, but as Zelda pointed out to Scott: ‘You wouldn’t let me fire the nurse that both Scottie and I hated.’42 Thankfully, by fall 1929 Mlle Bellois had been replaced by the more popular Mlle Serez.
Zelda still had problems with Scott’s friendship with Ernest, though at the time of her accusation about the two men Scott’s relationship with Ernest was floundering. In June 1929 Scott, timekeeping for a sparring match between Hemingway and Callaghan, inadvertently allowed a round to run over time, during which Morley knocked down Ernest. Both men were furious and the event reaped great publicity, producing a major strain between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. In August Scott wrote to Hemingway that he was ‘working like hell’.43 Sceptically Hemingway responded that it was just as likely that Scott was sending friends glowing reports but not actually finishing his book.44
Though anxious and confused Zelda continued to be creative, with bursts of dangerous energy. In Cannes that summer Scott tried to match her productivity. By early fall he was able to report to Perkins he had a new angle for his novel. He dropped the Melarky matricide plot and used a film director and wife, Lew and Nicole Kelly, who encounter Rosemary, a young actress, on board ship to Europe.45 Rosemary would be based on Zelda’s bete noire, Lois Moran.
That September Ober left the Reynolds agency, struck out on his own, and asked Scott to come with him. His bribe was that he would ‘gladly make you advances when needed’.46 After talking it over with Zelda, Scott agreed.
They saw the Murphys frequently in Cannes and Zelda’s relationship with them remained steady. But Scott’s deteriorated into a series of rows. This could not have happened at a worse time for the Murphys, who desperately needed support from their friends. Their son Patrick was ill all summer with what would soon be diagnosed as tuberculosis. Scott’s behaviour began to wear down their patience. Zelda recalled: ‘You disgraced yourself at the Barry’s party, on the yacht at Monte Carlo, at the casino with Gerald and Dotty.’47 Scott, constantly tense and irritable, seemed unable to help himself. His anxiety over Zelda’s sexuality made him even more obsessive about ‘fairies’ than he had been previously. In one of his Notes he said ‘Fairies’ represented ‘Nature’s attempt to get rid of soft boys by sterilizing them’.48 This paranoid preoccupation with homosexuals daily infiltrated his writing and increased his anger towards Zelda. The strength of his obsession can be seen in several cancelled scenes from the early versions of Tender Is The Night.
The scene is Paris at night, a sleazy ‘last call place in Montmartre’, alive with hot American jazz: ‘suddenly we were in a world of fairies — I never saw so many or such a variety together. There were tall gangling ones and little pert ones with round thin shoulders, and great broad ones with the faces of Nero and Oscar Wilde, and fat ones with sly smiles that twisted into horrible leers, and nervous ones who hitched and jerked … self-conscious ones who looked with eager politeness … satyrs whose lips curled horribly.’49
Sara Murphy felt Scott should forget fairies and concentrate on his wife and child. ‘You don’t even know what Zelda or Scottie are like —’ she wrote ‘— in spite of your love for them. It seemed to us the other night (Gerald too) that all you thought and felt about them was in terms of yourself … I feel obliged in honesty of a friend to write you that the ability to know what another person feels in a given situation will make — or ruin lives.’50
Though Scott admitted that by now he was indifferent to Zelda,51 he taxed her with precisely his own emotions. ‘You were simply one of all the people who disliked me or were indifferent to me. I didn’t like to think of you.’52 He was probably correct. Their estrangement and hostility heightened. Zelda’s health had become hazardous. She was creative in terrifying bursts of energy, followed instantly by bouts of reclusive fatigue, throughout the summer stay on the Riviera.
On 27 September 1929 Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was published, which did not improve their tempers. Scott predicted it would sell about 50,000 copies but it did considerably better. The first printing of 30,000 sold out; two more printings of 10,000 each were run in October. Reviews were excellent. The book topped the bestseller lists. Then the stockmarket crashed, affecting all retail business including books. But Hemingway had become a highly desirable commodity. The fires of literary rivalry between Scott and Ernest were set to blaze.
When Zelda and Scott returned to 10 rue Pergolese in Paris in October, Gertrude Stein stoked the coals with some maliciousness. In November53 she asked Hemingway, then her particular protege, to bring Scott and the Southern poet Allen Tate to one of her Wednesday literary evenings. Wives were also invited but would as usual be handed over to Alice B. Toklas to be entertained, whilst the men challenged each other intellectually and Stein adjudicated.
Zelda had already met Tate and his Southern novelist wife Caroline Gordon at a party given by the Bishops. She felt at home with her fellow Southerner, so despite her by now almost constant state of nerves she consented to go with Scott. Allen Tate found Zelda ‘immensely attractive, with the Southern woman’s gift for conversation that made people feel she must have known them for years’, but found Scott — who at their first meeting asked him if he enjoyed sleeping with his wife — boorish.54
So on a December evening Zelda found herself sitting with Caroline Gordon, Pauline Hemingway and Margaret Bishop at Alice’s tea table, whilst in a far corner of Stein’s salon Scott, Ernest, Allen Tate, John Bishop and Ford Madox Ford listened to Stein lecture on American literature. Zelda found nothing worth concentrating on and sat, withdrawn and silent, for several hours while Gertrude traced the path of genius from Emerson through Henry James to herself. She told Ernest that Farewell was good when he invented but less so when he remembered. Ernest’s literary ‘flame’ and Scott’s ‘flame’, she said, were different. Zelda and Hemingway deduced that currently Stein preferred Fitzgerald’s flame, yet Scott inexplicably converted this praise into a slighting remark, and en route home with Zelda and the Hemingways became aggressive towards Ernest. He behaved so badly that the next day, yet again, he was forced to tender apologies.55
Zelda’s loneliness and confusion, presumably evident to the other guests at Stein’s gathering, led her into another of her infatuations, this time with the first of two redheaded women she became attracted to.56 Scott and Hemingway were united in their disgust. It seemed that everywhere the two men looked that year they found something from the fairy world to shock them, the most obvious centre being Stein’s own.
Until now Hemingway had tolerated Gertrude and Alice’s menage, which rather uncomfortably resembled a traditional role-ridden heterosexual marriage, because both he and Scott saw Stein as their mentor. But Stein began to repel Hemingway. First she lectured him: the male homosexual act was ‘ugly and repugnant and afterwards they are disgusted with themselves’. Women lovers however did nothing disgusting or repulsive, ‘and afterwards they are happy and can lead happy lives together’. Hemingway’s education at 27 rue de Fleurus continued. One afternoon he arrived there to be told Miss Stein would be right down. He heard ‘someone’ (he doesn’t name Alice) speaking ‘as I had never heard one person speak to another; never, anywhere, ever’. Then Miss Stein’s voice begged and pleaded: ‘Don’t, pussy. Don’t. Don’t, please don’t. I’ll do anything, pussy, but please don’t do it. Please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.’57 So appalled was Ernest that he decided to end his useful friendship with Stein. Scott, however, decided to act more strategically and maintain his friendship with Stein, despite Zelda’s cold indifference to her.
In February 1930, resisting severe bronchitis and a high fever for two weeks, Zelda insisted on going to ballet classes. Only when dancing did she feel safe. She plied Madame with green silk for a dress, a bandanna filled with perfumes, and more bouquets: white lilacs, black tulips, carnivorous gladioli which she was also capturing on canvas.58
Unlike her gestures, there was nothing sentimental about Zelda’s flower paintings. Her Untitled white flowers whose petals are like tentacles,59 and her White Flowers in a Vase60 whose blossoms spring from the vase to snake across the table, have writhing expressionistic forms similar to Van Gogh’s. They appear mystical one moment, threatening the next. Zelda became aware of the parallels between her flowers and Van Gogh’s: ‘Those crawling flowers and venomous vindictive blossoms are the hallucinations of a mad-man — without organization or rhythm but with the power to sting and strangle … I loved them … They reassured me.’61
Despite exhaustion from illness, painting and dancing, Zelda grew restless. So Scott suggested a trip to North Africa in late February for them to recover. In her article ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number—’ she later wrote: ‘It was a trying winter and to forget bad times we went to Algiers. The Hotel de l’Oasis was laced together by Moorish grills; and the bar was an outpost of civilization with people accentuating their eccentricities. Beggars in white sheets were propped against the walls, and the dash of colonial uniforms gave the cafes a desperate swashbuckling air.’62
She took her sketch pad but for once photographs offer greater insights. Study Zelda’s eyes sharply. They seem caught in a remote iced-up expression, as if instead of seeing people she saw through them and trusted nobody.
In Biskra Scott photographed her on a camel, going up and up to visit the sculptor Clare Sheridan. Zelda is a tiny frail figure. Streets glare in the sun. Arabs sell ‘poisonous pink’ sweetmeats and cakes. There are two matching snapshots: Zelda forlorn in a vast empty desert which Scott captioned ‘Lost in the Sahara’, and Scott alone on another stretch of dunes peering into the horizon, labelled ‘Looking for a Mirage’. The sad truth is that both figures look lost and lonely.63 Zelda wrote letters to Madame, heard cries in the night, the bleak hills frightened her. She was desperate to return to dancing.
‘Then we went to Africa and when we came back … You did not want me … when I wanted you to come home with me you told me to sleep with the coal man.’64 They did not make love, they did not talk.
As Zelda recalled:
Then the world became embryonic in Africa — and there was no need for communication. The Arabs fermenting … the curious quality of their eyes and the smell of ants; a detachment as if I was on the other side of a black gauze — a fearless small feeling, and then the end at Easter.65
‘The end’ was her first nervous collapse, which took almost two months to reach breaking point. During those eight weeks after their return to rue Pergolese in Paris her confidence slipped through her fingers. Her friends noticed. The Murphys arrived to take Zelda to an art exhibition and found Bishop and Scott outside the apartment trying to calm Zelda, who was wildly insisting the two men had been talking about her during a lunch the three had shared. Gerald was shocked. How could they have been discussing her without her knowledge? ‘I mean, she was sitting right there with them!’66 He and Sara, who soon had to return to Switzerland to be with Patrick, left deeply concerned about her.
On another occasion she threw herself at Egorova’s feet after class. Egorova, disturbed by this display, felt Zelda’s affection was becoming unhealthy.67 Zelda was clear about her feelings. ‘My attitude towards Egorova has always been one of intense love. I wanted to help her in some way because she is a good woman … I wanted to dance well so that she would be proud of me and have another instrument for the symbols of beauty that passed in her head that I understood.’68
Later, time in asylums and re-educative treatment would insist Zelda’s feelings were evil.
‘Perhaps it is depraved,’ she wrote later to Scott. ‘I do not know, but at home there was an incessant babbling … and you either drinking or complaining because you had been. You blamed me when the servants were bad, and expected me to instil into them a proper respect for a man they saw morning after morning asleep in his clothes.’69
In 1930 Edmund Wilson, now recovered from his nervous breakdown and married to Margaret Canby, asked solicitously after Zelda’s health. By this time at a flower market she had told Scott the flowers were talking to her and she was hearing voices not available to others.
Scott tried to hold his world together by writing a new series of Post stories set during the First World War, about a Chicago debutante, Josephine Perry, based on Ginevra King. On 5 April 1930 ‘First Blood’, the first of his five tales, was published. The remaining four (‘A Nice Quiet Place’, ‘A Woman with a Past’, ‘A Snobbish Story’ and ‘Emotional Bankruptcy’) followed.70 The concept of emotional bankruptcy, a financial metaphor close to Scott’s heart and pocket, became a key notion.
During 1930 Scott wrote eight stories altogether which secured him $32,000, but yet again he had to borrow $3,700 from Scribner’s against his by now mythical novel. He blamed Zelda for ruining one of his stories because she wanted them to take Madame out to dine. He felt the apartment was foul, the maid stank and Zelda was ‘going crazy and calling it genius — I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand’.71
When the Kalmans lunched at their apartment in March Zelda, terrified she would miss her dance class, leapt from the table and rushed out, followed by Oscar who took her in a cab. Increasingly distressed, she changed into dancing clothes in the taxi, then when stuck in traffic opened the door, hurled herself out and ran to the studio. Oscar told Scott he thought Zelda was on the verge of a breakdown.
In April Zelda, in great distress, burst into the flat where Scott was drinking with Michael Arlen. She needed Scott but felt he preferred drinking with the playwright. So distraught was she that Arlen suggested she should try a clinic. She was in no state to resist. Nor could Scott resist the parallels between the narrative of his wife’s life and that of her era. As Zelda succumbed to her first crack-up, Scott, noting the Wall Street crash, assiduously observed in his Ledger: ‘The Crash! Zelda and America’.72
On 23 April 1930, Zelda entered the ominously named Malmaison Clinic near Paris. Predictably her first agitated words were about work: ‘It’s appalling, it’s horrific, what’s going to become of me, I have to work and I can’t any more. I have to die, and yet I must work. I shall never be cured, let me go, I must go and see “Madame” … she gave me the greatest joy there can be, it is comparable to sunlight falling on a piece of crystal, to a symphony of scents.’73 Professor Claude, who reported these words, said she was in such a state of anxiety she was unable to keep still.
On her admission, Zelda, slightly tipsy, told the doctors she found alcohol stimulated her dancing. The doctors saw drink as one cause for her anxiety attacks.74
Zelda’s later letter to Scott recalled:
I went to Malmaison. You wouldn’t help me — I don’t blame you by now, but if you had explained I would have understood because all I wanted to do was to go on working. You had other things: drink and tennis, and we did not care about each other. You hated me for asking you not to drink … I still believed in love and I thought suddenly of Scottie and that you supported me.75
Professor Claude decided ‘it is a matter of an anxious young woman exhausted by her work in the world of professional dancers. Some obsessive ideas, the main one being the fear of becoming homosexual. She believes she is in love with her dance teacher … She believes that in the past she has been in love with another woman.’ The medical report mentioned ‘Violent reactions, several suicide attempts, never carried through to the end …’ and said her periods were regular, her blood pressure low, her pulse faint and she had a moderate appetite.
On 2 May, after ten days, she left Malmaison against her doctor’s wishes.76
She returned to ballet, but within a fortnight was hallucinating, seeing horrific phantoms everywhere whether awake or asleep, and in terror tried to kill herself. Scott felt he could not leave her side — a sensible precaution but it increased Zelda’s feelings of imprisonment. After she had collapsed into hospital, Scott’s May 1930 Ledger records: ‘Zelda weak and tired … Emily … Zelda everyday’. In June Mayfield reported that Scott’s ‘anxiety did not prevent him from beauing Emily Vanderbilt around Paris’.77
Zelda’s friends Sara Mayfield and Sara Haardt in Montgomery had not been told about Zelda’s breakdown. Ironically they were rejoicing that there was a temporary improvement in Sara Haardt’s own health. She arrived in Montgomery to tell her father she was marrying Mencken,78 then excitedly called Sara Mayfield in Tuscaloosa to say her novel The Making of a Lady had been accepted by Doubleday Doran for publication in 1931. By the time that Zelda’s two friends heard about her illness Zelda had already entered Valmont Clinic, Glion, near Montreux, Switzerland, on 22 May 1930.
The clinic, recommended by friends, specifically handled gastrointestinal ailments, so could do little for Zelda. She told the staff she was not sick, she did not want to be hospitalized, she had been brought there under duress. She also stated that ballet, her compensation for a miserable marriage, was her route to independence. She wrote to Scott later that ‘at Valmont I was in tortue, and my head closed together. You gave me a flower and said it was “plus petite et moins etendue” — We were friends — Then you took it away and I grew sicker.’79
Scott took the French phrase away too, and re-used it in one of the sanatorium letters from his heroine Nicole in Tender Is The Night. ‘One man was nice … he gave me a flower and said it was “plus petite et moins entendue”. We were friends. Then he took it away. I grew sicker.’80
Zelda later described her entry to Valmont as ‘practically voluntarily but under enormous pressure … with the sole idea of getting back enough strenghth and health to continue my work in America as you had promised me. There, my head began to go wrong and the pristine nurse whom you accused me of attacking played almost constantly on the thing that I had assumed I was there to get over.’81
The doctors and Scott consistently emphasized that Zelda’s lesbian desires were evil and would not be countenanced. But in Valmont she was unable to stop herself responding to a nurse who flirted with her constantly. In the clinic Dr H. W. Trutmann gave this report on her stay there from 22 May to 4 June:
At the beginning Mrs Fitzgerald maintained that she had not been ill and that she had been taken forcibly to the nursing home82 … she repeated that she wanted to return to Paris to continue with the ballet work in which … she found her only satisfaction in life. Moreover, the patient described in a quite obscure way the physical sensations that she experienced and that she connected with her homosexuality This represented another reason for returning to Paris. The husband’s visits were often the occasion of violent quarrels provoked mainly by the husband’s attempts to … refute the patient’s insinuations that she suspected her husband of homosexuality. Mrs Fitzgerald would work herself into a very excited state at the thought that on the one hand she was losing precious time and on the other that people were trying to take away from her the things most dear to her: her work as a dancer and her lesbian leanings.
The doctor’s version of the nurse incident differed from Zelda’s: ‘Some over-affectionate behaviour towards the nurse was repulsed by the latter, who fell into disgrace.’83
The doctors checked Zelda’s agitation with Garderal every one to two hours. They induced sleep with Medinale and a sleeping drug. Trutmann said that when Zelda was calm she was aware she needed both to take care and be taken care of, but an hour later would insist on returning to Paris. He was clear that ‘organically there was nothing to report, no signs of brain disorder’. But he felt a simple rest cure was insufficient, that she needed psychological treatment in a specialist nursing home.
It was evident that the relationship between the patient and her husband had long been weakened, and because of that the patient had not only tried to create a life for herself through the ballet (since family life and her duties towards her daughter were not enough to satisfy her ambition and her artistic leanings) but had also taken flight into homosexuality in order to distance herself from her husband.
When Trutmann asked her what role eight-year-old Scottie played in her life, she responded in English: ‘That is done now, I want to do something else.’84
Nobody in either Malmaison or Valmont picked up on the effects that the consistent denial of her ambitions and exploitation of her talents might have had on her psyche. Uncovering and re-interpreting them would be left for the battery of psychiatrists who followed.
After two weeks Dr Trutmann called in Dr Oscar Forel of the Prangins Clinic, near Nyon, as a consultant. Forel said he would accept Zelda if she agreed to go there of her own free will and on condition of a temporary separation from Scott. Forel specified the treatment could only be psychotherapy based on analysis of causative factors in her case. On 3 June, the evening of the consultation, Trutmann said: ‘the patient herself said she felt very tired and ill and that she was in great need of being cared for. She gave the impression that she would agree to go to Prangins. The next day she was again … unapproachable. She is leaving the clinic with her husband.’85
Mayfield suggests that though Zelda initially agreed to go to Prangins, after a violent scene with Scott in Lausanne, in which she accused him of abusing, humiliating and breaking her, she refused to be re-hospitalized. Scott immediately sent for Zelda’s brother-in-law Newman Smith, who with Rosalind was living in Brussels. Smith arrived the next day, helped to quiet Zelda, and persuaded her to put herself under Forel’s care.86 The Smiths continued to represent the Sayre family during Zelda’s Swiss hospitalization. Rosalind, never fond of Scott, was convinced his drinking caused Zelda’s breakdown. She wrote to him: ‘I would almost rather she die now than escape only to go back to the mad world you and she have created for yourselves.’87 Scott retaliated that the Sayres had a history of nervous illnesses, that Zelda had always been reckless and that she had long refused to take domestic responsibility. It is symptomatic of the period that a woman’s domestic role as a symbol of sanity was so enshrined in popular culture that Scott felt entitled to use its lack as a symptom of Zelda’s instability.
The doctors and Scott told the Smiths that Zelda’s efforts to make a professional career as a writer and dancer were motivated by obsessive illness. Rosalind told Sara Mayfield her impression was, on the contrary, ‘a clear-eyed realization of the financial uncertainties of her life with Scott and, perhaps, also by her unhappiness over their marital difficulties’. Rosalind believed Zelda had brilliant gifts, an unconquerable urge to express herself and a very sensible desire to earn a living. ‘Unfortunately, according to Rosalind,’ reported Sara, ‘Scott refused to see it that way. He wanted her … to be dependent upon him, and he insisted upon treating her like a wayward child.’88
On 4 June Zelda entered Prangins, which resembled a country club in the midst of a 100-acre park on the shore of Lake Geneva. She would stay there for fifteen and a half months, until 15 September 1931. Later she described her journey to this expensive asylum:
Our ride … was very sad … we did not have each other or anything else and it half-killed me to give up all the work I had done … I had wanted to destroy the picture of Egorova that I had lived with for four years and give away my tou-tous and the suitcase full of shoes and free my mind from the thing … I had got to the end of my physical resources.89
In what is probably her first letter to Scott from Prangins she returned to their row in Lausanne:
Won’t you please come and see me, since at least you know me and you could see, maybe, some assurance to give me that would counteract the abuse you piled on me at Lausanne when I was so sick. At any rate one thing has been achieved: I am thoroughly humiliated and broken if that was what you wanted.
Scott ruthlessly reproduced Zelda’s sad phrases in Tender Is The Night, where Nicole writes to Dick Diver:
I am completely broken and humiliated, if that was what they wanted. I have had enough and it is simply ruining my health and wasting my time pretending that what is the matter with my head is curable.
Zelda, like the fictional Nicole, said she had a constant presentiment of disaster; that it was cruel that he would not explain to her what is the matter,
since you will not accept my explanation. As you know, I am a person, or was, of some capabality … and if I could grasp the situation I would be much better able to handle it. Under existing conditions, I simply grovel about in the dark and since I can not concentrate either to read or write there does not seem to be any way of escape. I do not want to lose my mind.90
To the visitor, the external ‘existing conditions’ at Prangins had a resort atmosphere, with music rooms, billiard rooms, riding stables, winter gardens, hothouses, farms, tennis courts, a bathing beach and ateliers for occupational therapy. There were seven private villas, three occupied by the staff, four reserved for wealthy ‘guests’. Scott assured the Sayres that the newly opened clinic was ‘the best in Europe’, that Dr Oscar Forel’s father Auguste Forel, Professor of Psychiatry at Zurich University, had ‘an extraordinary reputation as a pioneer in the field of psychiatry’, while Oscar was talented, versatile, and ‘universally regarded as a man of intelligence and character’.91 The tall, skinny, well-dressed Oscar, who was to have great influence on both Fitzgeralds, was born 1891, studied at the Sorbonne and Lausanne’s Faculty of Medicine and became a faculty member of Geneva University for twenty-five years. Though sensitive he had the dictator’s qualities of crafty persuasion and an ability to impose his will on others.92
The ‘existing conditions’ maintained by the sensitive Oscar which the visitor did not see included the forcible restraint on Zelda for her first month. There were two types of control methods: the ‘two-point restraint’ which tied her wrists to the bed and the ‘four-point restraint’ which bound her ankles and wrists to the bed. Her hallucinations were treated with shots of chloral hydrate which completely tranquillized her.
The cost of Forel’s clinic during that first year of the Depression was gigantic: $1,000 a month.93 Scott, determined to spare no expense to provide the best for Zelda, and worried that the stock market crash would diminish his earning facilities, decided in June 1930 to invest $212 in a Northern Pacific Railway bond and an American Telephone and Telegraph debenture. Though Scott would make many grave errors during the next ten years over decisions regarding Zelda’s hospitalization and treatment, and would put control of Zelda consistently ahead of understanding or releasing her, he never shirked his financial obligations to her and to Scottie.
For several weeks Zelda refused to partake in the activities provided and shunned contacts with other patients. Then she developed an intense emotional attachment to another woman patient and also — as at her previous hospital — became involved with several nurses.94
Mayfield satirically suggests that a ‘puzzling’ aspect of the case for Forel ‘was that Zelda showed no erotic feeling for her husband’95 while simultaneously Scott told the doctors he was extremely anxious to resume sexual relations. Dr Forel, however, forbade him to visit her until a treatment course which included a ‘re-education programme’ had been maintained.
During Zelda’s stay in Prangins Scott stayed in the nearby Swiss towns of Glion, Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux and Vevey. About four days a month he went to Paris, where Scottie lived with her governess at 21 rue des Marionniers and attended the Cours Dieterlin. Zelda was distressed Scottie had been left alone in Paris (she did not count the nurse), but Scott reported that she had already won a first prize at school96 and Alice and Dick Myers would keep an eye on her.
During the Prangins incarceration Zelda and Scott exchanged more than a hundred letters explaining themselves, offering recriminations, attributing blame. As they rarely dated letters establishing a correct chronology is an enormous challenge, but a definite pattern can be observed that runs parallel to Zelda’s psychological ‘re-education’ towards femininity, good mothering and the revaluing of marriage and domesticity.
In mental hospitals of that period,97 patients eventually learned what was in their ‘best interests’ to say to staff or to write to intimates outside. By ‘best interest’, what most of them meant was their interest in being judged sufficiently ‘sane’ to be released. All letters were opened, in some hospitals censored, in every hospital assessed. In Zelda’s case the need to ‘re-educate’ her into being ‘a good wife’ was paramount. So her initial letters of anger, betrayal, distrust, resentment, which were seen by the medical establishment as signs of ‘instability’, ultimately gave way to more conciliatory, affectionate letters which were viewed as signs of ‘improvement’.
What strikes the reader at once is that in Prangins Zelda is aware of how she needs to behave if she is to be relabelled stable. But as her treatments intensify in four more clinics, she becomes as much a victim of the treatments as of the illness, and this awareness — or any written evidence of it — drops away.
If this were the only motive for the first discernible hostility/affection pattern, the letters would be simple to analyse. But running parallel is a second motive. This is the alternating mixture of genuine resentment Zelda held against Scott (and he against her) and the memory (if not the current activity) of the strongest passion and the deepest emotional bond either had ever found or would ever find with anyone.
A second batch of letters, from Zelda to Scottie, shows Zelda’s constant devotion to her daughter, but with their increasing separation and her own wavering sense of self, the letters progressively reveal a woman in retreat from, even terrified by, motherhood.
A third group of letters, from Fitzgerald to Zelda’s psychiatrists, shows how Fitzgerald was intimately involved in Zelda’s treatment and how important it was to him to see himself, and to be considered by the medical establishment, as a junior consultant almost on a par with her doctors.
These letters tell the next stage of Zelda’s story.
1 FSF to ZSF, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, p. 198. Scott was now worried that people, even if unaware of his youthful cross-dressings, might believe those stinking accusations because when acquaintances told him he looked like someone else, that ‘someone else’ usually turned out to be homosexual. Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, p. 159.
2 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. To Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 427.
3 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, pp. 194–5. Scott’s Ledger May 1929 mentions ‘Lucien again’ — probably another reference to Lucienne.
4 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 194. Scott’s Ledger dates the Nancy Hoyt dinner as 30 March 1930. Subsequently Elinor became a close friend of Dos Passos. Elinor Hoyt Wylie and Nancy Hoyt were sisters of Morton Hoyt who was married to Eugenia Bankhead, Tallulah’s elder sister, with whom Scott had an affair. In 1922 Wilson continued his flirtation with Elinor Wylie but she became more seriously involved with John Peale Bishop. At Bishop’s wedding to Margaret Hutchins the bride’s father tried to rape Elinor Wylie. Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 157.
5 Natalie had lived at 20 rue Jacob, Paris, since 1909. She told Zelda she staged tableaux vivants and held pacifist meetings in the garden where Racine was supposed to have strolled with his mistress La Champsmesle. A tiny Doric temple fronted a disused well which led to an underground cave below which was a passage under the Seine to the Louvre.
6 Dolly (Dorothy Ierne Wilde) was the daughter of Oscar’s elder improvident brother Willie who died in 1899, the year before Oscar. She was born 11 July 1895 in Oakley Street, Chelsea, London.
7 The drugs included cocaine and morphine. See Joan Schenkar, Truly Wide, Virago Press, London, 2000.
8 Bettina Bergery (1902–1993) was one of the three beautiful American Jones girls for whom the phrase ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ was invented. She worked for Schiaparelli and was one of Paris’s finest raconteuses. Victor Cunard (1898–1960), writer Nancy Cunard’s witty cousin, was the London Times correspondent in Venice, at twenty had an affair with Harold Nicolson, Vita Sackville West’s husband, and was one of Dolly’s closest friends.
9 Janet Flanner (1892–1978) wrote the New Yorker’s bi-monthly ‘Letter from Paris’ column under the nom de plume Genet.
10 Schenkar, Truly Wilde, p. 116.
11 Rosamund Harcourt-Smith in Natalie Barney, ed., In Memory of Dorothy lerne Wilde, Darentiere, Dijon, 1951, pp. 28–9, quoted in Schenkar, Truly Wilde, p. 117.
12 ZSF to FSF, probably June or July 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 53. Nancy Milford (Zelda, p. 138) suggests this letter was in answer to one from Scott headed ‘Written with Zelda gone to the Clinique’; the handwriting, notepaper, style and content are similar to correspondence dated early June/July. The reference to Scottie having finished school and the heat of the city would fit this author’s dating.
13 The two versions are: cancelled drafts of early versions of Tender Is The Night, ‘The Melarky Case’ (MS versions), chs III to IV, CO187, Box 10, Folder 7, PUL; and The Melarky and Kelly Versions. A Facsimile Edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald Manuscripts, ed. Matthew j. Bruccoli, associate ed. Alan Marjolies, A Garland Series, Garland Publishers, New York and London, 1990 (based on MSS in PUL).
14 ‘Melarky Case’ MS version.
16 Melarky/Kelly facsimile version.
19 Ibid. Scott crossed out that sentence and substituted: ‘The sight of this legendary aberration in action had spoiled some quiet series of human facts for him as it had when he had first become aware of its other face some years before.’
21 Diana McLellan, The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood, Robson Books, 2001.
22 Compton Mackenzie, Extraordinary Women: Theme and Variations, Martin Seeker, London, 1928. On Capri the circle included Radclyffe Hall, Una Troubridge, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Janet Flanner, Djuna Barnes. When the circle regrouped in Paris it included Dolly Wilde, Elisabeth, Duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre, Esther Murphy, Emily Vanderbilt and Zelda Fitzgerald. Mackenzie’s view of the women was a mild form of late Victorian patriarchal superiority.
23 Mackenzie to Meryle Secrest. Secrest, Between Me and Life: A Biography of Romaine Brooks, Macdonald & Jane’s, London, 1976, p. 302.
24 Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness, Jonathan Cape, London, 1928.
25 Hall became known as a one-book polemicist.
26 When Tallulah came to London in tine Twenties, although she was said to have seduced half a dozen Eton boys who had then been expelled, a damaging Scotland Yard report said there were rumours about her sexual perversion with her own sex. Another informant wrote to Scotland Yard that ‘she is both a lesbian and immoral with men’. The informant reported she ‘keeps a girl in London’ as formerly it had been suggested that before she came to the UK in 1925 she ‘kept a negress in USA’.
27 Camella Mayfield, series of conversations and taped interviews with the author, Princeton, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and from the UK, 1999, 2000, 2001.
28 Mayfield also wrote a biography about Tallulah Bankhead.
29 Author’s conversations with Camella Mayfield and with Rebecca Roberts, Public and Outreach Services Coordinator, W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, 1999, 2000.
30 Rebecca Roberts said the fact that ‘Sara Mayfield destroyed all of her correspondence with Zelda in order to protect Zelda’s privacy is an honorable act, but a great loss for researchers’. (Letter to author, 18 May 1999, and in several conversations with the author 1999.) Roberts said the university received Sara Mayfield’s materials in 1955, but between 1955 and 1965 they were allowed only to house them, not to offer access to them. Papers arrived piecemeal, were edited in the late 1950s and early 1960s and officially ‘given’ to them in 1980.
31 Camella spent a summer typing the first draft of Mayfield’s biography of Tallulah, ‘but when the publishers asked Sara to make it spicier she refused. She would not put in new facts that she was aware of, she would only put in was what already acknowledged. Sara did know new negative things but she refused to use them.’ Camella Mayfield to the author as before.
32 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 151.
33 Camella Mayfield to the author. Sara’s self-protection may have included her relationships with Montgomery women Elizabeth Thigren Hill (who looked after Rosalind Sayre in the latter’s last years) and Wilda Malloy Williams, both women from highly reputable well-established families. These two affairs appear to be ‘common knowledge’ among locals in Montgomery. Several residents talked to the author openly about them.
34 Camella Mayfield to the author.
35 ZSF to FSF, summer 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 51, PUL. Same blue squared paper, emotional tone and continuance of ideas as letters the author has dated June and July. Author’s suggested date for this letter is July.
37 Interestingly, in about 1930 when Scott listed those people who had responded to his bad behaviour by snubbing him, Emily Vanderbilt featured on his list. Also on the snub list were Tallulah Bankhead, Ada MacLeish, Bijou O’Conor, John Barrymore, Tommy Hitchcock, Ruth Vallombrosa and the Murphys. Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, pp. 321–2.
38 In Nov. 1934.
39 Lillian Hellman, Pentimento, written 1973, Macmillan, London, 1974.
40 ZSF to FSF, no date, CO187, Box 44, Folder 27, PUL.
41 ZSF to FSF, late summer 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 52, PUL.
42 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 194.
43 FSF to EH, 23 Aug. 1929.
44 EH to FSF, 4 Sep. 1929, EH, Selected Letters, Swallow Press, Chicago, 1975, pp. 304–5. Part of Scott’s trouble, Hemingway thought, was that Scott believed because of Gatsby’s reviews he must write a masterpiece. However ‘nobody but Fairies’ could write masterpieces, Hemingway intoned, the rest of their crowd ‘can only write as well as they can’.
45 The Kellys would finally be deleted from the novel but would become the main characters in his story ‘One Trip Abroad’. Rosemary however would be kept for Tender Is The Night.
46 Ober to FSF, telegram, 21 Sep. 1929, As Ever, Scott Fitz—, ed. Bruccoli with Jennifer McCabe Atkinson, p. 146.
47 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 194. The yacht was the Murphys’ Honoria; Dotty was Dorothy Parker.
48 Quoted in Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, p. 159.
49 ‘Melarky Case’ MS version (CO187, Box 10, Folder 7, PUL). The phrase ‘satyrs whose lips curled horribly’ is scored through. In another version of the same scene Francis Melarky looks around this fairy world with ‘an angry shocked expression’. ‘“Is this real?” he demanded. “Or a sort of show?”’ He is assured by a character called Horseprotection that it is real, and that Horseprotection will show him how the scene works. ‘He got up and spoke to a man painted, bewigged and attired in a woman’s evening dress at the next table. The man fluttered and presently they were dancing together …, Horseprotection winking at us over the man’s shoulder. Francis got up saying “Let’s get out of this dump!”’ (Melarky/Kelly facsimile version).
50 Sara Murphy to FSF, no date, CO187, Box 51, Folder 15, PUL.
51 FSF, Ledger, Sep. 1929.
52 FSF to ZSF, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, p. 189.
53 This biographer dates this as late November; as do Mellow and Donaldson. Allen Tate dates it early December. Previous biographers dated it as October but internal evidence rules out October.
54 Allen Tate, Memoirs and Opinions 1926–1974, Swallow Press, Chicago, 1975, p. 62. Tate told Scott to mind his own business.
55 In response Hemingway repeated that Stein had been admiring of Scott’s work which he himself continued to admire, but added sensibly that comparison of hypothetical flames was ‘pure horseshit’. EH to FSF, c. 5 or 12 Dec. 1929, EH, Selected Letters, pp. 309–11.
56 In his Ledger Scott left the first redheaded woman anonymous but the second was a nurse in Zelda’s first hospital.
57 EH, Moveable Feast, quoted in Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, p. 153.
58 ZSF fictionalized the flowers as having ‘the brilliant carnivorous qualities of Van Gogh’. Save Me The Waltz, Collected Writings, p. 130.
59 Painting undated but c. 1929 (author’s dating).
60 Undated oil on canvas, c. 1929/1930 (author’s dating).
61 ZSF to FSF, 1932 (no date), CO187, Box 44, Folder 15. Zelda had been reading Jan Gordon’s book Modern French Painters (J. Lane, London, 1923). As well as a chapter on Van Gogh there were chapters on Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Cezanne, Renoir, Gauguin, Art and the New Civilization, the Designing Instinct, Rousseau and Utrillo, Savage Art and Modigliani, ‘Space’ and ‘Life’ in Painting, the Value of Art, Derain and Vlaminck, Cubism, the Modern Realists, the Women Painters, and the Slavonic Influence. Art historian Carolyn Shafer believes Zelda was very familiar with Van Gogh’s art which she probably encountered first while in France. In June 1943 Zelda renewed this acquaintance at a major travelling exhibition of Van Gogh paintings in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (Montgomery Advertiser, 7 June 1943).
62 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 428.
63 Another snap of Zelda huddled inside a huge fur coat at the top of a slope, labelled ‘Have I got to go down?’, is meant to be witty but Zelda’s frozen gaze belies any humour.
64 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 194.
65 ZSF to FSF, late summer 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 52, PUL.
66 Vaill, So Young, p. 219.
67 Milford to the author, New York, 1998.
68 ZSF to FSF, c. July 1930 (author’s dating), co187, Box 42, Folder 57, PUL.
70 Scott’s five-story series appeared in the Saturday Evening Post between 5 Apr. 1930 and 15 Aug. 1931.
71 FSF to ZSF, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, p. 189.
72 Scott’s Ledger summary of the year Sep. 1929–Sep. 1930.
73 Doctor’s report, Malmaison, n.d., 1930. (Original in French; translation by author and Rosemary Smith). co187, Box 51, Folder 7A, PUL.
75 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 195.
76 Malmaison report.
77 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 155.
78 Her trip to Montgomery was April 1930.
79 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 195.
80 FSF, Tender, 1986, p. 137.
81 ZSF to FSF, c. July 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 57, PUL. This letter also includes the significant line: ‘Finally by constant references to … pronounced and vulgar symbollism [sic] I at last began to believe that there was but one cure for me: the one I had refused three times in Paris.’
82 In a later letter to Dr Forel Zelda wrote: ‘My husband forced me to go to Valmont. I am here with you, in a situation where I can not be anybody.’
83 Report on ZSF by Dr H. W. Trutmann, June 1930, CO187, Box 54, Folder 10A, PUL. (Translation from French by the author and Rosemary Smith.)
86 Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 152–3.
87 Rosalind Sayre Smith to FSF, 8 June 1930, CO187, Box 53, Folder 14A, PUL.
88 Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 151–2.
89 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’, 16 Mar. 1932, Johns Hopkins Hospital records.
90 ZSF to FSF, c. June 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 50, PUL.
91 FSF to Judge and Mrs A. D. Sayre, 1 Dec. 1930, Life in Letters, p. 202.
92 Forel saw religion as incompatible with science and was a highly cultured man fascinated by literature, art and music.
93 During 1930–31 Zelda’s treatment cost 70,561 Swiss francs, the equivalent of $13,000.
94 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 153.
95 Ibid., p. 154.
96 Ibid., p. 158.
97 Also still in many today.
The three main characters in the Prangins drama staked out their painful positions.
From inside Prangins, Zelda wrote to Scott:
Please help me. Every day more of me dies with this bitter and incessant beating I’m taking. You can choose the conditions of our life and anything you want if I don’t have to stay here miserable and sick at the mercy of people who have never even tried what its like … I can’t live any more under these conditions, and anyway I’ll always know that the door is tacticly locked — if it ever is … There’s no justice … the longer I have to bear this the meaner and harder and sicker I get … Please, Please let me out now — Dear, you used to love me and I swear to you that this is no use … You said it was too good to spoil. What’s spoiling is me, along with it and I don’t see how anybody in the world has a right to do such a thing —.1
From outside Prangins, Scott wrote to Zelda, whose photo he held:
When I saw the sadness of your face in that passport photo I felt as you can imagine … The photograph is all I have: it is with me from the morning when I wake up with a frantic half dream about you to the last moment when I think of you and of death at night. The rotten letters you write me I simply put away under Z in my file. My instinct is to write a public letter to the Paris Herald to see if any human being except yourself and Robert McAlmon has ever thought I was homosexual … if you choose to keep up your wrestling match with a pillar of air I would prefer to be not even in the audience … I will take my full share of responsibility for all this tragedy but I cannot spread beyond the limits of my reach and grasp. I can only bring you the little bit of hope I have and I don’t know any other hope except my own … if I have failed you is it just barely possible that you have failed me …2
Scott the outsider wrote also to Dr Forel the insider:
When I last saw you I was almost as broken as my wife by months of horror. The only important thing in my life was that she should be saved from madness or death.3
At the heart of Prangins, its director Dr Forel wrote to Scott that he shared Scott’s ordeal, that he appreciated Scott’s co-operation, that his personal feelings were mixed with his professional role. Like Scott he wanted Zelda to become well.
Forel kept in close touch with Scott over Zelda’s diagnosis, treatment and progress, allowing him to feel responsible in his new role as unofficial co-consultant.
Dr Forel saw Zelda as ‘gay, playful, optimistic, artistic and independently minded’ but also ‘extremely irritable’.4
Zelda saw herself as terrified.
Forel catalogued her symptoms: bizarre reactions, strange interpretations, inadequate responses, autism, insomnia, daydreaming, and smiling without cause. She also heard things, was hysterical, and had an inclination towards homosexuality which she projected on to her husband.
Zelda, too, catalogued her symptoms. She accepted that she was in a state of ‘continuous nervous horror’. She lived ‘in some horrible subconscious dream’.5 She had hours of terrible ‘panic [which] settled into a persistent gloom punctuated by moments of bombastic hysteria’. Some days she wanted to die.6
Patient and doctor did agree about the hysteria. They did not agree about her homosexuality. The patient did not think it was a symptom of illness, rather an expression of desire. The patient, according to the doctor, was out of line, had not read the medical books, must be re-educated.
Zelda, a fast reactor, a woman of rapier wit, suddenly exhibited such slow psychological and verbal responses that Forel suspected she had a brain tumour. But he could discover no physical evidence.7
He considered schizophrenia, which in the Thirties had already been established as at least in part genetically transmitted. There appeared to be no history of schizophrenia in Zelda’s family.8 However, when the Sayres wrote to Forel in June, they did not furnish him with adequate information about the varied mental illnesses suffered by Zelda’s family. Whether any of them had produced symptoms which a doctor at that time would have labelled schizophrenic is unknown.
The Sayres’ reluctance to divulge information was based on the Deep South view of mental illness. As one Montgomery resident said: ‘Every family in Montgomery has at least one mad person … But we never talk about it. Montgomery people didn’t (and don’t) talk about anyone’s “unusual” sexuality though there is a lot of that in our families too. In Zelda’s day sometimes they were said to be crazy when their families just couldn’t handle their views or their behaviour. You could be shut away just for talking about it.’9
Forel felt Zelda’s ‘overweening inflated ambition’ had caused serious exhaustion. He did not take sufficiently into account the terrifying strains Scott’s alcoholism put on Zelda. He believed unspecified ‘marital difficulties’ had ‘provoked a depression with suicidal tendencies and a strong propensity for drug taking, which has developed into definite schizophrenia’.10
This was a new term, meaning ‘split mind’, coined in 1911 by Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist educated at Zurich University who became medical director of Zurich’s Burgholzli Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry. He redefined earlier views of madness by suggesting that dementia praecox, one form of insanity, could be expanded and renamed because its patients showed a split or loss of co-ordination between different psychic functions, such as intellect and emotions.11 Bleuler was interested in Zelda’s case because he believed that it was a discrepancy between high aspiration and moderate achievement which precipitated delusions.
Symptoms varied with individual patients, but even in 1930 there were certain observable core symptoms, some of which Forel felt Zelda exhibited. All his schizophrenic patients believed their mental processes were no longer under their own control. Some insisted that alien forces put thoughts into their minds. Others heard voices telling them what to do or threatening to kill them. The most acute suffered delusions or hallucinations. How did Zelda match up to that measuring scale?
When she entered Prangins, Zelda had ‘imagined that there were corpses in the house, had thoughts of parricide, appeared to be sleepwalking’;12 before that, she had felt people were criticizing her and had been unable to face dressmakers, shopkeepers or servants.13
Forel informed Scott that key symptoms in the schizophrenic repertoire were vagueness of thought, illogicality and incomprehensible speech. Then they considered Zelda as a ‘case’. Zelda certainly had shifting thought patterns and made complex connections, but these were characteristics she had exhibited since childhood when perfectly healthy. Another problem affecting her diagnosis, which Forel did not take into account, was that in Switzerland her doctors spoke little English and her French was mediated by a strong Deep Southern accent, complicated by her original turns of phrase, her non sequiturs and her extravagant hyperbole.
Most of Forel’s schizophrenic patients had lost their drive, were unable to respond emotionally to others and had become isolated and apathetic.14 In June 1930 this was not true of Zelda, although as she became institutionalized for years a terrible apathy consumed her.
The onset of schizophrenia is usually preceded by stressful events. In Zelda’s case her sexual anxieties and artistic frustration had become overwhelming immediately before her breakdown. Yet these instances were reinterpreted by Forel. Her specific sexual fear was relabelled a joint marital conflict, her loss of identity due to misappropriation of artistic credit was renamed ‘disappointed ambitions’, and her illness seen as a reaction to feelings of inferiority, particularly towards Scott. In Thirties society where Scott was seen as the professional and Zelda as the amateur, his artistic superiority would automatically be validated, as much by the largely male medical profession as by the literary elite, therefore Zelda’s resentful responses would be seen as inappropriate, even ‘crazy’.
Forel thought Zelda needed routine, avoidance of drink and drugs, and a ‘normal’ marriage in which she oversaw her child’s education. He felt Scottie should be put on her guard so that she did not seek to fulfil her mother’s unsatisfied desires and ambitions. He outlined a treatment programme of systematic workshop activity, sports, entertainment and above all ‘regular discipline’. His crucial recommendation was that Zelda should give up her ‘inflated ambitions’ and engage in ‘activities appropriate to her talents and tastes’.15
Scott saw Zelda’s state between 15 May and 15 July 1930 as a ‘period of insanity obvious to any layman’. He characterized it as wild homosexuality, suicide threats, attempts at escape, delusions. But he admitted that Zelda was also writing and painting furiously.16 She had told the doctors how eager she was to paint and Scott had obtained permission to send in art materials. But there were many days when she felt isolated and terrified. ‘I can’t read or sleep. Without hope or youth or money I sit constantly wishing I were dead —’, she wrote.17
For a time Scott tried to play down the gravity of Zelda’s condition. In May he had written to Ober: ‘Zelda’s been sick + not dangerously but seriously’, but by June from Paris he wrote to his mother: ‘Zelda has been desperately ill with a complete nervous breakdown and is in a sanitarium near here. She is better now but recovery will take a long time. I did not tell her parents the seriousness of it so say nothing — the danger was to her sanity rather than her life.’18 Scottie, who was still attending school at Paris’s Cours Dieterlin, visiting Rosalind in Brussels and taking weekend trips to her tutor Mlle Serez’s family home, was told nothing about her mother’s condition. ‘I knew she was ill,’ she said later, ‘but I didn’t know why.’19
Scott, in residence at the Hotel Righi near Glion, still failed to tell the Sayres how seriously ill Zelda was. He described it as nervous exhaustion for which Zelda was taking a Swiss cure, but Minnie Sayre was not fooled. Zelda’s regular weekly letters had suddenly stopped. Mamma Sayre, who had already nursed Marjorie and the Judge through mental breakdowns, was familiar with the patterns. Although frantic ‘for news from my little baby’, she wrote to Scott with Southern stoicism: ‘we might just as well face facts for there is no dodging them.’20 Rosalind, who held Scott responsible for Zelda’s condition, insisted he was too irresponsible to oversee Scottie. She repeatedly suggested the child live with her and Newman. Scottie later wrote: ‘[Rosalind’s] smouldering quarrel with my father broke out — she deemed him too unreliable to be in charge of me while my mother was in the hospital and demanded that he let her adopt me.’21
Scott refused, and in mid-June took Scottie to visit her mother for the first time. In an effort to seem normal Zelda became terrifyingly tense. After Scottie’s departure Zelda suffered a virulent attack of eczema across her neck, shoulders and face, with unremitting pain. Scott, almost as appalled as Zelda herself, was deeply sympathetic but also made good use of her agony. In Tender Is The Night his description of an American mental patient runs: ‘On her admittance she had been exceptionally pretty — now she was a living agonizing sore. All blood tests had failed to give a positive reaction and the trouble was unsatisfactorily catalogued as nervous eczema. For two months she had lain under it, as imprisoned as the Iron Maiden. She was coherent, even brilliant, within the limits of her special hallucinations.’ With some insight Scott has his Zelda-model say: ‘I’m sharing the fate of the women of my time who challenged men to battle.’22
Zelda herself, still covered with sores, had been reading James Joyce but found ‘it a night-mare in my present condition’. She told Scott her concentration was failing, the pain so extreme that ‘my head evaporates,’ but she was still determined to read something ‘upon which my head will be able to make no conjectures … something with ideas’. She fixed on the German philosopher Oswald Spengler. ‘Will you send me “The Decline of the West” … so that I can put my sub-conscious, or whatever it is, back where it belongs and be left in peace to formulate and organize and absorb things that could find themselves a form afterwards?’ She did not want anything in French because she was having sufficient difficulty with English ‘and not Lawrence and not Virginia Wolf or anybody who writes by dipping the broken threads of their heads into the ink of literary history.’23
Scott sent the Spengler and some perfume, but by the time they arrived the eczema had escalated. Doctors injected her with calcium and morphine, administered X-rays, placed her on a strict diet which excluded cheese, preserves, cooked pork and hors-d’oeuvre, but to no avail.24
Despairingly she wrote: ‘If you don’t come take me out of this clinic I’m going crazy — swathed in embalming fluid all day and plastered with mud that decomposes and runs down my ears — I’d rather have hydro-phobia and all the plagues of the Holy Land and not be in captivity.’
With a wrenching return to satire she added: ‘There’s so little variety in eczema.’25 In 1920 Zelda had written to Scott: ‘I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered with sores like a leper.’26 Which of them remembered it now?
One Sunday Zelda, taken for a walk by a dame de compagnie, suddenly broke away and fled.27 It took three trained nurses to bring her back, whereupon she was immediately transferred to Villa Eglantine, a unit reserved for highly disturbed patients, where she was isolated, locked in and forcibly restrained.
In Tender Is The Night Scott uses the name Eglantine for a secure unit in the psychiatric clinic which housed ‘those sunk into eternal darkness’. His fictional Eglantine, based on the hideous reality into which Zelda was confined, had the same exterior cheerfulness, the same concealed grilles, bars and immovable furniture where ‘no uninstructed visitor would have dreamed that the light, graceful filagree work at a window was a strong, unyielding end of a tether’.28
In 1919 Scott had written repeatedly to Zelda how much he wished his princess was locked up in a tower. Now she was: confined by forcible bonds, the label madness, hearing other voices than his. Although Scott’s Ledger entry records only the barest summary: ‘June 23rd Zelda confined Eglantine’, it cannot have made him feel good the way his 1919 fantasies had.
Although not legally committed, every time Zelda attempted to leave Prangins she was forcibly brought back to Eglantine, where in a blackened room she was administered morphine and bromides rectally, preceded by an enema. These drugs induced a two-week-long narcosis within twenty minutes.29 Patients on this ‘Swiss Sleeping Cure’ were aroused only to relieve bladder or bowel or for minimal food. This narcotic procedure had several known side-effects, one of which was eczema, by which Zelda was again tortured from 15 July onwards.
Zelda had already sent Scott desperate letters.
I want you to let me leave here — You’re wasting time and effort and money to take away the little we both have left. If you think you are preparing me for a return to Alabama you are mistaken, and also if you think I am going to spend the rest of my life roaming about without happiness or rest or work from one sanatorium to another … you are wrong … two sick horses might conceivably pull a heavier load than a well one alone. Of cource, if you prefer that I should spend six months of my life under prevailing conditions — my eyes are open and I will get something from that, too, I suppose, but they are tired and unhappy, and my head aches always. Won’t you write me a comprehensible letter such as you might write to one of your friends? Every day it gets harder to think or live and I do not understand the object of wasting the dregs of me here, alone in a devasting bitterness.
Now deteriorating rapidly, she begged Scott to write Egorova ‘a friendly impersonal note to find out exactly where I stand as a dancer’. In her postscript she repeated:
Please write immediately to Paris about the dancing. I would do it but I think the report will be more accurate if it goes to you — just an opinion as to what value work is and to what point I could develop it before it is too late. Of cource, I would go to another school as I know Egorova would not want to be bothered with me.30
Forel, convinced that if she continued to dance Zelda would not find stability, also wanted Scott to write to Egorova. He suggested that Scott write asking Egorova to discourage her pupil, even if it meant deceiving Zelda.31 Forel felt that Zelda must be made to give up any idea that ballet was her vocation. Scott was not prepared to play along with Forel’s fraudulent plan. He had written to Egorova on 22 June:
Zelda is still very ill. From time to time there is some improvement and then all of a sudden she commits some insane act … It is doubtful — though she is unaware of it — that she could ever return to her dancing school … doctors would like to know what her chances were, what her future was like as a dancer, when she fell ill … Her situation being critical, it is rather necessary that she should know the answer, despite all the disappointment it could cause her.32
Scott attached seven questions. Could Zelda achieve the level of a first-rate dancer; could she ever dance like Nikitina or Danilowa; how many years might that take if she could; if she couldn’t become first rate could her charming face and beautiful body land her roles in ballets such as those produced by Massine in New York; were there students in Egorova’s school better than Zelda; did she start too late to achieve good balance; was she working too hard for a woman her age; and if she had not fallen ill could she have satisfied both her ideal and her ambitions? On 9 July Egorova replied that Zelda had begun too late to become a first-rate dancer but she could become a very good dancer, capable of successfully dancing important roles in New York’s Massine Ballet Company.
Scott and Forel saw this as positive, though they knew Zelda would be crushed.
Meanwhile in order to make sense of her illness Zelda wrote a series of analytic letters to Scott. The most remarkable was a forty-two-page summary of their marriage which displayed her extraordinary memory for precise colourful detail of places, people and emotions. She recalled their early days in New York with reporters, fur-smothered hotel lobbies, the impressiveness of the Fowlers, tea dances at the Plaza, her eccentric behaviour at Princeton, Townsend’s blue eyes, the Biltmore’s marshmallow odour. She raced through absinthe cocktails, roadhouses where they bought gin, her startling white knickers, Scott’s affair with Gene Bankhead, their quarrels, their devilled ham, their trip to Europe where she was sick and he drank, Alabama’s unbearable heat, St Paul’s treacherous cold, the birth and wonder of Scottie. She dwelt on their adoration of the Kalmans, their dinners with Bunny, the intrusion of doctors, the encroaching disorder, the violent rows, her fantasy episode with Jozan, Scott’s flagrantly sentimental relations with Moran, their attempts for another child, his indifference to her sickness, the pleasure the Murphys brought them and her cascading into the twin worlds of art and ballet. She conjured up their life of too many parties, too many people, too much noise, too little sanity. In this rush through the years she paused at the problem with Ernest, then at the counter-problem with Dolly, and concluded:
I have just begun to realize that sex and sentiment have little to do with each other. When I came to you twice last winter and asked you to start over it was because I thought I was becoming seriously involved sentimentally and preparing situations for which I was morally and practi cly unfitted … I still know in my heart that it is a Godless, dirty game; that love is bitter and all there is, and that the rest is for the emotional beggars of the earth.33
Scott struck back with a seven-page memo called ‘Written With Zelda Gone To The Clinique’, which he may not have sent but which he kept for posterity. In it he tried to account for the interconnected collapse of his career and destruction of their joy. He revisited Capri, then Paris when he was a success, ‘the biggest man in my profession everybody admired me’. He was proud of his friendships with the Murphys and Ernest, then deflated by the penalties of constant drinking. He pondered the ‘time of misery’ when he dragged The Great Gatsby out of the pit of his stomach, and described how he woke up in Hollywood, ‘no longer my egotistic, certain self but a mixture of Ernest in fine clothes and Gerald with a career…. Anybody that could make me believe that, like Lois Moran did, was precious to me.’ On reaching Ellerslie he was prepared to do anything to be liked, to make up from without for being undernourished from within. At rue Vaugirard when he needed reassurance that he was a great man of the world, Zelda had retreated. He felt exploited, not by her ‘but by something I resented terribly no happiness’. He remembered wondering why he kept working to pay the bills for his desolate menage. Worst of all, his novel was like a dream, further and further away. On the Riviera Gerald and Sara cooled towards him, Ernest became irritable, he drank to stave off his feelings of inferiority and Zelda had emotionally disappeared. ‘I think everyone far enough away to see us outside of our glib presentation of ourselves guessed at your almost meglomaniacal selfishness and my insane indulgence in drink. Toward the end nothing much mattered.’34
Yet even now the Fitzgeralds were offering presentations to each other, some glib, some fanciful, many as honest as they could manage. Their tearing need was to explain themselves to one another.
In July Zelda reproached him for failing to guide her prior to her illness: ‘… the obligation is, after all, with the people who understand, and the blind, of necessity, must be led’. As one of the blind, she felt ‘it is not astonishing that I should look on you with unfriendly eyes’.35
Scott took the point. And the letter. It reappeared in Tender Is The Night as a letter from Nicole: ‘I kept waiting for some one to tell me. It was the duty of some one who understood. The blind must be led.’36
At that stage Zelda did not know that her husband was still making literary use of her fractured life. She was busy looking for causes: ‘I have done nothing but turn over cause and effect in my mind … your presentation of the situation is poetic even if it has no bearing on the truth: your working to preserve the family and my working to get away from it.’ She felt he had given the ‘absolute minimum of effort both to your work and to our mutual welfare … I envy you the mental processes which can so distort conditions into a rectitude of attitude for you … so take whatever comfort you may find in whatever self-justification you can construct.’ Perhaps with conscious irony, she added: ‘This is not a treatise of recrimination, but I would like you to understand clearly why, there are certain scenes not only towards the end which could never be effaced from my mind.’37
Scott felt a need both to defend himself yet also to accept responsibility for Zelda. What he failed to do was to accept any responsibility for the destructive effects on Zelda of his drinking. He also had to protect Scottie from the worst effects of her mother’s illness and support them as a family by endlessly writing saleable stories.
He abhorred the psychiatrists’ investigation into the hidden places of their marital life and, as therapy revealed shaming aspects of their past, he found Zelda’s constant recriminations as unbearable as she found the reasons for them. Guilt and confusion left him tormented, which in turn made him vacillate between deep sympathy and profound irritation. Scott blamed Zelda for not taking responsibility for her own actions. He told Scottie that Zelda never felt a sense of guilt even when she put other people’s lives in jeopardy. She felt — according to Scott — that other people subjugated her or else situations beyond her control contrived against her. He felt Zelda ignored ordinary moral standards and tried to solve ethical problems independently. Years later he was still telling Scottie: ‘The insane are always mere guests on the earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.’38
Zelda refused to feel guilty. ‘Please don’t write to me about blame. I am tired of rummaging my head to understand a situation that would be difficult enough if I were completely lucid. I cannot arbitrarily accept blame now when I know that in the past I felt none. Anyway blame doesn’t matter.’39
But despite her brave words, Zelda did blame Scott for the months he had spent drinking and ignoring her. They were squabbling like children. A deep weariness overcame them. Zelda managed to lift herself from depression to resignation:
Anyhow, none of those things matter. I quite realize that you have done the best you can and I would like you to realize that so have I, in all the disorder. I do not know what is going to happen, but since I am in the hands of Doctor Forel and they are a great deal more powerful than yours or mine, it will probably be for the best. I want to work at something, but I can’t seem to get well enough to be of any use in the world … Please send me Egorova’s letter — Zelda.40
When Zelda read Egorova’s verdict she was devastated. She had been confident she could achieve distinction of the first rank. Her professional ballet career was over.
1 ZSF to FSF, c. late Aug. 1930 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 42, Folder 58, PUL.
2 FSF to ZSF, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, p. 198.
3 FSF to Dr Oscar Forel, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, p. 196.
4 Forel, psychiatric report on Zelda’s temperament, 15 Sep. 1931. Original French, translated by Marion Callen in conjunction with the author. CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
5 Psychiatric evaluation, patient’s temperament before marriage, Craig House medical records, ibid., PUL.
6 ZSF to FSF, summer 1930 (author suggests late June), CO187, Box 42, Folder 64, PUL. Zelda began to alternate between three different states. The first one was of quiet depression in which she still had hopes on recovery for her future career; the second wild hysteria in which she blamed other people for her breakdown; the third less hysterical but her problems seemed insoluble and her only wish was to die.
7 Forel, psychiatric report, 15 Sep. 1931, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
8 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 153. Several studies in Europe and North America show the illness runs in families and the concordance rate is higher in identical than non-identical twins. It has also been established since the 1950s that two drugs often used to increase the release of brain dopamine (amphetamines and levodopa) may worsen schizophrenia. Amphetamines have been known to produce in previously healthy volunteers a condition that is indistinguishable from acute paranoid schizophrenia. Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed. Richard L. Gregory with the assistance of O. L. Zangwill, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 698–9.
9 Janie Wall to the author, Montgomery, 1999.
10 Forel, psychiatric report, 15 Sep. 1931, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
11 At the time of Zelda’s birth, psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin had suggested that most forms of insanity were manifestations of two major disorders: dementia praecox and manic depressive insanity. Bleuler expanded and renamed Kraepelin’s dementia praecox.
12 Forel, psychiatric report, 15 Sep. 1931, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
13 Psychiatric evaluation: patient’s temperament before marriage, ibid.
14 Generally schizophrenic patients retain intelligence and memory but their personality as a whole seems affected. In 1930 environmental and emotional factors, which today play a large part in understanding schizophrenia, were seen as less significant. Because the causes of schizophrenia, despite extensive research, remain elusive, in more recent years the syndrome has engendered alternative theories. Psychiatrist R. D. Laing saw it as a rational response to an insane world and located it within the family; to many post-1960s sociologists it was merely a convenient label used by society to control troublesome deviants; and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz in the late 1970s came up with the groundbreaking notion that the illness simply didn’t exist. There could have been useful elements for Zelda’s case in some of these theories had they been available.
15 Forel, psychiatric report, 15 Sep. 1931, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
16 FSF, Five Year Consultation Record (from middle of 7th year of marriage), Craig House Medical Records, ibid., PUL. FSF wrote this assessment of Zelda’s state to help the doctors who also wrote an assessment of Zelda’s state. Although Forel had not allowed Scott to send Zelda a story she had started in Valmont on the grounds that she was too ill to concentrate, Zelda actually began to write a ballet libretto.
17 ZSF to FSF, c. Sep. (author’s dating) 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 67, PUL.
18 FSF to Ober, received 13 May 1930, Lilly Library; to Mollie McQuillan Fitzgerald, June 1930, Life in Letters, pp. 183, 184.
19 Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 48.
20 Mrs Sayre to FSF, 14 and 16 July 1930, CO187, Box 53, PUL.
21 Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 45.
22 FSF, Tender, 1986, pp. 202, 203.
23 ZSF to FSF, 1930 (author’s dating on grounds of internal evidence), CO187, Box 43, Folder 4, PUL.
24 Forel, psychiatric report, 15 Sep. 1931, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL. Scott had written to his mother: ‘Zelda’s recovery is slow. Now she has terrible ecxema — one of those mild but terrible diseases that don’t worry relations but are a living hell for the patient. If all goes well … we will be home by Thanksgiving.’ But they were not. FSF to Mollie McQuillan Fitzgerald, June 1930, Life in Letters, p. 184.
25 ZSF to FSF, summer 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 55, PUL.
26 ZSF to FSF, n.d. 1920, CO187, Box 42, Folder 32, PUL.
27 The Sunday of the week before 23 June 1930.
28 FSF, Tender, pp. 200, 201.
29 The formula for inducing lengthy narcosis was Cloetta’s Mixture. This contained chloral hydrate, alcohol, digitalin, amylene hydrate, paraldehyde, barbituric acid and ephedrine hydrochloride. The mixture was diluted with water.
30 ZSF to FSF, n.d., c. June 1930, ZSF, Collected Writings, p. 449.
31 Forel to FSF at Hotel Righi Vaudois, Glion, 23 June 1930, CO187, Box 49, Folder 2A, PUL.
32 FSF to Madame Lubov Egorova, 22 June 1930, CO187, Box 40, Folder 1A (in French); Eng. trans., Life in Letters, pp. 185–6, PUL.
33 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, pp. 189–195, PUL.
34 FSF to ZSF, summer? 1930, ibid., p. 189.
35 ZSF to FSF, July? 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 57, PUL.
36 FSF, Tender, p. 137.
37 ZSF to FSF, c. June/July (author’s dating) 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 53, PUL.
38 FSF to Scottie Fitzgerald, c. 15 Dec. 1940, Life in Letters, p. 475. Broken decalogues meant in this case moral laws.
39 ZSF to FSF, after June 1930, ZSF, Collected Writings, p. 450.
40 ZSF to FSF, c. July (after 9 July), 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 57, PUL.
Zelda’s resilience was uncanny. Fiction instantly replaced ballet as her primary ambition. She wrote like the wind. By July 1930 she had completed ‘A Workman’, ‘The House’ and ‘The Drouth and the Flood’.1 Scott, perhaps wanting to compensate Zelda for the loss of her ballet, offered all three stories to Ober for Scribner’s Magazine. Subsequently they (and eight others) were lost; what survives is Scott’s critique to Perkins: ‘Zelda wrote [them] in the dark middle of her nervous breakdown … apart from the beauty & richness of the writing they have a strange haunting, evocative quality that is absolutely new … each of them is the story of her life when things … brought her to the edge of madness and despair. In my opinion they are literature.’2
I do think they show an astonishing power of expression … convey a curiously effective and strange quality. — But they are for a selected audience … the magazine thinks that on that account, they cannot use them … if she did enough more they might make a book …. I think one of the little magazines might use them. I wish we could.3
Scott, deeply disappointed, replied: ‘Possibly they mean more to me than is implicit to the reader who doesn’t know from what depths of misery and effort they sprang.’ Then came his marvellous optimism: ‘I think a book might be got together for next spring if Zelda can add a few more during winter.’4
Sadly his optimism was misplaced. Zelda’s creative energy had sapped her strength to a ‘childish, vacillating shell’.5 She told Scott: ‘I have forgotten what it’s like to be alive with a functioning intelligence … I watch what attitude the nurse takes each day and then look up what symptom I have in Doctor Forel’s book … why has my ignorance on a medical subject … reduced me to the mental status of a child?’6 She said: ‘I don’t seem to know anything appropriate for a person of 30 … it’s because of … straining so completely every fibre in that futile attempt to achieve with every factor against me —’.7
From that year onwards she was never free from the fear of mental illness nor, when released, from the greater fear of another asylum. That she wrote or painted at all when every factor was against her is a testament to her persistence and courage. But illness rattled her confidence: ‘Do you mind my writing this way?’ she asked Scott anxiously.
Don’t be afraid that I am a meglo-maniac again — I’m just searching and its easier with you — You’ll have to re-educate me — But you used to like giving me books and telling me things. I never realized before how hideously dependent on you I was — Dr Forel says I won’t be after. If I can have a clear intelligence I’m sure we can use it — I hope I will be different … I can’t make head or tails out of all this dreary experience since I do not know how much was accidental and how much deliberate … but if such a thing as expiation exists it is taking place …8
When Scott told friends Zelda was still ‘sick as hell’,9 Max and Wilson wrote sympathetically to Zelda. Max offered Scott hope: ‘If she has made progress maybe it should become more rapid, and everything will come out right.’10 Wilson, who had survived electric shock and hydrotherapy in a similar clinic, reassured Scott: ‘these breakdowns when people go off their heads aren’t necessarily serious’.11
To Perkins, Scott confided his financial anxiety: ‘The psychiatrist … is an expensive proposition,’ and he had been unable to write. It was ‘terrible to be so in debt’. Zelda’s Prangins bills alone were 70,561 Swiss francs, over $13,000, without counting the costs of Scottie’s school, her Paris apartment and his own hotel. Worse still, Ober had refused him an advance. Could Max help him out? He’d promise him $3,000 from the next story. Little wonder Scott signed himself ‘harrassed and anxious’.12
Support came from the Bishops, Townsend and the Murphys, whom Scott saw in Paris in July when visiting Scottie there. Dos Passos, who had married Katy Smith, Hadley’s friend,13 spoke for them all:
Scott was meeting adversity with a consistency of purpose that I found admirable. He was trying to raise Scottie, to do the best possible thing for Zelda, to handle his drinking and to keep a flow of stories into the magazines to raise the enormous sums Zelda’s illness cost. At the same time he was determined to continue writing first rate novels. With age and experience his literary standards were rising. I never admired a man more.14
There were two flaws in Dos Passos’s loyal statement. First, Scott was unwilling to handle his drinking; second, he was unable to touch his novel. Nevertheless his priority was to give Zelda excellent medical care and establish stability for Scottie. If Scott’s horizons were limited and his fears of delving inside himself as great as Zelda’s, he did the best he could at a time of despair and confusion.
Like the Fitzgeralds, the Murphys were haunted with might-have-beens. Sara would be admitted to the American hospital with a gallbladder disorder. Drained by Patrick’s medical expenses and their three homes they decided to sell Villa America, where Patrick might never be sufficiently well to live.15
Dr Forel asked Zelda to write an autobiographical sketch.16 Her mother she saw only in visual images: ‘I can always see her sitting down in the opalescent sunlight of a warm morning, a black servant combing her long grey hair.’ Her father, never visualized, was a man of ‘great integrity’, for whom she had ‘enormous respect and some mistrust’. Significant emotional events were her marriage, after which ‘I was in another world, one for which I was not prepared, because of my inadequate education’; her love for Jozan which ‘lasted for five years’, during which ‘I was locked in my villa for one month to prevent me from seeing him’; and Lois Moran whom she dismissed as part of a superficial Hollywood society. ‘I determined to find … a world in which I could express myself.’ She found Egorova whom she loved ‘more than anything else in the world … The brightness of a greek temple, the frustration of a mind searching for a place … all that I saw in her steps.’
Then the world stopped, and now she was ‘where I cannot be anybody, full of vertigo … feeling the vibrations of everyone I meet. Broken down … I believed I was a Salamander and it seems I am nothing but an impediment.’17
That summer of 1930, Zelda’s eczema grew worse. Doctors administered Flemings solution, grease and powder. But, she told Scott, they were useless to ward off the ‘foul plague’. It ran, it made sores, it filled up the cavities at the back of her eyes with fire. It was like something that had rotted for centuries in the catacombs and poisoned the cellars of classic ruins.18 Incredibly, her gift for language never left her any more than the poison did. In desperation she begged:
Please, out of charity write to Dr Forel to let me off this cure. I have been 5 months now, unable to step into a corridor alone. For a month and a week I’ve lived in my room under bandages, my head and neck on fire … The last two days I’ve had bromides and morphine but it doesn’t do any good — All because nobody ever taught me to play tennis. When I’m most miserable there’s your game to think of.
Scott had taken up tennis to forget his troubles. But Zelda reminded him of hers. She recalled their arguments over her homosexuality. ‘You said you did not want to see me if I knew what I know. Well, I do know. I would have liked you to come to me, but there’s no good telling lies.’ Nothing could take away her clarity about the way she had felt and might feel again. ‘If I have to stand much more to take away the thing in me that all the rest of you find so invaluable and superior when I get out I’m going to have Scottie at least.’ Her threat was idle, because her ‘re-educative treatment’ to retrain her into what the doctors saw as ‘normal’ behaviour included the implied intimidation that women with abnormal feelings were unsuitable as mothers. If she refused to suppress emotions the doctors saw as evil, they would refuse to release her. ‘It’s so hard for me to understand liking a feeling without liking the person that I suppose I will be eternally confined.’19 Scott had already told Forel that over this issue, if necessary, he would abandon Zelda. ‘In no sense am I asking her forgiveness, I have long determined for the sake of the future of my child and myself that if there is any renewal of homosexuality in her, or any suspicion of me … it is much better that we never meet again.’20
Scott did not answer Zelda’s charges. He sent her gladioli. She painted them. Then she softened: ‘Though I would have chosen some other accompaniment for my desequilibrium than this foul eczema … I am waiting impatiently for when you can come to see me … Do you still smell of pencils and sometimes of tweed? … It was much nicer a long time ago when we had each other and the space about the world was warm — Can’t we get it back some-way — even by imagining? … it’s desperate to be so alone — and you can’t be very happy in a hotel room — We were awfully used to having each other about — Zelda.’
She added a tentative postscript: ‘Dr Forel told me to ask you if you had stopped drinking — so I ask —.’21
Forel believed strongly that Scott’s drinking was a major contribution to Zelda’s illness, that he was in effect treating two people. Scott must stop drinking if Zelda was to recover and live with him. Scott refused to accept Forel’s viewpoint.
During my young manhood for seven years I worked extremely hard … bringing myself by tireless self-discipline to a position of unquestioned preeminence among younger American writers; also by additional ‘hack-work’ for the cinema ect I gave my wife a comfortable and luxurious life My work is done on coffee, coffee and more coffee, never on alcohol. At the end of five or six hours I get up from my desk white and trembling and with a steady burn in my stomach, to go to dinner.
More justification ensued:
Two years ago in America, I noticed that when we stopped all drinking for three weeks … I immediately had dark circles under my eyes, was listless and disinclined to work … I found that a moderate amount of wine … made all the difference in how I felt … the dark circles disappeared … I looked forward to my dinner [Scott’s scarlet underlining] … and life didn’t seem a hopeless grind to support a woman whose tastes were daily diverging from mine. She no longer read or thought or knew anything or liked anyone except dancers and their cheap satellites. People respected her … because of a certain complete fearlessness and honesty that she has never lost, but she was becoming more and more an egotist and a bore.
For Scott there was only room in their household for the one egotist who did not bore him. Then came the crux:
Now when that old question comes up again as to which of two people is worth preserving, I, thinking of my ambitions so nearly achieved of being part of English literature, of my child, even of Zelda in the matter of providing for her — must perforce consider myself first.22
Zelda’s assessment that ‘You have always told me that I have no right to complain as long as I was materially cared for’ was correct.23 He would always put himself first, but he would always provide for her.
And his intentions? ‘To stop drinking entirely for six months and see what happens … only a pig would refuse to do that. Give up strong drink permanently I will. Bind myself to forswear wine forever I cannot.’
Was that childish? Stubborn? Without waiting for Forel’s answer he bowled into his most problematic remark: ‘What I gave up for Zelda was women and it wasn’t easy in the position my success gave me — what pleasure I got from comradeship she has pretty well ruined by dragging me of all people into her homosexual obsession.’
He of all people then asked Forel if there was not ‘a certain disin genuousness in her wanting me to give up all alcohol? Would not that justify her conduct completely to herself and prove to her relatives and our friends that it was my drinking that caused this calamity, and that I thereby admitted it? [Scott’s underlining].’24
Zelda accepted privation with dignity as Southern women were schooled to do. ‘I am here,’ she wrote, ‘and since I have no choice, I will try to muster the grace to rest peacefully as I should, but our divergence is too great as you must realize for us to ever be anything except a hash to-gether.’25
Her resentment surfaced:
since we have never found either help or satisfaction in each other the best thing is to seek it separately. You might as well start whatever you start for a divorce immediately … You will have all the things you want without me, and I will find something. You will have some nice girl who will not care about the things that I cared about and you will be happier. For us, there is not the slightest use, even if we wanted to try which I assure you I do not — not even faintly. In listing your qualities I can not find even one on which to base any possible relationship except your good looks, and there are dozens of people with that: the head-waiter at the Plaza … my coiffeur in Paris.26
According to Sara Mayfield, though Zelda wanted a divorce she recognized that her dependence on Scott meant only reconciliation would procure her release. She told Sara the psychiatrists would keep her at the ‘nut farm’ as long as Scott paid them. ‘Because her letters were censored she had no way of appealing to her family and friends; even if she could run away, she had no money and no means of earning any. The tone of her letters became more loving, and she showed more affection for him when they were together.’27
One letter among many similar illustrates this dependent tone:
Goofy, my darling … the sun was lying like a birth-day parcel … so I opened it up and so many happy things went fluttering into the air: love to Doo-do and the remembered feel of our skins cool against each other … And you ‘phoned and said I had written something that pleased you and so I don’t believe I’ve ever been so heavy with happiness … I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me … Are you … looking rather reproachful that no melodrama comes to pass when your work is over … or are you just a darling little boy with a holiday on his hands … I love you — the way you always are.28
Scott was relieved. In August, after their long separation, he wrote, ‘Husband finally sees her. She is still in bandages, shows lesbian tendencies and in spite of tenderness towards him makes irrational erotic remarks. But her violent feeling against him specifically has now abated.’29 Zelda’s doctors believed her recovery depended on a ‘successful’ marriage so they advised her against conflicts with Scott. In Forel’s time doctors thought the propensity towards homosexuality and menstrual disturbances noted in female schizophrenics indicated endocrine or chemical imbalance. They gave Zelda endocrine treatments using ovarian extracts and dried thyroid gland powders. Patients were also injected with their own blood, and given potassium bromide and a serum made from the brain of a mentally stable person. Forel injected Zelda with morphine to induce sleep, belladonna for pain and luminal to sedate her constantly. She was also given purges of seidlitz water, wet packs and hydrotherapy.30 The drugs alternately depressed and agitated her. Later Scott wrote to Forel about a hunch he had that Zelda’s eczema was caused by lack of elimination of poison. He believed that some crucial physical element such as semen, salt or holy water was either absent or there was too much of it. It was a clever guess, for later discoveries confirmed that some mental illness can be caused by the body’s chemical imbalance.31
Scott vacationed in Caux from 8 to 22 August, finishing the remarkable ‘One Trip Abroad’, based on his Kelly version of Tender.32 Wealthy Nicole and Nelson Kelly travel to France to study painting and music, become dissipated, end up as patients in a Swiss clinic. ‘Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many things end’: a poignant description of a disintegrating marriage.33
While Scott, in Caux, was writing stories to explain the collapse of his life and career, Zelda’s hospital letters glowed with romantic feeling. She drew a balcony lit by a moon with two upright chairs, each of which held a heart shaped cushion. ‘Doodo’s Balcon’, she labelled it.
Dear balcony, where you walk absent-mindedly and drop a cigarette and stand poised in the morning sun, just an answering flash. Caux is so far away, but I love thinking of you there above the heat and smells … O dear Doo-do … I love you so … I’m only happy when I’m doing what I think you’re doing at the time … You sometimes seem to be buttoning up yourself, slipping into you as if you were a freshly pressed suit, and your empty shoes lie expectantly on the floor as if they were waiting for Santa Claus.34
Her health improved.
Except for momentary retrogressions into a crazy defiance and complete lack of proportion I am better …. It’s ghastly losing your mind … knowing you can’t think and that nothing is right, not even your comprehension of concrete things like how old you are or what you look like.
Suddenly she noticed the asylum had stripped her of possessions.
Where are all my things? I used to have dozens of things and now there doesn’t seem to be any clothes or anything personal in my trunk. I’d love the gramophone — What a disgraceful mess — but if it stops our drinking it is worth it — because then you can finish your novel and write a play and we can live somewhere and have a house with a room to paint and write … with friends for Scottie and there will be Sundays and Mondays again which are different from each other … my life won’t lie up the back-stairs of music-halls and yours won’t keep trailing down the gutters of Paris — if … I can keep sane and not a bitter maniac.35
In Prangins Zelda found it impossible to write to Scottie. As her sense of self wavered, who she was as a mother became unclear. It was as if the free expression of her devotion to Scottie had closed down. There was little information inside an asylum that made good reading for a child.
In August Scottie made a four-day visit to Zelda. We cannot know which of them found it harder. They had little in common now, certainly no daily routines. Zelda’s parental role had virtually disappeared and Scottie’s anxiety to please made her behave unnaturally. Throughout the visit their pain was exacerbated by their awareness that soon they were again to be separated. Trying in her turn to please her daughter, Zelda wistfully urged Scottie to continue dancing. When she next visited New York she should go to Cappezio’s on 44th Street to find some dance shoes. Zelda herself would like a pair of ‘aesthete sandals size 5D’.36
On 27 August 1930 Sara Haardt married H. L. Mencken, but Zelda was too ill even to pen a line to her friend. It was October before Scott could write: ‘Dear Menk and Sarah: Excuse these belated congratulations, which is simply due to illness. Zelda and I were delighted to know you were being married and devoured every clipping sent from home. Please be happy. Ever Your Friend Scott (and Zelda) Fitzgerald.’37
In September Scott renewed his acquaintance with Thomas Wolfe, who would later use him in a novel.38 Scott, who had assured Forel he had given up other women for Zelda while still seeing Emily Vanderbilt,39 now started sleeping with Bijou O’Conor, whom he had met in the Twenties in Paris’s Latin Quarter. Born in Bulgaria in 1896, English granddaughter of the second Earl of Minto, she had been widowed at twenty-eight, but preferred a scandalous reputation to remarriage.40 Scott was attracted to this brilliant linguist whose reckless disposition, financial carelessness and independent spirit had the wildness of the young Zelda. Bijou, herself an alcoholic, led Scott into uncontrollable gin binges while he typed in her hotel room.41 Bijou claimed she and Scott visited Zelda in Prangins, which if true was potentially destructive, for if Zelda had suspected they were lovers it could have precipitated a further breakdown.42
Fortunately in September came Zelda’s first breakthrough. Forel decided to treat the eczema by hypnosis. In her trance Zelda recognized connections between the rash and her marital conflicts. The eczema virtually disappeared the next day, to return only intermittently. Yet not much else changed. She was still depressed; she still had infatuations — another in October, with ‘the red headed girl’ as Scott called her (the second of the two redheads), who resisted. Scott thought Zelda’s ‘initial shame … and the consequent struggle’ caused a third attack of eczema. But when the eczema disappeared the infatuation continued. Scott recorded a second female infatuation in November which again did not produce eczema, but his appearances did.43 Confused, his pride hurt, he reported: ‘Eczema spasmodic. Lesbianism mild but constant — (they change the house of one girl after whom she tags, though now there are no more offences in that direction). Indifferent to husband. Appearance of unmotivated smile.’44
Scott had told Rosalind about Zelda’s ‘lesbian complex’. Rosalind, who immediately expressed the Southern horror of homosexuality, remembered that when Tallulah’s lesbianism was mentioned at Ellerslie, her sister’s reaction had ‘made me think sex was preying on her mind’.45 Rosalind thought it safer to send Zelda helpful suggestions about treating eczema. ‘It’s almost gone now,’ Zelda replied, ‘and, unfortunately, never was the sort that Cuticura Soap could help. The Brussels fire brigade might have skirted the edges.’46
But on 10 November another attack occurred and Forel, determined to discipline Zelda also for uncontrollable masturbating, moved her back to Eglantine. He told Scott they could not stop her wilful self-abuse unless she was locked up and observed. Scott’s princess was strait-jacketed by facial bandages for eczema and bound hands so she could not touch herself. This merited Scott’s terse line: ‘Short confinement for refractoriousness’.47 Forel, who found Zelda ‘sneaky’ because she tried hard to avoid discipline,48 wrote to Scott: ‘L’Eglantine is, from our point of view, a good thing … For too long your wife has taken advantage of our patience. For her health, for her treatment, L’Eglantine is indispensable, and I am happy, even, that the patient’s conduct should have obliged us to try this … she sees that there are limits and that she must give in’.49
Zelda was administered insulin shock treatments which were continued for ten years.50 Substantial evidence shows that more female than male patients were given insulin in that period, as much to realign their behaviour as to act as a therapy.
Zelda did not improve in Eglantine. Scott wrote to the Sayres: ‘Zelda was acting badly and had to be transferred again to the house … reserved for people under restraint.’51 He told them that dissatisfied with Zelda’s progress, he had suggested calling in either Dr Bleuler or Dr Jung, and Forel agreed.
Scott decided on Paul Eugen Bleuler, born 1857,52 the psychiatrist who had named schizophrenia. Forel was keen on a second opinion because he had some hesitancy about his own diagnosis: ‘The more I saw Zelda, the more I thought at the time: she is neither a pure neurosis (meaning psychogenic) nor a real psychosis — I considered her a constitutional, emotionally unbalanced psychopath — she may improve, never completely recover.’53
Interviewed later, Dr Forel acknowledged that over the years he had changed his original assessment. He had ‘put aside’ the schizophrenic diagnosis because ‘apart from the clinical and classical forms … certain symptoms and behaviours or activities, are called schizoid and this does not mean that the person is schizophrenic.’54
Dr Irving Pine, Zelda’s last psychiatrist, said he felt that Zelda had consistently been misdiagnosed. He disputed the label ‘schizophrenia’ and suggested that part of the failure of her psychiatrists was their failure to take her talents seriously. He believed much of her depression came from her family situation. As that accelerated, so did her depression. He and other doctors suggested that subsequently Zelda was treated for a psychosis, the treatment of which can cause patients to display some of the characteristics of schizophrenia when originally only severe depression was present. But by November 1930 Zelda was treading a path where she would become as much a victim of her treatment as of her illness.55
As Forel had already labelled her a ‘difficult patient’ he was glad to discuss her case with Bleuler,56 who arrived on 22 November, charging Scott the exorbitant fee of $500.57 For that amount he would spend an afternoon with Zelda and the evening with Scott and Forel.
Bleuler confirmed Forel’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. He said the homosexuality was not constitutional, but merely a symptom which would disappear with continued treatment. He reassured Scott that marital conflict was not a contributory cause of illness. He found Zelda’s emotional capacity impaired and advised against further dancing, since that ‘passion is also engendered by the illness; just as Mme Aegorowa was the first lesbian passion after the onset of the illness’.58
Zelda was desperate to return to America but Bleuler forbade it. She must stay put, continue weaving, carpentry, and work in the greenhouses. She must rest but could make accompanied visits to shops, opera and theatre in Geneva and go skiing. He told Scott three out of four cases like Zelda’s could be discharged as cured. One of those would resume ‘perfect functioning’ in the world; two would be delicate and slightly eccentric through life; the fourth would hurtle into ‘total insanity’. To avoid that Zelda must submit to a master, who had to be a doctor. Scott asked if he should become more masterful but Bleuler replied: ‘It is possible that a cast-iron character would be propitious but Mrs Fitzgerald loved and married the artist in Mr Fitzgerald.’59
Bleuler recommended Scott should not visit too often and Zelda should prepare presents for Scottie, write frequently but should not see her for several months as her child’s first visit had proved ‘her presence was undesirable’.60 Neither doctor looked for the motives behind that disastrous visit, nor took into account the distressing effect separation would have on both mother and child.
Forel’s re-education programme would, they hoped, check Zelda’s ‘incipient egomania’. Bleuler saw her as a woman competing publicly with her more famous husband in an inappropriate manner. That Zelda was also charged with ineptitude at housework, cooking and servant management was another example of pronounced gender implications in the way the label schizophrenia was constructed in the Thirties.61 Bleuler insisted Zelda’s re-entry into the world must be slowed down. That Scott was paying the clinic extravagant fees was not voiced as a factor. Bleuler said Scott could not have prevented Zelda’s illness: ‘This is something that began about five years ago … Stop blaming yourself. You might have retarded it but you couldn’t have prevented it.’62 Scott immediately told the Sayres ‘because I know you despise certain weaknesses in my character’ and he didn’t want that to blur their belief in him ‘as a man of integrity’.63
Zelda thought Bleuler ‘a great imbecile’, and refused to accept any of his recommendations. However, her despair deepened.
Dear Scott, You wrote you didn’t want me to suffer any more. Please please come here and see for yourself. I’m sick and beaten …. If there’s nobody in all this barren brothel who will look after me, I demand that I be allowed to go immediately to a hospital in France where there is enough human kindness to prevent the present slow butchery. Scott if you knew what this is like you would not dare in the eyes of God leave a person in it. Please help me.64
She wrote to her brother-in-law Newman Smith: ‘I write to you because I do not want to worry Daddy but if you do not come to me I am going to write to him.’65
Newman did not come for her.
To Scott she admitted: ‘now I am so frightened of the past that I am half afraid to think. There’s so much conditioning to be done.’66 This incredible piece of self-awareness did not effect her release. She even wrote to Forel:
please explain to me why I should spend five months of my life in sickness and suffering seeing nothing but optical illusions to devitalize something in me that you yourself have found indespensible and that my husband has found so agreeable as to neglect shamefully his wife during the last four years … if you do cure me what’s going to happen to all the bitterness and unhappiness in my heart — It seems to me a sort of castration, but since I am powerless I suppose I will have to submit, though I am neither young enough nor credulous enough to think that you can manufacture out of nothing something to replace the song I had.67
Zelda’s accusations shamed Scott. Her agony tortured him. But he did not ask Forel to free her. Instead, using those feelings, he wrote what was probably his best story, ‘Babylon Revisited’, a tale of emotional bankruptcy, in which he transferred some of that guilt on to Charlie Wales, a rich alcoholic American businessman. Charlie goes to Paris with his wife Helen and child Honoria,68 then during a drunken row locks Helen out in the snow, after which she dies of heart disease. Scott’s enemy Rosalind, fictionalized as Wales’s sister-in-law Marion, had wished Zelda dead like Helen rather than see her return to dissipation. In ‘Babylon’ Marion’s vengeful role as Honoria’s guardian, because Charlie is too drunk to raise her, is based on Rosalind’s suggestion that, feeling the same about Scott, she should adopt Scottie.69 Rosalind’s concern was understandable. Scottie saw her father intermittently and rarely heard from her mother. When Zelda did write, the once warm, unrestrained notes had become distant, hesitant, awkward: each letter filled with longing but hard for a child to respond to.
In early fall: ‘Dear dear dear little Scottie, Mummy was so glad to get your sweet letter … it got to be the limit being sick for so long … I care dreadfully at your not being here with me. The times you spent with me in the summer were the happiest of the year.’ Zelda had apparently forgotten how unhappy Scottie’s August visit had been. ‘It would give me so much pleasure to see you paddling in the waters of the lake.’
But that pleasure was not to be had.
In late fall:
Your card came with the pretty blowy lady on the back … when I don’t get mail from you the days seem awfully long and dreary … It seems ages and ages and ages that I haven’t seen you and I want dreadfully to be with you again and share your pleasures … What would you like Pere Noel to bring you? And are you going to have a tree like last time? Send me something from one of the branches to make you seem nearer, darling … I am awfully tired of the Swiss landscape and would like to be back in Paris with my baby girl.
Will your tiny apartment hold me for a little visit? Just a weekend, say, because if you can manage it I will slip away if I can get permission and come up and see you … With all the love in the heart of your Mummy.
But in Scottie’s circle Mummies gave permission for treats, they did not seek it.
When Scottie and her governess moved outside Paris to Auteuil, Zelda, feeling friendless, urged her daughter to remain friends with Fanny Myers. Go skating together. Have fun.70 Zelda, pleased when Scottie saw Fanny regularly, wrote: ‘The parents of Fanny are so agreeable that I knew she would be a companion that you would enjoy.’71
Zelda compensated for her lack of news with memories: Minnesota when Scottie was ‘the size of a dime and crawling over the carpet in rose gingham’. Anna, the raw-boned Swede who kept Scottie sitting on a pot one whole afternoon while Zelda raved outside her door. ‘Amuse yourself,’ instructed Zelda, ‘be sweet and obedient and a sensible child and I will be waiting anxiously and patiently to see to see you again in the spring … I do so hope you will be able to at least spend the night with me. With all my dearest love — Your delapidated Mother.’72
In spring 1931 Scottie appeared in a play. ‘The theatre is nice and in your place with all those years before you I would keep it in my thoughts and become a star later on. That is why you should keep up your dancing lessons.’ Zelda’s own news was minute: ‘We have had a [hospital] ball as well — I made myself a dress of paper to represent a lampshade.’73
Before their spring reunion there had been a disastrous Christmas visit. Zelda, unbearably keyed up, broke the ornaments on the tree, and made incoherent speeches. Scott hurried their daughter away to Gstaad to ski, recover and have some fun.
At the end of January 1931 Scott’s seventy-seven-year-old father died of a heart attack in Washington. Zelda, distressed for him, hugged Scott tenderly, then ‘she went into the other personality and was awful to me at lunch. After lunch she returned to the affectionate tender mood, utterly normal, so that with pressure I could have manoeuvred her into intercourse but the eczema was almost visibly increasing so I left early. Toward the very end she was back in the schizophrania.’74 Scott had tried for nine months to persuade Zelda to resume a sexual life with him, but when she saw him for any length of time he felt she still slipped in and out of ‘madness’. His insistence distressed her; her behaviour and her appearance repelled him.
On board the New York on his way to his father’s funeral, Scott met a dark dramatic professional card sharp, Bert Barr, born Bertha Weinberg in a Brooklyn slum. Fascinated by her cleverness, he saw her again in New York and Paris, even suggested they collaborate on some stories, although nothing came of it.75
At Edward Fitzgerald’s funeral in Rockville, Maryland, Scott, standing at the graveside, suddenly recognized that in his mind his father was linked irrevocably to his American past. In a draft of an essay, ‘The Death of My Father’, Scott assessed his influence: ‘I loved my father — always deep in my subconscious I have referred judgments back to him.’76
Scott hoped for an immediate letter of condolence from Ernest but initially nothing arrived. The Hemingways had bought a house in Key West77 and Scott and Ernest, now on the same continent, had talked of getting together, but it remained talk. Their once blooming friendship was reduced to memories. Scott later wrote sadly: ‘Four times in 11 years (1924–1940). Not really friends since ’26.’78 Ernest finally wrote in April sending also deepest regrets about Zelda’s ‘rotten time’. He advised Scott to make good literary use of his father’s death. Acknowledging that authors’ parents only die once Ernest suggested that Scott should write it for a novel, not a magazine. The event was too valuable to be ‘pooped’ away. Hemingway’s warning was right on target, for Scott had tried to poop his feelings into the indifferent ‘On Your Own’ which Ober was unable to sell. Scott did however resurrect his best phrase: ‘Good-by, my father — good-by, all my fathers’ in Tender Is The Night, where Dick Diver, like Scott, returns to the USA for his father’s funeral and there in the cemetery speaks his farewell to his past.79
Scott went to Montgomery to see Zelda’s parents, expecting their sympathy for his bereavement, but found instead deep hostility. They blamed him entirely for Zelda’s illness, seeing him not Zelda as insane. They accused him of placing her in an asylum to get rid of her. To the end of her days Minnie Sayre believed that Scott ‘was not good for my daughter … He was a selfish man. What he wanted always came first.’80 Rosalind, who had already exchanged acrimonious letters with Scott holding him responsible for Zelda’s breakdown, was more accusatory. Incensed, he had written (but had not sent) a vituperative letter in which he told her she packed under her ‘suave exterior’ such a ‘minor quantity of humanity’ that he demanded she ‘never communicate with me again in any form and I will try to resist the temptation to pass you down to posterity for what you are’.81
In Scott’s absence Zelda made an astonishing improvement. Her concentration sharpened. Her mind focused. Forel wrote patronizingly to Scott: ‘Mrs Fitzgerald takes her meals regularly from the set menu, and behaves well. She has begun skiing at St Cergues and is delighted with it.’82 Yet not one doctor or nurse linked her unexpected progress with Scott’s departure. By his return, Zelda was skiing daily and was translating Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Une Saison en Enfer’. Scott’s optimistic assessment ran: ‘Forel hopeful … Good behaviour. Intermittent eczema, but hope — gradually fixing itself on husband and child … Becomes popular in clinic — no more homosexuality. Loves sports. Is somehow “good”. Unmotivated smile disappearing and normal relations with husband renewed at end of this period.’83
In April, Zelda was allowed trips to Geneva and Montreux with Scott, with Rosalind, even with some patients: ‘I went to Geneva all by myself with a fellow maniac,’ she reported wittily.84 She sent Scott ‘kisses splattering you[r] balcony tonight from a lady who was once, in three separate letters, a princess in a high white tower and who has never forgotten her elevated station in life and who is waiting once more for her royal darling.’85
During the spring the re-education programme deleted and rewrote her past. She was ‘waved and manicured to a chic and elegant turn’ for Scott’s visit, she had a ‘more feminine’ room in a new villa which lacked corners like ‘a phrase without adjectives or a woman without a past’.86
The Fitzgeralds saw each other more often. Zelda also began to see Scottie more frequently. She found her ‘such an amusing person’, reflected ‘it’s rare to find the appropriate emotion going toward the appropriate object’.87 Scottie ‘was darling … not a bit boyish’. They’d had a good picnic. ‘She is a dear girl close to my heart — so close.’88
Although Zelda let slip she was still angry because ‘people wont let me be insane’,89 most of her letters to Scott reached new heights of outrageous dependency. One of Scott’s biographers takes a typical line, ‘I realize more completely than ever how much I live in you and how sweet and good and kind you are to such a dependent appendage’, and suggests that Zelda had ‘burned out her bitterness and achieved new insight … accepted rather than resented her inevitable dependence on Scott, and expressed gratitude for his sacrifice and support’.90 This simplistic view fails to acknowledge that Zelda had pragmatic reasons for reconciliation which certainly allowed Scott to become contrite, devoted and to send flowers.
Together they planned Zelda’s first long trip, an idyllic two weeks in July with Scottie in Annecy. They stayed first at the Hotel Beau Rivage, garlanded in roses, on Lake Annecy’s Western shore. Then they moved to Menthon on the east bank, where Zelda recalled long cool shadows shelving the precipice of the Hotel Palace. They fished, played tennis, danced Viennese waltzes, ate in a cafe lit by Japanese lanterns and celebrated Zelda’s thirty-first birthday. Zelda wrote happily to her father: ‘It is as peaceful inside its scalloped mountains as a soup-ladel full of the sky.’91 It was a rare moment in the Fitzgerald family history of happiness, relaxation, peace. The time they spent there was so perfect they decided they would never return, because no other time could ever match it.
News from the Murphys was better. Patrick was considered sufficiently well for them to leave the US in July and move into Ramgut, a hunting lodge in Bad Aussee in the Austrian Alps. Earlier that year when Zelda was permitted visitors, the first person she had asked to see was Gerald. Though ‘absolutely terrified’, he had gone to Prangins and made elegant small talk about the basket Zelda was weaving. ‘I said that all my life I had wanted to make baskets like hers, great heavy, stout baskets.’92 It mattered little that their conversation was desultory, for underneath lurked a bond based on a shared sense of black demons, of unreality, of an awareness that they had both been haunted by feelings of otherness, of difference, some sexual, some social, many personal, few expressed.93 Gerald once tried to explain himself: ‘For me only the invented part of life is satisfying, the unrealistic part … sickness, birth, Zelda in Lausanne, Patrick in the sanatorium … these things were realistic … [I] accepted them but I didn’t feel they were the important things … the invented part, for me, is what has meaning.’94 Scott made a good shot at understanding Gerald, but with Zelda Gerald did not need to list ‘real’ versus invented events; like him she fictionalized even her emotions.
In August Scott suggested he and Zelda should visit the Murphys. On arrival, as Scott told their good friend Alice Lee Myers, ‘Scotty + the little Murphys begin to glare as soon as they’re in a radius of a hundred yards from each other,’95 but only one incident literally clouded the waters, taking place, inevitably, in a bathroom. The children’s nurse put bath salts in Scottie’s bath water. Scottie, thinking it had been used to bathe all the Murphy children, complained to her parents. Scott, fearing Patrick had used it, made a scene, which he used later in Tender. Zelda, however, found the Murphys’ ambience healing.
On 15 September 1931 Zelda was released from Prangins. Her case was summarized as a ‘reaction to her feelings of inferiority (primarily towards her husband)’. She was said to have had ambitions which were ‘self-deceptions’ and ‘caused difficulties between the couple’. Her prognosis was favourable as long as all conflicts could be avoided.96 Scott summarized his thirty-fourth year: ‘A Year in Lausanne. Waiting. From Darkness to Hope.’97
Excitedly they drove to Paris, then, after four and a half years abroad, they returned to America permanently. A photo of Zelda on board the Aquitania, ironically labelled ‘Recovered’, shows her as tense, coarse-skinned and ugly. She looks ten years older than thirty-one.
Briefly they paused in Washington, saw Ring in New York and then headed for Montgomery. They began a new sleepy Southern life of tennis, golf, old friends and house-hunting.98 They settled on 819 Felder Avenue in the prestigious Cloverdale district. The house was half-shingled, with a rose garden at the side and in the front yard an exquisitely scented magnolia tree, whose pink blossoms still bloomed seventy years later when their house became the Scott and Zelda Museum. They acquired a bloodhound called Trouble, a white Persian called Chopin, a black couple called Freeman and Julia to cook and clean, and sent Scottie, now almost ten, to the Margaret Booth School. By October Scott was bored; even Zelda felt out of place amongst Southern women with small horizons. She gave one friend Faulkner’s new novel Sanctuary to wake her up.
What they did most of the time was write. Scott worked furiously on Tender, hardly noticing that Zelda, intent on new stories, was also planning a novel. She was about to move into his professional territory.
1 These three stories were among the set of Zelda’s stories submitted to Ober that were subsequently lost. ‘Drouth’ is sometimes spelt ‘Drought’.
2 FSF to MP, c. 8 July 1930, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 166.
3 MP to FSF, 5 Aug. 1930, ibid., p. 168.
4 FSF to MP, c. 1 Sep. 1930, ibid., p. 169.
5 ZSF to FSF, late summer 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 52, PUL.
6 ZSF to FSF, Aug./Sep. 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 60, PUL.
7 ZSF to FSF, late summer 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 52, PUL.
9 FSF to MP, c. 20 July 1930, Life in Letters, p. 186.
10 MP to FSF, 5 Aug. 1930, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 168.
11 Wilson to FSF, 8 Aug. 1930, Wilson, Letters, pp. 201–2.
12 FSF to MP, c. 20 July 1930, Life in Letters, p. 186.
13 Katy Smith had introduced Hadley to Hemingway. Katy became a close friend of Pauline Hemingway too.
14 Dos Passos, Best Times, pp. 209–10.
15 They also gave up their Paris apartment and sold their boat Honoria. However, in October Zelda heard that with Murphian style they had built a new seagoing schooner 27 metres long to use as a floating villa and Mediterranean classroom for their children.
16 Zelda wrote seven pages in French. The following quotations are from the translation used in Nancy Milford, Zelda, pp. 174–6.
17 Zelda’s reference to the salamander, the domestic deity that Plato said could pass unscathed through fire, is an allusion to Owen Johnson’s 1914 bestseller The Salamander which Zelda read. The play based on it starring Nathan’s girlfriend Ruth Findlay (which opened at the Harris Theatre, New York, 23 Oct. 1914), came to Montgomery when Zelda was in her junior year at Sidney Lanier High School. The heroine, Dore Baxter, sees herself as an extraordinary woman who like Zelda adores precipices, danger and the forbidden and has a desire to experience everything. For a useful account see Taylor, Sometimes Madness, p. 5.
18 ZSF to FSF, Sep. 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 66, PUL.
19 ZSF to FSF, c. Sep. 1930 (author’s dating), co187, Box 42, Folder 67, PUL.
20 FSF to Dr Oscar Forel, c. summer 1930 (author’s dating), co187, Box 49, Folder 2A, PUL.
21 ZSF to FSF, c. July 1930 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 42, Folder 64, PUL.
22 FSF to Forel, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, pp. 196–7.
23 ZSF to FSF, June/July? 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 53, PUL.
24 FSF to Forel, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, p. 197.
25 She had seen her mother accept poverty and family illnesses with stoicism. Her adult resignation is the more interesting because as an adolescent Zelda had rebelled against the Southern female training that was a crash course in self-denial.
26 ZSF to FSF, c. July 1930 (author’s dating on grounds of handwriting, notepaper, internal evidence), col 87, Box 42, Folder 53, PUL.
27 Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 161–2.
28 ZSF to FSF, n.d., c. summer/fall 1930, ZSF, Collected Writings, pp. 458–9.
29 FSF, Five Year Consultation Record (from middle of 7th year of marriage), Craig House medical records, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
30 Wet packs involved patients being tightly rolled in wet cold sheets. Wrapped over these was a blanket to reduce loss of body heat. This treatment aimed to calm ‘uncooperative’ patients. Edmund Wilson told Zelda he had only just survived hydrotherapy and nearly became addicted to paraldehyde in Clifton Springs sanatorium. Spinal douches or hydrotherapy, introduced by Jacques Charcot, had been used since 1890 in French hospitals for hysteria. Cold water jets violently applied to the spine to agitate the neurovascular structure often caused tissue damage.
31 The drug lithium which has salt as one component is a good example, for it is used to control manic depression cycles by correcting chemical imbalance.
32 He also finished ‘A Snobbish Story’.
33 ‘One Trip Abroad’, Afternoon of An Author, ed. Mizener, p. 161.
34 ZSF to FSF, c. Aug./Sep. 1930, CO187, Box 43, Folder 19, PUL.
35 ZSF to FSF, probably mid-Aug. possibly early Sep. 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 59, PUL.
36 ZSF to Scottie, c. summer 1930, CO183, Box 4, Folder 14, PUL.
37 FSF to Haardt and Mencken, 18 Oct. 1930, PUL, copy lent by Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore.
38 Scott had already met Wolfe in July. In September they met in Montreux, Vevey and Geneva. Scott also took a trip to Paris in fall 1930 to meet Wolfe after his 1929 success, Look Homeward Angel. Wolfe turned Scott into Hunt Convoy in You Can’t Go Home Again. Scott liked Wolfe but Wolfe was suspicious of Scott.
39 FSF, Ledger, Aug. 1930. Bruccoli (Epic Grandeur, p. 364) suggests that Scott started sleeping with other women to counter Zelda’s accusations of homosexuality. As it was Zelda he wished to convince of his heterosexuality, and as he never told Zelda about his affairs, this seems unlikely. But Scott provoked Zelda’s anger by admitting he took Emily Vanderbilt out in Paris. Rebecca West saw Scott and Emily at Armenonville. West said Scott ‘was leaning towards her, sometimes caressing her hands.’ Donaldson, Fool for Love, p. 56.
40 Bijou’s real name was Violet Marie. A French nurse gave her the nickname. The daughter of a Calvinist Scot Sir Francis Elliot, in 1920 she married Lieut. Edmund O’Conor, a professional naval officer from Dunleer, County Louth, Ireland. She accompanied him to China, learnt Chinese expertly, stayed with him until he contracted TB and died of disease in 1924. She had one son Michael whom she abandoned.
41 Scott deluded himself the binges were a way of escaping his pain.
42 Bijou O’Conor, taped interview, Bijou O’Conor Remembers Scott Fitzgerald, Audio Arts, London, 1975.
43 FSF to Forel, 29 Jan. 1931, Life in Letters, pp. 205–6.
44 FSF, report on Zelda’s mental state Oct. 1930 — Feb. 1931, Five Year Consultation Record, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
45 Rosalind Sayre Smith to FSF, 21 Nov. 1930, CO187, Box 53, Folder 14A, PUL.
46 ZSF to Rosalind, c. summer 1930, CO183, Box 5, Folder 11, PUL.
47 FSF, Five Year Consultation Record, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
48 Forel, 15 Oct. 1930, quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 179.
49 Forel to FSF, 16 Nov. 1930, CO187, Box 49, Folder 2A, PUL (orig. in French, translated by Marion Callen and the author).
50 Dr Irving Pine to the author, 1998, 1999.
51 FSF to judge and Mrs A. D. Sayre, 1 Dec. 1930, Life in Letters, p. 202.
52 He died in 1939.
53 Forel to Milford, 6 May 1966, Milford, Zelda, p. 179.
54 On 9 March 1966 Forel told Milford that schizophrenia had been his original assessment. But on 18 May that same year he acknowledged to Milford that privately he had later changed his diagnosis (Milford, Zelda, p. 161n.). Sara Mayfield, who also later talked to Forel, said that the doctor had been reluctant to diagnose Zelda as schizophrenic because she did not manifest enough of the stereotyped schizophrenic thoughts and actions (Exiles, p. 153).
55 Dr Irving Pine to the author 1998, 1999. Some doctors have thought that had Zelda been treated twenty years later her diagnosis might have been ‘manic depression’. Others have felt that even if the diagnosis had been schizophrenia, the tranquillizing effects of certain drugs might have been beneficial in controlling acute illness or preventing relapses.
56 Forel to Milford, 6 May 1966, Milford, Zelda, p. 179.
57 In 1930–31 FSF sold seventeen stories. In 1931 he earned $37,599.
58 Resume of the consultation with Professor Bleuler and Doctor Forel, 22 Nov. 1930. Craig House medical records, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL. Translated from French by Marion Callen in conjunction with author.
61 It was the first of two similar programmes on which Zelda was placed in two hospitals aimed at changing ‘inappropriate’ feminine behaviour into something nearer the conventional wifely model of the era. Like other women of her time including Vivien Haigh-Wood (wife of T. S. Eliot), Jane Bowles, Sylvia Plath, and her friend Sara May field, Zelda’s failure to live up to a traditional feminine role was to some extent buried within a diagnosis of mental disorder. Many women like Zelda, who were artists or married to artists, who were unwilling or unable to conform, whose behaviour or speech did not fit approved family patterns, were administered remedies or ‘cures’ in mental asylums that were often a method of containing them for long periods of time.
62 Resume of Bleuler/Forel consultation, 22 Nov. 1930, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
63 FSF to Judge and Mrs A. D. Sayre, 1 Dec. 1930, Life in Letters, p. 203.
64 ZSF to FSF, fall 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 65, PUL.
65 ZSF to Newman Smith, late summer 1930 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 43, Folder 21, PUL.
66 ZSF to FSF, Nov. 1930 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 43, Folder 10, PUL.
67 ZSF to Forel, c. Nov. 1930, CO183, Box 5, Folder 3, PUL.
68 Named after the Murphys’ daughter.
69 In later life Scottie herself, always close to Rosalind, had admitted she would have liked it but Scott never countenanced it.
70 ZSF to Scottie, Oct/Nov.? 1930 (author’s dating), CO183, Box 4, Folder 10, PUL.
71 ZSF to Scottie, spring 1931, CO183, Box 4, Folder 17, PUL.
72 ZSF to Scottie, Oct./Nov.? 1930 (author’s dating), CO183, Box 4, Folder 10, PUL.
73 ZSF to Scottie, spring 1931, CO183, Box 4, Folder 17, PUL.
74 FSF to Forel, 29 Jan. 1931, Life in Letters, p. 207.
75 She was sister to Sidney Weinberg, a wealthy Wall Street investment banker. She married prominent Brooklyn judge Louis Goldstein. Scott portrayed her as Evelyn, a girl burning with vitality, in his story ‘On Your Own’ (1931).
76 The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. John Kuehl, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1965, p. 178.
77 In January 1931. They spent winters and springs in Florida and warmer months in the West, a pattern which enabled Hemingway to hunt, fish and finish his books.
78 FSF, autobiographical note, 1940, PUL. During the 1930s he and Hemingway met only four times: once in 1931, once in 1933, twice in 1937.
79 FSF, Tender, 1986, p. 224.
80 Helen Blackshear, ‘Mama Sayre, Scott Fitzgerald’s mother-in-law’, Georgia Review, winter 1965, p. 467.
81 FSF to Rosalind Sayre Smith, n.d. (c. June 1930), CO187, Box 53, Folder 14, PUL.
82 Forel to FSF, 7 Feb. 1931, CO187, Box 49, Folder 2A, PUL. Translated from French by Marion Callen in conjunction with author.
83 FSF, Five Year Consultation Record, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL. The period referred to is 1 Feb. — 1 Mar 1931.
84 ZSF to FSF in Lausanne, early spring? 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 8, PUL.
85 ZSF to FSF, c. early spring 1931, ibid.
86 ZSF to FSF, c. spring 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 11, PUL.
87 ZSF to FSF, late summer? 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 13, PUL.
88 ZSF to FSF, early or late summer 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 15, PUL.
89 ZSF to FSF, late summer? 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 13, PUL.
90 Meyers, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 200.
91 ZSF to Judge A. D. Sayre, c. July 1931, Romantic Egoists, ed. Bruccoli et al., p. 180.
92 Vaill, So Young, p. 232.
93 See Vaill’s analysis, So Young, pp. 221–6, which includes Gerald’s letter to Archie MacLeish, 23 Jan. 1929, with his detailed expression of his sense of unreality.
94 Gerald Murphy/Calvin Tomkins interview notes, Honoria Murphy Donnelly Collection, quoted in ibid., p. 226. Murphy is here recalling his letter to FSF of 31 Dec. 1935.
95 Vaill, So Young, p. 232.
96 Forel, report, 15 Sep. 1931, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
97 FSF, Ledger, summary of year Sep. 1930–Sep. 1931.
98 While house-hunting they stayed downtown at Jefferson Davis Hotel.
That fall Judge Sayre’s health failed. No one doubted the gravity of the situation. Minnie, outwardly stoical, daily more anxious, relied on Marjorie, Clothilde, Anthony and now Zelda, a difficult role for the frail haggard-looking Sayre ‘baby’. Scott’s attitude towards Zelda ‘was that of an anxious parent toward a sick child. He sent her to bed at 9.30.’1 Slowly Zelda recovered in safe Southern territory perfumed by magnolias and tea-olives. Livye Hart, glad to see her again, commented: ‘She seemed to love everybody and they loved her right back.’2
In November 1931 death stalked another of Zelda’s friends. Gerald’s father, Patrick Murphy, died before his son could reach him. Gerald and Esther were each left half the wealthy Mark Cross Company, but control went to their father’s longterm mistress.3 Though Gerald had left the company a decade ago he couldn’t stand his position of subservience, so he resigned as Vice President and sailed back to France. His mother wished he had stayed to look after Esther, whose marriage to John Strachey was foundering. Zelda wished he had stayed, for he was one of the few friends who understood her.
Sadly she watched over her father, helped her family, felt remote. The Sayres’ disapproval of Scott weighed on her. The Judge advised her to divorce him. It was impossible for her to make a good life with ‘a fella like that’, he pointed out. But as Zelda told Sara Mayfield, she and Scottie were economically dependent, her father was dying, and though her health was broken her psychic bond with Scott was not.4
As she already had a small public literary reputation she decided to build on that professionally; hoping, though not entirely trusting, that Scott would support her endeavours.
Then Scott broke the news that Hollywood’s MGM had offered him $1,200 a week for six weeks to rewrite the screenplay Red-Headed Woman, to be directed by Irving Thalberg, Norma Shearer’s husband, as a vehicle for Jean Harlow. The movie industry had changed drastically since Scott’s last trip. Al Jolson had appeared in The Jazz Singer with synchronized sound effects, music, even dialogue. Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in Morocco were heading for stardom. Greta Garbo too had made the transition from silent films to talkies. Scriptwriters now had to write credible-sounding dialogue.
He would be home by Christmas, Scott reassured Zelda. Before he left he knelt by the Judge’s bed and begged him to say he believed in him. ‘I think you’ll always pay your bills, Scott,’ said the Judge wearily.5
Zelda felt bereft. Scott had become her anchor, a translator between her and the world outside. It was his optimism, his confident presence she missed. She regretted their quarrel before his departure. ‘It makes me so sad to sit at your desk … Your cane is still on your bed. It’s unbearable to think that I was mean to you … Scottie cried all the way home because she said she knew we were quarrelling. Goofo please love me … I want you back — You can choose your own terms.’6 In Scott’s absence she worked in Minnie’s garden, composed a fugue and a nocturne a la Bach and Chopin and played tennis with Noonie, her niece.7
She re-established her lost rapport with Scott by reading one of his stories every night, admiring their consummate skill, learning fresh ways to construct her fiction. She was engaged on seven new stories, one revision, a children’s play and her novel. Though she set only two tales in the Deep South — locating the rest in the smart societies of Europe and New York — the sexual frustrations, violence and aberrations which accompanied her car crashes, shootings and attempted incest had a passionate macabre Southern feel. Reading Faulkner had intensified the heat of her prose.
While writing fast with great professionalism, simultaneously Zelda sent Scott more than thirty letters filled with low self-esteem about her fiction. Interrupting her work on ‘All About the Downs Case’ and ‘Crime Passionnel’,8 she wailed: ‘“Home to Babylon” is a fine and moving story … I want to write like you some day.’ She told him she could feel him in every place, feel his cheek, hear his feet on the stairs, every time a car drew up she could see him standing there saying ‘Well I’m going to Hollywood’.9 She finished another story: ‘It is another flop I’m afraid. I do not believe I can write.’10 She read his ‘Absolution’. It was one of the best stories she’d ever read; his ‘Baby Party’ too was wonderful; she would ‘never be able to write like that. Help, Deo’.11 Deo, however, was not around to help, so briskly (and significantly) without showing Scott her stories, she mailed them to Ober.
None of her unpublished stories survive in manuscript; only Ober’s summaries offer clues to their content. His memo on ‘All About The Downs Case’ reads: ‘Difficult — cleverly written but doesn’t get anywhere. Reminiscent of Nixon-Nordlinger case. Woman married to very rich man who gives her everything but treats her as part of his possessions. She and a musician fall in love and he sees them kiss each other. He takes her to Europe and won’t let her speak to anyone. She shoots him in the end. Strong language on p. 20.’12 Zelda’s strong language may have been related to her fierce feelings about men who treat their women as possessions.
At high speed she finished ‘Cotton Belt’, ‘Sweet Chariot’, ‘Getting Away from it All’, ‘Gods and Little Fishes’ and ‘The Story Thus Far’.13 Ober cabled: ‘Sweet Chariot is beautifully written. I am immensely pleased with it.’14
No one recognized that her extraordinary productivity might prove dangerous to her health. At the end of November she told Scott ‘Cotton Belt’ was fine, as was her Southern story ‘a la Faulkner’. Then, re-assessing her progress, she lamented: ‘With some ruinous facility junk just flows and is utterly worthless.’ She reworked ‘One And, Two And’ and ‘Duck Supper’, while another woebegone note said ‘It’s so gloomy that my story should be no good.’ This she followed up with ‘[I] can’t write a line’ and ‘I do not believe I can write’ while battling with ‘There’s A Myth in a Moral’, which she probably rewrote as ‘A Couple of Nuts’.15
The previous November Scott had urged Ober to submit a batch of Zelda’s stories under the title ‘Stories from a Swiss Clinique’ to Century magazine or to Edmund Wilson at The New Republic. On 6 January 1931 Wilson had agreed to keep the stories for possible use. Now, however, Ober was unable to place any of Zelda’s fiction except her two finest, ‘A Couple of Nuts’ and ‘Miss Bessie’, later retitled for publication ‘Miss Ella’, both of which had been drafted in Prangins.
Perkins declined the first version of ‘Nuts’, asking Zelda to revise it, telling Fitzgerald: ‘I think there is no doubt that Zelda has a great deal of talent, and of a very colorful, almost poetic kind.’16
Zelda revised it quickly; Perkins praised its metaphorical freshness and the way the career of the American cabaret entertainers, Lola and Larry, cleverly represented their time and viewpoint. It was published in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1932. Several critics assessed it as Zelda’s most accomplished short story.17 A St Paul reviewer likened it to Gatsby, suggesting that a dual egotism sustained the protagonists in both Zelda’s story and Scott’s novel.18
The story line is simple. Lola and Larry star in French decadent cafe society in the Twenties, then become corrupted. Lola sabotages their marriage by an affair with their wealthy amoral promoter Jeff Daugherty. Larry takes a mistress, Daugherty’s former wife, with whom he drowns in a yachting accident. Having started out believing life was a romantic adventure, they finish as dissipated adventurers.
Once again Zelda uses an unnamed female narrator-participant, who moves in the same world as the Nuts and watches their metamorphosis from innocence to dissolution. The atmosphere is sinister. Romance is illusory, magic destroyed at the touch of a predator. Zelda sustains an ominous air of loss and destruction. Like the Fitzgeralds, the young couple had ‘possessed something precious that most of us never have: a jaunty confidence in life and in each other’.19 For the real as well as the fictional Nuts those dreams had been crushed. With bitter irony Zelda replaced her former themes of love, success and beauty with destruction.
Waste and devastation, of the kind imaginable only in the Deep South, also haunt Miss Ella, a faded Victorian spinster, whose story ‘like all women’s stories was a love story and like most love stories took place in the past’. As a young belle she jilted her respectable fiance Mr Hendrix in favour of Andy Bronson, a Southern scoundrel, who roused her sexually by lighting a firecracker which set fire to her dress, then gallantly smothering the flames with his hands. Images of fire, the noise of gunshot flare through this tale of sound and fury as the discarded Hendrix malevolently shoots himself in her grounds on the day of her proposed nuptials to Bronson. Hendrix’s brains splatter the earth in a bloody mess. As Miss Ella mournfully cancels her wedding, in effect she cancels her happiness. ‘Years passed but Miss Ella had no more hope for love.’ She exists only as a burnt-out case. Now ‘bitter things dried behind the eyes of Miss Ella like garlic on a string before an open fire’. Her memories have ‘acrid fumes’.20 Reduced to guilt and despair, she rocks in her hammock, rides in a carriage with her elderly aunt, knowing she has thrown away her life merely because a trigger-happy beau threw away his.
Suicides and stifled sexuality were the backdrop to Zelda’s youth. Miss Ella, foreshadowing the memorable characters of Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty, sprang from the same roots as did the fictional heroines of Zelda’s Southern contemporaries, novelists Caroline Gordon and Sara Haardt. Zelda’s recent reading of fiction by that other Southerner William Faulkner, as well as some psychological studies in repression, informs her story of Miss Ella. Her antagonistic-affectionate conflict with her own Southernness is remarkably similar to Faulkner’s, whose Quentin Compson cries: ‘I don’t hate the South.’21
Her technique in ‘Miss Ella’, as in her College Humor stories — little dialogue, much description, the point-of-view focused through an observer-participant — is similar to Scott’s style in Gatsby and ‘The Rich Boy’. Zelda’s narrator, though genderless and ageless, is suggestive of a young girl, receptive to Miss Ella’s tragic past yet intimate with her in the present. What makes this story work is the impassioned sense of sympathy, even identity, between the narrator and Miss Ella. The narrator makes the reader feel she is Miss Ella, she too is repressed, she too is suffused with guilt, she too is riddled with self-denial.
Perkins told Scott Zelda had achieved ‘a very complete strong sense of a character in this Southern old maid. It was moving in that way, but it had another quality that was still more moving … it made the reader share the feelings of the young girl through whose eyes Miss Bessie was seen, so that she was not only real, and in some degree was not real, but was as the young girl saw her.’22
The control of her narrative viewpoint meant the structural problem Zelda had formerly encountered — her insouciant intolerance of plots for instance — was solved. In ‘Miss Ella’ she strictly disciplined her material of carnage and sacrifice. Written in the clinic, grounded in her own misery, it sounded the note of ruin currently characterizing the lives of both Fitzgeralds.
Scribner’s accepted it for the December 1931 issue for $150 dollars, provided Zelda revised what Max called her ‘too numerous’, ‘too remote’ similes. Perkins believed Zelda would accept these revisions as she ‘probably knows just as much about writing as anybody hereabouts, but few writers can get sufficiently away from their own work to know how it will strike a reader’.23
Despite her two successes, Ober’s failure with her other stories rankled. ‘Please tell me your frank opinion … I wish we could sell something. Can’t we give them away?’ she moped.24
Her depression rendered her letters to Scott more childlike: ‘Without you I can’t weigh and balance and be intellectually curious: I’m too afraid I might discover the truth all alone … Aren’t you scared of such an utterly dependent Baby?’25 Those baby letters were written in a small less well-formed childish scrawl.
She called herself Scott’s ‘stupid wife’ and added an ironic postscript: ‘Excuse me for being so intellectual. I know you would prefer something nice and feminine and affectionate.’26
To celebrate Thanksgiving, Scott sent her a recording of his voice. ‘Dearest that is the sweetest loveliest voice I ever heard. It made me feel all safe in the centre of things again and important.’ His voice, she said, filled the house with assurance, vitality, excitement and love. Then nervously she added: ‘You are sure you are my own, aren’t you? Because when anyone is perfect other people have to be very careful.’27 That day, putting nerves aside, she wrote a thousand words, assuring him she would finish another two stories before his return. Her next letter recorded: ‘I have finished my one-act play and got all the rest of my things off to Ober.’ But still she fretted: ‘I will never be so foolish as to think I can get on without you again … I will let you play with my pistol and you can win every golf game … you can always be the one that’s perfect.’28 Then she added: ‘I want to write like you some day.’29
What are we to make of these letters which reek of overstated dependency and affection? How can we account for the fact that Scott said later this period was the happiest of his and Zelda’s life?30 Were those notes Zelda’s intellectual attempts at supreme irony? Or were they written in another private code which amused them both yet neither took seriously? Was the language of passivity Zelda’s determination to be seen as sane, using dependency as the measuring stick? Or did acting passive make her feel more feminine, therefore more likeable?
The letters do not sound as if they were written for fun, as Zelda was becoming more apprehensive about her father’s illness and more insecure in Scott’s absence. Zelda told Sara Mayfield that she would never forgive Scott for immuring her in Prangins, that she still didn’t know whether Scott had called in psychiatrists to help her or to protect himself. Sara Mayfield believed the dependent letters were ‘obvious flattery’ as a means of temporary survival, while Zelda’s stories were an effort to overcome her financial dependence and gain her release. This is a reasonable view, but it omits the complexity of Zelda’s love — hate feelings for Scott, which mirrored precisely her love — hate feelings for the South.
There was another curious and contradictory aspect. At the same time as writing Scott such exaggerated lines as ‘we are like a lot of minor characters at table waiting for the entrance of the star’, Zelda was investigating divorce. She went to see Peyton Mathis, who had recently persuaded the husband of a friend of Zelda’s to give her an uncontested divorce. Peyton, though willing to help, pointed out that Scott would never allow the public humiliation of losing Scottie. He would fight for custody, and on the basis of the Prangins report would claim she was mentally unfit as a mother. Zelda’s family had already sampled the vengeance Scott could reap with ‘Babylon Revisited’. What neither Zelda nor Peyton knew was that after refusing to allow Scottie to live with Rosalind in Brussels, Scott had written to his cousin Ceci that if anything happened to him while Zelda was still deemed ‘sick’, she was to take care of Scottie.31
Seeing no solution, Zelda concentrated her energies on her daughter, to whom in Scott’s absence she had become closer. She told Scottie she was ‘safer here [in Montgomery] than you’ve ever been in your life’.32 Although Scott did not want Scottie educated in the South, or to acquire any of Zelda’s effete Southern attributes which he felt were partly responsible for her breakdown, Zelda had insisted Scottie attend Margaret Booth’s, where she was doing well.
The Judge, charmed by ten-year-old Scottie’s shy manners and French, Yankee and Confederate patois, frequently asked to see her. Then came a change: ‘Daddy is … as oblivious to his surroundings as he always was when he is himself,’ Zelda reported, ‘and when he is not he is tormented by imaginary prisons.’33
On 17 November Judge Sayre died. On 18 November Zelda sent Scott a reassuring telegram: ‘DADDY DIED LAST NIGHT DO NOT WORRY ABOUT US LOVE ZELDA’, which the same day she followed with: ‘YOU CANNOT ARRIVE FOR FUNERAL DO NOT WORRY ABOUT US WITH DEAREST LOVE ZELDA.’ Initially, though sad and lonely, she accepted her father’s death with great self-control.
Her letter on the 19th told Scott: ‘Daddy seemed so elegant and concise. I have never seen anything so beautiful. The Capitol flag is flying at half-mast and old grayheaded men seem terribly sad. But Daddy seems young and beautiful and somehow master of everything. He looks very little in his clothes.’34 The entrance to the Supreme Court chambers was hung with black crepe. Miss Minnie wore mourning with a widow’s veil around her black hat. Zelda did not take Scottie to the funeral but reported her mother was ‘absolutely amazingly courageous’. The State of Alabama sent a large wreath while the Capitol employees sent all the roses from the grounds. Zelda bought a blanket of flowers for the coffin, and decided that she and Scott should pay most of it, about $50, as Marjorie was crying because she could not afford a black dress and Anthony was very poor. ‘I knew how you felt towards Daddy and that you would have wanted us to.’35
As the sun set behind the Capitol dome, on a bleak November day, her father was buried under an ancient oak in Oakwood Cemetery, where the young Zelda had taken the young Scott to show him the Confederate graves, their iron crosses now overgrown with clematis. Zelda stood by the low wall crumbling under faded roses and ancient ivy and realized her father, who had guided her life, had left her no final word. She had searched through his papers in his Capitol office but there was nothing personal except the first three nickels he had earned, stuffed into a mildewed purse. ‘He must’, she told Sara sadly, ‘have forgot to leave the message.’36
She drove out frequently to sit by her father’s grave, recalling his good name, his high principles and intellectual doubts. She told Sara Mayfield she’d never entirely thrown those off despite her decadent life. She was a carrier, she said, a Typhoid Mary of Confederate tradition.37
She snuggled into a small world with Scottie and her family, telling Scott they were not afraid, but felt so lonely without him they seemed like wet paper dolls. In Prangins during the summer Zelda had drawn and painted more paper dolls of the Fitzgerald family, giving Scott ‘doggy green socks’ to match his eyes.38 Now she closely observed her child’s similarities to Scott. She told him that Scottie had a ‘coating of moon-light for a skin and I watch her and think of you’.39
Scott sent news of Hollywood stars. Zelda did not want to hear about them. She wanted Scott in Montgomery. She wanted ‘for us to have a son and lots of vital things we own’. After a shopping trip with Scottie when they saw some ‘sweet baby dolls’, she instantly wrote: ‘Deo, we really do need a baby.’
Suddenly ominous symptoms recurred. Zelda suffered bad insomnia, then renewed asthma attacks. Against Scott’s advice she decided to go to Florida to escape the damp, finally compromising by taking along a trained nurse.
On her return, slightly better, ‘Miss Ella’ was published in December. Montgomery residents read it enthusiastically. ‘My story made quite a sensation. People seem to like it,’ she wrote Scott. Though she had sent a copy to Dr Forel ‘from sheer vanity’, she added self-deprecatingly: ‘I do not dare read the story. Knowing it is not first rate, I don’t want to be discouraged — I wish you could teach me to write.’ Dick Knight, Scott’s bete noire who constantly charmed Zelda, sent her a wildly appreciative telegram. Though she lost the cable she paraphrased its contents for Scott: ‘“Am moanin’ low over your story. You are the swellest short-story writer living as I have just found out from Scribner —” words to that effect — I was very tickled about the story, naturally.’40
One of her survival techniques after her father’s death was to prepare a Christmas surprise for Scottie. The huge historical panorama that greeted her daughter made it a Christmas she never forgot: ‘Weeks before Christmas the sun porch of our house was shut off. When it was opened on Christmas Eve the tree stood in the center of the room and around it my mother had constructed the whole history of mankind, with a little electric train that started its journey in Egypt and went on to Greece, Rome, the Crusades, the War of the Roses.’41
Scott returned for Christmas. His screenplay had not been used.42 Apart from making an exhibition of himself at one of Thalberg’s parties where he sang a foolish sophomore song about a dog, he had behaved well and had not been fired as he later claimed. Never one to waste a degrading experience, he turned his doggerel behaviour into the central episode of an excellent story, ‘Crazy Sunday’, about the marital problems of a Hollywood movie director. It was published by Mencken in American Mercury in 1932.43
Scott had earned $6,000 which he hoped would buy him time to work on the novel. By the end of 1931 he had sold nine stories, but the Post complained to Ober they were not up to Fitzgerald’s usual standard.44 Scott immersed himself in what was now a painful novel focusing on Dick and Nicole Diver’s troubled marriage, the apparently charmed life of the rich on the Riviera and Swiss psychiatric sanatoriums. He utilized every scrap of what he had learnt about Zelda’s mental breakdowns, remorselessly pilfering her letters, her fears, her punishments. Her madness became his new material. It was, and is, of course not unusual for writers to exploit family and friendship sources for their fictions. However, what is reprehensible is Scott’s high disregard for Zelda’s mental frailty or the possible psychological consequences.
Scott’s Ledger recorded the arrival of Rosalind after Zelda’s asthma worsened and he had decided to take his wife first on a trip to the Gulf Coast, and from there to the empty Don Ce-Sar hotel in St Petersburg, Florida. She was still writing her novel, while Scott worked what he saw as Zelda’s madness into his new version of Tender. His habit was to read material aloud to Zelda, and Zelda would have heard and read that version in Montgomery as well as in Florida. It was one thing to have your husband turn you into a flapper, quite another to have him display your mental illness as the raison d’etre of his main female character. Zelda’s shock and consequent emotions can only be surmised, as we have no evidence of any conversation between Zelda and Scott about this appropriation of the most vulnerable part of her life. What we do know is that the Fitzgeralds had a violent conflict, that soon after their arrival in Florida in January 1932 a spot of eczema appeared on Zelda’s neck, that another spot appeared, that she was terrified. She was away from her family, there were no other witnesses to the events that followed. Scott reported that on their way back to Montgomery she drank the contents of his flask, that she believed terrible things were being done to her with his knowledge, that she insisted on being hospitalized.
Scott informed Forel, who suggested readmitting Zelda to Prangins which was out of the question. Forel then recommended Dr Adolf Meyer of Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, another leading authority on schizophrenia.45 Scared that Zelda would again turn against him, Scott hurried her in to Phipps. On 12 February 1932, only five months after her release from Prangins, Zelda started her second breakdown in her fourth clinic.
Scott did not get on with Meyer, a man of distinguished appearance, heavy moustache and white goatee beard, who refused to treat him as co-consultant and who implicated him in Zelda’s breakdown by diagnosing it as afolie a deux, a dual case. Dr Meyer infuriated Scott by insisting he should submit to psychoanalysis. Scott, who resisted any such treatment by asserting psychotherapy would ruin his creativity, returned to Montgomery. He spent the winter with Scottie, teaching her chess and reading her Great Expectations.
Zelda also found Dr Meyer’s heavy Germanic ruminations distinctly off-putting but established a close relationship with her first woman doctor, Mildred Squires. Squires, trained at Pennsylvania Medical School, thirty years younger than Meyer and only four years older than Zelda, admired her talent and found her easy to talk to as long as they did not discuss the patient’s medical problems. Zelda resolutely refused to talk about her illness. Though she still smiled uncontrollably, she slept well, and was comfortable with the routine, which allowed her two hours a day to write and paint as part of her therapy. It is of considerable significance that this medical endorsement and validation of Zelda’s two arts led to a particularly intense period of creativity from 1932 to 1934. In Phipps Zelda achieved a novel, a play and a great many paintings.
She read numerous theoretical art books, and began to employ a variety of visual styles. Hungry for experiment, her artistic aesthetic became increasingly more sophisticated. ‘When I was nineteen,’ she told a Baltimore news reporter, ‘I thought Botticelli was unbeautiful because the women in the Primavera did not look like the girls in the Follies. But now I don’t expect Ann Pennington to hold the same charm for me as a Matisse odalisque.’46
Her artistic development was stimulated by art therapy with Dr Frederick Wertham, a special consultant on Zelda’s case. Eleven paintings attributed to Zelda were acquired by Wertham in the two years he worked with Zelda.47 Wertham had developed the mosaic test, in which patients assembled small multicoloured wooden pieces into free-form patterns from which psychiatrists could evaluate patients’ ego organizations. Zelda utilized Wertham’s diagnostic techniques in her watercolours.48 The constant exposure to unorthodox colour patterning enabled her to explore colour properties in her compositions, as she did in two watercolours over graphite, Rams and Le Sport. Both display an unusual use of colour in the background. Rams depicts two rams placed against a dazzling multicoloured patchwork like a rainbow jigsaw, the background shades so hectic that they overwhelm the central image. In the more muted Le Sport, areas of background colour fuse into one another around tennis rackets and golf clubs battling for priority. Zelda leaves a clear white space round the central figure, a sportsman with typically large curling fingers and feet. The curious element in these paintings is that unlike her previous emotionally expressive, thickly painted canvases these are linear, even in some cases minimalist. Their sharp lines encouraged Scott to suggest she might consider a career as a commercial artist.49
But while Zelda was purposefully increasing her painting skills, in terms of a career she was still bent on writing. Mildred Squires’ active encouragement led Zelda to feel for the first time appreciated as an artist. It is hardly surprising that eventually she dedicated Save Me The Waltz to Squires.50
Zelda wrote to Scott that she loved and was lonely for him, that she felt there was ‘nothing so sordid as being shut up’, but that she was reading contemporary French painting texts and particularly admired flower painters who could make blossoms seem malevolent like the hallucinations of the dead.51 She did not mention her novel.
Scott, who communicated regularly with the clinic, learnt she was writing at an enviable speed. Zelda asked Dr Squires to read a section of her novel, after which Squires wrote to Scott describing it as vivid and charming, though it occasionally broke off abruptly. Squires found the style similar to ‘Miss Ella’ and believed once Zelda revised her draft it would be excellent. By 2 March Squires reported Zelda’s anxiety had decreased, her second chapter was finished, success was predicted. Nearing completion, Zelda wrote to Scott: ‘I am proud of my novel, but I can hardly restrain myself enough to get it written. You will like it — It is distinctly Ecole Fitzgerald, though more ecstatic than yours … Being unable … to avoid the reiterant “said” I have emphasized it a la Ernest much to my sorrow. He is a very determined writer, but I shall also die with my boots on.’52
Scott, sadly, had removed his own boots, halted his work on Tender and when the lease on the Montgomery house expired, trudged to Baltimore to find new accommodation nearer to Zelda. His Ledger reveals: ‘depression … Scotty and her friends, becomes a racket … Rosalind still there … Scotty sick, me sick, Mrs Sayre playing the fool … everything worser and worser.’53
He had, however, become curiouser and curiouser about Zelda’s novel. On 8 March he wrote authoritatively to Squires that Zelda was not a ‘“natural story-teller” in the sense that I am, and unless a story comes to her fully developed and crying to be told she’s liable to flounder around rather unsuccessfully among problems of construction.’ But Zelda was not floundering around unsuccessfully. To Scott’s amazement, Squires wrote back on 9 March that Zelda had just completed her fiction.
Zelda did not mail her manuscript to Scott for advice or guidance. Instead she sent it at once, deceiving the hospital by switching addresses, to Max Perkins. It arrived at Scribner’s with this note: ‘Scott, being absorbed in his own [novel], has not seen it, so I am completely in the dark as to its possible merits, but naturally, terribly anxious that you should like it … As soon as I hear that you have safely received the copy, I want to mail the ms to Scott, so could you wire?’54
Zelda wrote to Scott that she was sure Scribner’s would reject it, but still she held back the manuscript. Then a trifle apprehensively she posted it. How right she was to have apprehensions.
When Scott finally received it on 14 March his rage was boundless.
1 Mrs George Mark Wood, Montgomery, Alabama.
2 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 166.
3 Mark Cross Company assets were $2,000,000. Their sister Anna was already provided for. The mistress was Lillian Ramsgate.
4 ZSF to Mayfield, Exiles, p. 173.
5 Ibid., p. 174.
6 ZSF to FSF, early Nov. 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 31, PUL.
7 Her sister Marjorie’s daughter.
8 She later amalgamated these into one tale.
9 ZSF to FSF, early Nov. 1931 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 43, Folder 47, PUL.
10 ZSF to FSF, late Nov./early Dec. 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 43, PUL.
11 ZSF to FSF, c. 13 Nov. 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 49, PUL.
12 Only in Ober’s note does ‘Downs’ have no apostrophe; where it occurs elsewhere it has one. The story was rejected by Harper’s Bazaar, College Humor and The Delineator.
13 Ober’s memos on ‘Cotton Belt’ and ‘One And, Two And’ were dated 1932. Ober received some stories in 1931, some in 1932. Some had been written at Prangins and rewritten after Zelda left there.
14 Zelda reported this in a letter to FSF, fall 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 64, PUL.
15 All the above quotations are from Zelda’s letters to FSF, fall 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folders 37, 28, 25, 26, 43, 42, PUL. ‘Nuts’ may have been started or almost fully written in Prangins as Perkins was sent it by mid-Oct. 1931.
16 MP to FSF, 21 Oct. 1931, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 172.
17 W. R. Anderson said the story ‘displayed Mrs Fitzgerald’s mastery of irony as a device for control’, ‘Rivalry and Partnership: The Short Fiction of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’, Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1977, ed. Margaret M. Duggan and Richard Layman. A Bruccoli Clark Book, Gale Research Co., Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan, USA, p. 38. Bruccoli said it was ‘Zelda Fitzgerald’s best effort … closer to a real story than any of the others’, Preface, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Bits of Paradise, ed. Bruccoli, p. 17. Milford said in this story ‘Zelda was in control of her talent’, Zelda, p. 194.
18 James Gray, ‘St Paul Family of Writers Have Almost Scribner’s Monopoly’, St Paul Dispatch, no date, clipping in Zelda’s album, CO183, Box 2, Folder 6, PUL.
19 ZSF, ‘A Couple of Nuts’, Scribner’s Magazine, Aug. 1932, pp. 80, 82, 84.
20 ZSF, ‘Miss Ella’, Collected Writings, pp. 345, 348, 343.
21 Zelda’s use of this idea and setting is highly reminiscent of Faulkner; his setting for his Sartoris novels is called Jefferson, Zelda calls her Southern setting Jeffersonville. Quentin Compson first appears in Faulkner’s 1929 Sartoris, the start of a series describing decline of the Compson and Sartoris families who like Zelda’s Miss Ella’s family represented the Old South. Faulkner’s 1929 The Sound and the Fury, which illustrates the decline of the South through Benjy Compson’s eyes, has a similar context and Southern philosophy to Zelda’s work.
22 MP to FSF, 12 Nov. 1930, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 170. Zelda’s original name for Miss Ella was Miss Bessie.
24 ZSF to Ober, 21 Dec. 1931.
25 ZSF to FSF, fall 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 27, PUL.
26 ZSF to FSF, c. fall 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 25, PUL.
27 ZSF to FSF, c. 25 Nov. 1931 (author’s dating), co187, Box 43, Folder 59, PUL.
28 Her play was an untitled one-act play for children, ZSF to FSF, Nov. 1931, co187, Box 43, Folder 42, PUL.
29 ZSF to FSF, c. Nov./Dec. 1931, co187, Box 43, Folder 47, PUL.
30 Mayfield’s comment on this line of Scott’s was that from Zelda’s viewpoint it ‘was as far from truth as hypocrisy is from holiness’, Exiles, p. 181.
31 Scott wrote from on board SS Olympic returning from his father’s funeral, Feb. 1931.
32 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 165.
33 ZSF to FSF, early Nov. 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 35, PUL.
34 ZSF to FSF, undated (author’s dating 19 Nov. 1931), CO187, Box 43, Folder 56, PUL.
35 ZSF to FSF, c. 20 Nov. 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 57, PUL.
36 ZSF to Mayfield, Nov. 1931, Exiles, p. 176. She repeats this in Save Me The Waltz when her fictional Judge Beggs dies. ‘“He must have forgot,” Alabama said, “to leave the message”’ (Collected Writings, p. 188).
37 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 177.
38 ZSF to FSF, summer 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 12, PUL.
39 ZSF to FSF, early Nov. 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 35, PUL.
40 ZSF to FSF. c. Dec. 1931, CO187, Box 43, Folder 24, PUL.
41 Winzola McLendon, ‘Scott and Zelda’, Ladies Home Journal 91 (Nov. 1974), p. 62. Scott’s Christmas present initially was going to be a one-act play Zelda wrote for five of Scottie’s friends. She rented the Little Theatre, planned egg nog and cake for the twenty-strong proposed audience, and she’d sewn half the costumes. Then her father died and plans had to be abandoned.
42 To his chagrin Anita Loos later wrote a script instead.
43 In ‘Crazy Sunday’ Scott combined himself with screenwriter Dwight Taylor and exaggerated his humiliation at Thalberg’s party. The story was rejected by the Post as too sexually frank.
44 The Post even rejected one called ‘Six of One’ which Ober sold to Redbook.
45 Meyer, bom in Zurich, trained there as a neurologist/pathologist with Oscar Forel’s father Auguste. From 1892 in the USA Meyer worked as a pathologist at Kankakee Hospital, Illinois, taught at the University of Chicago and Clark University and worked at Worcester Hospital, Massachusetts. After a stint at the New York State Hospital he became director of Johns Hopkins Medical School and the esteemed dean of US psychiatry.
46 Quoted in Carolyn Shafer, ‘To Spread a Human Aspiration’, p. 32.
47 Wertham had come from Europe in 1922 to work with Dr Meyer. The eleven paintings of Zelda’s he acquired are now in the Frederick Wertham Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University. How they came into Wertham’s possession is unclear.
48 Shafer, To Spread a Human Aspiration’, p. 42.
49 The Wertham paintings are undated and the authorship of some is disputed. The reason for the dispute is that larger La Paix canvases differ from the Wertham clinical drawings with their ambiguous subject matter and cleanly drawn outlines. That Scott suggested their suitability for commerce supports the Zelda-as-artist theory. A strong case can be made in favour of Zelda as artist of Rams and Le Sport, because Zelda worked closely with Wertham and was directly exposed to his mosaic test. Rams has a similar fantasy feel to her fairy-tale paintings and Le Sport has the characteristic elongated extremities.
50 To express her appreciation Zelda also designed a Christmas card for Squires in black ink and white gouache on grey card. The card depicted a woman holding a lighted candle and wreath. On the card Zelda wrote ‘Mildred Squires wishes you A Merry Christmas’.
51 ZSF to FSF, c. Feb. 1932, CO187, Box 44, Folder 15, PUL. She referred specifically to Van Gogh who had long been a favourite.
52 ZSF to FSF, c. end Feb./beginning Mar 1932.
53 FSF, Ledger, Feb., Mar. 1932.
54 ZSF to MP, postmarked 12 Mar. 1932, CO101, Box 53, Folder Zelda Fitzgerald 1921–1944, PUL.
Scott felt that this time Zelda had gone too far. Zelda felt that this time she had gone some way in asserting herself.
Scott believed she had ‘poached’ what he admitted were their joint life experiences for her now completed novel which he had intended to use for his work-in-progress. Although today it would seem at the very least problematic, Scott was able to justify his term ‘poaching’ because of his entrenched belief that his wife was expected to be ‘a complementary intelligence’ concerned exclusively with his interests and ambitions.1 Zelda’s life he saw as his raw material. Zelda’s writings he saw as his literary property.
Despite suffering self-doubt, diminished self-respect and loss of identity through Scott’s treatment of her, Zelda still felt that she had a perfect right to use her experiences for own literary source material. But the fact that she furtively sent the manuscript to Perkins indicated she knew how much Scott would resent it.
Neither Fitzgerald spoke directly to the other. A dialogue of blame, resentment, anger and defence was passed to Dr Squires, who diplomatically mediated. On 14 March a furious Fitzgerald told Mildred Squires that after four years’ work on his novel, from spring 1930 he had ‘been unable to proceed because of the necessity of keeping Zelda in sanitariums’. His letters reveal how much it rankled that her book was finished so swiftly while his was still being developed: ‘about fifty thousand words exist and this Zelda has heard and literally one whole section of her novel is an imitation of it, of its rhythm materials even statements and speeches’. He acknowledged Squires might think ‘the experiences which two people have undergone in common is common property — one transmutes the same scene through different temperments and it “comes out different”’. He emphasized ‘there are only two episodes, both of which she has reduced to anecdotes but upon which whole sections of my book turn, that I have asked her to cut’. As for Zelda’s dancing, her love for Jozan, her observations about Americans in Paris, ‘the fine passages about the death of her father’, his criticisms, he said, would be impersonal and professional. But he would not tolerate Zelda naming her central character Amory Blaine, the name of his autobiographical hero in This Side of Paradise.
Do you think that his turning up in a novel signed by my wife as a somewhat anemic portrait painter with a few ideas lifted from Clive Bell, Leger, ect. could pass unnoticed? … it puts me in an absurd and Zelda in a rediculous position … this mixture of fact and fiction is simply calculated to ruin us both or what is left of us and I can’t let it stand. Using the name of a character I invented to put intimate facts in the hands of [our] friends and enemies … My God, my books made her a legend and her single intention … is to make me a non-entity.2
The technique of mixing fact and fiction which so incensed him was, of course, one he himself used extensively. He was disturbed that her public portrayal of him did not coincide with the way he wished to be seen. Not only had she betrayed him, she had also exploited him by writing in time he paid for through selling stories that took him away from his novel. He overlooked his plundering of Zelda’s diaries, letters and ideas in order to offer up her character for public inspection.
On 16 March he wired Perkins: ‘PLEASE DO NOT JUDGE OR IF NOT ALREADY DONE EVEN CONSIDER ZELDAS BOOK UNTIL YOU GET REVISED VERSION LETTER FOLLOWS.’3 To pacify Scott, Zelda wrote:
Dr Squires tells me that you are hurt that I did not send my book to you before I mailed it to Max. Purposely I didn’t — knowing that you were working … honestly feeling that I had no right to interrupt you to ask for a serious opinion … I was in my usual rush to get it off my hands — You know how I hate brooding over things once they are finished: so I mailed it post haste, hoping to have yours + Scribner’s criticisms to use for revising.
Scott scrawled red pencil marks over her first paragraph and angrily noted in the margin, ‘This is an evasion. All this reasoning is specious.’
Zelda tried placation: ‘Scott, I love you more than anything on earth and if you were offended I am miserable. We have always shared everything but it seems to me I no longer have the right to inflict every desire and necessity of mine on you.’ She skirted round the most crucial point: ‘I was also afraid we might have touched on the same material.’ Then a retreat into humility: ‘feeling it to be a dubious production due to my own instability I did not want a scathing criticism such as you have mercilessly — if for my own good given my last stories, poor things … So, Dear, my own, please realize that it was not from any sense of not turning first to you — but just time and other ill-regulated elements that made me so bombastic about Max.
‘Goofo, please love me — life is very confusing — but I love you.’4
Scott was not buying her version of events. Enraged at Zelda’s temerity, he determined to use every available culturally constructed tool to impose and to justify his literary restrictions upon his wife. The first restriction was to insist that Scribner’s should cut hefty sections of her novel, cuts to be decided by him, before he would countenance publication. The second was to insist that if Scribner’s published it they should not praise it to Zelda, as it might damage her mental health or give rise to what he termed her incipient egomania. His third restriction was to insist on a contractual clause stipulating that one half of the royalties earned by Zelda would be retained by Scribner’s, to be credited against his debts to them until a total of $5,000 had been repaid.
Scott’s letter to Zelda demanding specific cuts, like so many other Fitzgerald materials, has ‘gone missing’. Retained is Zelda’s initial submissive response: ‘Of cource, I glad[ly] submit to anything you want about the book or anything else. I felt myself the thing was too crammed with material upon which I had not time to dwell. Shall I wire Max to send it back? … The Pershing incident which you accuse me of stealing occupies just one line and will not be missed. I willingly relinquish it.’5
Reluctantly on 27 March Zelda cabled Max: ‘ACTING ON SCOTTS ADVICE WILL YOU RETURN MANUSCRIPT PHIPPS CLINIC JOHNS HOPKINS WITH MANY THANKS REGRETS AND REGARDS VELDA [sic] FITZGERALD.’6
Max cabled back: he had ‘READ ABOUT 60 PAGES WITH GREAT INTEREST STOP VERY LIVE AND MOVING STOP HOPE YOU WILL RETURN IT STOP AFFECTIONATE REGARDS.’7
Zelda, wishing to return it, refused to give in to all Scott’s demands.
I would like you to thoroughly understand that my revision will be made on an aesthetic basis: that the other material which I will elect is nevertheless legitimate stuff which has cost me a pretty emotional penny to amass and which I intend to use when I can get the tranquility of spirit necessary to write the story of myself versus myself. That is the book I really want to write … With dearest love, I am your irritated Zelda.8
She was more than irritated. She was fuming. A nurse at Phipps overheard her saying to herself: ‘I have always done whatever I wanted to do, whenever I could possibly manage it. My book is none of my husband’s Goddamned business.’9
She held back her fury while explaining to Scott how lonely and friendless she felt: ‘all our associates have always taken me for granted, sought your stimulus and fame, eaten my dinners and invited “The Fitzgeralds” place[s].’ She reminded him he had always been the one person with whom she had felt the need to communicate intimately.10
Scott was unmoved by her plea. He felt as misused as she had felt in the past. His telegrams to Perkins spoke of mood changes and irrationality. One said Zelda’s novel needed only small but necessary changes. Another said it was a fine novel. A new cable insisted the hero’s name and the book title be changed. Scott’s next telegram screamed that the whole middle section must be drastically redrafted. Finally, at the end of March he went to Baltimore to work with Zelda on revisions. Yet again the original manuscript and Zelda’s first draft revisions have been ‘mislaid’. We are left with a printer’s copy of the typed manuscript, two consecutive sets of much-revised galley proofs and a set of pristine page proofs.11 This means we cannot know what deletions Scott insisted on that first time. We know Scott was satisfied at the extensive changes because he wrote to Perkins, ‘Zelda’s novel is now good, improved in every way. It is new. She has largely eliminated the speakeasy-nights-and-our-trip-to-Paris atmosphere. You’ll like it. It should reach you in ten days. I am too close to judge it but it may be even better than I think.’ However, he again begged Perkins not to praise Zelda or imply she might achieve money or success.12 Two weeks later Scott sent the manuscript to Perkins: it was ‘a good novel now, perhaps a very good novel’. He likened it to Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, was sure it would interest the many thousand dance enthusiasts, felt it was ‘absolutely new, and should sell’. He forbade Perkins to mention the novel to Hemingway, whose new book was to be published that same season, not because of ‘conflict between the books’ but because of the hostility between Hemingway and Zelda. And he finally gave Perkins permission to write directly to Zelda about her book.13
Perkins sent Zelda the same gracious telegram one assumes he would have sent without such a cavalier instruction, ‘HAD A GRAND SUNDAY READING YOUR NOVEL STOP THINK IT VERY UNUSUAL AND AT TIMES DEEPLY MOVING PARTICULARLY DANCING PART STOP DELIGHTED TO PUBLISH STOP WRITING STOP MAXWELL PERKINS.’14 His written comments suggested that the New York and Westport parts were not as good as the Alabama state sections, which were ‘very good indeed’. The ‘best part’ was when her heroine Alabama takes up dancing.15
On 19 May Zelda, overjoyed, replied: ‘To catalogue my various excitements and satisfactions that you liked my book would be an old story to you — It seems so amazing that you are going to actually publish it … My God! Maybe the ink will fade, maybe you’ll discover that it doesn’t make sense! It couldn’t be possible that I was an author!
‘Of cource, I will gladly change the questionable parts. I, too, felt the New York part was weak, though I liked the Paris party.’ Then with her characteristic thoughtfulness which has been little remarked on, she asked after his sick daughter. ‘Scott told me your daughter had been ill. I am beginning to feel qualified to make suggestion about the Invalid Racket: John’s-Hopkin’s is an awfully good place with very competent nurses and entirely lacking the general air of negligence that pervades most places where people are going to be sick a long time. We were dreadfully distressed — and I hope she will soon be well again. I know how worried you and Louise must be. Those nervous maladies are always alarming … it’s worse always on the people who care than on the person who’s ill.’16
She had complied with Scott’s request to change the novel’s title and hero’s name. Zelda found Save Me The Waltz from a Victor record catalogue. A superficial sweetness is implied in the old-fashioned dance request, but the bitterness of its frequent shortening to ‘Save Me’ blasts the sweetness apart.
If the irony of using Amory Blaine, Scott’s fictional hero’s name, for her own portrait of Scott did not appeal to her husband, the greater irony of substituting the name David Knight displeased him almost as much. Her hero’s new first name was probably taken from Van Vechten’s novel Parties, where Scott appears as the volatile, jealous David Westlake. Using the name of Scott’s enemy Dick Knight for her hero’s surname might be a neat revenge for the way Scott was dealing with her writing.17 Zelda had already mentioned Scott’s dislike of Knight to her doctors at Phipps. Later that year Scott displayed his jealousy when, after an unpleasant meeting at which he had called Knight a fairy, he tetchily apologized: ‘I have never in my wildest imaginings supposed you were a fairy … It is a lousy word to anyone not a member of the species.’ Scott did acknowledge how Knight’s encouragement of Zelda’s achievements had helped her. ‘That was swell praise you gave Zelda and needless to say delighted her and set her up enormously. She revised the book so much that she lost contact with it and yours is the first word that gives it public existence.’ But Scott couldn’t leave it at that. He acknowledged: ‘the sincerity of your feeling toward her shouldn’t offend anybody except the most stupid and churlish of husbands … [but] … [w]hen you city fellows come down you can’t put ideas in the heads of our farm girls, without expecting resistance.’18
Though Scott sharply scrutinized Zelda’s novel for features which might damage his public image, he allowed it to be printed without decreasing the convoluted metaphors or correcting the grammatical errors, typographical mistakes and misspellings which litter the text. Scott, a notoriously bad speller, may not have recognized these flaws but that Perkins allowed the book to be published in this woeful state did Zelda ill-service.
Save Me The Waltz is a searing portrayal of a woman’s search for identity within a tangled marriage, both a particular woman and any woman. Because of its deeply autobiographical links, it is often read as a companion piece to Tender Is The Night. The critic Dan Piper suggested that ‘together, these two chronicles of the same marriage seen from the wife’s and husband’s viewpoints, form one of the most unusual pairs of novels in recent literary history’.19 But in its own terms, this moving novel has the hallmarks of Zelda’s best and worst stylistic points. There are her characteristic wit, her skill in making unexpected connections between ideas, and her idiosyncratic metaphoric descriptions with their sensual illumination of small details. Inanimate objects spring into life with a menacing air. Severed parts of the body abound: ears, eyes, limbs. When Alabama Beggs, her autobiographical heroine, falls in love with blond lieutenant David Knight, Alabama focuses on David’s ear:
She felt herself very small and ecstatic. Alabama was in love.
She crawled into the friendly cave of his ear. The area inside was gray and ghostly classic as she stared about the deep trenches of the cerebellum … she set out following the creases. Before long she was lost. Like a mystic maze, the folds and ridges rose in desolation; there was nothing to indicate one way from another. She stumbled on … Vast tortuous indentations led her round and round. Hysterically, she began to run. David, distracted by a tickling sensation at the head of his spine, lifted his lips from hers.
‘I’ll see your father,’ he said, ‘about when we can be married.’20
An ear is a mundane object. But this is a fantastic journey into and out of it. Zelda is not writing an ordinary romantic description. For Alabama and David’s relationship will be no ordinary romance. She has piled up, like cars hurtling into each other behind one that has crashed, a series of crazy dissimilar elements in order to achieve an an unforgettable richness. It works here because she stops the surrealistic method in time and brings readers down to earth with David’s sudden decision to marry the girl.
Throughout the book Zelda offers the material of myth, where many of the narrative connections are deliberately cut. Diametrically opposed to Scott’s shaped orderliness, some sections have the nightmare quality of Angela Carter’s fiction. Others, lush and associative, reach into the unconscious, and read like a distinctly Modernist novel. When David asks Alabama to say she loves him and Alabama replies: ‘I never say anything to anybody. Don’t talk’,21 Zelda points to her stylistic intention: to express what cannot be expressed.
Where Zelda’s work is flawed is where she fails to heed her own red light. She overloads the prose and it races out of control. Take this: ‘A shooting star, ectoplasmic arrow, sped through the nebulous hypothesis like a wanton hummingbird. From Venus to Mars to Neptune it trailed the ghost of comprehension, illuminating far horizons over the pale battlefields of reality.’22 The reader is stranded amongst muddy lines encrusted with too many images.
The plot, in four sections, has overwhelming similarities to Zelda’s life.23 It faithfully captures, in the first section, Alabama’s Southern family home, pinpointing the influential authority of Alabama’s father Judge Beggs, the devotion of her mother Millie, the affection of her older sisters, Dixie (who resembles Rosalind and like her is society editor of the town newspaper) and Joan, blessed with ‘an unattainable hue of beauty’.24 We watch Alabama’s rebellious girlhood, and her marriage to David Knight (a painter not a writer) whom she met during World War One.
The second section follows David’s early celebrity in New York, the birth of Bonnie/Scottie, their Riviera trip, Alabama’s infatuation25 for French naval aviator Jacques Chevre-Feuille, who discourages her from leaving David, their move to Paris where David has a retaliatory romance with movie actress Gabrielle Gibbs of the blancmange breasts and blue veins. ‘David opened and closed his personality over Miss Gibbs like the tentacles of a carnivorous maritime plant.’26 After this revelation Alabama determines on a ballet career to bring order into her chaotic lonely existence.
The third section recreates the Paris ballet years, where Madame usurps the central place in Alabama’s life. In the final section Alabama accepts the role with the San Carlos Opera Ballet Company, Naples, which Zelda had turned down, and briefly and successfully lives in Italy without her husband and daughter, which Zelda never managed to do. But Alabama too is forced to give up her dance career. Blood poisoning from an infected foot necessitates an operation that will sever her tendons and make dancing impossible. David, with renewed devotion, comes to the hospital. Together they return to the Deep South, where she sees her father die. She is left with David, dumping ashtrays, as their guests depart. When David scolds her for starting her chores before the guests have vanished, she says: ‘It’s very expressive of myself. I just lump everything in a great heap which I have labeled “the past,” and, having thus emptied this deep reservoir that was once myself, I am ready to continue.’27
Though all psychiatric episodes and all mention of homosexuality have been expunged, the novel is a transparent reworking of the Fitzgeralds’ early years.
The establishment of the interior lives of her characters, as well as the atmosphere of the places they visit, is achieved partially through a suffusion of flower images. Zelda was also painting daily, and while imprisoned in this Baltimore clinic she recreated on canvas the same wild Montgomery blossoms that flourished in her novel. Whether in print or oils, plants explode with emotion. In the paintings geometric, angular flowers allow the viewer to feel Zelda’s spikiness, while curled, layered flowers are uncontrollably sensuous. Most flowers are magnified so that, impossible to ignore, they startle the viewer. The mounds and buds have both the fragile beauty of those Zelda picked as a girl, but also the iron strength she had drawn on during the previous two years. There was a cyclical process between the flowers she gathered in armfuls, the flowers that hurtled from her paintbrush on to canvas and the flowers in her richly descriptive prose which synthesized the senses.
In chapter 3, in Paris, dancer Alabama’s fatigued feet are too sore to wear new shoes which she would have liked to buy, nor does she feel comfortable purchasing new dresses, so in a moment of wild extravagance she spends every cent of the hundred franc notes in her purse on flowers. Most of them are for Madame. As Alabama endows the flowers with the qualities of the material possessions she might have bought, Zelda pours out a rich surrealistic litany whose metaphors would ambush the most jaded reader.
Yellow roses she bought with her money like Empire satin brocade, and white lilacs and pink tulips like molded confectioner’s frosting, and deep-red roses like a Villon poem, black and velvety as an insect wing … malignant parrot tulips scratching the air with their jagged barbs … She gave Madame gardenias like white kid gloves … threatening sprays of gladioli, and the soft, even purr of black tulips. She bought flowers like salads and flowers like fruits, jonquils and narcissus, poppies and ragged robins, and flowers with the brilliant carnivorous qualities of Van Gogh.28
During April, a month when Scott described Zelda as ‘strange’,29 he wrote a decidedly fictional response to the crisis over Zelda’s novel in the guise of a Post story, ‘What A Handsome Pair’.30 The protagonists are a young sporting couple who become bitter rivals, counterbalanced by a second couple where the man is a musician and his wife ‘merely’ a homemaker. Scott posits the idea that for a creative man to enjoy a good marriage he needs a non-competitive, unambitious wife. Scott does not deal with the needs of a creative woman.
He wrote two more stories that year, but the Post cut his fees from $4,000, first to $3,500, then to $3,000, then to $2,500, his 1925 rate. Again the Post complained about the low level of his stories to Ober, who subsequently found it impossible to sell ‘Nightmare’, set in an insane asylum, to any reputable magazine. That year Scott’s earnings dropped to $15,832.40, his lowest annual total since 1919.
In mid-April Scott visited Zelda daily at Phipps, where they quarrelled constantly. Often their rows were rooted in Zelda’s refusal to show him her latest story. Scott retaliated by providing her psychiatrists with his views on Zelda’s breakdown, focusing particularly on what he considered her detrimental relationship with Minnie Sayre. He saw mother and daughter unhealthily attached by a silver cord. Zelda objected to her husband trying to play Dr Fitzgerald. Scott objected to the patient continuing to write.31
Dr Meyer, meanwhile, was having severe problems communicating with Zelda, who still refused to moderate her desire to work (‘My work is not a strain. All I ask to do is to work’32), and getting Scott to see that his drinking and dictatorial attitude was further damaging Zelda.
On 20 May 1932 Scott, who had been house-hunting from his base at the Rennert hotel, rented La Paix, a house set in 28 acres on the Bayard Turnbull estate in Towson, Baltimore, where the Fitzgeralds lived until November 1933. Zelda told Max the house was soft and shady like ‘a paintless playhouse abandoned when the family grew up … surrounded by apologetic trees and meadows and creaking insects.33 Sara Mayfield described the ‘fantastic exterior’ as a veritable Mad Hatter’s Castle, rusty grey, with gingerbread arches, bays thrown at random and a porch decorated with jigsaw scrollwork. Scott, said Sara, ‘had outdone himself this time’. Zelda remarked wittily to Sara that had she named the house she would have called it ‘Calvin Coolidge, Jnr because it was so mute’.34
Initially Zelda spent mornings there, returning to Phipps after lunch. Scott was determined that when Zelda rejoined them full-time she would follow a disciplined schedule, ordered by the doctors but controlled by him. He believed a strict routine would tire her less, but he also felt that as he would be blamed for any mistakes he ‘should be able to dictate the conditions’.35 Zelda wrote to Bishop:
We are more alone than ever before while the psychiatres patch up my nervous system … they present you with a piece of bric-a-brac of their own forging which falls to the pavement on your way out of the clinic and luckily smashes to bits … Don’t ever fall into the hands of brain and nerve specialists unless you are feeling very Faustian. Scott reads Marx — I read the Cosmological philosophers. The brightest moments of our day are when we get them mixed up.36
Zelda startled visitors by floating through La Paix in a tutu, for she still practised ballet regularly. Eleven-year-old Andrew Turnbull (later Scott’s biographer) saw Zelda, biting her lip, picking at her face, dancing round the living-room table to the tune of her gramophone. He felt she was not quite wholesome. Though Scott’s drinking bothered the teetotal Turnbulls, Mrs Margaret Turnbull affectionately recalls the patience he exercised with her three children, Eleanor, Frances and Andrew, who became firm playmates of Scottie’s. Scottie also made another local friend, Margaret ‘Peaches’ Finney, daughter of Scott’s Princeton classmate Eben Finney. Peaches and Scottie both attended Calvert School, then became day students at Bryn Mawr. Whenever tension arose in the Fitzgerald household Scottie would stay with the Finneys.
Margaret Turnbull thought Scott felt guilty about Zelda, needed her approval, talked warmly of her charm, brilliance and appeal to men. But, said Mrs Turnbull, ‘she was his invalid’, and it was as an invalid Margaret viewed her. ‘She struck one like a broken clock.’37
At La Paix Zelda’s relationship with Scottie worsened as Scott tightened his hold on his daughter’s education and social routines. Though fiercely authoritarian he gave Scottie a great deal of attention, thereby cutting Zelda out of the family picture while upbraiding her for her lack of interest in Scottie’s progress. By treating Zelda as ‘sick’, Scott effectively prevented Scottie from turning to her mother for help or advice.
A new young doctor, Thomas Rennie, with whom Zelda felt some rapport, had taken charge of her case. Zelda confessed to Rennie she feared her child was growing away from her. ‘I can’t help her at all … I’m like a stranger in the house.’ She admitted she was unable to control temper outbursts against Scottie. ‘I lose my temper when I get up. It’s awfully unfair to my husband and child.’38
In May, Scott hired his first fulltime secretary, Isabel Owens (who worked for him until 1938), for $12 a week. She quickly became a surrogate mother to Scottie and a companion to Zelda. She chauffeured them everywhere, swam with them, bought Zelda’s art materials and, carefully chosen by Scott as the kind of woman with whom he would not fall in love, she never became embroiled in the Fitzgeralds’ emotional tangles.
On 26 June Zelda was discharged from Phipps to join the family. As Squires, Meyer and Rennie did not see her as cured, both she and Scott attended regular sessions at the clinic. Despite Zelda’s release from hospital disciplines, to her chagrin Scott predictably began to wield authority over her. Aided by Meyer, who had angered Scott by encouraging Zelda’s creativity, Scott also put restraints on her writing. He feared Zelda would write about psychiatry which he intended to keep for exclusive use in Tender. He had dropped both the Melarky matricide and the Kelly shipboard plot and had constructed a draft centred on the ruination of an American psychiatrist by his marriage to a rich mental patient. Entwined with this plot were his recent emotions of loss and damage.39
Zelda had begun a new novel with insanity as its theme. She divulged to Rennie that she wanted to create a view of madness so close to normality that readers would not see the difference. The clever plot shows a married couple driven to a mental clinic by their scheming daughter, but not till the conclusion do readers discover that the couple are already patients inside the asylum. Later Zelda refocused the novel on the schizophrenia of Vaslav Nijinsky, Diaghilev’s lover and main male dancer with his Ballets Russes.40
Determined that Zelda should not proceed with this book, Scott encouraged her to paint. It was at La Paix that Zelda had her first professional painting studio, where many of her strongest ballet paintings were done between 1932 and 1934.
Sara Mayfield and Sara Haardt, who visited La Paix, were shocked both by their friends’ appearances and by Zelda’s paintings. ‘Both Scott and Zelda had lost the fresh, well-scrubbed look that marked them in their youth,’ said the younger Sara. ‘[Scott had] developed flabby arms and a fat pot … Zelda was immaculate … [but] [h]er once lustrous blond hair had taken on a dull red-gold tint; her skin, a grayish pallor.’ Zelda found it hard to converse with her friends. ‘Beyond an exchange of Confederate amenities with Sara and me and an occasional inquiry about her family and friends in Montgomery, Zelda’s conversation was confined almost wholly to her painting. A corner of her eye twitched, and her mouth twisted from nervous strain when she spoke,’ said young Sara:
as she showed us her canvases, I gathered that Scott must be cavilling that she was now becoming as obsessed by her painting as she had been by her dancing …. Among the sketches of New York, of Paris, of ballet dancers, and dream gardens stacked against the wall there were two crucifixions. The face on the cross in one of them was unmistakably Zelda’s. As Scott saw that Sara and I recognized the likeness, he turned abruptly and walked out of the room. If he could not face it, I could not forget it.41
Both Saras felt that to see the Fitzgeralds at La Paix while remembering early days in Montgomery was ‘like reading a palimpsest on which a stark Greek tragedy had been written over the faint traces of a romantic comedy … it was not the way to spend a pleasant afternoon.’42
Scott later sold two of Zelda’s paintings from this period to Sara Haardt on Zelda’s behalf. Though Sara Mayfield later saw the receipt, dated 1932, amongst Sara Haardt’s papers, the paintings were never recovered. Whether Zelda knew is not clear. Judging by her generous gifts to other friends, including the Murphys and Sandy Kalman, she would have been more likely to have given them to Sara.
Zelda’s most important oil painting to date, the mannerist Ballet Figures, was to be shown at New York’s Anderson Galleries for the American Art Association’s Spring Salon in May 1933: the first known public showing of her art. That afternoon, when Zelda was excitedly telling her friends about the event, Scott interrupted them, and asked Sara Haardt to look over his manuscript of Tender (currently called ‘Dr Diver’s Holiday’). Sara Mayfield remembers him pounding on the table as he shouted: ‘And it’s good, good, good!’ She said he spoke ‘as if he were whistling in a cemetery to bolster his own morale …. As if to reassure himself, he said, “It is good, isn’t it, Zelda?”’ Scott’s thoughtlessness in inviting praise for fiction centred on Zelda’s mental condition became obvious to her friends only later. At the time they heard Zelda’s peal of irrelevant, mirthless laughter. ‘For a moment,’ recalled Sara Mayfield, ‘I thought Scott was going to slap her. Their eyes met and locked in a conflict that had rent them both … Anger flashed in the dead silence between them and then paled into inward desolation and despair.’ Scott, worried that Zelda’s friends would be embarrassed, said huskily: ‘She’s mad,’ then seeing their shocked faces, he quickly added: ‘Schizophrenia, the doctors say.’43
Driving the women back to town, he attempted to justify himself. ‘He began by disparaging Zelda. Then he blamed her illness on her family, whom he taxed with bringing her up to be spoiled, selfish, and dependent … We tried half a dozen times to change the subject, but it was impossible to stop his scathing criticisms of Zelda and her family.’44
In Baltimore Scott had taken to bursting in on Sara and Mencken at 704 Cathedral Street. Because of Sara’s operation they were not able to have children but, deeply in love, they had settled quietly into an affectionate routine. Mencken rose early and breakfasted alone at eight, believing that breakfasting with one’s spouse imposed an unnecessary hazard on marriage. Then they both wrote in separate rooms, Sara writing articles for Country Life, before lunching together, after which Sara napped. Early evening provided them with what Mencken called ‘philosophical belching’ before dinner. Sara Mayfield said that they never exchanged a cross word. If an argument seemed imminent, they each retreated in silence to a separate room until calm could be restored.45 Nothing could be more different from the Fitzgeralds’ row-riven lives.
Though Scott’s noisy drunken visits began to irritate the Menckens, as they had the Murphys and Hemingways, his alcoholic ravages concerned them.46 Mencken managed to interest a doctor friend, Benjamin Baker, who tried to stop Scott drinking. Initially Scott entered Johns Hopkins in August 1932 with a tentative diagnosis of typhoid fever,47 but between 1933 and 1937 he was re-hospitalized eight times for alcoholism and for suspected inactive fibroid tuberculosis.
In September 1932 Scott summed up the year as a ‘strange year of Work & Drink. Increasingly unhappy — Zelda up and down. 1st draft of novel complete Ominous!’
While Scottie started a new dancing school in the fall, Zelda, waiting anxiously for the publication of Save Me The Waltz, worked on a lighthearted farce called Scandalabra, turning to it in relief when either her new novel or Scott’s criticisms became too heavy.
On 7 October Save Me The Waltz was published at $2 with a minimum of publicity, printed on cheap paper, bound in green linen, with a tiny print run of 3,010 copies. The poor proofreading formed the bulk of the New York Times’s negative criticism among mixed reviews.48
Dorothea Brande in The Bookman enlarged on this: ‘It is not only that her publishers have not seen fit to curb an almost ludicrous lushness of writing … but they have not given the book the elementary services of a literate proofreader.’ Brande said if one persisted past the mistakes one came upon an earnest, honest, good story of a girl trying desperately to make a character for herself which will carry her through life. In the Judge Zelda had ‘drawn with loving care as fine a man as we have had in fiction for many a month’.49
Several critics, ignoring the proofreading defects, gave it good reviews. William McFee in the New York Sun told readers: ‘here is a peculiar talent, and connoisseurs of style will have a wonderful time … there is the promise of a new and vigorous personality in fiction’. McFee, whose review Zelda considered ‘the only intelligible (to me) criticism of the book’, suggested that the effect of the accumulated fantastic metaphors was fascination. ‘Veteran wordmongers will read [it], with envy and a kind of dizzy delight … the book [has] an almost alcoholic vitality. Mrs Fitzgerald’s next novel will be an interesting event.’ Like most reviewers McFee thought the ballet sections towered above the rest, whilst the character of Alabama was insufficiently developed, resembling rather ‘an insane child’.50
Some critics saw the novel as the last will and testament of a departed era that began as a bar-room ballad and ended as a funeral oration. The New York Herald Tribune perceived Alabama as a heroine who ‘somersaults through the pages’ with a hardboiled experimentalist surface concealing an uncompromising sentimentalist. The Tribune suggested ‘the writing has a masculinity that is unusual: it is always vibrant and always sensitive’.51
The subhead above a review that amused Zelda immensely ran ‘Mrs Fitzgerald’s First Novel Places Her On Scott’s Level’,52 but amusement was curtailed by a realistic appraisal of the book’s finances. Fitzgerald’s contractual clause stipulating that half Zelda’s royalties up to $5,000 were to be credited against his publishing debt did him little good, for the novel sold fewer than 1,400 copies. Its earnings totalled a mere $120.73, for Zelda had to pay expensive proof revision costs. When Max sent Zelda the cheque he wrote: ‘Maybe I ought to have warned you about corrections for they came to a great deal. I knew they would, when the proofs began coming back, but I knew you wanted to get the book the way you thought it ought to be.’ This was a slight slip of the truth, for most of the revisions were incurred because Scott wanted to get the book the way he thought it ought to be. Max realized Zelda was sad: ‘The result won’t be encouraging to you, and I have not liked to ask you whether you were writing any more … but I do think the last part of the book in particular, was very fine; and that if we had not been in the depths of a depression, the result would have been quite different.’53
Some of their established writer friends thought highly of the book. Malcolm Cowley wrote to Scott: ‘It moves me a lot: she has something there that nobody got into words before. The women who write novels are usually the sort who live spiritually in Beloit, Wisconsin.’54
Despite this praise, the overall financial failure of the book sent Zelda spiralling down again. She locked herself in her room and drove Scott mad with fury as she threw herself into her new novel, based on her own asylum experiences. Angrily Scott wrote to Dr Rennie that Zelda had negated her promise not to write any more fiction until he had finished his novel.
He drank instead of writing. She wrote instead of submitting, locking up her manuscript after every day’s work. They were building towards their biggest confrontation yet.
1 Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin, ‘Art as Woman’s Response and Search: Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me The Waltz’, Southern Literary Journal, vol. XI, No. 2, spring 1979, Department of English, University of North Carolina, p. 23. The phrase ‘complementary intelligence’ is a quotation from the three-way conference between ZSF, FSF and Dr Rennie, 28 May 1933.
2 FSF to Dr Mildred Squires, 14 Mar. 1932, Johns Hopkins Hospital records, Life in Letters, p. 209.
3 FSF to MP, 16 Mar. 1932, PUL.
4 ZSF to FSF, Mar. 1932, ZSF, Collected Writings, pp. 466–8.
5 ZSF to FSF, c. Mar. 1932, ibid., p. 468. In Tender Is The Night the Pershing incident, where Scott’s character Abe North stands in the lobby of the Paris Ritz pretending to be General Pershing, was also one line, and would not have been missed either.
6 ZSF to MP, 27 Mar. 1932, CO101, Box 53, Folder Zelda Fitzgerald 1921–1944, PUL.
7 MP to ZSF, 28 Mar. 1932, ibid., PUL.
8 ZSF to FSF, c. Mar. 1932, ZSF, Collected Writings, pp. 468–9.
9 Milford, Zelda, p. 253.
10 ZSF to FSF, c. Mar. 1932, ZSF, Collected Writings, p. 468.
11 Each of the two galleys has a duplicate worked over in Zelda’s handwriting.
12 FSF to MP, end Apr./early May 1932, Life in Letters, p. 217.
13 FSF to MP, c. 14 May 1932, ibid., pp. 218–19.
14 MP to ZSF, telegram, 16 May 1932, CO101, Box 53, Folder Zelda Fitzgerald 1921–1944, PUL.
15 MP to ZSF, letter, 16 May 1932, ibid., PUL.
16 ZSF to MP, c. 19 May 1932, ibid., PUL.
17 James R. Mellow certainly holds this view. Invented Lives, p. 401.
18 FSF to Richard Knight, 29 Sep. 1932, quoted in ibid.
19 Henry Dan Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 192.
20 ZSF, Waltz, Collected Writings, p. 40.
22 Ibid., p. 67.
23 It is in four chapters each subdivided into three sections.
24 ZSF, Waltz, p. 23.
25 This is definitely not a sexual affair.
26 ZSF, Waltz, p. 105.
27 Ibid., p. 196.
28 Ibid., p. 130.
29 FSF, Ledger, Apr. 1932.
30 During April — May 1932 he also wrote for the Post ‘Family in the Wind’ and ‘The Rubber Check’.
31 In an unpublished sketch he blatantly discloses his resentment. A professional dancer Nikitma, about to create a major role La Chatte in London, has delayed her performance in order to support her sick sister, a less experienced ballet dancer who has secretly been rehearsing the same role. Nikitma is livid: Nikitma: ‘That’s out … Rehearse anything else and I’ll back you but not that. If your London performance comes before mine, with the name I’ve made I’m done …’ Sister: ‘But I want to express myself.’ Nikitma: ‘Nevertheless that’s out.’ Sister: ‘But I saw the script the same day you did.’ Nikitma: ‘But I chose it and bought it and paid for it.’ Sister: ‘But I would if I could.’ Nikitma: ‘But I did.’ … Sister: ‘I’ve seen you rehearse so many times I think I could do it nearly as well as you.’ Nikitma: ‘When I’ve tried it you can try it. Not till then.’ Sister: ‘But I’m going on rehearsing.’ Nikitma: ‘Not on this stage. Not with these lights and this music.’ … Sister: ‘But I want to express myself.’ Nikitma: ‘All right. Whatever that means. But you can’t exploit your relation to me to do me harm.’ Scott called this revealing trifle ‘Analogy’. Unpublished MS, PUL.
32 Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 257.
33 ZSF to MP, undated, 1932, CO101, Box 53, Folder Zelda Fitzgerald 1921–1944, PUL.
34 Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 193, 194.
35 FSF to Dr Squires, 20 May 1932, quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 257.
36 ZSF to John Peale Bishop, undated, c. summer 1932, John Peale Bishop Papers, CO138, Box 21, Folder 4, PUL.
37 Mrs Bayard Turnbull to Milford, 12 Oct. 1963, Milford, Zelda, p. 259.
38 Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 265.
39 By August 1932 Scott was able to note in his Ledger: ‘The novel now plotted & planned never more to be permanently interrupted.’
40 All MS drafts of this contentious novel have disappeared. Kendall Taylor suggests that the novel on which Zelda was working in 1932 was Caesar’s Things but this author has found no supporting evidence for this early date.
41 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 195. Carolyn Shafer says the crucifixion painting has never been found.
42 Ibid., pp. 195–6.
43 Ibid., p. 196.
44 Ibid., p. 197.
45 Mayfield, Constant Circle, p. 179.
46 Though Mencken and Sara were highly sympathetic to Scott’s unannounced drunken visits to discuss Zelda’s plight their patience gradually wore thin until one evening in fall 1933 Scott disgraced himself at the home of Mencken’s friend Joseph Hergesheimer. Drunk as usual he dropped his trousers publicly at the dinner table, after which Mencken told Sara to stop seeing him.
47 He utilized his stay to write a doctor-nurse love story called ‘One Interne’.
48 ‘Of the Jazz Age’, New York Times, reproduced in Romantic Egoists, ed. Bruccoli et al., p. 190.
49 Dorothea Brande, The Bookman, ibid., p. 189.
50 William McFee, ‘During the Jazz Age’, New York Sun, 8 Oct. 1932.
51 New York Herald Tribune review, reproduced in Romantic Egoists, ed. Bruccoli et al., p 189.
52 Review in a Baltimore paper, reproduced in ibid., p. 190.
53 MP to ZSF, 2 Aug. 1933, CO101, Box 53, Folder Zelda Fitzgerald 1921–1944, PUL.
54 Malcolm Cowley to FSF, 22 May 1933, CO187, Box 39, PUL.
Fall came. The leaves drifted, so did Zelda, anxiously waiting as several New York producers rejected Scandalabra.1 She hid in her roof-top eyrie, writing, dancing and painting. Down below, Scott, nerves frayed, endlessly redrafted Tender Is The Night.2 Isabel Owens recalled him in 1932 slouching in his smoke-filled study wrapped in an ancient towelling robe, clutching his gin bottle like a security blanket. Zelda and Scott, who both craved privacy and peace, could not leave each other alone. They trawled from room to room, rowing, repenting, screaming, making up. Mrs Owens remembers: ‘She took a lot from him … and I never remember her criticizing him. Of course she had no say.’ Zelda didn’t want him in her workplace but never refused her help. Scott, who protected her from drink and visitors, never understood that she also needed protection from him. ‘He would go up to her room and ask advice about things they had done together, conversations they had.’ Scott, Mrs Owens said, ‘couldn’t write about anything he didn’t know … Zelda’s memory was good.’3 In an interview in the Saturday Evening Post Scott admitted that, though highly professional, he now experienced feelings of ‘utter helplessness’. Where were his fresh themes or new plots? ‘We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives. Then we learn our trade … and we tell our two or three stories — each time in a new guise … as long as people will listen.’4 That year he feared people had stopped listening.
The New Year of 1933 rang in with sadness and continued miserably through to September. January brought ‘Quarrels’ with Scottie,5 February saw a severe quarrel with Ernest, but neither proved as depressing to Scott as Ring Lardner’s death in September which he told Max was ‘a terrible blow’.6 Earlier in the year, looking for cheer, Scott met Lois Moran in New York. It was but a temporary palliative. He turned to luminal and drink which necessitated further treatment at Johns Hopkins. Dr Meyer told Forel that Scott’s alcoholic deterioration was ruining Zelda’s slight improvement.
Weekly for six months the Fitzgeralds had visited Phipps for discussions with Doctors Rennie and Meyer. Scott, who found Meyer’s attitude disagreeable, decided these conferences were futile. Initially, Scott said, the Phipps discussions had worked because Zelda was ‘still close to the threat of force and more acutely under the spell of your [Meyer’s] personality’. Once again Scott needed the authority to control her. He wanted the ‘power of an ordinary nurse … over a child; to be able to say “If you don’t do this I shall punish you.”’ Meyer should authorize him to tell Zelda ‘when she is persistently refactory to pack her bag’ and return to hospital. Scott accepted that possibly Zelda ‘would have been a genius if we had never met’, but felt ‘In actuality she is now hurting me and through me hurting all of us’. Her Iowa schoolgirl ambitions to write made her think ‘her work’s success will give her some sort of divine irresponsibility backed by unlimited gold’. The gold was provided by him, while she worked ‘under a greenhouse which is my money and my name and my love … she … feels she can reach up and knock a piece of glass out of the roof at any moment, yet she is shrewd to cringe when I open the door of the greenhouse and tell her to behave or go’. Scott knew ‘the picture of Zelda painting things that show a distinct talent, or Zelda trying faithfully to learn how to write is much more sympathetic and, superficially, more solid than the vision of me making myself iller with drink as I finish up the work of four years’. Eventually, he fantasized, he might ‘be carried off … by four strong guards shrieking manicly that after all I was right and she was wrong, while Zelda is followed home by an adoring crowd in an automobile banked with flowers, and offered a vaudeville contract’. But was Zelda more worth saving than he was? As the wage-earner he must be worth more. Zelda had merely the ‘frail equipment of a sick mind and a beserk determination’, whereas he ‘was integrated — integrated in spite of everything, in spite of the fact that I might have two counts against me to her one’.
Scott believed a point had been reached where he would have to ‘resort to legal means to save myself, my child and the three of us in toto’. If Meyer didn’t agree that Zelda should be told she had exhausted everyone’s patience, that Meyer would not always be there as a prop for Zelda to lean on, then the Fitzgeralds would go ‘out in the storm, each one for himself, and I’m afraid Scotty and I will weather it better than she’.7
Meyer, too, felt their conversations were futile. He pointed out that Zelda was not merely a patient as far as he was concerned and that Scott too was a potential patient, albeit an unwilling one. This opener did not go down well with Scott. Nor did Meyer’s line: ‘The question of authority is simple. We have decided to relieve you of having to be the boss … But you have the right to say when things are to be referred to us … That saves you from having to be boss and psychiatrist.’ Meyer reassured Scott he was not trying to emasculate him; nevertheless his ‘instability with the alcohol’ prevented them from handing Zelda over to Scott. For progress there must be ‘a conjoint surrender of the alcohol’.8
Incensed that drinking had contributed to his poor image with Zelda’s doctors, Scott in an undated pencil draft raged at Meyer’s suggestion of ‘a dual case’. Until recently he had the strong drink matter in hand; he still needed no help; if Meyer checked with their friends and business associates he would find that though a good percentage liked Zelda better than they liked him, ‘on the question of integrity, responsibility, conscience, sense of duty, judgement, will-power … 95 % of that group of ghosts would be as decided [in Scott’s favour] as Solomon pronouncing upon the two mothers’. Scott acknowledged his note was his ‘old plea to let me sit apon the bench with you instead of being kept down with the potential accomplices on the charge of criminal associations’.9
The Fitzgeralds and their doctors were at an impasse.
Finally, on 28 May 1933, Zelda and Scott decided to hold a discussion at La Paix with a stenographer and Dr Rennie as a moderator to try to reach the root of their troubles. The transcript runs to 114 pages.10 They began to talk at 2.30 on Sunday. Darkness fell before they had finished wounding each other.
Scott aimed the first shot. At seventeen Zelda was merely boy-crazy whereas at seventeen Scott wrote the Princeton Triangle shows. The whole equipment of his life was to be a novelist. He struggled. He sacrificed. He achieved. From age ten his life was a professional line towards writing. This made him artistically different from Zelda. ‘Her theory is that anything is possible, and that a girl has just got to get along, and so she has the right, therefore to destroy me completely in order to satisfy herself.’
Zelda, appalled, interrupted: ‘Dr Rennie, that is completely unfair and it is not my theory. And I have never done anything against you, I have absolutely nothing to reproach myself with. And as far as destroying you is concerned I have considered you first in everything I have tried to do in my life.’
Ignoring her, Scott dismissed her writing as a few ‘nice little sketches’ but as for being a novelist, ‘Did she have anything to say? No, she has not anything to say. She has certain experiences to report, but she has nothing essentially to say.’
Defensive about his own eight-year publishing delay — swiftly reduced to ‘seven years — six years’ — he blamed Zelda. ‘Three of those years were directly because of a sickness of hers, and two years before that … for which she was partly responsible, in that she wanted to be a ballet dancer; and I backed her in that.’
Zelda quietly interjected: ‘You mean you were drinking constantly … It is just one of the reasons why I wanted to be a ballet dancer, because I had nothing else.’
Any mention of drink infuriated Scott. ‘She wanted to be a ballet dancer because when we went out to Hollywood … I got interested in a girl … [who] seemed to me to be more honest and direct than Zelda, who … was trying to be just an average flirt, standing in my way every way she could … I never drank till I was 16 years old. The first time I met her I saw she was a drunkard.’
Scott accused Zelda of egotism, self-love, and feeling responsible only to herself: ‘the mentality of a very cheap prostitute’.
The transcript does not read like a ‘discussion’ between two people trying to work out their problems but as a trial, with Zelda as defendant. Scott allotted himself the role of prosecuting lawyer, using terms like ‘admission’ or ‘I have the documents’. Zelda in defence was forced to say: ‘Dr Rennie, I will have to interrupt that’, then wait for Rennie’s agreement.
Zelda explained Scott had restricted her mothering role. ‘He made it impossible for me to communicate with the child … [he refused] to take any of my judgments or opinions of people who were in charge of her … there was nothing in my life except my work.’ Later, when Scott said, ‘you know that Scotty relies on me utterly and completely,’ Zelda responded: ‘She has got nobody else to rely on. You alienated her affections from me years ago … [by] refusing to allow me authority on the job.’
Zelda, appalled at Scott’s accusation that she had called out nearly a hundred doctors to administer morphine injections, pointed out he was lying. Scott said: ‘I am trying to tell the truth. What you say does not happen to come in my story.’ Zelda’s perceptive response, ‘Oh, I see, you say the truth is your story,’ was lost on her husband.
The focus of their quarrel became Zelda’s novel. Scott considered it ‘plagiaristic, unwise in every way … should not have been written, because I have a certain public weight’. When Zelda asked: ‘Didn’t you want me to be a writer?’, first he said flatly ‘No’, then aggressively: ‘I do not care whether you were a writer or not, if you were any good … [but] You are a third-rate writer and a third-rate ballet dancer.’
Quietly Zelda said: ‘You have told me that before.’ Though Scott admitted ‘You may be a good painter’, he invoked Hemingway to attack her fiction: ‘But as far as writing is concerned, if I told you the opinion that Ernest Hemingway had …’ Zelda did not care a damn what Hemingway thought. By now Scott was beyond curbing his arrogant vitriol. ‘If you want to write modest things, you may be able to turn out one collection of short stories … [but] you as compared to me is just like comparing — well, there is just not any comparison. I am a professional writer, with a huge following. I am the highest paid short story writer in the world.’
Zelda, feelings concealed, said: ‘It seems to me that you are making a rather violent attack on a third-rate talent then … Why in the hell you are so jealous, I don’t know. If I thought that about anybody, I would not care what they wrote.’
Scott’s violence stemmed from his belief that because he supported Zelda, her entire life belonged to him for literary purposes.
‘If you ruin me, what becomes of you?’ he shouted. ‘You could not sell a story … You could not make 50 dollars on your writing … You are just a useless society woman.’
‘That’, said Zelda, ‘is what you want me to be.’ But what Scott wanted was more than that. He was after complete capitulation. ‘I want you to do what I say. That is exactly what I want you to do, and you know it.’ Zelda did know it. ‘I have done that often enough, it seems to me,’ she said.
Scott fumed over the forty-thousand-word manuscript on Nijinsky and insanity she had been ‘sneakingly writing’ for months.11 ‘You have tried to take every sneaking advantage of me, always, working behind my back.’ To Zelda it was almost laughable. ‘Oh, Scott I cannot accept that. That is silly.’ Scott stubbornly said he didn’t care whether or not she accepted it. ‘You damned well do care, it seems to me.’
Scott had indeed cared sufficiently to ‘sneakingly’ read parts of her new novel which he handed to Dr Rennie. ‘I have not opened it or read it, except just enough to check what you are writing about … I don’t want you … to write a novel about insanity, because you know there is certain psychiatric stuff in my books, and if you publish a book before me, or even at the same time, in which the subject of psychiatry is taken up, and people see “Fitzgerald”, why, that is Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, they read that, and that spoils the whole central point of being a novelist, which is being yourself. You pick up the crumbs I drop at the dinner table and stick them in books.’
Zelda, icily calm, retorted: ‘you have picked up crumbs I have dropped for ten years, too.’ But Scott was reluctant to acknowledge that Zelda had been his muse or his own writing difficulties related to her decline in that role. He needed to possess everything they had shared. Maybe experiences Zelda had used creatively would have her magic touch or give him back his.
Scott’s ill-health, alcoholism and waning confidence heightened his desperation. He boasted to Rennie that Zelda did not understand concepts of human justice or morality that professional writers use. ‘Hers is just automatic writing.’ To Zelda he said: ‘You have one power. You can ruin us. To make us or help us, you have not got that power. I am the only person in the world that can make us. And I can share with you the honor and the glory that I make, and the money.’
That, said Zelda courteously, is not what I want. She wanted to live by her writing, not least because Scott had reproached her all year for draining his resources. ‘When you have that thrown in your face constantly, day after day, naturally there is some impetus to try to do something about it.’ She determined to write about her asylum experiences because they had consumed her. It was what she knew about. Scott, boiling like a cauldron, shouted: ‘She does not know anything about it. I have a dozen books on psychiatry.’ Zelda appealed to the moderator. ‘Dr Rennie, it is what I want to write. It is a very emotional novel, and that is the whole purpose of the thing, and the reason for it … I had to lay it there because I never had the material for laying it any place else.’
Scott could not contain himself. ‘So you are taking my material, is that right?’
‘Is that your material?’ Zelda asked. The asylums? The madness? The terrors? Were they yours? Funny, she hadn’t noticed.
‘Everything we have done is mine. If we make a trip … and you and I go around — I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. That is all my material. None of it is your material.’
Rennie did not make a good job of impartiality. There could be no more secrecy on Zelda’s part. No more attempts at independence. No more dabbling with psychiatric material. ‘If in the future you attempt to bring out a novel, it ought to go through his [Scott’s] hands.’ How, he asked her, did she rate herself in comparison with Scott? ‘I do not rate myself as anything compared to him, Dr Rennie, but I certainly want to write.’ Rennie replied: ‘If you believe that, you have got to grant him the first opportunity.’ ‘I have never argued about it,’ said Zelda. ‘That is what I cannot understand, why he is making such a stew about it. If I can write the story at all I want to write it as a story of defeat … [but] I cannot get the thing in print if he does not want it published.’
Scott could not stand her repeated use of the first person. ‘Can’t you stop your “I”s? Who are you? You are a person of six or seven different parts. Now, why don’t you integrate yourself? … you [have] let yourself become such a mess.’
Zelda burst out: ‘Listen, Scott, I am so God damned sick of your abuse that honestly I don’t know what I will do … It is terrible. One reason why I have to do things behind your back is because you are so absolutely unjust and abusive and unfair, that to go to you and ask you anything would be like pulling a thunderbolt down on my head.’
As the terms of this marital contest became increasingly embittered, the state of Zelda’s mental health became increasingly endangered. Scott suffered blows to his ego while Zelda’s fragile identity was further stripped.
‘What is your life now?’ Scott asked her. ‘Are you a dead person?’ Without a pause she said: ‘I suppose I am. I would rather be dead.’ She reminded him that the previous fall he had said she’d ruined his life. ‘You were drunk … you did not love me and you were sick of me and wished you could get away … that is the kind of life I am expected to live with you, and make whatever adjustment I can … It is impossible to live with you. I would rather be in an insane asylum, where you would like to put me.’ She told Rennie that Scott’s drinking was the root of their troubles. To Scott she said: ‘You are a rotten neurasthenic about two-thirds of the time … I may be crazy, but … I certainly am sane to more people than you.’ Scott refuted the accusation by saying their child didn’t think Zelda was sane. Zelda was bitter. ‘You said to that child, twelve years old, “Your mother is crazy, and you are bad, and I wish I was dead, and I may kill myself.”’ Zelda insisted she had been close to Scottie in Paris, but after Scott had described her as crazy she could not make the child do anything she wanted.
Scott was keener to battle out their literary problems than to argue about parenthood. ‘I am asking her to give up the idea of writing on nervous energy … she should not write more than two hours a day … she should not take any long work … She should not attempt anything bigger than her strength. Who is the judge of what is bigger than her strength but me, who has to live here and see it.’ Rennie suggested Zelda put aside her novel. ‘Dr. Rennie, I am perfectly willing to put aside the novel, but I will not have any agreements or arrangements because I will not submit to Scott’s neurasthenic condition, and be subjected to these tortures … I cannot live in this kind of world. And I would rather live in an insane asylum. That is my ultimatum.’ Zelda claimed the right to go to an asylum because she would rather live anywhere on earth than the way she was living now. Then surprisingly, Scott revealed: ‘I was told by the doctors they did not want you to go into an asylum because you were not insane … Sometimes I am inclined to think you do these things because you are psychotic, and other times … because you are just wicked. But I know that the woman that hates her child and does things behind her husband’s back is either crazy or a criminal … Either you are sick … or you are responsible.’
Zelda said she was responsible. If that was so, Scott said, if she was interested in the future then there were two choices: ‘here are the alternatives, either you be committed to a sanitarium, which is a scandal, a trouble and an expense, or you do differently.’
The threat of committal was real yet, only ten pages earlier in the transcript, Scott had admitted the doctors did not believe she was insane. Her first sane task, said Scott, was to be kinder to him. ‘I have tried to be kind to you.’ she said, ‘and you have mistreated me continuously. There has not been one day since I have been in this house that you have not done something unpleasant to me.’ ‘I have supported you,’ he repeated like a robot. ‘Yes, you have supported me, and you have been reproaching me for that,’ Zelda retorted in the same mechanical manner. ‘Don’t you think,’ Scott asked, ‘that a woman’s place is with the man who supports her, that her duty is to the man who supports her? … I would like you to think of my interests. That is your primary concern, because I am the one to steer the course, and the pilot … I am just the captain of this ship, and as long as you watch with the captain the ship goes, and as soon as you stab the captain in the back the ship goes down, and you go down with it.’
It was an issue they would never resolve. She too needed him to be different. He should either finance her with good grace or cease to do so. Neither were options Scott could countenance. He tried another tack. Until recently, he suggested, ‘Our sexual relations were very pleasant’. Ironically Zelda retorted, ‘I am glad you considered them satisfactory.’
‘You did not?’
The possibility that he might have been a poor lover provoked another outburst.
‘When did you cease to enjoy them? You did not act as if you did not. Oh, you are lying … It is just like talking to a circus clown … What the hell, you can’t live without some kind of sexual life. At least I can not, and you can not.’
‘Well, I can very well.’
She asked him if it meant anything to him that her life had been so miserable that she would rather be in an asylum. ‘It does not mean a blessed thing,’ he said curtly.
Shocked, she said: ‘What would you like me to do?’
‘I want you to stop writing fiction … Whether you write or not does not seem to be of any great importance.’
‘I know, nothing I do seems to be of any great importance.’
‘Why don’t you drop it then?’
‘Because I don’t want to live with you. Because I want to live some place that I can be my own self.’
‘Would you go to law about it?’ Scott asked.
‘Yes, I would … I am quite sure that I can not live with a person to whom neither my well-being or anything else makes the slightest bit of difference, and who has told me repeatedly that you don’t care anything about me, in spite of any efforts I have made to reestablish whatever little affection there was between us before.’ After a few minutes she said: ‘I think honestly the only thing is to get a divorce, because there is nothing except ill-will on your part and suspicion.’
Zelda pointed out sadly that though she preferred an institutional life to one with him, they both knew she wouldn’t be able to write in an asylum.
Dr Rennie intervened to suggest Scott only became aggressive when drunk. When Zelda wearily reminded him Scott was always drunk, Rennie said: ‘You have to discount that when he is drunk.’ Scott admitted that he was awfully sick of drinking, but ‘if I ever stopped drinking, her family and herself would always think there was an acknowledgment that I was responsible for her insanity, which is not so … I would rather die fighting until that selfish egotism comes out of her … Zelda is a selfish egotist.’
Zelda suggested they put all their disagreements aside until he had finished his novel, after which they could institute a formal arrangement. Dr Rennie was pleased but surprised: ‘That means a complete abnegation of yourself, until this paramount thing is over. … You are willing to do that?’ She said she was. Rennie suggested she confine herself to a play until Tender was finished. But this still wasn’t enough for Scott. ‘It has got to be unconditional surrender on her part … Otherwise, I would rather go to law, because I don’t trust her … it is necessary for her to give up the idea of writing anything … she must only write when under competent medical assistance I say that she can write … it is the only way I can ever organize my life again.’
Rennie asked Zelda which was paramount in her life: to create or to be married? There was a lapse of over a minute during which no one spoke. Then Zelda said: ‘I want to write, and I am going to write; I am going to be a writer, but I am not going to do it at Scott’s expense if I can possibly avoid it, so I agree not to do anything that he does not want, a complete negation of myself, until that book is out of the way, because the thing is driving me crazy … if he can not adjust it, and let me do what I want to do, and live with me after that, I would rather do what I want to do. I am really sorry.’
Both Scott and Rennie constantly belittled Zelda’s ambitions, using the word negatively when applied to her writing, positively when applied to Scott’s. His literary ambitions were reasonable or good, Zelda’s insane or aggressive. Rennie told Zelda that if she could not write masterpieces then her ambitions would continue to depress her. ‘I will always be unhappy, then,’ she said, adding, ‘I was a good deal more unhappy when I did not want to write.’
She tried to explain her motives. ‘I have always felt some necessity for us to be on a more equal footing … because I cannot possibly … live in a world that is completely dependent on Scott … I don’t want to be dependent just in every way … I just don’t want to be dependent on him.’ When Rennie inquired if she meant financial dependence Zelda, thoroughly exasperated, acknowledged that it was the great humiliation of her life that she couldn’t support herself but reiterated that she needed independence in every way. ‘I want to be able to say, when he says something that is not so, then I want to do something so good, that I can say, “That is a God damned lie” and have something to back it up.’
Scott interrupted: ‘Now, we have found rock bottom.’ Rennie agreed. Zelda pressed on, telling them it was better to shut herself up in an institution than take Scott’s judgement on everything. She was determined to be a functioning unit with her own stamina and ability. ‘I don’t want to be a complementary intelligence.’ Scott, who had suggested that might suit her, said the discussion had been reduced to its fundamentals. ‘It is the simple issue of the wholly Amazonian and the Lesbian personality, when she expresses it that way.’
Miserably they returned to the subject of their marriage, holding painfully different versions. Zelda saw it as hollow. ‘It has been nothing but a long battle ever since I can remember.’ Scott refuted it. ‘We were about the most envied couple in about 1921, in America.’ Zelda with bitter accuracy said: ‘We were awfully good showmen.’ The years had brought her one certainty: ‘I can not live under the conditions we are living under.’
Scott, however, had not finished with her. He had more conditions to impose. ‘If you write a play, it can not be a play about psychiatry, and it can not be a play laid on the Riviera, and it can not be a play laid in Switzerland; and whatever the idea is, it will have to be submitted to me.’
What they were left with was nothing less than a battle for survival. If Scott came out as victor, Zelda could sink back into a delusionary state. If Zelda won back her sanity through fiction that used their joint raw material Scott, suffering delusions himself, feared his creative source would be cut off. ‘I am just fighting for my life,’ he confessed. ‘I want my own way. I earned the right to my own way.’ Zelda, too, demanded the right to her own way. ‘[Y]ou cannot have it without breaking me,’ Scott told her ‘… I have to sacrifice myself for you and you have got to sacrifice yourself for me, and no more writing of fiction.’
‘Sacrifice’ was one of three key words Scott used repetitively. He had sacrificed himself financially, she should sacrifice her spirit and talent. ‘Egotistic’ was the second word which Scott applied detrimentally to Zelda, but productively to himself. The third word, ‘logic’, held the most significance. In his view Zelda was incapable of logic, she could not follow an argument. Those differences in their speech and thought patterns echoed differences in their writing. Scott’s syntax and language was linear, logical, formal and shaped. Zelda’s was enigmatic, associative, fragmentary and modernist. Because Scott prioritized the linear as aesthetically superior it is no surprise that he failed to see the merits in Zelda’s writing.
After the line about ‘sacrifice’, Zelda seemed too strained to fight any longer. ‘Scott, you can go on and have your way about this thing and do anything until you finish the book. And when you finish the book I think we better get a divorce, and any decision you choose to make with regard to me is all right, because I can not live on those terms, and I can not accept them.’
Despite Rennie’s view that nothing more could be achieved, Zelda made two further points. After the publication of Tender, she would no longer countenance Scott reserving the right to dictate the entire terms and attitude towards life for them both. She would make her own ‘honest attack’ on life.
‘I cannot give up the way I think,’ she said. ‘That is the one thing he wants me to give up.’
Her second point refocused their central issue. ‘I have a feeling for prose, and I have something to say … I am perfectly sure I can write, and he knows that, too, or he would not be raising so much hell about it.’
Scott, apoplectic, had the last line: ‘Well, that is all, you need not write any more.’
Several features stand out in this transcript. Scott set the frame of the discussion which made it hard for Zelda to bring up new material. Scott used a patronizing tone throughout, as if Zelda were his child: for instance, he often called Zelda’s novel ‘the thing’ or ‘that thing’. (Rennie and even Zelda followed his use of the word.) As ‘things’ are worthless, Scott’s novel was never called a thing. Scott’s own vehement display of insecurity, both extraordinary and unnecessary, illustrated how threatening Zelda’s writing was to him.
Though Scott’s identity was intricately tied into ‘being himself’, he was opposed to any suggestion that Zelda might create her own identity. That placed him in a strange position from which he railed against Zelda for being ‘irresponsible’ yet refused to allow her to undertake certain responsibilities.
Zelda’s biggest challenge was that she had bought into the notion of Scott as professional genius and herself as gifted amateur.12 Against that context she had to set her own needs. According to Scott’s theory any unacceptable behaviour on his part could be excused in the cause of his art, which allowed him to operate a double standard.
Though Zelda resisted Scott’s assumption that his earnings gave him rights of control over her health and her writing, at no point did Rennie support her, or even remain neutral. Rennie’s acquiescence to Scott’s view that all the psychiatric material belonged to him was not merely outrageous in literary terms but could have been dangerous to Zelda, his patient. Though Rennie and Meyer agreed that Scott’s alcoholism endangered Zelda’s health, when she called into question not only his obsessional drinking but his sanity, again she received no medical backing.
Throughout the conference, both Scott and Rennie saw Zelda as competing artistically with Scott. Zelda believed she was doing something for herself. To some extent their disagreement lay in prevailing cultural notions that married women doing something artistic for themselves might be seen as infringing on male-owned territory.
What were the consequences of this three-way conference?
For the first time Scott seriously considered divorce. He consulted a Baltimore lawyer, his former Princeton friend Edgar Allan Poe Jnr.13 Poe assured him that if he resided in Nevada state for six weeks he could speedily gain a divorce. Scott decided against it and continued to live on the battlefield that had become their marital terrain.14
Zelda instigated something more dramatic. A few days after the conference, she systematically burnt her old clothes in an upstairs fireplace at La Paix.15 While she returned to her typewriter to revise Scandalabra (finally to be produced locally the following week), the fire spread swiftly through the house. Several top-floor rooms were ruined. Many of Scott’s valuable books and manuscripts were damaged, many of Zelda’s paintings were destroyed. The local newspaper, unaware of the conflict preceding the fire, ran a romantic story. ‘Mr Fitzgerald dashed to save his wife’s manuscripts and paintings, while her first thought was for his manuscript. After leading their eleven year old daughter, Frances, to safety, the couple carried out several valuable pieces of furniture.’ Scott discreetly told reporters faulty wiring had short-circuited the system and caused the ‘accident’. News photographs show the Fitzgeralds on the lawn surrounded by books and furniture saved from the blaze, looking brave.16
It was a good story. A clever photo. As Zelda had pointed out, they were good showmen. But La Paix had lost its charm. Scott told Andrew Turnbull they were moving into Baltimore as ‘Zelda needed to be near her art school’.17 The truth was, neither of them wished to stay longer in a house with burnt and gloomy edges. By November their residence would be a townhouse at 1307 Park Avenue.
Zelda’s hopes were pinned to the Baltimore production of Scandalabra from 26 June to 1 July by the Vagabond Junior Players, and on the acting of Zack Maccubbin playing the hero Andrew Messogony, whose name was Zelda’s play on the words misogyny and misogamy.18 The farce was a comic inversion of The Beautiful and Damned. In Scott’s novel, Grandfather Patch refuses to will his wealth to his nephew Anthony and his wife Gloria because they are dissipated and extravagant. In Zelda’s play, her hero will inherit his uncle’s millions so long as he lives a life of wicked debauchery. The idea was zany, some lines were witty, but the sets, some designed by Zelda, were considerably more exciting than the play, whose exhausting length and hectic style reflected the current turbulence of their marriage and of Zelda’s mind.19
Zelda’s determination not to let Scott view her work meant he did not see it until the dress rehearsal, which ran from 8.15 p.m. till 1.00 a.m. Obviously the play could not open in that state at that length. Scott assembled the cast, worked them through the night, drastically revised and cut the script — to no avail. It lacked action, said some reviewers. Highly confusing, muttered others. ‘Much credit’ went to the director, Mrs Nicholas Penniman. No credit went to the playwright.20
On 31 July Minnie Sayre wrote to Zelda that her beloved brother Anthony, who had recently lost his job and was already in debt, was desperately ill with depression. Edith, Anthony’s young wife, always deemed ‘unsuitable’ by the Sayres, took him to the coast near Charleston, but neither this nor the nerve specialist in Asheville who advised rest and no visitors helped.21 Minnie told Zelda instability was the curse of their family’s bloodline. She felt the family should visit, so she and their cousin Dr Chilton Thorington, who knew Anthony’s ‘constitution better than strange doctors’, were going to North Carolina.22 Anthony begged Thorington to let him go to Johns Hopkins, where Zelda was still an outpatient. But in August he was hospitalized in Mobile where a nerve specialist, Dr Eugene Bondurant, Judge Sayre’s friend, treated him for toxic poisoning caused by bile and malaria, but did not treat his depression.23 Edith, sick with strain herself, suddenly gave up on Anthony, and went to Rome to stay with her mother.24 Thorington wrote to Scott that Anthony’s condition had been diagnosed as ‘neuro-psychosis — possibly familial’. Anthony’s symptoms were of the ‘melancholic type, with obsessions of suicidal and homicidal inclinations, however, I do not believe he would actually do acts of violence’.25 The doctor was wrong. Anthony, suffering from recurrent nightmares of killing his mother, decided to kill himself. In an indisputable act of violence he leapt out of a hospital window to his death. The Sayres concealed most of the horrific facts about his suicide from the Fitzgeralds.26
Zelda, dazed with miserable disbelief, threw herself into her painting. In October she exhibited a strange and powerful still life at the Independent Artists Exhibition at Baltimore’s Museum of Art.27 The oil, Tiger Lilies, is now missing, but a black and white photograph still exists. The way in which the brushstrokes are ruled by a massive emotional energy rather than by detached construction resembles Van Gogh’s Four Cut Sunflowers. Zelda deliberately chose a peaceful plant then painted it like a creature ready to devour anyone foolish enough to pick it. Newspaper photographers took photos of Zelda at her easel.
Malcolm Cowley visited Zelda’s studio. He remembered those paintings years later: ‘They had freshness, imagination, rhythm, and a rather grotesque vigor, but they were flawed … by the lack of proportion and craftsmanship.’ Cowley was shocked at Zelda’s appearance. Deep lines above her mouth fell into unhappy shapes. Her face was emaciated and twitched as she spoke, reflecting her recent suffering.28
Within a few months she had experienced three intense blows: emotional destruction during the conference, the failure of Scandalabra, and now her beloved brother’s death. She held on courageously, but would be unable to sustain further strain. At her side Scott was preparing Tender Is The Night for its January serialization in Scribner’s Magazine. He had sold Scribner’s the serial rights for $10,000 (for four instalments, January to April 1934). Zelda knew the heroine was largely based on herself. She knew the source for Nicole Diver’s behaviour was what Scott saw as her own insanity. But she had no idea of the further shock concealed in Scott’s fiction.
1 Ober submitted it October 1932.
2 Isabel Owens typed three final versions this year.
3 Isabel Owens to Milford, 12 Oct. 1963, Milford, Zelda, pp. 268, 267.
4 FSF, ‘One Hundred False Starts’, Saturday Evening Post, 4 Mar. 1933.
5 FSF, Ledger, Jan. 1933.
6 FSF to MP, 29 Sep. 1933, Life in Letters, p. 239.
7 FSF to Meyer, 10 Apr. 1933, CO187, Box 51, Folder 10A, PUL. Scott believed that whereas Forel held an admirable ‘teutonic idea of marriage’, Meyer’s more liberal stance encouraged Zelda to negate all her marital duties.
8 Meyer to FSF, 18 Apr. 1933, CO187, Box 51, Folder 10A, PUL.
9 FSF to Meyer, undated pencil draft, probably Apr. 1933, ibid.
10 In his Ledger Scott lists ‘The typescript of Zelda conversation’ in June.
11 Every one of those 40,000 words has been ‘lost’.
12 This notion has subsequently been echoed by most Fitzgerald critics.
13 Poe had helped Scott find La Paix.
14 Though Scott did not pursue Poe’s plan for divorce, in his Notebook he outlined a divorce strategy should Zelda continue to write fiction. ‘Attack on all grounds: Play (suppress), novel (delay), pictures (suppress), character (showers), child (detach), schedule (disorient to cause trouble), no typing. Probable result — new breakdown.’ Quoted in Donaldson, Fool for Love, p. 86.
15 I am indebted to writer Rebecca Stott for discussions on this point. Again there is a strong similarity between Zelda’s actions and those of Sylvia Plath, who also sloughed off a former self in order for a new self to rise from the ashes.
16 Report and photograph, Baltimore News, reproduced in Romantic Egoists, ed. Bruccoli et al., p. 192.
17 Shafer, ‘To Spread a Human Aspiration’, p. 47; Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 242. Andre le Vot also mentions that Zelda was improving her painting technique at ‘the Fine Art School’ in Baltimore (Le Vot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 275).
18 Zelda had met Maccubbin in spring 1933, walking near the grounds of La Paix, and had persuaded him to suggest the play to his company. Maccubbin was ‘consistently the best performer’.
19 The uncut version runs to 91 pages while the shorter version is still 61 pages. The undated 61-page version is at PUL (CO183, Box 3, Folder 33); the 91-page typescript was deposited for copyright on 31 Oct. 1932. Both have a prologue and three-act structure.
20 Scrapbook of reviews of Scandalabra, CO183, Box 2, Folder 6, PUL.
21 Anthony was first taken to Edith’s brother-in-law’s coastal house, then to a sanatorium on Black Mountain.
22 Minnie Sayre to ZSF, 31 July 1933, CO183, Box 5, Folder 21, PUL.
23 Minnie Sayre to ZSF, 1 Aug. and 6 Aug. 1933, ibid. She could not afford to move Anthony to Baltimore.
24 As Edith gave up her apartment in Memphis, Tennessee, before leaving it seemed unlikely she would return. After Anthony’s death she disappeared and was never mentioned again by the family.
25 Dr Chilton Thorington to FSF, 11 Aug. 1933, CO745, Box 1, Folder 1, PUL.
26 The Sayres told people Anthony had died from malaria contracted when surveying a swamp at Mobile as a civil engineer. They said in his delirium he rushed out of bed thinking he was playing football and accidentally fell through an open window.
27 The Society of Baltimore Independent Artists fourth annual no-jury exhibition, Baltimore Museum of Art.
28 Malcolm Cowley, ‘A Ghost Story of the Jazz Age’, Saturday Review XLVII, 25 Jan. 1964. pp. 20–21.
Scott was staking everything on Tender Is The Night. That he might be staking Zelda’s well-being was probably not part of his calculations. His 1933 income of $12,000 was his lowest since the start of his career. Existing on borrowed money, he needed a commercial success.1
By November 1933, having corrected the January/February serialization proofs, he took Zelda to Bermuda where it rained continuously. Scott caught pleurisy but Zelda, fresh from Baltimore’s Fine Art School, sat on the rain-soaked beach sketching shipyard workers, ballerinas, and women by a banyan tree, using new figurative techniques.
Though she and Scott exhumed their old affection, a sepulchral sadness persisted. ‘For years we had wanted to go to Bermuda,’ Zelda wrote wistfully in an Esquire article. ‘We went. The Elbow Beach hotel was full of honeymooners, who scintillated so persistently in each other’s eyes that we cynically moved.’ Perhaps she had a premonition, for she wrote: ‘Maybe this would be the last trip for a long while.’2
On their return to Baltimore the galleys of Tender arrived, followed by the first two serialized instalments. Zelda read them, deeply shocked. She collapsed. On 12 February 1934 she re-entered Phipps Clinic for the start of her third breakdown. It would last until 1940.
As a measure of self-protection Scott informed John Palmer, Clothilde’s husband, ‘merely as a matter of record and not with any idea of alarming any member of Zelda’s family’. Zelda had suffered a ‘slight relapse’, he assured them. Scott asked John not to tell Minnie, Marjorie or even Clothilde as it would take five years off Minnie’s life, for she would immediately link Zelda’s collapse to Anthony’s troubles.3
Scott’s optimism was misplaced. Far from ‘slight’, Zelda’s relapse was serious. Initially under constant observation for fear of suicide, she lost a further 15 lb, looked malnourished, was given daily sedatives and restricted to total bedrest, and silently eluded medical ministrations.
Mayfield believed that reading the first half of Scott’s novel ripped open the wound inflicted by the synopsis Zelda had scanned in Florida. Certainly it was the first time Zelda had seen her husband’s merciless use of her most despairing hospital letters. Now everyone could read her profoundly private thoughts. Scott did not merely paraphrase Zelda’s anguished epistles, he efficiently pasted her phrases together with his stylish prose glue.
Zelda, attempting grim humour, had written to Scott: ‘The farcicle element of this situation is too apparent for even a person as hopeless and debilitated as I am.’ Scott rewrote it for Tender: ‘it seems to me if this farcicle situation is apparent to one as sick as me it should be apparent to you.’4 After months with no progress and little hope, Zelda had written to Scott: ‘I will more than gladly welcome any alienist you may suggest.’ Scott hardly changed this: ‘I would gladly welcome any alienist you might suggest.’5 Zelda admitted to Scott she was ‘completely humiliated and broken’, Nicole, scripted by Scott, was also ‘completely broken and humiliated’.6
Zelda’s first encounter with Scott’s explosive Dr Diver material disturbed her even more. Initially Nicole Diver has Sara Murphy’s lyrical glow, but as the novel progresses and Scott draws on Zelda, we learn that as a child Nicole was raped by her father.
Scott’s sketch for Nicole, the rich mental patient, stated that the rape occurred at fifteen
under peculiar circumstances … She collapses, goes to the clinic and there at sixteen meets the young doctor hero who is ten years older. Only her transference to him saves her — when it is not working she reverts to homicidal mania and tries to kill men. She is an innocent, widely read but with no experience and no orientation except that he supplies her. Portrait of Zelda — that is, a part of Zelda.7
Scott ‘authenticated’ his novel by using direct quotes from Bleuler’s diagnosis of Zelda.8 Moreover, under the heading ‘Classification of the Material on Sickness’, he included reports from Malmaison, Valmont and Prangins.9
Zelda, in bed at Phipps, admitted she was ‘a little upset about it [Tender]’, then said bitterly: ‘What made me mad was he made the girl so awful and kept on reiterating how she had ruined his life and I couldn’t help identifying myself with her because she had so many of my experiences.’ Loyally she insisted any author had the ‘right to interpret … it really doesn’t matter’. Then, unable to deal with the material, she began to cry: ‘It was a chronological distortion … I don’t think it’s true — I don’t think it’s really what happened.’10 Despite her distress she never referred directly to the effect on her of the fictionalized father-daughter rape, for which there is no biographical evidence, merely a series of rumours.’11 Her eerie passivity over this character violation may have been related to her constant sedation. Zelda was of course aware that Scott knew about the childhood sexual violence on which she based her fictionalized abuse of Janno by the Magnetic Twins in Caesar’s Things.
Whether Scott borrowed and extended a known event in childhood or later, or whether he invented Nicole’s traumatic rape, he must have been aware it would cause Zelda intense pain. Although he knew he risked increasing Zelda’s instability he did not see himself as heartless. He always cared for her, even though care had largely degenerated into financing her hospitalization. He kept his novel from her for as long as possible, he warned her against projecting too much of herself into it. He saw the book as melancholy, even haunted, but he saw it also as something they could put behind them before they moved on.12 But at Phipps Zelda was not moving anywhere. Sobbing uncontrollably, she told the nurses: ‘I can’t get on with my husband and I can’t live away from him — materially impossible … I’m so tired of compromises. Shaving off one part of oneself after another until there is nothing left.’13
She behaved as if she was indeed invisible. Her silences grew palpable. She shivered in the heat, she laughed when most sad, she kept her distance from everyone, including Scottie.
She is about as far away from me as anyone can be … She’s just like her father, she’s a cerebral type … she rather looks down on me … I’ve never interfered [in her education] … because I realized that eventually Scott and I would have to separate and she is his child … It would just be the undoing of him to take her away from him.14
Still she dwelt on separation. Mayfield, who understood this, said: ‘many people who know the circumstances under which Scott labored over it [Tender] found that its chief flaw lay in the fact that it was written with one eye on the Book-of-the-Month Club and the other on the divorce court.’ Sara, invariably Zelda’s partisan, felt that either the writing stood as a psychological defence should Zelda make good her threat of divorce, or the offensive passages were written as self-justification.15 It is possible that Scott wrote the most wounding parts in retaliation for those sections in Save Me The Waltz which had disturbed him, but it is more probable artistically that Diver, the psychiatrist-hero, had to deal with explosive material. Scott needed a spoiled priest, a man replacing idealism and talent with drink and dissipation. As both husband and psychiatrist Dick fails to maintain professional perspective. By sharing Nicole’s family’s wealth, his commitment to medicine is finally eroded. When Nicole recovers her sanity and independence and leaves him for Tommy Barban, a French/American soldier of fortune, Dick dwindles into a corrupted small-town doctor.16
Ironically, despite the authentic psychiatric source material, Edmund Wilson, who read the serialization, thought that though Scott had achieved something ‘real’ in his protagonists’ marital relationship, he had failed to establish Diver’s professional credibility.17 Scott himself acknowledged he must be ‘careful not to reveal basic ignorance of psychiatric and medical training yet not [be] glib’.18 Diver, of course, plays the role Scott had tried to play: fellow-psychiatrist and husband. In Tender, Scott tried to resolve in literary terms the issues remaining unresolved in his life.
The earliest reactions came from kind friends who had read either the serialization or an inscribed pre-publication copy. Bishop assured him: ‘The first installment of the novel confirms what I have long thought, that your gifts as a novelist surpass those of any of us.’19 Robert Benchley said: ‘I would have given my two expensivly-filled [sic] eye-teeth to have written just one page of the book … it is a beautiful piece of work, not only technically, but emotionally.’20 Tom Wolfe offered cautious praise: ‘It seems to me you’ve gone deeper in this book than in anything you ever wrote,’21 while Archie MacLeish threw caution away: ‘Great God Scott you can write. You can write better than ever. You are a fine writer. Believe it. Believe it — not me.’22 Scott needed to believe this in the light of later criticisms.
Zelda, feeling better at Phipps, demanded to be released. As she was not committed, theoretically she could leave when she wished, but in practice could not depart without money. Scott, busy with his galleys, was not prepared to cope with a sick wife. He transferred Zelda to Craig House, Beacon, where she stayed from 8 March to 19 May. In upstate New York, two hours by train from Manhattan, on the Hudson River, the sanatorium was recommended by Forel, who was a friend of the director, Dr Clarence Slocum.23 The resort-like grandeur of Prangins was repeated in a golf course, tennis courts, bowling green, two swimming pools, bridge, backgammon and table-tennis games rooms. An emphasis on patients’ freedom, no locks and keys, and a private nurse for each patient meant attendant heavy costs of more than $750 a month. Scott, already $12,000 in debt, plunged still further.
Initially Zelda treated Craig as a country club. She dug holes in golf greens, almost uprooted a gigantic oak with what used to be a chip-shot, worked on a piece for the New Yorker about hotels they had visited24 and played bridge.
Her surroundings had charm: ‘The ground is shiverring with snow-drops and gentians … I wish you could [rest] for a while in the cool apple-green of my room. The curtains are like those in John Bishop’s poem to Elspeth and beyond the lawn never ends … we walk … [to] where tumbling villages prop themselves on the beams of the afternoon sun. We have tea, and many such functions to fulfill.’ She added irritably: ‘Please send the book.’25
The costs distressed her: ‘You can imagine how I feel sitting here in this lovely place when I realize the worry and effort it is costing you … I feel very guilty: as if maybe I could have conformed more satisfactorily at home.’
Then suddenly her money and most activities were restricted.
On 12 March Scott had written to Slocum that Zelda had absolutely no sense of money, so he felt that every extra expense should be curtailed. Scott told Slocum that Zelda’s artistic materials alone came to about $50 a month without her typing costs. With her basic fees Scott estimated this at four-fifths of the household income. Slocum agreed to limit Zelda’s expenses, but reported that after he’d read aloud to her Scott’s letter Zelda had a ‘hysterical outbreak’.26
Scott informed Slocum that the ‘nervous strain’ of creative work meant Zelda’s writing must be restricted. Zelda, he said, had an ‘extraordinary talent’ for metaphor and simile, was markedly successful with short character studies, might contribute regularly to the New Yorker, but her nervous system could not stand criticism. Slocum agreed Zelda was ‘doing too much in her literary efforts’. He assured Scott he had made her promise after she had finished her latest story ‘to desist until we feel that it is wise for her to re-enter this field again’.27
Zelda countered with another request: ‘Please ask Mrs Owens to rush my paints. I want them very badly. It’s such expensive equipment, I don’t want to buy another.’ She needed pastels to try sketching covers for the Post. Would Scott retrieve her oil paints and the Dante, still at Phipps?28 When Slocum, deciding her flower paintings were ‘recreational’, relented, Zelda designed a floral watercolour Easter card with ‘Easter Greetings Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’ looped inside. But she no longer felt part of the contented couple who sent friends home-made cards.
Later that March Slocum told Scott that though ‘prohibiting Mrs Fitzgerald’s writing has been helpful’, it was a struggle getting Zelda to breakfast in bed, or rest after her 11 a.m. massage. She was determined ‘to be as active as possible in her work’.
Slocum gave permission for Scottie to spend a day and night with Zelda before going with Scott to the Adirondacks for Easter.29 ‘She will like it here with the pool and the tennis,’ Zelda wrote excitedly to Scott, ‘and I will be awfully glad to have her … I wish I were well, and you could get something more out of life for all you put into it than bills, and more bills.’ It was unfair he ‘should have to shoulder the heavy debts necessary to reconstitute a member of a disintigrated family’.30
To cheer up Zelda and raise some funds, Scott became enthusiastic about arranging an exhibition of her paintings. Gallery owner Cary Ross, whom the Fitzgeralds had met in Europe, had been trying for two years to find a New York dealer to exhibit Zelda’s paintings. Ross had asked the photographer-art dealer Alfred Steiglitz to show Zelda’s drawings to his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, but ‘except for Picasso, Marin and herself, I think she is not interested in any living artists,’ Ross wrote disappointedly to Scott.31 So Ross decided to exhibit Zelda’s work at his own gallery at 525 East 86th Street.
Though ill, Zelda painted assiduously. ‘Please ask Mrs Owens to hurry with my paints. There are so many winter trees exhibiting irresistible intricacies … and there are gracious expanses of snow and the brooding quality of a gray and heavy sky, all of which makes me want terribly to paint,’ she wrote Scott. ‘I have a little room to paint in with a window higher than my head … [I] feel like Faust in his den.’32
Scott, who routinely agonized over his own art in similar terms, felt when Zelda did so she was obsessional. They quarrelled. Was it out of fear for herself or to offer him reassurance that she wrote:
Dear: I am not trying to make myself into a great artist or a great anything. Though you persist in thinking that an exaggerated ambition is the fundamental cause of my collapse … I cannot agree with you … I do the things I can do and that interest me and if you’d like me to give up everything I like to do I will do so willingly if it will advance matters any. I … do not like existing entirely at other peoples expense … If you feel that it is an imposition on Cary to have the exhibition, the pictures can wait. I believe in them and in Emerson’s theory about good-workman-ship. If they are good, they will come to light some day.33
But they quarrelled again when Scott took over all the exhibition arrangements. Utterly frustrated, Zelda went to bed and refused to get up.34 Ross, however, ensured that Zelda’s work came to light from 29 March to 30 April 1934.
The exhibition ran jointly with a photographic collection by Marion Hines.35 There was a smaller supplementary show at the Algonquin Hotel. The exhibition brochure, entitled Parfois La Folie Est La Sagesse (Sometimes Madness is Wisdom),36 emphasized Zelda’s knowledge of the Diaghilev tradition.
Scott asked Slocum’s permission for a nurse to take Zelda to New York to ‘hand her over to me’.37 On opening day Perkins gave a luncheon for Zelda. Afterwards she went to the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition. ‘They … excited me so that I felt quite sick afterwards. I loved the rhythmic white trees winding in visceral choreography about the deeper green ones, and I loved the voluptuous columnar tree trunk with a very pathetic blue flame-shaped flower growing arbitrarily beneath it. And there was a swell rhythmic abstraction done in blue and green and heart-breaking aspiration … She is the most moving and comprehensible painter I’ve ever seen.’ In another article she recalled: ‘We saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s pictures and it was a deep emotional experience to abandon oneself to that majestic aspiration so adequately fitted into eloquent abstract forms.’38
O’Keeffe had significantly influenced Zelda’s flower paintings for four years. In Zelda’s recent Untitled dogwood blossoms, the compositional arrangement of two single flowers isolated from their surroundings was washed over with O’Keeffe’s atmospheric watercolour.39 Both artists magnified single flowers from several angles to emphasize organic curves, so there exists a relationship between Zelda’s watercolour Antheriums and O’Keeffe’s 1928 Calla Lilies with Red Anemone. Zelda employed O’Keeffe’s swaying impasto brushstrokes for her White Anemones, Red Poppies and White Roses, all shown at Ross’s exhibition.40
Zelda’s exhibition brochure listed thirteen paintings and fifteen drawings, but four additional paintings and three additional drawings were included.41
Zelda sat silently watching her good friends the Murphys, Max Perkins, Dorothy Parker, H. L. Mencken, Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley and Gilbert Seldes, who comprised many of the purchasers. Scott had also invited Dr Rennie and Dr Squires.
Ross himself bought two oils, Laurel ($150) and Russian Stable ($175), and a drawing, Diving Platform ($15), of a swimmer on a ladder.42 Mencken purchased two drawings for Sara Haardt, sadly again in hospital. Mabel Dodge Luhan bought the drawing Red Death for her New Mexico collection.43 Gilbert Seldes had already purchased two paintings but had promised Scott to put them on exhibition any time Zelda or Scott requested it during the next twenty years.44
Sara Murphy paid $200 for Chinese Theater, which Gerald said depicted ‘monstrous, hideous men, all red with swollen intertwining legs. They were obscene … figures out of a nightmare, monstrous and morbid.’45 Time magazine more soberly described it as ‘a gnarled mass of acrobats’. Zelda, aware the oil was stylistically opposed to Gerald’s own cool precision, later wrote to Scott: ‘I am going to paint a picture for the Murphy’s … as those acrobats seem somehow, singularly inappropriate to them and I would like them to have one they liked … I don’t see why they would like that Buddhistic suspension of mass and form and I will try to paint some mood that their garden has conveyed.’46
Honoria Murphy said, ‘There was no Zelda painting in our house. We would certainly have preserved it. It would have been just like my father Gerald to have left it behind in the gallery.’47 More probably Zelda retrieved it after her decision to paint them a substitute.
Apart from Sara’s painting most prices were pitifully low. Scott’s friends from St Paul, Frances and Tom Daniels,48 paid only $15 for the drawing La Nature, polo player Tommy Hitchcock acquired the drawing Au Claire de la Lune and Muriel Draper the Red Devil drawing for the same low price; New Yorker Adele Lovett bought the drawing Ferns for $16.25, while Max Perkins’s wife paid $32.50 for two drawings, The Plaid Shirt and Spring in the Country, a verdant scene geometrically laced with telephone wires. Scott gave away several of Zelda’s pictures, including the drawing Two Figures to Dick and Alice Myers.49
Dorothy Parker, who found Zelda’s work tortured, loyally bought two watercolour drawings for a mere $30. Feeling sorry for Zelda, she insisted on paying an extra $5 for the frames. Etude Arabesque was a self-portrait of Zelda as a ballerina, The Cornet Player a portrait of Scott.50 ‘[S]he had talent,’ Parker recalled. ‘Arabesque … [had] a striking resemblance to Zelda. I bought the portrait of Scott … because I thought it the best she did. But I couldn’t have stood having them hang in the house. There was that blood red color she used and the painful, miserable quality of emotion behind the paintings.’51 Ironically, Parker’s portrait of Scott was destroyed in a fire.
John Biggs was struck by a second portrait of Scott wearing a crown of thorns. ‘Yes, it was good. The eyelashes were feathers; it was astonishing really — looked like him, and then those mad, lovely, long feathery eyelashes.’ Biggs found the eyes arresting. ‘Very cold blue eyes — almost green — they were as cold as the Irish Sea.’52
James Thurber, who accidentally met Scott in a bar, said later Scott in Thorns was ‘a sharp, warm, ironic study of her husband’s handsome and sensitive profile’. The two men drank till 3 a.m., then Scott asked Thurber if he knew a good girl they could call. Scott passed the rest of the night talking to an actress Thurber knew, showering her with dozens of Zelda’s catalogues. Thurber recalled that year as one when ‘Fitzgerald made several pathetically futile attempts to interest himself in other women, in an effort to survive the mental and emotional strain of Zelda’s recurring psychotic states.’53
One of those women was Dorothy Parker, with whom Scott had a brief involvement, he out of despair, she out of compassion. Parker, who had herself attempted suicide over a broken affair, felt she understood both Scott’s and Zelda’s confused miseries.54
Despite high-profile reviews Zelda felt critics did not take her work seriously. Time magazine understood her intentions in Football: ‘an impression of a Dartmouth football game [which] made the stadium look like portals of a theatre, the players like dancers’, but apart from a brief discussion of the paintings both it and the New York Post concentrated on Zelda as former Jazz Age Priestess and Famous Writer’s Wife. Time saw the show as ‘the work of a brilliant introvert … vividly painted, intensely rhythmic’, but headed the review ‘Work of a Wife’ and concluded that Zelda Fitzgerald hoped her pictures would gratify her great ambition — to earn her own living.55
The New York Post’s ‘Jazz Age Priestess Brings Forth Paintings’ was more interested in Zelda’s response to Georgia O’Keeffe’s exhibition and her relationship with Scott. Having taken the words right out of Scott’s mouth with her novel last year, they wrote, this year ‘she trumps all his aces’ with her art.56
Scott reported to Slocum that Zelda’s exhibition was a weird event. At times there were crowds of visitors yet there were lengthy spells when Zelda and the curator waited quite alone for someone to walk in. Scott said he could not speculate over Zelda’s feelings but she seemed to him to have retreated inwards.
When Zelda returned to Craig House, Scott remained at the Algonquin for the publication of Tender.57 On Easter Day, 1 April, Zelda recalled their parting:
I was so sorry to see you so sad when you said good-bye and I wish the time would come when you could be free to rest for a little while … I watch the book section for the first opinions on Tender Is The Night. You forgot to send me a copy. Please do. Or shall I order it from Scribners? … You and Cary were awfully kind about the pictures — and I hope it hasn’t cost too much.58
On 8 April, four days before Tender’s publication, Scott suggested to Slocum that Zelda again be ‘re-educated’, with the most ‘desirable aims’ placed in their proper relation to each other. As this relied on the adult’s ‘proper respect for her mentor’ Scott was unsure whether they would succeed with his wife. Slocum replied that despite the hospital’s efforts Zelda still had ‘a distinct craving to be productive’, therefore was not up to re-education. He would keep prescribing rest and ‘eliminate a certain amount of her intellectual efforts’.59
Zelda’s agitation about not receiving a copy of Tender increased: ‘Since you have not sent me a copy of the book, I have not bought one.’ But she had acquired one. ‘I watch the papers and no reviews. I can hardly wait to know what the critics will say of those “excursions into the frontiers of a social consciousness”. No matter what they say, it’s exquisite prose and a trip into unexploited fields so far as the material is concerned.’ In another generous letter she said: ‘I certainly hope the sales move as smoothly as the prose. The beginning is lyric and breath-taking and the end is tragic and ominous and it is a good book. So don’t mind if there are critics who have sought solace in gin rather than poetry and who like reading matter that can be discussed between the yapping of Dorothy Parker’s dog.’60
Though Scott had been prepared to sacrifice everyone to achieve a piece of flawless fiction, the later critics saw it as flawed. It failed to achieve a single strong effect. It failed to make clear the causes of Diver’s destruction. Some thought the story rambled, others that the style became commonplace, many felt the central characters had shifting identities. Scott phoned Zelda in a state of anxiety. She responded at once in shaky handwriting. ‘Dearest: You sounded so all-in over the telephone. Please dont — Your book is a beautiful and moving story of a man’s disillusionment and its relative values against the social back-ground in which he counts most.’61
But more biting criticism focused on Tender’s lack of social-political relevance. To achieve a background in which the leisure class at play on the Riviera was at its most brilliant, Scott drew on the Murphys’ lifestyle. But his ambivalence towards that class evoked censure. From Malcolm Cowley came this line: ‘It is as if he had a double personality. Part of him is a guest at the ball given by the people in the big house; part of him has been a little boy peeping in through the window and being thrilled by the music and beautifully dressed women.’62 Philip Rahv’s review in the Daily Worker was harsher. Tender was a ‘fearful indictment of the moneyed aristocracy’ which Fitzgerald himself, taken in by its false glamour, had not quite recognized.63
The Murphys, who represented the Divers’ dazzling side before their tragic fall, were negative in their response. Nor did they appreciate the dedication: ‘To Gerald and Sara Many Fetes’. Sara was outraged about Scott’s portrayal. ‘I hated the book when I first read it,’ she said, ‘and even more on rereading. I reject categorically any resemblance to ourselves or to anyone we know.’64
More than twenty-five years later Sara was still furious. Was she angry because Scott had misread their characters and lives, or was it because he touched on truths she did not want aired? There were obvious visual parallels between the Divers and the Murphys. Dick, moving ‘gravely about with a rake, ostensibly removing gravel’ from their strip of beach; Nicole with ‘her bathing suit … pulled off her shoulders … set off by a string of creamy pearls’: these are precise verbal photographs of Gerald and Sara. The stimulating conversations in the Divers’ exquisite villa probably took place in Villa America. It was more likely that what upset Sara was Nicole’s decision to leave Dick for an adventurer like Ernest Hemingway, whom Sara adored, to whom Sara was sexually attracted, but for whom she would never have left Gerald. In the light of Gerald’s later determination to give up painting for ever, Dick’s renunciation of his family and his life’s work would have been equally frightening.65
Sara wrote bitterly to Scott that ‘consideration for other people’s feelings, opinions or even time is completely left out of your make-up — I have always told you you haven’t the faintest idea what anybody but yourself is like.’ In that same irritated letter she spoke warmly about Zelda. ‘Please don’t think that Zelda’s condition is not very near to our hearts — and that all your misfortunes are not, in part, ours too.’66
Scott told Gerald the book ‘was inspired by Sara and you, and the way I feel about you both and the way you live, and the last part of it is Zelda and me because you and Sara are the same people as Zelda and me.’ Nothing could have been further from the truth, as Gerald pointed out. Scott ‘never did really understand our life’.67
Yet in December 1935, when Gerald’s life had been torn apart, he changed his mind. ‘I know now that what you said in Tender Is The Night is true. Only the invented part of our life — the unreal part — has had any scheme any beauty. Life itself has stepped in now and blundered, scarred and destroyed.’68
Scott was even more anxious about Hemingway’s response. A month after publication Scott wrote fretfully: ‘Did you like the book? For God’s sake drop me a line and tell me one way or another. You can’t hurt my feelings. I just want to get a few intelligent slants at it to get some of the reviewers jargon out of my head.’69 Ernest had already told Max he disapproved of Tender because the Divers acted in ways the Murphys never would. Ernest said that Scott could not invent real characters because he knew very little about people: ‘he has so lousy much talent and … has destroyed himself and destroyed Zelda, though never as much as she has tried to destroy him.’70 Hemingway finally sent Scott a three-page letter assuring him the writing was brilliant but the distortion of the Murphys had invalidated the novel: ‘faked case histories’ and ‘silly compromises’ as well as Scott’s use of the Murphys for the Divers’ glamour, and of himself and Zelda for the traumatized aspects, violated the book’s integrity.
Hemingway scolded him: ignore your emotional traumas. You’re not a drama queen. You, like me, are just a writer. What writers do is write. You lack focus. An encouraging wife could have helped your self-discipline. Instead you chose Zelda: a jealous, competitive, destructive woman.71
A week before Tender appeared the Menckens returned from a Mediterranean cruise. Sara, feverish with an infection she had picked up in Algeria, read Tender in hospital. She admired its prose but told Sara Mayfield how angry she was on behalf of Zelda and the Sayres.
Scott, meanwhile, leant on Mencken for consolation. On 26 April Mencken told him not to fret over ‘a few silly reviews … The quality of book reviewing in the American newspapers is really appalling. Reviews are printed by imbeciles that know nothing about the process of writing and hence miss the author’s intentions completely. I think your scheme is a capital one, and that you have carried it out very effectively … Please remember me to Zelda. I surely hope that she is making good progress.’72
But she was not.
By May 1934 her condition had become critical. She was not responding to medication, she was not responding to the doctors. Though Scott told Mencken that Zelda was ‘katatonic’, the only supporting evidence is her submission to the medical profession’s treatment of her. Occasionally she was hysterical, and often despairing about her hospital costs. ‘I cannot see why I should sit in luxury when you are having such a struggle. Since there seems to be no way I can hasten my recovery, maybe it would be wise to try a cheaper place … I will not be discouraged by any such change you might make and, of cource, will do the best I can, anywhere.’ The following month she wrote: ‘I do not see how you can reasonably expect me to go on unworriedly spending god-knows-how-much-a-day when we haven’t got it to spend …’73
On her better days she had been trying to improve their finances by writing two autobiographical articles for Esquire, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number—’, published May-June, and ‘Auction — Model 1934’, published July.
Those essays were a farewell to her life with Scott. ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. — ’ was a nostalgic travelogue of hotel rooms they had shared from 1920 until Bermuda in 1933.
Scott edited ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. —’. His most striking amendment was to cut Zelda’s use of ‘I’, changing every first person pronoun to ‘we’. This not only weakened her style but also recalled his angry interjection in their discussion with Rennie: ‘Can’t you stop your “I”s’? Who are you?’
Scott did no editorial work on ‘Auction — Model 1934’, Zelda’s inventory of the few possessions they had collected over those years to be sold at a mock auction. Most objects were broken, dirty, flawed, useless. Only the memories were intact and precious. The Fitzgeralds open their packing cases, look over their heirlooms, and ultimately decide that ‘the tangible remnant of the four hundred thousand we made from hard words and spent with easy ones’ should be kept in their attic.74
Both articles again, though written by Zelda, were published under joint names.
On 19 May Scott transferred Zelda to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt, a cheaper hospital in Baltimore, where she would spend the next two years.75 The primary reason was not medical but financial. Although his novel had been on the Publishers Weekly April and May bestseller lists, Scott could no longer afford Craig House fees.
Zelda wrote in a shaky hand to console him: ‘D.O. you know that I do not feel as you do about state institutions — … many excellent doctors did their early training there. You will have to conceal as much of this from Scottie as you can, anyway. So, in the words of Ernest Hemmingway, save yourself … I am so glad your book is on the list of best sellers … Devotedly Zelda.’
She had already assured him: ‘Ill as I am, one place is not very different from another … I would appreciate your making whatever adjustments would render your life less difficult.’76
However, this place was tragically different from Craig, or Phipps, or Prangins.
Mayfield described her first visit: ‘Zelda had a horror of the place — a sinister-looking sanitarium with enclosed passageways joining its buildings, barred windows, locked doors, and dismal rooms that appeared to have been done by a decorator with a depressive psychosis.’
Zelda’s first shock was her reception. There was a rough search of her body. Her money, make-up and cigarettes were confiscated. She told Sara that attendants callously took away her clothes then doused her in a disinfectant bath. She realized immediately her hopeless situation: ‘locked in a bare ward’, Sara recalled, ‘with no means of communicating with her family and friends — literally buried alive in a strange place — [it] was too much for her. This time there was no doubt about it; she had broken down — or, perhaps, more accurately, after four years between the upper and nether millstones, she had been ground down.’77
In addition to a balanced diet and much sleep her new physician, Dr Chapman, tried out new drug therapies. Zelda received morphine for sedation, stramonium for mania, digitalis for depression and tranquillizers including the first synthetic sedative, chloral hydrate, and the new discovery, sodium amytal. During her incarceration at Sheppard Pratt the hospital experimented with insulin shocks and Metrazol convulsive treatment, which produced shocks akin to epilepsy seizures. Dr Oscar Schwoerer, hired to oversee this process, had trained in the use of insulin coma therapy with Manfred Sakel whose most noteworthy patient was the dancer Nijinsky. Twice a week patients — including Zelda — were injected with a 10 per cent aqueous solution of Metrazol. Within seconds a thirty-to sixty-second violent seizure would follow. Some patients had to be held down for fear of hipbone, jaw or spinal fractures. After an explosion in the head Zelda and other patients would be given intravenous injections of sodium pentothal to counteract sensory fears.78
Zelda wrote to Scott: ‘The Sheppard-Pratt hospital is located somewhere in the hinterlands of the human consciousness and I can be located there any time between the dawn of consciousness and the beginning of old age. Darling: life is difficult. There are so many problems. 1) The problem of how to stay here and 2) The problem of how to get out.’ She concluded with a sketch of Scott in Guatemala and a request for him to take her there.79
The hospital grounds adjoined La Paix’s, which Zelda found difficult to bear. ‘Yesterday’, she wrote to Scott, ‘we took a long ride around familiar roads and it seemed so unreal not to be going home to La Paix.’ In June she walked under the tulip trees by the dank little bridge which made her homesick. ‘Will we be close again and will I feel the mossy-feeling back of your head and will I share those little regulations by which you keep your life in order: the measured drinks, the neatly piled papers.’ Her letters were desolate. ‘Darling I feel very disoriented and lonely. I love you, dear heart. Please try to love me some in spite of these stultifying years of sickness.’ Then not knowing that he had long stopped being faithful, she added, ‘I will compensate you some way for your love and faithfullness.’80
Zelda began hallucinating. She heard Scott’s voice over and over. Sometimes he repeated her name. Sometimes he said, ‘O, I have killed her!’ Other times he cried, ‘I have lost the woman I put in my book.’ Zelda told the doctors she was terrified of Scott because he interpreted life for her. Dr William Elgin, one of her current physicians, initially forbade Scott to visit her.81
For weeks she became incoherent with despair; once she tried to strangle herself. With what little was left of her spirit Zelda hated Elgin, while he found Zelda inaccessible and stony.
Guilt suffused her: ‘I am heart broken that I should have trailed this disaster through your life. Scottie writes me vague notes sometimes. I am so sorry for her. She has always been so brave and made her effort in spite of an inevitable sense that all was not as it might have been … There is an irrelevant, though welcome sunshine.’82
Most things, not merely the sun, became irrelevant. Zelda’s letters were despatches from the edge of the abyss. She wrote as if she was searching for something she had left behind on the outermost fringes of life. The meaning of her communications resided in the interstices. She now suffered from severe loss of memory and an apathetic personality due to constant shock therapies.83
She had nothing but her shared memories with Scott to cling to. She recalled boathouses in Atlanta, pinewoods in Alabama, blistering bath-houses, dead moons, relics from the Deep South, mementoes from the Riviera, phantoms and conspiracies from past times they would never recapture. She coded even those memories as if she was an informant taking material across the border.
Scott urged the doctors to let him visit. He bargained that he could raise her spirits. Zelda seemed keen. ‘Darling: I want so to see you. Maybe … before very long I will be well enough to meet you under the gracious shadows of these trees and we can look out on the distant fields to-gather. And I will be getting better.’84
But she wasn’t. Once when he was allowed to visit, they strolled along a local railroad track separating the grounds of La Paix from the hospital As a train approached she broke away from Scott and dashed towards the rails. He managed to drag her back seconds before the train rushed by. This was one of several suicide attempts. She had given up hope of recovery. Her means of survival was religion and she read the Bible hour after hour. ‘It’s my only strength — my only strength … And I have to pray to — to live,’ she told Sara Mayfield.85
Scott too was in despair: ‘I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda’s sanitarium.’86 Frustration heightened Scott’s bouts of bad behaviour. John O’Hara remembered an occasion when he drove Zelda back to Pratt from Baltimore. ‘I had Scott and Zelda in my car and I wanted to kill him. Kill. We were taking her back to her Institution and he kept making passes at her that could not possibly be consummated … I wanted to kill him for what he was doing to that crazy woman who kept telling me she had to be locked up before the moon came up.’87
Then a younger doctor, Harry Murdoch, made a small breakthrough and persuaded Zelda to talk to him.88 She told him she intended to kill herself, a remark that returned her to twenty-four-hour observation. Finally a glimmer of improvement occurred in her self-confidence, and she was allowed home some weekends. She saw Scottie, now twelve, who was preparing for summer camp. ‘When I kissed her good-bye the little school-child scent of her neck and her funny little hesitant smile broke my heart. Be good to her Do-Do.’89
Scott had thought that lifting the ban on Zelda’s writing might help her. While working on a film script of Tender he wrote to Elgin, saying he had been mistaken about not allowing Zelda to write serious fiction. Now he recognized that Zelda ‘grew better in the three months at Hopkins where it was allowed’.90
Zelda begged to be allowed to write another novel. Scott, still uneasy, tried instead to persuade Perkins to accept a proposal for a book of Zelda’s short stories and essays.91 Excitedly Zelda planned the book jacket then, without warning, suffered another collapse, became inaccessible, unco-operative, occasionally violent. There was no question of her writing.
In July Rosalind suggested Scott consult Minnie Sayre and the family about Zelda. On 19 July Scott angrily responded, marking the letter ‘Not to be mailed. File only’: ‘I am not going to call your mother into consultation nor have I ever called anybody into consultation on this problem except trained technicians who are dealing with it.’ When he had telephoned Rosalind and Newman from Switzerland it was merely to have a family member aware of his actions. To suggest his conclusions were influenced by drink was as absurd as to think that Grant’s campaigns were influenced by the fact that he used stimulant. ‘Whenever I handle the case by myself it goes well; Whenever I … tell you about it I run into that same old Puritanism that makes drinking unmoral, that makes all thinking done with the help of a drink invalidated and I am put down to a level of a person whose opinion can’t be trusted and that reaches the doctors … they get confused … it all has to start over again.’
Scott insisted, ‘Mrs Sayre is an old woman … you are irreparably prejudiced against me … It must all be left to me.’92 His job was to ‘reconstruct a broken egg shell’ that was Zelda’s mind; he had Scottie to think of, and he consistently ran up against obsolete family prides such as were shown over Anthony’s death when the real facts were concealed from him. He appreciated Rosalind’s help with Scottie but ‘on the problem of Zelda you are completely blinded, even I accuse you of being purposely blinded’.93
Scott’s relationship with the Sayres never recovered from that summer’s series of confrontational letters. His bad mood infected Zelda, who occasionally rebelled. Bill Warren, a Baltimore friend who had worked with Scott on the Tender film script, recalled a scene at Pratt when Scott refused to play tennis with Zelda and asked him to substitute. Zelda acted as if Scott ‘were backing out of the honeymoon’, said Bill. Scott ignored her and climbed into the high referee’s chair, so Zelda retaliated by stripping as she played. ‘After the first point, Zelda took off her sweater … after the second point, she … unhooked her bra and tossed it away. Still Scott remained silent. After the third point, Zelda’s short white tennis skirt dropped like a hoop at her feet. After the fourth she freed herself from her panties. I was playing with a stark naked woman.’94 Warren said when you play tennis with a naked woman while her husband watches coolly, you try not to look at her! Scott never intervened, even when hospital attendants arrived, bound her in a cold wet-pack and carried her off, screaming hysterically.
Christmas 1934, spent with Scott and Scottie, was one of Zelda’s unhappiest. On Christmas Eve Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas visited the Fitzgeralds. Scott insisted that Zelda show Stein her paintings then, without consulting his wife, invited Stein to choose what she would like. Stein chose two oils already promised by Zelda to her doctor. Though Scott tried to persuade Zelda that her art would become famous if hung on the rue de Fleurus apartment walls, Zelda would not budge. Stein was forced to select Tulips, an oil, and Crossing Roses, a drawing. A few days later Scott wrote to Stein: ‘It meant so much to Zelda giving her a tangible sense of her own existence, for you to have liked two of her pictures enough to want to own them.’95 There was no truth in this: being compelled to give, not even sell, two paintings to a woman she disliked meant nothing but frustration to Zelda. This interchange with Scott’s friends in Baltimore set Zelda back. On her return to Pratt in the new year her condition was so grave she was again placed in isolation.
Throughout 1935 her condition was designated as suicidal. She took in almost no news from the outside world. But news there was. While the Murphys’ son younger Patrick was still gravely ill, suddenly in March their other son, fifteen-year-old Baoth, died of spinal meningitis.96 At the end of his memorial service at St Bartholomew’s in Manhattan, Sara Murphy rushed out of the church cursing God. She never fully recovered.
Two months later Mencken wrote: ‘My dear Scott, Poor Sara, I fear, is now gravely ill — in fact, the chances that she will recover seem to be very remote. After all her long and gallant struggles she has developed meningitis, and the doctors tell me that the outlook is virtually hopeless. You can imagine my state of mind.’97 Zelda’s Montgomery friend and fellow writer Sara Haardt, who had been typing throughout fevers and sickness all spring, died in Johns Hopkins on 31 May, leaving Mencken bereft and Zelda one less Southern ally. Two terrible deaths had occurred in Zelda’s close circle, but she neither noticed nor responded.
1 Scott had loans from his mother, a loan from Scribner’s at 5 per cent against possible screen rights, advances from Ober. Without another generous boost — a $4,000 Scribner’s advance on the hardcover — his finances would have been shakier still. $6,000 of his year’s income was withheld to pay off some of his debts to his publishers. The rest was given to Ober who gave Scott money as and when needed.
2 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 431.
3 FSF to John Palmer, 12 Feb. 1934, CO187, Box 51, Folder John Palmer, PUL.
4 ZSF to FSF, no date, CO187, Box 42, Folder 63, PUL; FSF, Tender, p. 138.
5 ZSF to FSF, no date, CO187, Box 42, Folder 63, PUL; FSF, Tender, p. 139.
6 ZSF to FSF, no date, CO187, Box 42, Folder 50, PUL; FSF, Tender, p. 138.
7 FSF, General Plan and Sketch for Tender, CO187, Boxes 9–10, PUL.
8 Bleuler’s report of 22 Nov. 1930, CO745, Box 1, Folder 2, PUL.
9 In his General Plan and Sketch FSF lists: ‘A. Accounts B. Baltimore C. Clinics and clipping. D. Dancing and 1st Diagnoses E. Early Prangins — to Feb. 1931 F. From Forel (include Bleuler Consultation) H. Hollywood L. Late Prangins M. My own letters and comments R. Rosalind and Sayre Family S. Squires and Schedule V. Varia’.
10 ZSF, Phipps Clinic, Feb. — Mar. 1934, quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 286.
11 Virginia Durr said that in later years Minnie Sayre confided to her that the Judge came to her bedroom and she locked him out. Some researchers have taken this as evidence that he might have turned to one of his daughters if he was refused sexual relations by his wife. This, together with Fitzgerald’s creation of a heroine based partly on Zelda who is raped by her father, accounts for a flurry of incest rumours. But this author found no definite supporting evidence for this allegation and many interviewees in Montgomery refuted the idea.
12 FSF to ZSF, 26 Apr. 1934, Life in Letters, pp. 256–7.
13 ZSF, Phipps Clinic, Feb. — Mar. 1934, Milford, Zelda, p. 286.
15 As in ‘Babylon Revisited’. Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 211–12.
16 It is the image of his father as moral touchstone which Scott uses for the ‘honor, courtesy and courage’ by which Dick Diver holds himself together until he is forced to realize he has betrayed those very qualities.
17 Wilson to Malcolm Cowley, 1951, Wilson, Letters on Literature and Politics, p. 254.
18 FSF, General Plan and Sketch for Tender Is The Night.
19 John Peale Bishop to FSF, Dec. 1933/Jan. 1934, PUL.
20 Robert Benchley to FSF, 29 Apr. 1934, reproduced in Romantic Egoists, ed. Bruccoli et al., p. 201.
21 Thomas Wolfe to FSF, Mar. 1934, reproduced in ibid., p. 201.
22 Archie MacLeish to FSF, reproduced in ibid., p. 200.
23 Dr C. J. Slocum, born Rhode Island 1873, trained at Albany.
24 This became ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number —’, published in Esquire, May — June 1934.
25 The book was of course Tender Is The Night. ZSF to FSF, two letters, c. Mar. (author’s dating) 1934.
26 Slocum to FSF, 19 Mar. 1934, CO745, Box 1, Folder 1, PUL.
27 FSF to Slocum, 22 Mar. 1934; Slocum to FSF, 19 Mar. 1934, ibid.
28 ZSF to FSF, c. Mar. (author’s dating) 1934, CO187, Box 44, Folder 34, PUL; telegram, 12 Mar. 1934.
29 Slocum to FSF, 26 Mar. 1934, CO745, Box 1, Folder 1, PUL. Zelda’s schedule had been: 7.30 bath; 8.00 breakfast; 9.00–10.00 writing; 10.30–1.00 craft-painting; 1.00–1.30 lunch; 1.30–5.30 outdoor activities — golf, tennis, swimming, riding; 5.30–6.00 prepare for dinner; 6.00–6.30 dinner; 6.30–7.00 rest; 7.00–7.30 bridge, drawing, painting, reading; 9.30–10.00 room and bed (schedule not followed Saturday or Sunday). Slocum insisted on inserting rest periods instead of mental activities.
30 ZSF to FSF, Mar. 1934; Apr. (author’s dating) 1934, CO187, Box 44, Folders 35, 24, PUL.
31 Cary Ross to FSF, 26 Aug. 1932, CO187, Box 53, Folder 9, PUL. Ross, a Yale graduate and would-be poet whom Fitzgerald had mentored, had stayed with Stieglitz at Lake George in 1932.
32 ZSF to FSF, c. early Mar. 1934.
33 ZSF to FSF, Mar. 1934, ZSF, Collected Writings, p. 470.
34 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 208.
35 Hines was Associate Professor of Anatomy at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
36 I agree with Kendall Taylor’s suggestion that Zelda’s retreat into madness was the way she enabled herself to ‘breathe freely’. Sometimes Madness, p. 13.
37 FSF to Slocum, 22 Mar. 1934, CO745, Box 1, Folder 1, PUL.
38 Zelda recalled Diaghilev’s theory that art should shock the emotions. ‘A person certainly could not walk about that exhibition and maintain any dormant feelings.’ ZSF, letter about the O’Keeffe exhibition at An American Place, Feb./Mar. 1934, CO183, Box 6, Folder 6, PUL; ZSF. ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 431.
39 It is possible also to link the way Zelda filled the picture plane with luminous watercolour washes, which seem to float freely through her pictures without defining lines, to her comment about Paris when she was already ill but had not recognized it: ‘there was a new signifigance to everything: stations and streets and facades of buildings — colors were infinite, part of the air, and not restricted by the lines that encompassed them and lines were free of the masses they held’. ZSF to FSF, late summer 1930, CO187, Box 42, Folder 52, PUL.
40 Antheriums was probably painted the year before her exhibition. Zelda had written Dr Rennie a series of letters from Craig House decorated with writhing swelling flower shapes, in colours of decayed flesh. They too showed the anthropomorphic potent aura of O’Keeffe’s flowers. Montgomery art dealer Louise Brooks later described Zelda’s Japanese Magnolias, drawn at this time, with its bubbles and foetus shapes as looking ‘like an abortion’ (Brooks to Carolyn Shafer, interview, 27 Aug. 1993). Impasto is paint applied thickly so that the brush marks are evident. One of Zelda’s nurses at Highland Hospital, Mary Parker, saw this kind of brushwork as an extension of her illness. She said it was like a visual interpretation of the term ‘ruminating’ in psychiatry. ‘It’s going over and over things in your head. Her painting was like that to me — using the brush over and over’ (Parker to Shafer, interview, 15 July 1993). Shafer is very informative about the relationship between O’Keeffe and Zelda as painters. Shafer, ‘To Spread a Human Aspiration’, 1994.
41 Original list of paintings: 1. White Anemones (priced at $250); 2. Red Poppies ($200); 3. White Roses ($200); 4. Laurel ($150); 5. Vestibule ($300); 6. Dancer ($175); 7. Chinese Theater ($200); 8. Spectacle ($300); 9. Football ($250); 10. Chopin ($125); 11. Afternoon ($175); 12. Portrait in Thorns ($200); 13. Portrait of a Russian ($200). Additional paintings: 14. Nude ($300); 15. Russian Stable ($175); 16. Tulips; 17. Ballet Figures ($250). Original list of drawings: 1. Spring in the Country ($15); 2. The Plaid Shirt ($15); 3. The Cornet Player ($15); 4. Ferns ($15); 5. Au Claire [sic] de la Lune ($15); 6. Forest Fire; 7. Girl on a Flying Trapeze ($15); 8. Two Figures ($15); 9. Red Death ($15); 10. La Nature ($15); 11. Etude Arabesque; 12. Two People ($25); 13. Feuete ($25); 14. Pallas Athene ($50); 15. Study of Figures (pencil, $12). Additional drawings: 16. Crossing Roses; 17. Diving Platform ($15); 18. Red Devil ($15). The additional paintings and drawings may have been those shown separately at the Algonquin.
42 Diving Platform is sometimes called Swimmer on a Ladder.
43 Mabel Dodge Luhan sent Ross from New Mexico a bid for Portrait in Thorns, but when her offer was refused because Zelda had said earlier she did not want to sell it, she bought Red Death. Though Scott and Ross could have done with another large sale, Portrait in Thorns was never sold. Cary Ross to FSF, 4 May 1934, CO187, Box 53, Folder 9, PUL.
44 Seldes, typed note, 12 Sep. 1933.
45 Gerald Murphy to Milford, 2 Mar. 1964, Milford, Zelda, p. 290. Chinese Theater is also known as Chinese Acrobats.
46 ZSF to FSF, c. Apr. 1934.
47 Honoria Murphy Donnelly, conversations with the author, summer 1998 and 1999. When Dick Knight visited Zelda in Montgomery in 1940 he was able to buy it. James K. Moody, current owner of the painting, believes it was left in the gallery and was later shipped to Montgomery. According to Moody, when Knight died of alcohol poisoning in 1948 his ex-wife, from whom he was divorced in 1940, put his possessions in storage. After her death her two daughters gave the painting to her executor godson Claude Kemper, who sold the painting to Sotheby’s, New York. They sold it to Moody. Kemper told Moody that Knight’s wife knew how enamoured Richard was of Zelda and that on several occasions he broke away to go and see her (James Moody in conversation with the author, 28 Nov. 1999 and 27 Aug. 2001).
48 Tom Daniels lived near Scott in St Paul, gave him rides to St Paul Academy and attended the Baker dancing classes with him. He carried the manuscript of This Side of Paradise to Scribner’s.
49 Jane O’Connell and Mr A. K. Mills, who had helped put the exhibition together, received two drawings, each valued at $25: Two People and Feuete (which is possibly a pun on the ballet term Fouette).
50 Arabesque is listed in 1942 at Zelda’s exhibition of watercolours and drawings at Montgomery Women’s Club.
51 Dorothy Parker to Milford, 26 Aug. 1964, Milford, Zelda, pp. 290–1.
52 John Biggs Jnr to Milford, 9 June 1963, ibid., p. 291.
53 James Thurber, ‘Scott in Thorns’, The Reporter, 17 Apr. 1951.
54 Parker attempted suicide when her affair with Charles MacArthur broke up.
55 Time, 9 Apr. 1934.
56 New York Post, 3 Apr. 1934.
57 On 30 April Zelda was allowed to return to New York with a nurse to see the last day of her exhibition.
58 ZSF to FSF, c. 1 Apr. (author’s dating) 1934, CO187, Box 44, Folder 29, PUL. She reminded him of the mass of stuff she had written and wondered if Esquire might take some of it. Even though his own novel was due out 12 April he was still nervous about her writing.
59 FSF to Slocum, 8 Apr. 1934; Slocum to FSF, 11 Apr. 1934, CO745, Box 1, Folder 1, PUL.
60 ZSF to FSF, two letters, Apr. 1934 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 44, Folders 24, 41, PUL.
61 ZSF to FSF, Apr/May 1934, CO187, Box 44, Folder 46, PUL.
62 Malcolm Cowley, review of Tender, The New Republic, 6 June 1934.
63 Quoted in Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 418.
64 Donnelly and Billings, Sara and Gerald, p. 38. Scott used other friends as models for the Divers’ circle. Ring Lardner and Charlie MacArthur became Abe North. Nicole’s acid sister Baby Warren was based on Scott’s disapproving sister-in-law Rosalind Smith and Sara Murphy’s sharp-tongued sister Hoytie, while Rosemary Hoyt, the naive young actress who is infatuated by Dick, was based on Lois Moran and possibly also on Mary Hay. According to Scott’s notes for the novel Barban was based on a combination of Edouard Jozan, Mario Braggiotti, Tommy Hitchcock and two Princetonians, Percy Pyne and Denny Holden. Bruccoli and other critics believe Barban was also based on Ernest Hemingway though Scott did not list him.
65 Murphy finally gave up all painting after the deaths of both his sons.
66 Sara Murphy to FSF, 1934, CO187, Box 51, Folder 15, PUL.
67 Donnelly and Billings, Sara and Gerald, p. 43.
68 Gerald Murphy to FSF, 31 Dec. 1935, co187, Box 51, Folder 13, PUL.
69 FSF to EH, 10 May 1934, J. F. Kennedy Library.
70 EH to MP, 30 Apr. 1934, The Only Thing That Counts.
71 Hemingway later thought Tender Is The Night was excellent, of a higher standard than anything Scott had written before. He did wonder however whether Scott’s writing career might be over. He sent via Perkins affectionate greetings to Scott with the assurance that the novel was threateningly good.
72 FSF to Mencken, 23 Apr. 1934, PUL, lent by Enoch Pratt Free Library; Mencken to FSF, 26 Apr. 1934.
73 ZSF to FSF, Apr. 1934; May 1934 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 44, Folders 41, 46, PUL.
74 ZSF, ‘Auction — Model 1934’, Collected Writings, p. 438.
75 Sheppard Pratt, founded as Sheppard Asylum in 1853, was given an influx of funds five years later by Enoch Pratt, a rich railroad and steamship owner. It was one of the USA’s oldest mental hospitals, housing 500 patients in 1934. In 1931 6 per cent of its patients were hospitalized free; in 1932 198 of its 271 patients paid less than the full fees, which averaged $38 per week. Most full-fee-paying patients came from the South like Zelda because the Deep South had few private mental hospitals.
76 ZSF to FSF, c. Apr. 1934 (author’s dating); c. Apr./May 1934 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 44, Folders 42, 46, PUL.
77 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 214. Mayfield was herself a patient there later and her own descriptions of the hospital and her experiences (Mayfield Collection, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa) precisely match the horror of Zelda’s. Mayfield believed Zelda had been ‘ground down by Scott and the doctors’, that if she had been allowed to leave, to write and paint, she could have survived mentally.
78 Taylor, Sometimes Madness, p. 197.
79 ZSF to FSF, c. Oct. 1934.
80 ZSF to FSF, summer 1934: c. June (author’s dating) 1934; c. June (author’s dating) 1934, CO187, Box 44, Folders 49, 26, 47, PUL.
81 ZSF to Dr Elgin and other medical staff, Sheppard Pratt, 1934. Dr William Elgin was born in Cincinnati in 1905, graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and took his medical degree at Johns Hopkins.
82 ZSF to FSF, undated fragment (author’s dating summer 1934), CO187, Box 41, Folder 42, PUL.
83 Taylor, Sometimes Madness, p. 300.
84 ZSF to FSF, late May/June 1934, CO187, Box 44, Folder 47, PUL.
85 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 275.
86 FSF, Notebooks, No. 1362.
87 Quoted in Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 429.
88 Dr Murdoch (Mayfield gives his name as Kenneth Murdock), a graduate of Nebraska Medical School and a Commonwealth Fellow in Psychiatry at Colorado Psychopathic Hospital, joined Sheppard Pratt in 1930 and soon became its third director. He also taught psychiatry at the University of Maryland.
89 ZSF to FSF, late May 1934, CO187, Box 44, Folder 47, PUL.
90 FSF to Elgin, 21 May 1934, CO187, Box 40, Folder 4, PUL.
91 FSF to MP, 13 June 1934. His proposed table of contents began with a 500-word introduction by him. The first section, ‘Eight Women’, would contain Zelda’s stories (26, 250 words). The second section, ‘Three Fables’ (5,000 words), would include ‘The Drought and the Flood’, ‘A Workman’ and ‘The House’. The third section, ‘Recapitulation’ (5,000 words), would include ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. — ’ and ‘Auction —’ Model 1934’ (total approximately 50,000 words).
92 FSF to Rosalind Sayre Smith, 19 July 1934, CO187, Box 53, Folder 14A, PUL.
93 FSF to Rosalind Sayre Smith, 16 Aug. 1934, ibid.
94 Quoted in Aaron Latham, Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, Viking Press, New York, 1971, p. 183.
95 FSF to Stein, 29 Dec. 1934, Yale University. Isabel Owens was there when Zelda refused to hand over her paintings. Owens said ‘She made it stick too.’
96 17 Mar. 1935 at Massachusetts General Hospital.
97 Mencken to FSF, 30 May 1935, CO187, Box 51, PUL.
Zelda was under a stone. She hardly spoke. That Scott’s health had been poor during the winter and spring passed her by. That he had left Baltimore for Tryon, Hendersonville and North Carolina several times was of little consequence.1 To his letter asking her what she needed, Zelda replied: ‘I don’t need anything at all except hope, which I can’t find by looking either backwards or forwards, so I suppose the thing is to shut my eyes.’2 Visiting her was like visiting a ghost. Half-remembering his world, she wrote: ‘I want you to be happy again with Scottie — some place where it is bright … and you can have some of the things you have worked so hard for … Please get well and love Scottie and find something to fill up your life —.’3 But by midsummer she no longer wrote to him.
Scott had tried to fill up his life with new companions and desultory affairs. During summer 1935 in North Carolina he met Laura Guthrie Hearne, a Columbia Journalism School graduate and amateur psychic who told fortunes to guests at Asheville’s George Vanderbilt Hotel. Hired as Scott’s part-time secretary, she also became go-between and recorder of his affair with Beatrice Dance, a rich Texan, who like Scott was staying at the Grove Park Inn.4 Beatrice fell histrionically in love with Scott, who rapidly finished the affair by telling Dance that he was unable to abandon Zelda.5 Scott, ever self-serving, accustomed to purloining Zelda’s intimate letters, now sent Beatrice one of Zelda’s saddest to justify his ruthless rejection of her.
Dearest and always
I am sorry too that there should be nothing to greet you but an empty shell. The thought of the effort you have made over me, the suffering this nothing has cost would be unendurable to any save a completely vacuous mechanism. Had I any feelings they would all be bent in gratitude to you and in sorrow that of all my life there should not even be the smallest relic of the love and beauty that we started with to offer you at the end.
You have been so good to me — and all I can say is that there was always that deeper current running through my heart: my life — you.
You remember the roses in Kinneys yard … we crossed the street and said we loved the south. I thought of the south … thought I was part of the south … We were gold and happy all the way home.
Now that there isn’t any more happiness and home is gone and there isn’t even any past and no emotions but those that were yours … — it is a shame that we should have met in harshness and coldness where there was once so much tenderness and so many dreams … I love you anyway — even if there isn’t any me or any love or even any life …
Scott spelt out the implications for Dance: ‘There are emotions just as important as ours running concurrently with them — and there is literally no standard in life other than a sense of duty.’7
The rejected Beatrice was hospitalized with distress while Scott, lungs already inflamed by tuberculosis, went on an alcoholic bender until Dr Paul Ringer admitted him to hospital in Asheville as, in Rosalind’s words, a ‘floundering wreck’. Rosalind added later: ‘Poor devil! I always was sorry for him even while detesting him.’8 Minnie Sayre told Rosalind she was so crushed by Zelda’s hopelessness that she had to ‘[philosophize] herself into keeping cheerful’. After Rosalind had comforted the Sayres, she visited Zelda, who ‘was dressed in white and seemed very ethereal, somehow, like somebody not of this world’. Rosalind told Scott: ‘Most of the time … she was reproaching herself for having wrecked your life and having brought Scottie into the world … Her present condition was a great shock to me … and I feel discouraged about her.’ Zelda begged Rosalind to take her for a ride, but when Rosalind asked Dr Elgin he said Zelda was so dangerously ill he could not allow her out in a car for fear she would escape. ‘I pray’, wrote Rosalind, ‘that she will soon be quiet enough to have this little diversion from that horrible atmosphere in which she lives.’9
Scott’s own diversions to avoid that ‘horrible atmosphere’ included a new friendship with twenty-nine-year-old writer Tony Buttitta, proprietor of Asheville’s Intimate Book Shop in the George Vanderbilt Hotel arcade. One night Buttitta heard a knock at his door.
Standing outside was a tall blond chap in grey flannels who reminded me of a photo on a book jacket. ‘Where’s the Men’s Room?’ the guy said. ‘Why, upstairs’, I answered. ‘Well it’s loaded. Downstairs is loaded too. Find me one that isn’t loaded!’ I led him through the hotel garden, he tripped unsteadily through magnolias, jasmine and mimosa where he did his business. Then he stood under the moonlight and I knew. ‘You’re Scott Fitzgerald’, I said. ‘You have a romantic profile.’ He liked that. He’d crashed, been beaten down, so if someone recognized him, especially a fellow writer, he liked that. I told him I’d sold half a dozen of his books but I hadn’t sold hardly any. He didn’t believe he was important any more, but he needed other people to believe it.
That summer, Buttitta, trying to restore Scott’s self-esteem, introduced him to prostitute Lottie Stephens: a poor idea, for she complained about Scott’s lack of virility while Fitzgerald fretted about contracting syphilis.
Buttitta recalled how Scott would suddenly start sobbing: ‘He always sobbed about Zelda. He’d cry out: “We meant so much to each other in our early life. But Zelda wanted to be a star. She didn’t feel what I did was important to her.”’ Buttitta felt ‘Scott had to be the star. Scott wanted Zelda in the audience. He kept saying “I feel responsible because now she’s gone batty.”’10
What Scott saw as battiness was Zelda’s retreat from suicide into religious despair. ‘God has evolved us,’ she wrote to him, ‘that we may ennoble our souls until they shall have attained a spiritual stature.’
She had reverted to her preoccupation with homosexuality, with God on her side. ‘Since Eden, man has been endowed with a double sexual impulse. Complete sexual fulfillment between man and wife is homosexuality. It is God’s word that this is so.’ She knew Scott’s negative view of ‘fairies’, but hoped he would accept homosexual practices as part of their marital contract because God did. ‘God’s promise to man is emotional fulfillment … that is sucking the genital organs of your mate …’ Zelda hoped these ‘beautiful and honourable’ practices might stop married couples becoming homosexual, which she knew from her experience was always punished.11
Scott had returned, debt-ridden and depressed, from Asheville to Baltimore’s Cambridge Arms where Isabel Owens was caring for Scottie. By November, finances and spirits sunk, he had moved them to cheaper accommodation at 3300 St Paul Avenue, where he wrote a series of mediocre stories about a widowed father and his teenage daughter Gwen; only two were sold. He gave Scottie ten dollars, left her with Mrs Owens and the Finneys and headed for Hendersonville, North Carolina, where he rented a tawdry room at Skylands Hotel. Later he had to borrow $7,500 from Oscar Kalman.12
Only weeks into his fortieth year, suffering his own nervous breakdown, he wrote three wretchedly honest confessional essays: ‘The Crack-Up’, ‘Pasting It Together’ and ‘Handle With Care’. Ironically they were brilliant pieces of writing about a writer who can no longer write because he can no longer care. Scott felt they were creative attempts at examining his emotional and spiritual bankruptcy. Perkins saw them as disgusting exercises in self-pity which would further ruin Scott’s disintegrating reputation. Hemingway saw them as shameful and cowardly. Only Sara Murphy understood Scott:
You have been cheated … but to have Zelda’s wisdom taken away — which would have meant everything to you, is crueller even than death. She would have felt all the right things through the bad times — and found the words to help. For you, & for her real friends — I miss her too — You have had a horrible time — worse than any of us, I think — and it has gone on for so long … your spirit & courage are an example to us all.13
At Christmas 1935, Scott tried to cheer up fourteen-year-old Scottie by organizing a theatre party for her, Peaches Finney and friends, but his gloom disoriented them.
During the spring when Arnold Gingrich made Scott’s self-revelatory articles public in Esquire, Scott’s health worsened14 as Zelda’s religious fervour increased. Rosalind, visiting Zelda in April, was horrified. ‘I found her at Sheppard Pratt weighing only 89 pounds and fast going downhill.’ Through regular conversations with God, Zelda believed she was in direct communication with Christ, Apollo and William the Conqueror. Dressed in white, she either prayed by her bed day and night or, convinced the end of the world was approaching, hastily wrote and distributed God’s word to their friends. On Rosalind’s insistence Scott removed Zelda from Pratt on 7 April 1936 and entered her into Highland Hospital, Asheville, the following day. ‘One of the saddest memories I have’, recalled Rosalind, ‘is of going through her trunk in Baltimore … to see what there was she might want to take with her. What I found was a bit of old clothing, a brass candlestick, and a musical powder-box with a Pierrot on top that turned with the tune.’15
Scott had told the Murphys he now felt Zelda was his child, and that he acted as Zelda’s ‘great reality, often the only liason agent who could make the world tangible to her’.16 The hospital director, Robert Carroll, thought differently. After two weeks at Highland, during which Scott offered Zelda his version of reality, Carroll suggested Scott return to Baltimore. ‘You are her emotional disorganizer … We did not … organize her treatment until after you left.’17
The treatment was controversial, fierce and frightening. That it eventually reduced some of Zelda’s symptoms, many of which were the product of earlier treatments, did not outweigh new devastating side-effects. Carroll was pioneering injections of placental blood, honey and hypertonic solutions, and of horse blood, into patients’ cerebrospinal fluid. Horse serum caused aseptic meningitis with vomiting, fever and head pains, but Carroll used it on Zelda because it could induce long spells of lucidity. He also regularly gave Zelda the now standard electro-shock and insulin shock treatments, disregarding their known effects of memory loss.18 Dr Irving Pine (Zelda’s last psychiatrist) said she was given between thirty and ninety insulin shocks, producing convulsions followed by comas that lasted up to an hour.19 Mary Parker, assistant to Highland’s psychotherapist (later Zelda’s art therapist), though reluctant to discuss insulin treatment, admitted that ‘insulin was only supposed to be given to “difficult” patients because it shocked their brains so that they couldn’t be left on their own afterwards without a nurse. Though most recovered there were bad after-effects.’20
Theorizing that toxic substances caused mental illness, Carroll placed patients on strict diets and regimented exercise routines. Every morning Zelda had outdoor gymnastics, then wholewheat peanut butter sandwiches, followed by occupational therapy (in her case painting), with a five-mile walk every afternoon. Parker recalled how well the schedule suited Zelda’s athletic nature. ‘Dr Carroll believed healthy bodies meant healthy minds, he wanted patients occupied so they couldn’t sit and mope. Zelda played medicine ball and volley ball. After the regulation five miles Zelda would climb a hill. Sometimes she’d have to climb the hill ten times! If she got a few minutes freedom she’d turn a dance step.’ But Carroll held more questionable views: the same questionable views as Forel and Slocum had held before him. ‘He believed in re-education for women patients,’ said Parker, ‘which meant redirecting them into wholesome normal values. It was taken for granted women would want to be good wives and mothers in a wholesome way.’21
Highland’s wholesome programme cost $1,200 a quarter but Scott, pleading poverty, paid only $240 a month plus extra for day trips, concerts, movies and art materials. Scott also sent $100 a month for Zelda’s personal expenses: chewing gum, flowers, fruit, clothes, dentistry and occasional telegrams. He paid for dance lessons and Zelda danced to the point of exhaustion unless monitored by nurses. Later she choreographed ballets for hospital events.22
Scott, increasingly pressured by debts, closed up the Baltimore house and moved to Asheville.23 Despite the Fitzgeralds’ geographical proximity they met seldom. Occasionally they lunched at the Inn where, removed from other guests, Zelda nibbled a cucumber salad. Although physically healthier, she told Scott the restrictions stifled her soul. Looking back, she wrote:
Friendship, conviviality, the right of choice, the right of resentment, anger, impetuosities; all these are as much a part of life as obedience, submission, obligation and necessity. In … Highland Hospital, these manifestations of the human temperament are subject to reprimand and regarded as illness. Knowing this, patients (mostly) suppress themselves as much as possible, endure, and hope to get out.24
It is worth noting there is nothing incoherent in Zelda’s analysis.
That summer was exceptionally sad for them both. Gerald wrote grimly that young Patrick’s health had worsened. Hemingway attacked Scott publicly in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ in August’s Esquire. Then on 2 September Scott’s mother died of a cerebral haemorrhage. Unexpectedly moved, Scott told Oscar Kalman: ‘A most surprising thing in the death of a parent is not how little it affects you, but how much … there is a sense of being deserted.’25 To Beatrice Dance he went further: ‘She was a defiant old woman, defiant in her love for me in spite of my neglect of her.’26
Scott hoped his mother’s loan to him of $6,000 would not be deducted from his share of her $42,000 estate, but this provoked a bitter quarrel with Annabel. Her two daughters recalled: ‘Mother [told] us that the dispute and hard feelings … stemmed from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s desire that the money he had earlier borrowed periodically from Grandmother not be deducted from his inheritance. Daddy felt this was unfair to Mother.’27 The unfairness, rectified in Annabel’s favour, meant that Scott received only $5,000.
He spent some money taking Scottie regularly to see Zelda. Sticking to Carroll’s guidelines for ‘normal’ family life, they would shop in Asheville then dine out. Earlier, on Zelda’s birthday he had intended driving her to a swimming lake but injured his shoulder diving the previous day. Subsequent arthritis encouraged him to hire nurse Pauline ‘Phil’ Brownell who, with her husband George, frequently drove Scott to Zelda’s hospital. In appreciation Zelda gave Phil a watercolour of Alabama lilies enclosed in a religious motif. Zelda kept an Easter lily plant in her hospital room, which she painted. In her notebook she described its demise. ‘My lillies died; they just plain died, so I can only paint the memory of white desirability — of so much beauty.’28
For Scottie’s education Gerald had highly recommended the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut, but for her entrance in September 1936 Scott had to borrow even the reduced amount of the $2,200 tuition fees from Ober and Perkins. Scottie later speculated: ‘he would have hated it if I hadn’t been at a “chic” school, but no sooner was I there than he started worrying about its bad influence on me … daddy was torn between trying to make up for my lack of stability at home with the sense of belonging that comes from being a member of a club and his own instinctive lack of respect for the values of that club.’29 Scott told Sara Mayfield he feared Scottie, now almost fifteen, would wear out young like her parents, so he lectured her constantly on the dangers of petting, drinking and joyriding.30
Because Scottie’s school was close to the Obers’ Scarsdale home Scott asked Harold and Anne who, with two sons, already loved Scottie as a daughter, to act as foster parents. For years they paid for Scottie’s summer camps, ski trips, visited her at school and gave her a home.
In terms of stability, the Fitzgeralds began to reverse their roles. Scott was subjected to a cruel interview in his Grove Park Inn room on 25 September, his fortieth birthday, by Michel Mok, a New York Post journalist who portrayed him as a broken drunk; he reacted by taking a morphine overdose which he then, humiliatingly, vomited up.
Zelda meanwhile was gallantly coming to terms with her final sanatorium. It had tennis courts and a swimming pool and stood in eighty acres of land, encircled by the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains, close to the banks of the Swannanoa and French Broad rivers. The mountains were familiar to Zelda from Saluda childhood holidays. As her religious fervour decreased she spent hours outside, painting the lush greens and rich browns of the pine-filled backdrop.31 Most of Zelda’s paintings are complex layered works imbued with past autobiographical associations. These are not. No humans with tangled emotions intrude on Zelda’s mountains or trees. Landscapes are simple, uncluttered, with a luminosity crafted by the paper’s whiteness shining through watercolour washes. An oriental influence suggests an infinity of space, while her triangular mountain peaks speak of Cezanne. The vegetation does not writhe, the paintings do not disturb viewers. But their very calmness upset the staff’s stereotyped attitudes about artist-patients. Parker was more comfortable with Zelda’s art therapy paintings. ‘They were more powerful. I can still see her hands at work stroking on the paint, using the brush repetitively. I felt she was going over and over stuff that worried her inside.’32
Although Zelda’s art could demonstrate connections to her instabilities by visualizing her deepest emotions, the Highland classes were considered therapeutic simply because they were recreational, unlike those under Wertham at Phipps which were used for diagnostic purposes. The success of the art work and the exercise regime permitted Zelda more freedom. ‘She was allowed to walk into Asheville alone,’ Parker recalled. ‘Once she searched everywhere for a special material to make herself a circular skirt to save Scott money.’33 Then Carroll allowed Zelda to visit her mother, vacationing in Saluda, and Rosalind in Manhattan; both were astonished at the change: ‘Zelda bloomed again,’ said Rosalind. ‘… [She] was almost like her old self, beautiful once more, still interested in music, the theatre and art, but toned down to an almost normal rhythm.’34
Parker, who got to know Zelda well, never believed she was schizophrenic.
I knew her history. I knew she’d broken down. I knew the reports from Johns Hopkins … but I saw no signs of that mental illness. I saw no signs of schizophrenia. I saw or heard no hallucinations. She had none of those symptoms. As for her speech it was not incoherent. She was absolutely lucid … She merely spoke in an unusual way. When she talked you certainly listened. She was interesting, intelligent, a compelling woman to talk to. She had a very good mind that wasn’t being stretched. Her character was clear like her speech. I had a lot of regard for Zelda. I saw nothing wild or mad about her.35
Dr Irving Pine agreed. He believed that Zelda had been both misdiagnosed and misunderstood.36
By December 1936 Zelda was indisputably acting more sanely than Scott. In Baltimore he gave a tea dance for Scottie, then embarrassed his daughter by getting piggishly drunk, insisting on dancing with her girlfriends and boorishly ordering them to leave. ‘After the ghastly tea dance,’ wrote a mortified Scottie, ‘Peaches Finney and I went back to her house in a state of semi-hysteria.’ To deal with the episode Scottie used her standard denial tactics: ‘I was busy surviving and what I couldn’t ignore … I would put in the emotional attic … if I’d allowed myself to care I couldn’t have stood it.’37 The day after Christmas Scott was back at Johns Hopkins till 3 January, drying out.38 Scottie, relieved of paternal embarrassment, celebrated Christmas with Zelda at Highland where they had an unusually calm time.
The New Year, which would see Amelia Earhart disappear on a Pacific flight, the Duke of Windsor marry Wallis Simpson, and George Gershwin, two years younger than Scott, die, brought another tragedy to the Fitzgeralds. On 30 January 1937 a telegram came from the Murphys: ‘PATRICK DIED PEACEFULLY THIS MORNING.’39 Scott replied at once:
the whole afternoon was sad with thoughts of you and the past and the happy times we had once. Another link binding you to life is broken and with such insensate cruelty that it is hard to say which of the two blows was conceived with more malice … it would take words like Lincoln’s in his letter to the mother who had lost four sons in the war to write you anything fitting at the moment. The golden bowl is broken indeed but it was golden; nothing can ever take those boys away from you now.40
One effect of the two Murphy boys’ deaths was to increase Scott’s anxieties over Scottie; yet curiously later, in June 1938, he did not attend her graduation from Ethel Walker. Zelda, however, managed it in style. Anne Ober drove Zelda and Rosalind to Connecticut where Zelda, elegant and proud of her daughter, chatted graciously to Scottie’s friends and teachers. Later she and Rosalind attended two Broadway shows, then Zelda took a carriage ride through New York’s Central Park. Suffused with nostalgia, she paused by the Plaza fountain into which she and Scott had dived years before. Perhaps past memories comfortingly clouded a present in which Scottie had been discomforted by her attendance. ‘I didn’t want my mother at graduation because it wasn’t the big deal daddy was trying to make it, and she was crazy.’41
But in 1937 there were ongoing signs that Zelda was far from crazy. The problem was that years of alienation from Scottie meant Zelda was now her mother in little more than name. When Scottie started at Vassar, it would again be Anne Ober who would act as her surrogate mother. ‘It is an important relationship to me,’ Anne wrote to Scott ‘… I think it is to Scottie too. Please let me know what I can do and when to expect my child.’42
If Zelda felt a failure as a mother, Scott was swamped by his failure as a writer. On 4 June 1937 he had met Hemingway at the second American Writers’ Congress in New York.43 As he watched Ernest’s anti-Fascist speech fire up the 3,500-strong audience, the difference between Ernest’s fame and his own sliding career overwhelmed him. That afternoon, in front of the Algonquin, Carl Van Vechten photographed Scott in a checked jacket and knitted club tie. His hair was thinning, his smile nervous, his eyes held a desolate look. He was only forty.
In Hollywood that July, on a six-month writing assignment for MGM arranged by Ober, to whom along with Perkins and Scribner’s he was $22,000 in debt, Scott’s first job was to rewrite A Yank at Oxford before he was allowed to script Three Comrades.44 He needed Hollywood more than it needed him. He had sacrificed Zelda’s and Scottie’s future security by reducing his life insurance policy to $30,000. He was behind in payments to Highland. He could only allow himself $400 and Zelda $30 a week from a hefty pay-check of $1,000.45 The rest was apportioned between regular debt repayments, Zelda’s fees and Scottie’s tuition. He saved by sharing a $300 a month unit with scriptwriter Eddie Mayer in Hollywood’s Garden of Allah, a compound for film artistes at 8152 Sunset Boulevard.
Determined to avoid alcohol and drinking buddies like Don Ogden Stewart, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley,46 he appeared subdued, but was seen as sullen, aloof, even arrogant. His diffidence increased after his next meeting with Hemingway, who swung into Hollywood hero-style to screen his and Hellman’s film The Spanish Earth, fund-raising for Spanish loyalists.47 Scott was invited to Fredric March’s home on 12 July to watch the movie. Scott and Ernest did not exchange a word. The next day Scott wired Ernest: ‘THE PICTURE WAS BEYOND PRAISE AND SO WAS YOUR ATTITUDE = SCOTT.’48 Their intimacy was over. In his notebook Scott admitted: ‘I talk with the authority of failure — Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the table again.’49 They did not, for it was their last meeting.
There is a neat irony in the fact that two days after the death of his friendship with a man he always considered first class, Scott met the Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, a woman he learnt to love but always secretly considered third class. It was at Robert Benchley’s Garden of Allah party that Scott suddenly spotted this twenty-eight-year-old English girl, who looked uncannily like his youthful Zelda. In The Last Tycoon, his final unfinished Hollywood novel, Scott romanticized their initial encounter in the first meeting between film producer Monroe Stahr and young Kathleen, who resembles his dead wife Mina. ‘Smiling faintly at him from not four feet away was the face of his dead wife, identical even to the expression.’50
But the resemblance between Zelda and Sheilah was more fancied than real. Sheilah had a streak of vulgarity and a line in lies that would have appalled Zelda. Born Lily Shiel in London’s East End, she lived with a washerwoman in a slum that smelt of boiled potatoes and laundry soap. Sent as a child to an orphanage, Lily then worked as a parlourmaid and clerk before secretly marrying, then divorcing, an elderly English major. Determined to become famous, she changed her name to Sheilah Graham when Charles Cochran hired her for his Young Ladies chorus line. It is possible that part of Scott’s interest in Sheilah, who had become a successful musical comedy star before arriving in New York, was that she reminded him also of his old love, the musical actress Rosalinde Fuller. More significant however were the punishing effects of his TB, alcoholism, debts and Zelda’s illness, which had weakened him sufficiently to need Sheila’s disciplined working methods and down-to-earth appreciation of him. He embarked on the affair with speed.
Though he saw through Sheilah’s glittering facade to her shallow, ignorant nature, he found her spunky and sustaining. Pragmatic Scottie, who arrived to see her father on 2 August, understood those virtues. ‘He had a wife who couldn’t live with him. It was an unbelievable emotional and financial drain … [he] needed someone who was eminently practical, someone with her feet on the ground … someone perhaps like Sheilah Graham.’51
If the word ‘perhaps’ was a give-away to Scottie’s underlying feelings, she kept them to herself. During the visit Sheilah saw a less attractive side to Scott: a greying fretful father who irrationally scolded his daughter; but Sheilah was already too much in love to retreat. Scottie shook off familiar paternal corrections: ‘The first Hollywood visit was fabulous. Daddy was on the wagon and he took me everywhere with him. I had a room at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Helen Hayes was supposed to be my “chaperone”.’52
Hayes felt Sheilah offered Scott emotional support but because ‘she represented … the second-rate he had fallen into’ he treated her badly.53 Indeed he did. When drunk he struck Sheilah, abused her, recalled her hidden origins, even denigrated her as his ‘paramour’. In December 1937 Scott wrote to the Murphys that he hoped they would welcome Sheilah when she visited New York in late January. Sara refused, partly because it was the anniversary of Patrick’s death and partly because her fierce loyalty to Zelda saw that as a betrayal of friendship.54 When Perkins and Ober met Sheilah later, like the Murphys they thought her materialistic and banal, but hoped she would be a good influence on Scott’s alcoholism. Wilson, now married to writer Mary McCarthy, considered Sheilah had given Scott a new sobriety. Sheilah, they thought, was less interesting than Zelda but kept Scott in better order.
Although Scott painstakingly told Sheilah that Zelda and Scottie would remain his priorities, she never quite recognized the interwoven complexities of the Fitzgeralds’ relationship. ‘I now realize’, she later admitted, ‘that during the time I knew Scott, he was leading a sort of double life. I knew he looked after Zelda, and I understood that he must. But I didn’t know that he was still … writing her love letters.’55 But those letters did not include any information about Miss Graham, which Scott had insisted Scottie hide from Zelda.
Nevertheless her mother had already sensed a change in Scott’s letters. He never gave her his precise address. ‘What is your actual address?’ she asked. ‘Spose I wanted to ‘phone you — or do something unprecedented like that?’ Another letter repeated: ‘What would I do if I should have a bad dream or an inspiration? It’s much more conventional to know where your husband [is] when you’ve got one.’56
Zelda strongly suspected a liaison but, like Scott, felt it wiser to maintain the pretence. Only after The Last Tycoon was published posthumously did Zelda write to Margaret Turnbull of her dislike for Scott’s protagonist Kathleen, the only heroine to be based on Sheilah. ‘She seemed the sort of person who knows too well how to capitalize on the unwelcome advances of the iceman who smells a little of the rubber shields in her dress.’57 It would be characteristic of Zelda’s acid wit to use the pun ‘shields’ for Sheilah’s real name ‘Shiel’, thus acknowledging enigmatically that she knew Scott’s secret.
Perhaps Scott’s conscience drove him to take Zelda and Scottie to Charleston and Myrtle Beach in September 1937, and after Christmas fly with Zelda to Miami and Palm Beach before they visited Montgomery. After Charleston Scott told Sara Murphy Zelda ‘held up well enough but there is always a gradual slipping. I’ve become hard there and don’t feel the grief I did once — except sometimes at night or when I catch myself in some spiritual betrayal of the past.’58 After Miami, he told Scottie her mother was much better than expected, only his tiredness spoilt their fun. But when Zelda wanted to return to Hollywood with him Scott’s relationship with Sheilah coloured his reply. As long as she needed medical care, he said firmly, they would have to live apart.
At the end of March 1938, his MGM contract safely renewed,59 Fitzgerald took Zelda and Scottie for their last trip as a family, first to Virginia Beach then to see cousins in Norfolk. During a golf lesson Zelda picked a fight with Scottie; Scott got drunk, then became so violent that Zelda reported him to the Cavalier Hotel’s manager. Simultaneously they recognized they could no longer tolerate each other’s behaviour. Zelda, in tears, fled back to Dr Carroll’s office. Scott had already told Carroll he had become the worst person for Zelda rather than the best. ‘Certainly the outworn pretence that we can ever come together again is better for being shed. There is simply too much of the past between us … The mainsprings are gone.’ Yet he could not quite relinquish their bond. ‘So long as she is helpless, I’d never leave her or ever let her have a sense that she was deserted.’60
The episode set them both back. Scott, ill at ease on the wagon, tumbled off completely when on his return to Hollywood he met Ginevra King, now a divorcee, for lunch for the first time in two decades. Then he quarrelled with Scottie, now nearly seventeen, who joined him on Malibu Beach before she prepared for her Vassar entry. Scottie, after several distressing scenes when her father ‘had entered a phase in his drinking in which his personality changed from Jekyll to Hyde’,61 was glad to leave Hollywood that summer and tour Europe with Fanny Myers and their friends under Alice Lee Myers’ auspices.
While Zelda steadily improved, Scott’s luck ran out. His contract was not renewed when it expired at the end of January 1939, so from March 1939 to October 1940 he freelanced for Paramount, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, Goldwyn and Columbia Studios.62
Despite this, with characteristic financial generosity he sent extra money to Highland for Zelda to accompany the Carrolls to Sarasota, Florida, where for three weeks she took classes in life drawing and costume design at the Ringling School of Art.63 The hospital had begun at last to take her painting seriously. During the next two years she kept her first consistent artist’s notebook; began exploring the possibilities of sculptures; and exhibited at Mrs Maude King’s Art School Sketch Club, then with the Asheville Artists’ Guild at the Rhododendron Festival.64
Dr Carroll arranged another trip, this time to Cuba, but because Scott delayed giving his approval Zelda was left behind. Philosophically she wrote: ‘Havannah is probably a substantial sort of place and may well be there till next time … Let me see you fly East. We can go to Cuba ourselves …’65 To everyone’s surprise Scott agreed. In April 1939 they set off, Zelda nervous, for Scott had arrived drunk and exhausted following a quarrel with Sheilah and a script cancelled by Paramount. On arrival at Club Kawama, Varadero, Scott went on a sustained bender, got into a fight, and Zelda was forced to get them both back to New York City. She managed it with extraordinary equilibrium and had him admitted to hospital. Zelda returned alone to Asheville, telling no one how Scott had deteriorated or how stable she had remained under crisis. Back in California Scott, guilty and apologetic, wrote to her:
You were a peach throughout the whole trip and there isn’t a minute of it when I don’t think of you with all the old tenderness … You are the finest, loveliest, tenderest, most beautiful person I have ever known, but even that is an understatement because the length that you went to there at the end would have tried anybody beyond endurance.66
Zelda and Scott would never see each other again.
1 Afraid of a resurgence of tuberculosis, Scott took Scottie out of school for two weeks in February 1935, and went to Tryon’s health resort (which offered a tuberculosis centre) in Blue Ridge mountains, where his wealthy friends Lefty (Zelda’s former physician at Ellerslie) and Nora Flynn lived. (Nora, the youngest of the five beautiful Langhorne sisters, was said by Edmund Wilson to have had an affair with Scott. Nora’s daughter by her first marriage was the actress Joyce Grenfell. Nora’s sister Nancy married Viscount Astor and succeeded him as Conservative MP, the first woman in parliament. Another sister, Irene Langhorne, was the original Gibson Girl.) On Scott’s return to Baltimore in late March X-rays revealed he had further lung damage. He spent part of the spring in Hendersonville, then when Scottie went to camp he resided at Grove Park Inn, Asheville, while lung specialist Dr Paul Ringer treated him. In September he again returned to Baltimore, where he took an apartment at Cambridge Arms, Charles Street.
2 ZSF to FSF, c. 1935 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 45, Folder 14, PUL.
3 ZSF to FSF, no date, author’s dating spring 1935, CO187, Box 45, Folder 5, PUL.
4 Scott daily confided details of his affair to Hearne who recorded them in her journal.
5 Mellow has an engaging witty account of the Dance — Fitzgerald affair, Mellow, Invented Lives, pp. 433–7.
6 ZSF to FSF, c. June 1935, ZSF, Collected Writings, p. 477. Earlier FSF had sent this exact letter also to Ober as evidence of his tragic relationship.
7 FSF to Beatrice Dance, early Sep. 1935, CO188, Box 4, Folder 16, PUL.
8 Letter from Rosalind Sayre Smith to Kendall Taylor, 3 Dec. 1964, quoted in Taylor, Sometimes Madness, p. 305.
9 Rosalind Sayre Smith to FSF, 4 June 1935, CO187, Box 53, Folder 14A, PUL. From March 1935 Rosalind had sent Scott a series of friendly letters containing material about the Sayre Cresap ancestry for a family history Scott was compiling for Scottie. When Taps at Reveille was published Rosalind sent him good reviews and generous praise.
10 Tony Buttitta, interview with the author, Sep. 1998, New York, and conversations and letters throughout 1998 and spring 1999. In 1935 Buttitta was a struggling writer who wrote his account of that summer in The Lost Summer. A Personal Memoir of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robson Books, London, 1987.
11 ZSF to FSF, undated, CO187, Box 44, Folder 27, PUL. Zelda actually spelt ‘genital’ as ‘genitile’.
12 Oct. 1936.
13 Sara Murphy to FSF, 3 Apr. 1936, CO187, Box 51, Folder 15, PUL.
14 The articles were published Feb., Mar. and Apr. 1936. Scott was again in Johns Hopkins Hospital 14–17 Jan. and 13–15 Feb. 1936.
15 Rosalind Sayre Smith, unpublished documentation on ZSF, Mayfield Collection, University of Alabama.
16 FSF to Sara and Gerald Murphy, 30 Mar. 1936, Honoria Murphy Donnelly Collection.
17 Carroll to FSF, 25 June 1936, CO187, Box 49, Folder 26A, PUL. Carroll, born 1869 in Cooperstown, Pennsylvania, graduated in medicine from Marion Sims College and had further psychiatric training at Rush Medical College Chicago. With his wife he founded Highland Hospital of Nervous Diseases in 1904.
18 There is a good discussion of these therapies in Kendall Taylor, Sometimes Madness, p. 311.
19 Dr Pine felt these treatments were savage by today’s standards. Interviews with the author, 1998, 1999.
20 Mary Parker to the author, interview 12 Sep. 1998 and conversations winter 1998 and spring 1999.
22 In January 1937 at the New Year costume ball, Zelda danced the solo role of angel in the ballet she had choreographed.
23 In 1934 Scott earned $20,000. In 1935 he could still earn $3,000 for a story but with reduced productivity his income fell to $17,000. His expenses included Zelda’s Highland costs and Scottie’s fees for Ethel Walker School, Connecticut (which together totalled $3,000). In 1935 he had borrowed $2,000 from Scribner’s, by summer 1936 he owed Scribner’s $9,000 and Ober $ 11,000. In 1936 his earnings fell to $10,180.97.
24 ZSF to FSF, c. Christmas 1939, CO187, Box 48, Folder 1, PUL.
25 FSF to Oscar Kalman, quoted in Meyers, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 276.
26 FSF to Beatrice Dance, 15 Sep. 1936, CO188, Box 4, Folder 16, PUL.
27 Annabel’s daughters (Pat Sprague Reneau and Courtney Sprague Vaughan) sent the author their privately published memoir of their father Clifton Sprague, Remembered and Honored (1992), with their accompanying notes and comments.
28 One of several painted at Highland, ZSF, Art and Religious Notebook, CO183, Box 6, Folder 4, PUL. The painting, Easter, has disappeared.
29 Scottie Fitzgerald, quoted in Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 89.
30 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 229.
31 She never used the variegated fall hues of amber or orange. Watercolours and gouaches on paper include: Mountains, North Carolina, Untitled 1, Untitled 2, Great Smoky Mountains, Hospital Slope. Sketches for some were done in Highland, others completed in North Carolina in the 1940s.
32 Mary Parker to the author, interview 12 Sep. 1998.
34 Rosalind Sayre Smith, unpublished documentation on ZSF, Mayfield Collection, University of Alabama.
35 Mary Parker to the author, 12 Sep. 1998 and subsequent conversations.
36 Dr Pine thought if Zelda were alive today her depression would probably have responded well to drugs such as lithium. Irving Pine to the author, interviews 1998, 1999.
37 Scottie Fitzgerald, Introduction, Letters to his Daughter, ed. Andrew Turnbull, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1963, p. xii.
38 Scott was at Johns Hopkins again 11–14 Jan. 1937.
39 Sara and Gerald Murphy to FSF, 30 Jan. 1937, CO187, Box 51, Folder 13, PUL.
40 FSF to Sara and Gerald Murphy, 30 Jan. 1937, Letters, ed. Turnbull, pp. 446–7.
41 Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 89.
42 Anne Ober to FSF, undated, PUL.
43 Presided over by Donald Ogden Stewart.
44 On the strength of the contract Ober loaned Scott more money to pay a percentage on his bills and take Zelda on a trip to Myrtle Beach in September. From Sep. 1937 to Jan. 1938 Scott worked on Three Comrades, which became his only screen credit.
45 The contract stipulated $1,000 a week for six months, extended to Jan. 1938 if it went well, then $1,250 weekly in the second year.
46 Benchley and Parker were both living at the Garden of Allah, Parker with her husband Alan Campbell.
47 The film was co-written by Lillian Hellman, Archibald MacLeish, Ernest Hemingway and Joris Ivens.
48 FSF to EH, telegram, 13 July 1937, J. F. Kennedy Library.
49 FSF, Notebooks, No. 1915.
50 FSF, The Last Tycoon, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1941, p. 26.
51 Lanahan, Scottie…, p. 92.
52 Ibid., pp. 83–4.
53 Taylor, Sometimes Madness, p. 326.
54 Vaill, So Young, p. 288.
55 Sheilah Graham, The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 50.
56 ZSF to FSF, mid-Dec. 1938; c. Jan. 1939, CO187, Box 46, Folder 51; Box 47, Folder 1, PUL.
57 Quoted in Kendall Taylor, Sometimes Madness, p. 329.
58 FSF to Sara Murphy, 27 Nov. 1937.
59 The MGM contract had been renewed Dec. 1937 for one year at $1,250 a week. Scott worked on scripts for ‘Infidelity’, ‘Marie Antoinette’, The Women and Madame Curie.
60 FSF to Dr Robert Carroll, 4 Mar. 1938, CO187, Box 39, Folder 45, PUL.
61 Lanahan, Scottie, p. 92.
62 In January 1939, after a trip with Budd Schulberg to Dartmouth College to work on Winter Carnival, Scott was fired for drinking and seriously damaged his reputation.
63 Feb. 1939.
64 These two exhibitions took place in spring and summer 1939.
65 ZSF to FSF, late Jan. 1939, CO187, Box 47, Folder 4, PUL.
66 FSF to ZSF, 6 May 1939, Life in Letters, p. 391.
Minnie Sayre, convinced that Scott had wrecked her daughter’s mind, started a series of strong petitions to Dr Carroll to release Zelda into her care. Angry notes flew in all directions.
The Sayre sisters wrote to Zelda assuring her she was well enough to come home; the family wrote to Scott urging him to provide his wife with an allowance to live in Montgomery. Zelda, feeling recovered, wrote to Scott begging for freedom. Scott wrote to everybody informing them Carroll would not sanction Zelda’s release and if she left against his advice would not take her back. Then Scott wrote to Carroll to confirm this was the position to which they would both hold.
Subsequently Carroll wrote to Minnie to say that no matter how normal Zelda’s behaviour appeared, her psyche was shattered: she was mentally damaged goods. She would always live in a house of thinly spun glass.1 Scott and Minnie just about managed to keep their correspondence cordial, but Scott’s fury and Zelda’s desperation broke out time and time again.
With Zelda confused, Scott enraged, the Sayres frustrated and Carroll implacable, the battle continued for months. Studying some of the battle-ground communiques reveals the state of emotions on both sides.
War had started slowly in 1938.
26 April: Minnie wrote to Scott: ‘I am not trying to combat the doctors. I’m thinking of my child’s happiness … I feel that contact with those she loves is good for her and gives her a sense of protection … If Zelda can live here with me I am not afraid to try it.’
27 May: Scott replied, but to Rosalind: ‘I want more trial of Zelda’s capacities but I will not override Carroll … the idea of your mother assuming responsibility is, of course, fantastic — it would simply mean turning Zelda loose.’
29 May: Rosalind disregarded Scott’s reported prescription from Carroll, that the best life for Zelda would be ‘attractive quarters’ in hospital and ‘frequent travel for diversion’. As a luxury Scott could no longer afford, ‘it can be dismissed from consideration’. The Sayres wanted a ‘practicable plan whereby she could live outside the hospital relieving you of the expense of her staying there and allowing her a chance to re-establish herself’. Rosalind outlined the cheapest alternative. ‘If you cannot afford an attendant for her … I feel she is entitled to it [release] under the only other arrangement open to her, which is sharing Mama’s roof … denying her this without offering her something better would be condemning her arbitrarily to permanent hospitalization without giving her a trial, and neither you nor the rest of us would be willing to do that.’
Rosalind fired her ‘final word’ to Scott: ‘As you wrote Dr Carroll, you realize the time has gone when you can undertake Zelda’s supervision, and you must now find another way for her. Why not give her back to us, with allowance enough for normal support, and let us do the best we can for her.’2
18 September 1938: Rosalind informed Scott that Zelda wished to experiment in the new year in an Asheville apartment with a companion. The Sayres felt that as Zelda had not once slipped during the summer, ‘continued hospitalization, against her will, will be detrimental’.3 Scott, furious, ignored Rosalind’s letters.
7 December: Rosalind wrote again. Scott, who had asked for her advice, had neither acknowledged nor taken it. ‘We want something done about re-establishing Zelda in the world, and would appreciate your co-operation.’
21 December: Scott finally picked up his pen.
You seem to believe that the business of ‘re-establishing Zelda’ consists of signing a lease on a house in Asheville! … never for a moment did he [Carroll] take [your suggestion] seriously … what he told me is … 1) that Zelda is incurable though her disease is arrested for the present … 2) that she will never be able to live alone … 3) that her condition will inevitably move downward …. [if] Zelda comes into the world [with] no governing force upon her — with her damaged equipment she faces … not one chance in 10,000 — in order that Mrs Sayre can pass her last years in peace! … Imagine Zelda running amuk in Montgomery! I saw your mother when Zelda had the public masturbation illusion — she went very quickly home …
Scott told Rosalind the Sayres’ personal charm and tea-table ideas would not talk away dementia praecox. ‘Cure her I cannot and simply saying she’s cured must make the Gods laugh.’
When the Sayres refused to reduce their pressure Scott wrote to Marjorie, as ‘the only member of your family that has ever treated this business with ordinary human decency’.
‘I have taken the whole thing pretty well from Rosalind’s first accusation in 1930 that I “drove Zelda crazy” through your mother’s accusation that I sent her to Johns Hopkins in 1932 for ulterior motives.’ He reminded Marjorie it was Minnie’s ‘rotten care’ that allowed John Sellers to seduce Zelda at fifteen. ‘Your mother is a sort of typhoid Mary projecting her own defeated egotism … [it is a] preposterous idea that Zelda’s sanity can be bought with a one way ticket to Montgomery … You have nothing to offer. Why don’t you, for god’s sake, shut up! Any further communication from any of you will be returned unopened.’ Minnie’s long-distance thrusts would drive Zelda to suicide. She was behaving like the wicked mother in the Judgement of Solomon: ‘better the baby dead than not the baby at all’.4
Some remnant of sense made Scott file that letter instead of mailing it. But that same week he wrote Rosalind a sarcastic appreciation of her sanctimonious advice; then told her that if she wanted him to resist the temptation to pass her down to posterity for what she was, she should never communicate with him again. On top of the letter he scrawled: ‘When you people stink you certainly stink.’5
There is something deeply dispiriting about a bunch of well-meaning people, each genuinely concerned about the welfare of one of their number, quarrelling over treatment methods and release time. The possessiveness shown by both the Sayres and Scott over the rights to Zelda’s recovery is akin to the controlling way families sometimes behave over a dying member.
Not even Scottie was excluded from battle. In July 1939, after an appendix operation in Asheville when she was spending recovery time with her mother, who now appeared stable, seventeen-year-old Scottie entered the fray on the Montgomery side.
Scott immediately asked Carroll’s deputy, Dr Suitt, to inform Scottie that though her mother might hold up for short periods she would never be able to operate in the world without guidance. Suitt was to stress the onset of menopause was likely to cause Zelda derangement. Scott, determined to control his family’s relationships, warned Dr Suitt that Scottie’s new attitude towards Zelda could affect ‘my whole future relation with my daughter’.6
When Scottie asked Scott if she could join him in California that summer, her positive attitude towards Zelda’s release made him hesitate. ‘She is a dominant little girl in a polite way and to have her appear here now as a sort of ambassador of … the Montgomery point of view … would be much more than upsetting.’7 So Scott told Scottie he was depressed and nervous. He would rather not see her ‘than see you without loving you’. She must now realize that her home was Vassar.8 Scottie, distressed, showed Zelda the letter.
Zelda wanted Scott to understand that his note might have further endangered Scottie’s sense of safety. ‘She is such a particularly brave and self-reliant child that it would be lamentable to allow a sense of the absence of stability to twist her mind with neuroses.’9
On 27 September 1939, after two months’ illness, Scott wrote to Carroll saying he had run out of funds. Would Highland credit him for another month without depriving Zelda of necessities? Carroll agreed to trust Scott and not to release Zelda to her family. Harold Ober, who for years had generously lent Scott money, was less gracious, and finally refused. Scott, believing Ober had lost faith in his talents, broke with him. This had severe repercussions on Scottie’s relationship with the Obers, who had acted as her most immediate kin since she first went to the Ethel Walker School. Firing Ober also made Scott financially worse off in October. ‘I am almost penniless,’ he told Zelda, informing her that their friends were helping to pay for Scottie’s return to Vassar. ‘Scottie has got to survive and this is the most important year of her life.’ Zelda must stop harassing him with requests for freedom and must leave him in peace with his haemorrhages and his hopes. He had a new novel to write and a child to rear.10
Zelda wrote back reasonably:
your letter somewhat hurt me … you do not give a thought to the fact that this hospital regimentation, while most excellent for whipping into shape, is very gruelling … Mamma would be happy to have me: if any trouble arose I could and would return here … I cant see any legitimization of keeping me under hospitalization much longer …. There is every reason to believe that I am more able to observe the social dictats than yourself — on the evidence of our ‘vacations’ from the hospital — which have been … a dread affair of doctors and drink and confirmation of the impossibility of any equitable reunion. Although you know this — and that the probabilities are much against our ever having any life to-gether again — you are persistent in not letting me have a chance to exist alone at least in comfort — in Alabama and make my own orientation. Or even in Ashville, I might be able to get a job … Won’t you, in fairness, please consider this letter from some other basis than that I am your possible enemy and that your first obligation is self-defensive.11
Furiously he retorted that only if they were divorced would he agree to her request, as that way he would have no further responsibility for her. His anger escalated in a nine-page aggressive letter which a moment’s diplomacy stopped him from mailing.
That a fifty dollar ticket to Montgomery would in some way purchase your eternal mental health is a proposition I will not debate. I won’t even debate it with Dr Carroll … Do you think she [your mother] cares or ever has cared about you …? Do you think she would ever quarrel with you for your impersonal good? She constructed herself on a heroic romantic model as a girl and you were to be the stuffed dummy … She chose me — and she did — and you submitted at the moment of our marriage when your passion for me was at as low ebb as mine for you — because she thought romanticly that her projection of herself in you could best be shown thru me. I never wanted the Zelda I married. I didn’t love you again till after you became pregnant … This is the very questionable element I bought and your mother asks to be given back … I’d like to discover the faintest basis for your family’s accusation that I drove you crazy … that old witch drove you crazy. You were ‘crazy’ in the ordinary sense before I met you. I rationalized your eccentricities and made a sort of creation of you … If it hadn’t been you perhaps I would have worked with more stable material. My talent and my decline is the norm. Your degeneracy is the deviation.12
Under considerable pressure and unusually nervous, in October 1939 Scott began to draft The Last Tycoon, in which his protagonist Monroe Stahr was based on director Irving Thalberg.13 When John and Belle O’Hara visited him for Sunday lunch that fall at Belly Acres in the San Fernando Valley, Scott showed O’Hara his manuscript: ‘Promise you won’t tell anyone about it,’ he said. ‘Don’t tell them what it’s about, or anything about the people … [don’t] even tell anyone I’m writing another book.’ While John read with a deadpan expression Scott sat tortured. Eventually his friend said: ‘Scott, don’t take any more movie jobs until you’ve finished this. You work so slowly and this is so good, you’ve got to finish it. It’s real Fitzgerald.’14
Heartened, he carried on with a taxing schedule against failing health. By contrast, Zelda’s health was holding up well.
During the fall she shopped alone in Asheville, directed gym classes, worked with other patients in athletics and art therapy. Her Southern flower painting Hope is characteristically not all that it seems. It might be a spiralling mass of soft blue bubbles or a hymn in praise of foetal unfurlings.15 Her paintings in two recent exhibitions had received good reviews: ‘There is an arresting and imaginative quality about this painter’s use of vivid color and abstract circular design to portray pure emotion that sticks in the observer’s mind … And there is a velvety effect about her handling of oil paint which suggests the visions one conjures up by pressing the palms of the hands over the eyeballs in a dark room.’16
This success was followed that winter by an invitation from Dr Carroll to paint floral scenes on large window screens for the new assembly building. She would be paid, her materials provided by Carroll, and when Duke University eventually took over Highland, her work would reach a wider audience. Though excited she feared professional exploitation. ‘I sent word’, she wrote Scott, ‘that I ultimately would not subscribe to the commandering of a professional talent. The fact that an artist is temporarily incapacitate ought not to make him fair game to anybody who is able. My talent has cost a lot in heart-ache and paint-bills; and I don’t want to compromise myself.’17
Her fear of exploitation was realized when she discovered the screens would be used not in the hall but in the patients’ bedrooms. Feeling betrayed, she wrote to Scott: ‘To waste a professional talent, the cumulate result of years of effort, aspiration and heartbreak on a venture which will never see the light of day but most probably will be maltreated by every manifestation of psychosis is, to me, an abuse of the soul, human faith, and metier that is almost beyond my capacity to envisage.’18
Even the payment for her work would be offset against her hospital bills, just as her royalties from Save Me The Waltz had been offset against Scott’s debt to Scribner’s. She felt strongly payment of hospital fees was Scott’s responsibility. ‘I dont want to pay these bills’, she told him, ‘because I do not need what they buy.’ She was, however, frightened that if she refused the art job she would be relabelled psychotic.
By Christmas she had been well enough to travel alone to Montgomery, where she remained absolutely stable throughout the vacation. On her return she wrote to Scott determinedly: ‘There isn’t forever left for either of us … I have a home to turn to while I organize an existence … I ask you to acknowledge not only on the basis of your obligation to me — as your wife — but also on the terms of your social obligation.’19
Scott, occupied with his new Pat Hobby stories about an ex-Hollywood gag writer, ignored her.20
However, something was changing, even though Scott’s mind was not. For the first time since her initial hospitalization ten years ago, Zelda was able to send and receive uncensored mail.21 In February Carroll agreed to a compromise over the screens which were to be decorative only, so that as she explained with relief to Scott, her ‘best and most exacting talents [were not] being buried within the confines of psychotic morass’.22 She was convinced Carroll was on the point of letting her out. Scott treated her hunch as fantasy until suddenly he received a letter from Carroll, dated 4 March 1940, informing him Zelda had held to her routine in Montgomery and could be trusted to be self-sufficient, and suggesting she be released from Highland.
Scott, astonished, responded: ‘Your letter was a complete surprise, but of course I am delighted.’23 He gave Zelda the long-awaited news immediately: ‘It is wonderful to be able to write you this. Dr Carroll has for the first time and at long last agreed that perhaps you shall try to make a place for yourself in the world … you can go to Montgomery the first of April and remain there indefinitely or as long as you seem able to carry on under your own esteem … I can share your joy.’24 Simultaneously he wrote to Minnie: ‘This is a complete about-face for him [Carroll], but I do not think that his suggestion comes from any but the most sincere grounds.’25
Scott seemed more confused by the news than Zelda. It is not clear whether he had been exaggerating the hospital’s position to the Sayres in 1939 or whether Carroll had suddenly reversed his attitude. If so, why? It is possible that Zelda knew more about the reasons than she let on, and even — judging from a later event — might not have been above a bit of blackmail to secure her release.
During Zelda’s last months at Highland, Carroll had been involved in a rape case with one of his patients. There is strong evidence that the patient in question was not the only one subjected to sexual abuse, and that Zelda herself may have been an unfortunate victim of Dr Carroll’s mistreatment. Dr Irving Pine, Carroll’s colleague, said many years after Zelda’s release but without equivocation: ‘Dr Carroll treated his women patients badly including Zelda.’ Pine went further: ‘Dr Carroll took advantage of several women patients including Zelda.’26 This traumatic incident could have given a bright patient like Zelda a certain leverage.
That Zelda was prepared to use this advantage later when, out of hospital, she received a staggeringly expensive Highland bill, is shown in a letter she wrote to John Biggs, who had taken over the management of her financial affairs after Scott’s death.
My own attitude towards the hospital was one of complete compliance until August  — after which time I resorted to my own discretion; having received no recognition of an impeccable record for two years. The proprietor [Carroll] has been implicated in a rape case (which could no doubt be substantiated from legal records) and might be willing to compromise; if I am in a position to protest this bill.27
In the event, it seems she had protested sufficiently to be allowed to leave Highland. At last Scott would be free of hospital bills. At last Zelda would be free. Scott, however, had made two provisions: one that she be paroled into her mother’s care; the other that if she became ill she could be readmitted to Highland. He asked Carroll for a written statement that would absolve him of any responsibility if Zelda relapsed. Carroll agreed and wrote a warning letter.
Mrs Fitzgerald’s history shows a definite cyclic tendency and we must look forward with apprehension to her inability to meet emotional situations, to face infections, or to indulge in alcohol, tobacco or drugs without a rapid return to her maniacal irresponsibility. Let it be known that Mrs Fitzgerald is capable of being absolutely irresponsible and intensely suicidal. Her present condition, however, is one of gentleness, reasonable capacity for cooperation and yet with definitely reduced judgment maturity.28
On previous departures from hospitals, Scott had fetched her in a car. Either he transferred her to another institution or he took her home, where Scottie awaited her. This time, on 15 April 1940, when after four years she left Highland it was entirely on her own. She climbed on an early morning bus to Montgomery, clutching not her husband’s hand but his cool letter which made it chillingly clear she was not welcome in Hollywood. ‘I do hope this goes well. I wish you were going to brighter surroundings but this is certainly not the time to come to me and I can think of nowhere else for you to go in this dark and bloody world … So Bon Voyage and Stay well.’29
On Zelda’s arrival in Montgomery the oak-vaulted streets were garlanded with purple and white wisteria, the gardens blazed with hydrangeas, azaleas and flowering quinces, and pink primroses clothed the fields.
During the early months Zelda worked in Minnie’s garden, building a patio where she could listen to the white doves while she painted flowers which she saw as a spiritual expression of turmoil and hope. She hired a bicycle and rode regularly through town, attracting attention in new exotic coloured clothes, for Scott provided her with a small board and dress allowance of $30 a week. She restarted dance lessons, resumed her regime of long walks, invited her old friends Livye Hart and Julia Garland to join her on excursions. Evenings she spent with her mother quietly reading, cooking or at the movies. But the tranquillity of this limited life was insufficient to throw off the effects of ten years’ institutionalization. Initially she wrote to Scott: ‘I don’t write; and I dont paint: largely because it requires most of my resources to keep out of hospital … making the social adjustment is more difficult tha[n] I had supposed.’ Though Zelda acknowledged the challenge: ‘I am conversant with the difficulties which probably confront me: middle aged, untrained, graduate of half-a-dozen mental Institutes’, she was not prepared for its toughness.30
Setbacks occurred in June when according to Minnie, shocked at the severity of Zelda’s suffering, her daughter suffered a ‘toxic attack’.31 Scott urged Scottie to spend part of her summer with Zelda. But on the morning of 18 June Zelda telegraphed Scott: ‘I wont be able to stick this out. Will you wire money immediately that I may return Friday to Ashville. Will see Scottie there. Devotedly Regretfully Gratefully — Zelda.’ However, in a renewed burst of optimism that afternoon, she wired again: ‘Disregard telegram am fine again. Happy to see Scottie.’
When Scottie arrived on 20 June both mother and daughter were determined to make the visit a success. Scottie reported to Scott that she had been an angel and they had ‘really gotten along rather well’. But Scottie had been unprepared for her mother’s elaborately worded ideas and lack of energy. She saw Zelda as a ‘fish out of water’.32 Whereas Zelda was in truth a patient who’d swum out of a hospital tank and was in danger of drowning in the sea. Scottie knew too little to take into consideration how a decade of insulin shocks had altered her mother’s personality.
What the hospital had failed to tell the Sayres, what even Scott had failed to take into account, were the side-effects of her electro-shock therapy, which were evident in Scott’s description to the Murphys of Zelda’s changed persona. ‘Zelda is home … She has a poor pitiful life, reading the Bible in the old fashioned manner walking tight lipped and correct through a world she can no longer understand … Part of her mind is washed clean + she is no one I ever knew.’33
But part of Zelda’s mind was still functioning well, if not consistently. She was determined that with God’s help she would regain a hold on a normal, if much more ordinary, existence. After a few months she began exhibiting art works locally, and made a serious sustained attempt at her last novel with its ironic title Caesar’s Things.
When Sara Mayfield saw her in late summer Zelda confessed how devastating it was to have returned to Montgomery as a semi-invalid. She told Sara that most weekdays she sat ‘in peace and serenity’ in St John’s Episcopal Church because there was ‘no place else to go and think unless I take a streetcar and ride to the end of the line and back’. On Sundays she went to the Church of the Holy Comforter where, watched by old friends, she would make notes for her novel, with its religious theme. Religious convictions had become increasingly a source of strength for Zelda.
She drew strength also from the regular correspondence with Scott which, with the safety of thousands of miles between them, had again become affectionate. Scott however still avoided two subjects: his mistress, Sheilah Graham, and his worsening health. To deny illness to Zelda perhaps allowed him to deny it to himself.
Scott’s first heart spasm took place in January 1940, while opening a jammed window in his Belly Acres cottage. Dr Clarence Nelson scared him with warnings of worse to come, so Scott moved back to a city apartment on North Laurel Avenue, West Hollywood, just one block from Sheilah. He still kept his address hidden from Zelda. In March 1940, on a flight to Tucson, he felt sick, panicked and asked for a doctor, nurse and ambulance to meet him at the airport. When they landed he had miraculously recovered. But his illness was not merely a fantasy. At Dorothy Parker’s cocktail party in September 1940, playwright Clifford Odets observed ‘Fitzgerald, pale, unhealthy, as if the tension of life had been wrenched out of him’.34 Forty-eight drops of digitalis to keep his heart working properly, as well as potentially dangerous doses of barbiturates, became insufficient.
On 28 November at Schwab’s drugstore on Sunset Boulevard he suffered his first serious attack of angina pectoris.35 He was ordered bedrest and wrote on a lap-board. He told Zelda the cardiogram showed his heart was repairing itself, and that by writing 1,750 words a day he hoped to finish the first draft of The Last Tycoon by 15 January.
He was weaving the tale of his romance with Sheilah into the novel, but like his protagonist Stahr, Scott was in love with the memory of his wife — though by now only with the memory. He was also half in love with death. It haunted his thoughts, for he felt more fragile than he admitted. He wrote to Scottie: ‘You have two beautiful bad examples for parents. Just do everything we didn’t do and you will be perfectly safe. But be sweet to your mother at Xmas … Her letters are tragically brilliant in all matters except those of central importance.’ Remember, he told Scottie, ‘the insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read’.36
At the same time as his reflection about Zelda, only one week before his own death, Scott was still ruminating over his friendship with Emily Vanderbilt. He wrote two letters mentioning how well Tom Wolfe had captured Emily’s character in his novel You Can’t Go Home Again. ‘I’ve read … most of Tom Wolfe’s [novel]’, he wrote to Perkins. ‘The portraits of the Jacks … [and] Emily Vanderbilt are magnificent.’ Two days later he wrote to Scottie: ‘I am still not through Tom Wolfe’s novel & can’t finally report it but the picture of “Amy Carlton” (Emily Davies Vanderbilt who used to come to our appartment in Paris — do you remember?) with the cracked grey eyes and the exactly reproduced speech, is just simply perfect. She tried hard to make Tom — sans succes — and finally ended by her own hand in Montana … in a lonely ranch house.’37
Then he put his will in order and instructed his executor to destroy all documents relating to Zelda’s illness unless she proved still to be ill, in which case they must be handed to a responsible doctor and kept out of Scottie’s reach. In December, recurrent dizziness made him vacate his second floor apartment and move into Sheilah’s ground floor flat on North Hayworth. Again he reassured Zelda: ‘I’m quite able to work, etc., if I do not overtire myself.’38
However, on Friday 20 December, while he and Sheilah were leaving the Pantages Theatre after seeing a film, dizziness turned into a second heart attack, and he stumbled to the car. The following day at three o’clock in the afternoon he suffered his third, this time fatal, attack. He was propped up on Sheilah’s green armchair, munching a chocolate bar as he worked on a feature for the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Suddenly he jerked like a puppet out of the chair, fell against the mantelpiece, clutching at it in terror, then silently slumped on to the floor. Though Sheilah summoned medical aid it arrived too late to save him.39 He died of occlusive coronary arteriosclerosis, aged forty-four, with 44,000 words of his last novel written.
John Biggs, Scott’s executor, asked Frances Kroll, Scott’s young secretary, to call a Los Angeles mortician to take Scott’s body to the Pierce Brothers Mortuary in a seedy part of town at 720 West Washington Boulevard. A cosmetic mortician did his worst and Scott, with rouged cheeks and flushed temples, was put on view in the William Wordsworth room. A visitor recalled he was laid out to look like a cross between a floor-walker and a wax dummy. ‘Except for one bouquet of flowers and a few empty chairs, there was nothing to keep him company except his casket.’ Dorothy Parker, one of the few friends present, ironically quoted Owl-eyes’ comment on Gatsby: ‘The poor son-of-a-bitch.’40
Ober called Zelda to tell her that Scott had died, but she was out walking with Julia Garland. It was Minnie who broke the devastating news when she returned. Zelda found the idea of a world without Scott Fitzgerald inconceivable. According to Gerald Murphy, she ‘seized upon his death as the only reality that had pierced the membrane since they separated … [she] gave weird orders for the disposition of the body … then collapsed. She is not allowed to come to the funeral.’41
Scottie, staying with the Obers over the Christmas vacation, was at a dance in Poughkeepsie so Harold sent his son Dick to tell her. How did nineteen-year-old Scottie react? Fanny Myers was shocked to discover that on the day her father died Scottie also went to the opera. At the time Fanny felt this was insensitive, but in conversation many years later she and Honoria Murphy concluded that Scottie’s lifelong habit of distraction and denial had operated at this most severe crisis of her young life.42 Certainly, the day before the funeral, Gerald Murphy reported that ‘Little Scottie is tragic and bewildered tho’ she says that she has thought for so long that every day he would die for some reason.’43
The decision to send the body east was made by Zelda, in telephone discussions with Biggs, who felt Scott would like to be buried where his father was buried.
An official at Baltimore Diocese refused permission for a Catholic funeral service and burial at St Mary’s Church, Rockville, Maryland, because Scott had not been a practising Catholic at his death. Instead the burial was at Rockville Union Cemetery, on 27 December, following an Episcopal service at the Pumphrey Funeral Home in Bethseda. Although too ill to attend, Zelda was involved in all the arrangements and asked her brother-in-law Newman Smith to act in her place. Sheilah Graham was asked not to attend out of respect for Zelda. About twenty loyal friends supported Scottie. They included Sara and Gerald Murphy, Louise and Max Perkins, Anna and John Biggs, Anne and Harold Ober, Ludlow Fowler and the Turnbulls. Cousin Cecilia Taylor and her four daughters came, so did Newman Smith but not Rosalind, and, most curiously, Dick Knight, the man Scott had detested. Max Perkins thought of telegraphing Hemingway in Cuba but instead wrote to him after the funeral: ‘it didn’t seem as if there were any use in it, and I shrank from doing it.’44
Zelda, who wanted the occasion filled with flowers, sent a basket of pink gladioli, which exactly matched Ludlow Fowler’s spray. The Sayres sent red roses, the Bishops white chrysanthemums, the Turnbulls a white rose wreath, Honoria Murphy a mixed rose wreath, the Princeton Class of 1917 provided yellow roses and John and Anna Biggs showered the room with snapdragons, red roses and Zelda’s favourite lilies.
The newspaper obituaries and articles recalled Scott as the symbol of the Jazz Age. The New York Times, acknowledging that Fitzgerald had ‘invented a generation’, said Fitzgerald was ‘better than he knew’. The New York Herald Tribune called up the glamorous world of Fitzgerald novels before the Depression: ‘the penthouses, the long weekend drunks … the vacuous conversations, the lush intoxication of easy money’.45 Budd Schulberg wrote: ‘He was not meant, temperamentally, to be a cynic … But Scott made cynicism beautiful, poetic, almost an ideal.’46 Edmund Wilson edited tributes by Scott’s friends, who included John O’Hara, Dos Passos, Glenway Westcott and John Peale Bishop, for two issues of The New Republic.47
John O’Hara wrote: ‘He was professionally one of the most generous artists I’ve ever known … He kept his integrity … And he kept it in death … F. Scott Fitzgerald was a right writer … the people were right, the talk was right, the clothes, the cars were real, and the mysticism was a kind of challenge … the man could do no wrong.’ O’Hara recalled telling Dorothy Parker: ‘The guy just can’t write a bad piece,’ and Parker replying: ‘No. He can write a bad piece but he can’t write badly.’48
Scott wrote his own accurate epitaph in a conversation he had in Hollywood with Budd Schulberg Jnr.
I used to have a beautiful talent once, Baby. It used to be a wonderful feeling to know it was there, and it isn’t all gone yet … I have enough left to stretch out over two more novels … maybe they won’t be as good as the best things I’ve done. But they won’t be completely bad either, because nothing I ever write can ever be completely bad.49
Nor can it.
For Zelda, in the dark night of her soul, it was always three o’clock in the morning. Some of her emotions were shared by John Peale Bishop in his obituary poem ‘The Hours’:
All day, knowing you dead,
I have sat in this long-windowed room,
Looking upon the sea and, dismayed
By mortal sadness, thought without thought to resume
Those hours which you and I have known –
Hours when youth like an insurgent sun
Showered ambition on an aimless air,
Hours foreboding disillusion,
Hours which now there is none to share.
Since you are dead, I live them all alone.50
Did she fill those hours with memories of him as a wild child or a scapegrace wit, did she momentarily put aside his dissipations, his wasteful despairs, did she recall all he did and all he might have done before undone by death?
It seems she did, for what she wrote to Scottie, with forgivable exaggeration, was: ‘Daddy was the key-note and prophet of his generation and deserves remembrance as such since he dramatized the last post-war era + gave the real signifigance to those gala and so-tragicly fated days.’51
Before the funeral Zelda wrote to Ober: ‘In retrospect, it seems as if he was always planning happinesses for Scottie, and for me. Books to read — places to go. Life seemed so promisory always when he was around: and I always believed that he could take care of anything. It seems so useless and purposeless that I wont be able to tell him about all this. Although we were not close any more, Scott was the best friend a person could have [been] to me.’52
Her best friend who was also her worst friend was dead. His voice might continue to sound in her head but if she herself was not to remain silent she had at last to fill those unshared hours with sounds of her own. She started by looking back on the years she had shared with Scott. She recalled New York and Paris. Her love for both had been evident in Save Me The Waltz but she had never visualized it. Grieving for Scott, she saw dreamy flashbacks through cobwebs to a remembered (or newly reconstructed) happy past. But as Gatsby discovered, you can’t repeat the past. If a future was to be created out of her solitary present, if she was to earn a solo credit, she had to write and paint in her own voice.
1 The spun glass phrase was used by Scott reporting Carroll’s words to Minnie Sayre, 3 Jan. 1939, CO187, Box 53, Folder 13, PUL.
2 The idea that Zelda should live with a companion near her family was impractical as a companion’s fee was beyond anyone’s means; that Zelda should reside alone in a Montgomery cottage to give her a sense of responsibility was equally impractical because Zelda was an undomesticated artist.
3 Rosalind also reported Dr Carroll’s view that a trained nurse was unnecessary.
4 FSF to Marjorie Brinson, c. end Dec. 1938, CO187, Box 53, Folder Marjorie Brinson (Sayre), PUL. The letter is marked in pen ‘unsent’.
5 FSF to Rosalind Sayre Smith, c. end Dec. 1938, CO187, Box 53, Folder 14, PUL.
6 FSF to Dr R. Burke Suitt, 5 July 1939, CO187, Box 53, Folder Burke Suitt, PUL. Scott wrote this after he had registered Minnie Sayre’s comment that though Zelda’s ‘visit came at the time of the month that is most trying (I mean menstruation) … there was no undue nervousness’ (Minnie Sayre to FSF, 26 Apr. 1938, CO187, Box 53, unnumbered folder, PUL).
7 FSF to Suitt, 27 July 1939, CO187, Box 53, Folder Burke Suitt, PUL.
8 FSF to Scottie Fitzgerald, July 1939, CO187, Box 40, PUL.
9 ZSF to FSF, July 1939, CO187, Box 47, Folder 48, PUL.
10 FSF to ZSF, 6 Oct. 1939, Life in Letters, pp. 412–13.
11 ZSF to FSF, Oct. 1939, CO187, Box 47, Folder 70, PUL.
12 FSF to ZSF, unsent letter, c. late 1939, PUL.
13 Thalberg had died in 1936.
14 John O’Hara, ‘In Memory of Scott Fitzgerald: II’, The New Republic, 3 Mar. 1941.
15 Zelda’s Montgomery friend and biographer Sara Mayfield saw it simply as a study in blue and white of a planter’s cotton bolls.
16 Quoted in Koula Hartnett, ‘Zelda Fitzgerald and the Failure of the American Dream’, paper presented at Southern Atlantic Modern Language Association Annual Meeting, 1981, p. 142.
17 ZSF to FSF, c. winter 1939–40 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 48, Folder 10, PUL.
18 ZSF to FSF, c. Jan./Feb. 1940 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 48, Folder 7, PUL.
19 ZSF to FSF, 31 Dec. 1939, CO187, Box 48, Folder 4, PUL.
20 ‘Pat Hobby’s Christmas Wish’, the first of seventeen stories, was published in Esquire, Jan. 1940.
21 ‘Meantime: it is good to be able to receive uncensored mail.’ ZSF to FSF, 31 Dec. 1939, CO187, Box 48, Folder 4, PUL.
22 ZSF to FSF. c. mid-late Feb. 1940 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 48, Folder 17, PUL.
23 FSF to Dr Robert Carroll, 8 Mar. 1940, CO187, Box 39, Folder 45, PUL.
24 FSF to ZSF, 8 Mar. 1940, Life in Letters, p. 438.
25 FSF to Minnie Sayre, 8 Mar. 1940, CO187, Box 53, Folder 13, PUL.
26 Dr Irving Pine to the author in two conversations, 1998 and 1999. Further confirmation comes from the fact that Dr Pine used virtually the same phrase to describe Carroll’s mistreatment of patients to a previous biographer, who did not use the quote in her study of the Fitzgeralds but repeated it to this author.
27 ZSF to John Biggs Jnr, 29 Jan. 1941, CO628, Box 2, Folder 11, PUL. The bill for 1 May 1939 to 14 Apr. 1940 was $4,017.14 for professional services; plus incidental expenses of $50 (shampoo and shoe repairs) and $18.80 (special attendance, special medication). The bill was submitted several times and not paid until 15 Jan. 1942.
28 Dr Robert Carroll’s statement on ZSF’s condition, 6 Apr. 1940, CO187, Box 49, Folder 26A, PUL.
29 FSF to ZSF, 11 Apr. 1940, Life in Letters, p. 442.
30 ZSF to FSF, early summer 1940 (author’s dating); c. Mar./early Apr. 1940 (author’s dating), CO187, Box 48, Folders 39, 23, PUL.
31 FSF wrote to Scottie 6 June 1940 to tell her, Life in Letters, p. 449.
32 Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 127.
33 FSF to Gerald and Sara Murphy, early summer 1940, Honoria Murphy Donnelly Collection.
34 The Time Is Ripe: The 1940 Journal of Clifford Odets, New York 1988, p. 293.
35 Many alcoholics suffer alcoholic cardiomyopathy, enlargement of heart chambers.
36 FSF to Scottie Fitzgerald, c. 15 Dec. 1940, Life in Letters, p. 475.
37 FSF to MP, 13 Dec. 1940, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 268; to Scottie Fitzgerald, 15 Dec. 1940, Life in Letters, pp. 474, 475.
38 FSF to ZSF, 6 Dec. 1940, Life in Letters, pp. 473–4.
39 Sheilah Graham characteristically gives two different versions of Fitzgerald’s death. In Beloved Infidel (1958) she says he was still breathing when he hit the floor (p. 251). In The Real Scott Fitzgerald (1976) she said he died instantly (p. 15). Meyers, Scott Fitzgerald, follows version one. Edmund Wilson in his letters and Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise, follow version two.
40 Quoted in Meyers, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 334.
42 Fanny Myers Brennan and Honoria Murphy Donnelly in conversation with the author.
43 Meyers, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 334.
44 MP to EH, 28 Dec. 1940, PUL.
45 Reproduced in Romantic Egoists, p. 230.
46 Budd Schulberg Jnr, ‘In Hollywood’, The New Republic.
47 Issues of 17 Feb./3 Mar. 1941.
48 O’Hara, ‘In memory of Scott Fitzgerald: II’, The New Republic.
49 Schulberg, ‘In Hollywood’.
50 John Peale Bishop, ‘The Hours’, The New Republic.
51 ZSF to Scottie Fitzgerald, undated (author’s dating c. June 1945), CO183, Box 4, Folder 36, PUL.
52 ZSF to Ober, 24 Dec. 1940, As Ever, p. 424.