“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
“Schiz-o-phren-i-a,” Scott said in a soft, careful voice, as though verbally tiptoeing around broken glass.
He was seated across from me at a little wooden table in the sunny salon of Les Rives de Prangins, a Swiss hospital on the shore of Lake Geneva. A chessboard sat between us, carved ivory pieces all in place and waiting for battle orders. He’d brought it from the apartment he’d taken in nearby Lausanne, where he intended to live for the duration of my stay here. Scottie was in the care of her governess in Paris.
I’d arrived in May after a short stint at the aptly named Malmaison clinic in Paris. The doctors there had directed me to rest and eat; I did, and then as soon as I’d regained my energy, I bolted. Back to the dance studio I went, desperate to make up for the time I’d lost. Unfortunately, I brought my terrors with me and was soon a true nervous wreck—a nervous disaster, practically the Titanic—all over again. Confused, angry, exhausted, skinny, sick, scared, and broken-down, I’d agreed to come here to Prangins. I would have agreed to anything that promised relief.
I said, “Yes, that’s the diagnosis they’ve settled on. It means ‘split mind.’”
Scott put his fingers atop a rook, tracing the toothlike surface. “Yes, I know, Dr. Forel told me.” This was Dr. Oscar Forel, the renowned psychiatrist and Prangins founder the inmates—two dozen women, all well-off, all “nervous cases” like me—secretly called The Warden.
“And they won’t let me dance, not at all, not even the exercises. Ballet is a trigger, they said.” I swallowed my resentment, tried to ignore the pull of a desire still as strong as the most addictive drug. “How about you? How was Paris and your visit with Scottie?”
“Oh, she’s well enough. Busy with her friends.”
My heart clenched. “Does she miss me? Did you give her my drawing?”
“Yes, she loved the princess—wants you to do her as a paper doll if you can. And this was great: I met up with a writer Max has taken on—Thomas Wolfe, from North Carolina. He’s got a novel called Look Homeward, Angel. I brought it.” Scott leaned down to take the book from his satchel. “His writing is like Ernest’s but with this soft vitality … he’s hugely impressive, I think you’ll love the book.”
I looked at it without enthusiasm. “Maybe, if I ever get my concentration back.”
“You will. You will.” He reached for my hand. “Dr. Forel says it’s your ambitions that drove you to the breaking point, but you’re here now. There’s every reason to believe you’ll be fine.”
“You might deliver that last line again, ’cause you don’t sound a bit convincing.”
“I want to be convinced, but, well, you have to quit doing things like trying to run away, or refusing your medications—you have got to be more cooperative. I’m paying a thousand dollars a month for you to be here, Zelda, so every delay—”
“I’m sure sorry to have done this to you.” I pulled away from him. “How thoughtless of me—get it? Thought-less? Meaning mindless, empty-headed, vacant, and what’s worse, expensive.”
“Darling, come on, I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s awful here. Sure, it looks like this beautiful lakeside hotel, but the treatments—I feel like one of the undead,” I said. “Half the time I’m sick to my stomach, just all muddled and bloated … and no one here speaks decent English, and you know my French is below par, and for God’s sake, when I tried to leave, they sedated me and tied me to my bed—”
“Don’t you want to get better, Zelda? Cooperate. Admit how damaging it is for you to compete with me. Agree to give up dancing. They’ve told you that all of this is necessary to your getting well.”
They had. And I was learning to weave some fine baskets, too.
He said, “Scottie misses you dreadfully. We just want you home. There’s no need for you to be a professional dancer, writer, anything. Be a mother. Be a wife. I’ve made a good life for you, Zelda; stop rejecting it.”
“And then what?”
“And then your mind will mend itself. The split will heal. The doctors will put you back in balance here, if you’ll let them.”
The therapies I’d undergone in my three months here had diminished the terrors, the delusions—psychosis, they called it—and I was grateful for that. In their place, though, was this sticky, bleary bleakness. I’d tried to describe how I felt: “Pas de couleur,” I told one of my doctors, No color. His solution: a watercolors paintbox, an easel, and paper, all of which I appreciated greatly without being able to tell for sure whether he’d understood my meaning.
“What I meant was, what will I do?”
Scott looked at me blankly.
“With all my time,” I said.
He pushed his fingers through his hair. “You’ll just enjoy yourself. Christ.”
The first of the torturous patches began as a red spot on the right side of my neck. A mosquito bite, I thought. The spot, though, became an area. It grew scales. It itched. It wept. It throbbed. It crept along my skin until my neck was covered and my face became a dragon’s, all scabby from my clawing, all oily from creams that had no effect. I breathed fire at my nurses and my doctors, demanding some kind of relief.
I felt like my head and neck had been dipped and floured and were continuously frying in hot oil. Dante would have adapted this torturous rash—eczema is its innocent name—to the Inferno with glee, and Dr. Forel would have devised a special circle of hell for women who, like me, resisted reeducation.
Wrapped in salve and gauze and waiting for my next dose of that old savior morphine, I wrote to Tootsie, Emma Bovary wouldn’t have hung around for this.
One of the Swiss doctors had written in his notebook, in English, “A jazz-age train wreck in slow motion.” I pointed and asked, “Est-ce le votre?” Is that yours?
He tilted the notebook so that I couldn’t read from it. “Madame Fitzgerald, veuillez repondre a la question.” Please answer the question.
“I’m tired this morning; can we do this in English? And call me Zelda, won’t you? It’s been nearly a year, after all. I think we’re acquainted.”
The doctor and I were seated in armchairs that had been upholstered with dense brown silk. Here were polished maple shelves filled with medical volumes; damask draperies framing the kind of bucolic view Wordsworth and Coleridge and Shelley wrote about so eloquently; a carved desk holding a tooled-leather blotter, silver inkwell, silver-framed photographs of three perfect blond children and a perfectly conservative-looking blond wife. Bland wife, in fact. No flapper, no party girl, no dancing artiste for this doctor, who looked only a little older than Scott’s thirty-four years. This doctor was without question a sensible man.
“Madame Fitzgerald, the matter of evaluating your progress—”
“’Cause that sentence sounds like Scott,” I said, reaching over to tap the notebook. “That’s his term, you know. Jazz age. From Tales of the Jazz Age, his second story collection, in 1922. Have you read his books?”
The doctor’s gaze was level, expressionless. If he was judging me, he didn’t let on. But I had to wonder if Scott had persuaded them that I was the one who’d derailed our life, the same way his letters had tried to persuade me. We’d both written reams of recriminations over the past year, purging ourselves of all the feelings we’d held inside for so long.
“Let us continue,” the doctor said. His name was Brandt, and I’d seen him three or four times before. He said, “Yes, you have been with us for eleven months, so we evaluate your progress once again.” He glanced at his notebook. “How do you feel presently about Mr. Fitzgerald’s success in relation to your own failed attempts?”
“Ah, you feel remorse.” The doctor wrote something in the notebook. “You realize now that a wife must first tend to domestic matters. Good. This is paramount to every woman’s happiness.”
“No, I mean I don’t understand the question. Failed attempts? How did I fail, except in having the stamina to continue?”
He looked at me blankly. “You are not sorry? Do I misunderstand? Prefereriez-vous parler en francais?”
“No, God—it’s bad enough trying to do this in English. I mean, I don’t think I’ve failed, not in the way you seem to be saying. And Scott, well, he hasn’t been all that successful in the past few years. And he sure wasn’t tending to domestic matters either, and I’d say that’s paramount to a woman’s happiness.”
When the doctor said nothing, didn’t even blink, I added, “Maybe my stories and essays aren’t as fine as Scott’s, but who says I have to be just like him? I’m not him. No writer should be the same as another, that’s not art. My articles and stories have been published in lots of places. Ask him, he’ll tell you I’ve succeeded on my own.”
Dr. Brandt said, “We have asked him, yes.” He scratched his chin, then said, “Dr. Forel feels that since hypnosis was so helpful with the eczema and you are feeling stronger, it is best for you to write down your recollections and opinions, which we can compare with your husband’s. Monsieur Fitzgerald has been extremely forthcoming.”
“I bet. So I write my thoughts, and then what? You’ll hand down a final judgment like my father would?”
This thought about my father tugged at my heart, making it flutter. The tug was not about Daddy, exactly, but about home. Some home. Any home. I was well now and had been well for a good while. Several thousand dollars’ worth of while, in fact; continuing to stay here just to perfect my carpentry and volleyball skills was absurd.
I’d said as much to Scott during a recent outing to Geneva, begged him, “Deo, just tell ’em you’re satisfied with the job they did and now we’re going back to Paris.”
Being away from the clinic made me feel wholly human, reminded me that I’d once had a life as real as any of the people we passed on the quai.
Scott took my hand. “These doctors are the finest psychiatric minds in the world. We can’t second-guess their knowledge.”
“But the expense—”
“I’m handling it. Of more concern to me is that Dr. Forel says you’re still resisting some of their suggestions. Even though you feel better, you aren’t fully cured.”
“Forel isn’t God. And even if he was, I don’t understand how we can afford—”
“The Post has been taking everything I write,” Scott said, quite pleased with himself. “My productivity’s the best it’s been in ages.”
Not only was he pleased, he was happy. I was suddenly suspicious. “Are you seeing someone?”
“Then why don’t you want me out of there?” Then I realized he’d given me the answer already. “Never mind,” I said. “I understand.”
Now Dr. Brandt was saying, “A judgment, yes.”
“Okay then. Let’s get this done. Only—you have to guarantee that Scott doesn’t get to read what I write. No editorial oversight from my husband. No consulting. You can’t even tell him. If he knows I’m doing it, he’ll insist on having a look. There’d be no point, if that’s how it goes.”
“Yes, we agree.” Dr. Brandt nodded. “We wish to make the objective evaluation.”
Knowing that was impossible, I said, “I would like that very much.”
He gave me some pages of blank paper and a pencil and left me to it. I started with this:
The Recollections of one Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, as begun on this day, 21 March 1931, at the suggestion of Dr. Forel
You said to begin anywhere, so here is a poem I especially like, by Emily Dickinson:
I know a place where summer strives
With such a practiced frost,
She each year leads her daisies back,
Recording briefly, “Lost.”
But when the south wind stirs the pools
And struggles in the lanes,
Her heart misgives her for her vow,
And she pours soft refrains
Into the lap of adamant,
And spices, and the dew,
That stiffens quietly to quartz,
Upon her amber shoe.
Even from here, from Prangins today, when I haven’t seen my daughter in three months and no one’s willing to say whether I’m truly well or how much longer it might be before I get to leave, I sit bathed in sunshine that streams through the window and feel a sense of hopefulness, of possibility. Spring always did make me feel this way, before. So I think this is progress.
You asked me to say what happened, so I’ll tell you. Scott might tell you a different story about the same things—but then, hasn’t he always?
The world was strange and perilous when I met Scott in 1918, with the Great War in progress and influenza raging across every continent, taking more than fifty million lives by 1919. This horror, along with knowing that fifteen million soldiers and civilians were killed in the war, infected everyone’s spirits if not our bodies. Life seemed more tenuous than ever. But Scott and I were lively and eager, unfettered by conventional ideals. We were sailing at the leading edge of a storm.
Maybe we asked too much of everyone and everything right from the start. Our parents were kids during the American Civil War, you know; their world was a divided one. Scott and I weren’t supposed to even mingle much, let alone fall in love. And to make it worse, Scott wanted to be a professional novelist, which was not really a recognized occupation. We didn’t care. For us, it was a time to make everything up, to create our lives from scratch using unfamiliar ingredients and untested methods—only to now arrive at this unforeseeable result.
Now that the stories about us, about “the Fitzgeralds,” have grown like wild Chinese wisteria past the borders of cocktail party gossip and are starting to encroach on literary myth, I hear that some of my friends have started saying I made Scott the writer he is—and you can imagine how well that goes over with him.
friends—and especially one in particular—are saying I’ve held him back, interfered with his talent and his work ethic—which is of course what he has said, too.
Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear Scott’s either a misunderstood genius or a pathetic son-of-a-bitch who never met a liquor he didn’t want to cozy up to. He drinks too much, it’s true, and he has not always been good to me or to himself, but I think he’s broken somewhere inside, and he drinks to try to fill the cracks.
I’ve had a letter from one of my dearest, oldest friends, Sara Haardt, saying that she’s marrying another old friend of ours, Henry Mencken. She’s been frail with tuberculosis for a long while, but that didn’t sway him in the least.
She wrote, “I’m not sure I’ll be any good at marriage, having gone without for so long. Your letters from over the years make a good primer, though; for all the troubles, I’ve never seen devotion such as you and Scott enjoy.”
Sara must have had spies in Annecy, as Scott and my sweet baby girl and I have just returned from the most perfect two weeks there. We danced and dined and it was even better than old times for having Scottie always at my side, her soft hand in mine, and at night, Scott’s reassuring form curled behind me. I wish, oh, you have no idea how much, that I could bottle up those days and then climb inside that bottle too.
Here’s an anecdote, a memory that comes to mind as I’m writing: For our first trip to Europe, in 1921, we sailed on the
. There was a lot of drinking and, when the seas got rough, a lot of nervous humor over the prospect of going down with the ship. That would be the end for us all, everyone said.
“Not for me,” I declared, and Scott said, “That’s right. My wife is not only beautiful, she’s an excellent swimmer. You’ll save us both, darling, won’t you?”
That’s what I’m doing here, I’m swimming.
After reviewing the journal I’d been keeping for three months, Dr. Forel came in to see me. I was up and dressed and had eaten my usual fruit and yogurt, but was still shaking off the effects of my sleep medication.
“Bonjour,” he said, all bright and cheerful. He wore a tweedy brown suit with vest and tie, and his beard—also tweedy—looked freshly trimmed.
“Not so bon. I would like to try eliminating the sleeping pills.”
“Eh? This is unexpected. Your regimen has been most effective; it would be unwise to alter it now.”
“I always feel like my head’s been stuffed with cotton and I have to spend the morning plucking it out through my ears.”
“It’s so?” He frowned, then smiled and said, “Ah, with you this is not a literal statement. What did you tell me before—such a thing is spoken figuratively, yes? Except when one is experiencing delusions. But you are past that.”
“Past the delusions, still stuck on the metaphors. So how about it?”
“I will consult with Dr. Brandt. Your quality of rest is of great import, as you are aware.”
He gestured to the pair of ladder-back chairs that faced my window, and we sat down there. “We are finding much that is of interest,” he said, handing the book over to me. “We notice a pleasing amount of melancholia in your recollections. Clearly you have an enduring affection for your husband—would you say this is the case?”
“Of course I do. We’ve been through everything together.”
Outside, clouds—like the figurative cotton from my head—filled a lavender-blue sky. A tall, thin woman in a broad-brimmed hat shuffled along the garden path, her arm held securely by a young nurse.
“Yet this affection, it was greatly diminished before you came to us,” Dr. Forel said. “Shrouded by your anger. It is like this?”
“It was a difficult time, that’s what I would say. I was a real mess. Angry? Sure, before my collapse I’d been real angry with him. He was drunk all the time. He let me down.”
“And also you let him down, this we have established, no? A wife owes fidelity of all kinds. Her husband, her family, these are the things that must be foremost in her mind, always. When this is not the case, there are breakdowns. Some severe—as with your situation, when indeed the woman has pulled far away from her domestic circle, that place where the only genuine happiness can be found.”
In the garden, the tall woman stopped abruptly. I could see the nurse speaking to her, but she didn’t respond, just stared off into the hedge. Poor thing, I thought, understanding too well her condition despite not knowing anything about it, or her.
I said, “I’m not saying I don’t agree about what can happen—’cause I sure was awfully unhappy for a long time—but you know, sometimes being away from Scott, being in class with Madame and the others, sometimes that was the only place I was happy.”
Dr. Forel nodded. “Yes, that is part of the delusion’s complex. Schizophrenia divides the mind, deceives it. You are showing us, however, that your capacity to recognize the consequences of your choices is returning. I am persuaded that you now see the effects of your failure to create and maintain a secure hearth, which, had you done so, would have tethered your husband in ways that would have prevented his difficulties.”
So there it was, in plain enough English: my main failure, the reason for all our troubles, was that I hadn’t created a secure hearth, a tether for my husband. I wondered if it was possible to tether Scott, but kept that thought to myself.
“Yes,” Dr. Forel said, rising, “we are pleased.”
“Well, since I’ve also mastered shuffleboard and woven more baskets than there were locusts in Egypt, will you consent to my release?”
He smiled as if he found my question quaint. “Not yet. But you may cease the journal. And the baskets.” He started to bow, then stopped himself. “I would, however, like to pose a question, which you may, if you wish, explore in the journal before we meet next: What is woman’s duty to her husband, philosophically speaking? You are a person of true intelligence; I’m interested to know your thoughts.”
A Woman’s Duty in Marriage
The specific details of how a woman enacts her duty to her husband will depend upon many different circumstances. What is the couple’s social standing? What is the husband’s occupation? Do the couple have children? Do they have money? What is his personality—independent? Needy? Demanding? A woman has to assess her circumstances with thoughtfulness and thoroughness before she knows how she will be expected to comport herself in her role as wife. Once she understands what’s needed, she must endeavor to anticipate her husband’s desires in all matters. She must make the creation of a stable, comfortable household her primary occupation, however that translates to her particular situation.
Nature has created roles for male and female, which in the case of the higher species such as humans comes with a moral component as well. Because most women are supported by their husbands entirely, the women are bound to offer support of an equivalent nature in return. This is a cooperative arrangement, and a correct one.
When I finished the essay, I thought, There, that oughta do the trick, and presented it to Dr. Forel with contrived—but apparently convincing—sincerity. He and Scott agreed that after sixteen months they’d finally, successfully reeducated me, and it was time for me to go home. If the reeducation had actually succeeded, that might have been the end of it. As it was, the worst was yet to come.
Believing Europe had turned toxic, or at least toxic for us, we moved to a charming little house in Montgomery, where I would have my family to help me readjust.
Little had changed in the eleven years we’d been away, but for me, everything had changed. I had changed. Freedom from Prangins had been my greatest desire, yet like a slave after emancipation, I wasn’t quite sure how to exist in this quiet, calm, open-ended world, how to be a mother to my cautious daughter, a wife to any man—let alone one as observant and particular as Scott. When he left Scottie and me for an unexpected six-week job in Hollywood for MGM, my moods and my confidence rolled like the ocean in a storm, leaving me seasick, sometimes, and scared. I’d been forbidden to resume ballet—and was so out of condition that I was hardly tempted anyway—so to steady myself I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote: essays, stories, letters to friends, an article for Esquire, the start of a book.
My father had been ill when we arrived in September, having had an awful bout of the flu in the spring and then pneumonia in summer, which laid him lower still. Daddy was legendary in Alabama, still on the bench at seventy-three, still a vital legal and moral force for the state. His old body just could not keep up with his stubbornly healthy mind, though, and he passed in November, while Scott was still in Hollywood.
At the end, he was such a small version of himself—but still Daddy: “I don’t know why you don’t divorce that boy” were among his last words to me.
“What’s that on your neck?” Scott asked. “Did you get bit? Do we need to go inside?”
It was February of ’32, and we were on the veranda at the towering, pink Don CeSar resort in Tampa, Florida, during our “getaway on the Gulf,” a little holiday for just the two of us. Scott hated the Montgomery quiet, the calm. Home two months from Hollywood, he’d gotten stir-crazy. My mother and Marjorie’s constant hovering over the three of us hadn’t helped a bit. We would move again soon.
There on the veranda, he’d been elaborating on a new plan for his novel. Where originally the story had been about matricide, now it would be the story of a psychiatrist who falls in love with one of his patients, a poor, sad woman in a mental hospital. He’d lay the story in Europe as planned, he’d use the places we’d been, the people we’d met, all the things he’d learned while helping Dr. Forel treat my illness, he said. “You don’t mind, do you, darling?”
And then he noticed the spot.
I put my hand up to where he pointed and felt angry skin. My fingers knew too well what was happening. My hand trembled as I lowered it. “Eczema.”
“From what? You’re not having trouble, are you? You seem fine.”
I shrugged, not trusting my voice. I’d been trying hard to remain steady, to avoid overexcitement, to eat properly. I, too, had thought I was more or less fine.
I am, I am, I am. Nothing to worry about. Do not worry! Do not scratch! Think about the palm trees, look at the water, isn’t it lovely here? Nice place, nice trip, nice husband to bring me here …
A few days later, a second spot appeared, and the first had grown larger. Something was going very wrong. I wasn’t as well as I thought. My confidence crumbled. “I need to go home, Deo. I need to see my doctor before this gets any worse.” My voice was now as shaky as my hands.
The doctor recommended a rest cure at the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Phipps Clinic. Some time away from anything or anyone who might upset me—Scott interpreted this to mean Mama—would surely set me right again.
My official overseer was gruff, formal Dr. Adolf Meyer, the very prototype of a rigid German overlord. At my admission exam, he poked and frowned and squinted as he looked me over, saying, “Vut haf vee here?”
I frowned and squinted back at him and refused to answer.
His assistant, Dr. Mildred Squires, was a godsend. Unlike her male counterparts, she drifted through the institution’s ugliness like a rare butterfly, somehow above the coarseness of it all. To me she was Sara Murphy in a white coat and spectacles, dispensing care and wisdom and encouraging you to rise above the indignities of your treatment—the intestinal cleanses, the stupor that followed sedation—and assert your humanity, if only to yourself. I loved her.
To right myself, I would write myself. Well, not me, exactly, but a version of me, and a version of Scott, and a dramatization of the not-me’s life, including her struggles as the ballet-dancing wife of a popular artist, and the breakdown that came as a result. The more I wrote, the less I itched, to the point where I nearly forgot the eczema altogether and it began to fade.
Weeks passed in a blur of story, a complete escape into the depths of my imagination. I’d named my not-Scott after his first novel’s protagonist, Amory Blaine. To me, this was a nod, a public sign that I had studied at Ecole Fitzgerald and was a devotee. As Scott had done with This Side of Paradise and Hemingway had done with The Sun Also Rises, I’d fictionalized my characters while maintaining, I thought, the truth of our lives and our society. I tried to marry modernist art to modern fiction, using words to paint vivid, fractured images that would evoke my desired responses. When the handwritten draft was done, I had an aide find me someone to turn it into a typescript.
“Two copies,” I told the young woman when I gave her my handwritten pages. “Thanks so much.”
Dr. Squires stopped in at my room one day and, upon seeing typed, stacked pages done up with twine, said, “You’re not finished with your book already?”
That stack was a beautiful thing to have sitting atop my desk, an affirmation that I wasn’t only a useless burden in life. I grinned and told her, “I am. Beginning, middle, end. Hard to believe, I know.”
“It’s only been, what, a little over a month since you started writing?”
“I sketched some of it when Scott was away in Hollywood.”
“Even so! May I read it?”
“I hoped you would.”
Dr. Squires’s admiration puffed me up—and I got puffier still after she read and praised my efforts.
“What a story,” she said when she brought the pages back. “So creative, so compelling. What do you plan to do with it?”
“Well, first I’ll have to see what Scott thinks.” I’d told him only that I was going to try my hand at a novel, not what the story would be or how I’d approach it. “Then I’m hoping Scribner’s will want to publish the book.”
“Very good, Zelda. This story is saying some important things, and with such unique style.”
I mailed one copy to Max straightaway.
Was sending it to Max first a kind of subterfuge? Yes. Was it necessary? Without question. Scott had been laboring for six years on a book that was still a long way from done. Six years, versus one month; that matchup promised disaster and I knew it. But I could no more stop myself than I could fly to the moon on gossamer wings. The novel had to be written and evaluated independently of Scott, that’s just the way it was.
When he came to see me next, I had the other typescript waiting for him. I handed him the bundled pages.
“It’s my novel.”
I nodded. “I already sent it to Max—I didn’t want to trouble you with it when I knew you were concentrating on your book. But now that you’re on a break, I’d love to get your thoughts. I’m sure it’s awful and will benefit greatly from a master’s eye.”
“Finished?” His face reddened and his voice rose. “You did all this behind my back, on my dollar, while I was slaving away to keep your life, our family, my career, all of it, from disintegration? Unbelievable!” He threw the bundle onto the floor.
“No, Deo, you knew I was working on it, and what does it matter?” I said, retrieving it. “Aren’t you proud of me that I finished something? That I made good use of my time here? Scott, I wrote a novel, and I tried to put to use all the things you’ve taught me. Won’t you please at least have a look?”
He snatched the pages from me and tucked them under his arm, then stormed out the door.
Days went by with no sign of him, no telephone call, nothing. Had he returned to Montgomery? Would he read it at all? Maybe he’d burn it; good thing I’d already sent a typescript to Max.
I chewed at the skin on the inside of my lower lip, and watched the ducks paddle along the lakeshore, and walked, and ate, and slept, and waited.
The response came by mail:
Good God, Zelda, if your intent is to ruin me, you’ve made good headway here. Your Amory is an alcoholic caricature of me, Zelda, wearing only the thinnest of veils, and everyone will know it! You may as well flay me and leave me in the sun for the flies and vultures to feast on, Jesus!
If I allow Max to pursue this, you will submit to my editorial direction, is that clear?
At about the same time, Max cabled to say he was quite impressed, that there was much to appreciate, some truly beautiful descriptions and turns of phrase, and that, yes, he would like to publish it.
“So there,” I whispered.
Oh, I knew I wouldn’t get my way, not entirely. In the months to come, Scott would take over the project as if he were Cecil B. DeMille himself. He’d scold the Phipps staff for allowing me such free rein. He’d make me cut or revise anything that rang too true for his comfort. He’d direct Scribner’s to apply any money the book made to his preexisting debt with them. He’d tell them to minimize efforts at publicity—supposedly to protect me from “overweening expectations.” It didn’t matter. None of that mattered. As far as I was concerned, I’d won.
Or had I?
I cut as directed and patched somewhat, and then the book was rushed to publication in October without any oversight save Scott’s, and no advertising support at all. Scott told me, “The doctors don’t want you getting egotistical about having a book out, it would only cause you more emotional trouble. A small start is best.”
“Sure, okay,” I said, caught up in the thrill of having a whole book of my own, a book printed with my title, Save Me the Waltz, and my name all by itself below.
Then came the reviews. The Saturday Review of Literature used words like implausible, unconvincing, strained, and full of obfuscations. Oh, and also disharmonious. The New York Times was slightly kinder; the reviewer there seemed more puzzled than antagonistic; he found the story a curious muddle and was unable to get past the author’s atrocious writing style.
As bad as that? I thought, when I set the clippings aside. I felt weak, nauseated, ashamed. Where was the thrill? The pride of accomplishment? Could it all be undone by two strangers who hardly seemed to have given it a chance?
Scott had been watching my face as I read the reviews; when I looked up, he said, “Now you know how I feel. Now you know what it’s like.”
I had believed I was writing my way to salvation, but just like that night outside the Dingo with Hemingway, I’d miscalculated, overestimated what I could do.
In the end, the novel sold only a thousand copies or so. The cover should have read,
Another Failed Endeavor
by Zelda Fitzgerald
The sound of the back door closing told me Scott was home, “home” this time being a porches-balconies-turrets Victorian on twenty snow-covered acres in Towson, Maryland, another pastoral rental taken in hopes of us reordering our life so that Scott could finish his book. Gatsby was now more than seven years in our past.
Scott had rented the house, La Paix—which means peace, a moniker that would grow ever more ironic—not long after I completed my novel. Coming off his most lucrative writing year ever, thanks to the Post buying nine stories written while I was locked away in Prangins, he’d splurged. Again. I had been released from Phipps in late summer and come home to find we had fifteen rooms, four live-in servants, tennis courts, and a lake. We also had dowdy, kind Isabel Owens, a secretary who managed Scott’s affairs and the household, too, when I wasn’t around.
What we didn’t have much of was furniture, but not much company to use it, either. We did see a lot of Scott’s mother, Mollie, who was sweet, if forever puzzled by her son’s irregular life and his irregular wife. Next door were the Turnbulls, an old-money pair who made good landlords and whose three children made good playmates for Scottie but, being a “dry” couple, not such good playmates for Scott.
Upon my release, Dr. Meyer had directed me not to drink alcohol and had gone ’round with Scott about how much more successful my treatment would be if Scott licked liquor, too. Scott’s reply: “I’ve done the reading about schizophrenia and, with due respect, see nothing that even suggests the illness can be triggered by a spouse’s alcohol use.”
“It presents unnecessary stress,” Dr. Meyer said.
“It relieves unnecessary stress,” Scott replied.
Now I heard Scott tossing his keys into the dish near the door, and then the creak of the stair treads. I expect he assumed, as I did, that everyone was asleep. Probably he hoped he could haul himself upstairs and fall into bed as usual, and probably he would have done so if I hadn’t still been up and painting in my little studio, which was the first room at the top of the back stairs.
When Scott saw me, he stopped and, holding on to the doorjamb, leaned in. He’d taken off his coat and shoes, but was still wearing his hat. His mouth was slack, his skin pasty, his eyes dulled by whatever he’d been drinking on the train from New York, and from whatever he’d been drinking with Ernest Hemingway before getting on the train.
Hemingway had recently published Death in the Afternoon, a book of his thoughts on bullfighting, and was in the city to give a speech of some kind—something Scott was both eager and loath to witness. Afterward they would meet up with Bunny Wilson, whose second wife, Margaret, had died a few months before after falling on some stairs. Hem the hero; Scott the conflicted; Bunny the morose: it had promised an evening I could hardly wait to miss.
On my easel was a canvas, and on that canvas was the start of what would, I hoped, be a warm depiction of calla lilies, done in oils. I’d been dreaming of calla lilies, Zantedeschia aethiopica, fragrant, mudbound stems like ones I’d seen along old riverbeds so often in my girlhood. With January’s icy hold on the house and the land here, I needed some warmth.
“You can go on to sleep,” I told Scott. “I’m not tired yet, so I’ll be a while.”
In fact, sleep was becoming ever more fickle, refusing me when I needed it, demanding attention when I would have preferred to spend the afternoon with Scottie. At eleven, she was very much her own person, further from me than ever before. My minutes with her were precious. I tried hard not to interfere with her schedule or habits or friendships; she was getting more than enough direction from Scott, who advised her how to dress, walk, speak, wear her hair, study, eat, and laugh. (“Don’t show your teeth so much, and be quieter about it; you don’t want to draw so much attention to yourself. Boys prefer modest girls, girls they can respect and admire.”)
Scott let go of the door frame and came into the room. Leaning against the wall, he studied me. Certainly I wasn’t my glamorous best in one of his old shirts and a shapeless skirt—painting clothes. My hair needed washing. I had paint on my hands, could feel it on my chin, my ear, my forehead. I wore knitted green slippers that Mama had sent.
“Y’know,” Scott said, “I thought we’d pick up girls.”
“It’s the middle of the night. The girls are in Scottie’s room, sleeping,” I said, assuming he’d gotten too drunk to keep her sleepover plans straight.
Scott gave a little bark of a laugh. “Girls,” he said. “Prostitutes. Christ, you really aren’t right in your head, are you?”
My mouth opened but no words emerged.
He went on, “And I know that’s true, and I should be a good Christian about it and forgive you and love you all the same, and I do, or I did, and I want to, but, Jesus, Zelda, I don’t. I don’t love you. I don’t.”
He slid to the floor and put his hands over his head as he cried, “You’ve ruined my life! I’m a goddamn eunuch compared to Ernest. Three sons! Bulls and blood…” He looked up at me. “Imagine this: I told him, ‘I’m done, Ernest, I’m washed up, hang me out but I won’t dry.’ I said, ‘Let’s pick up some girls,’ and Ernest said, ‘You’re in no shape for that.’ A eunuch! No shape for girls, for writing—I’m good for nothing and it’s your fault. I’m so tired of you.”
I cleaned my brushes, covered the canvas, and without saying a word stepped over Scott and across the hall to a spare bedroom, where I managed to turn the lock before the tears came.
It’s the liquor talking, I told myself, curled up on top of the quilt. The liquor, the liquor, it’s the liquor and Hemingway, damn him to hell, and damn Scott, and damn my weak, pitiful brain, damn everything.…
After fitful sleep, I woke ahead of sunrise and found that a sheet of paper had been slipped beneath my door.
Darling, darling, what you must think of me now.… Too much bourbon turns me maudlin these days, but that’s no excuse for mistreating you. You are brave and admirable, Zelda. I’d never survive what you’ve been through. Please forgive the wretch I can sometimes be. Say you still love me and I will be able to stand myself long enough, I hope, to find my way back to the path.
When I opened the door, he was there, waiting in the dim morning light. He’d changed his clothes, his hair was combed, his eyes looked bloodshot but alert.
I crossed my arms. “Decide what it is you want, Scott.”
“Do you love me?”
I thought, Do I? What does real love feel like, anyway? I wasn’t sure I knew anymore. And then I remembered Tootsie and me talking of this so many years before:
—I guess I ought to be aware of what to look for, is all. The signs of true love, I mean. Is it like in Shakespeare? You know, is it all heaving bosoms and fluttering hearts and mistaken identities and madness?
—Yes, yes, it is exactly like that. Gird yourself, little sister.
I would have needed iron ramparts, I thought—and even then it might not have been enough.
“I shouldn’t,” I told Scott, and saw him visibly relax. “I might not,” I added. Why should he be able to relax when I still felt a wreck? “Don’t count on it,” I said.
He reached for me and wrapped me in his arms. “Then let’s just have this for now.”
Four months later, I had conceived and written and found a local playhouse to produce an original play I called Scandalabra. Scott, meantime, was still searching for that path he’d mentioned, searching one-handed while he held a highball in the other. He wasn’t writing. The bills were coming in but not getting paid. Shopkeepers, suit makers, barkeepers were calling, all singing the same song: “Mr. F’s account is past due; will you tell him that we inquired?” My patience was as brittle and thin as springtime ice.
I was brittle and thin. And icy sometimes, too, sure I was. He was never going to change, I would never be able to make him change, all my idealism had eroded away and now it was time to do what Tootsie and Sara Mayfield were urging: Get out. When Scandalabra flopped and closed after a one-week run, I wrote back to Sara, Easier said than done— Ha, that ought to be my epitaph. Or Scott’s.
However, she knew, as I did, that there are many ways to leave a man if that is what one is determined to do. The easiest method is to snag a new man’s devotion—a wealthier man is preferable, and I knew plenty of those. If I wanted to, I could seek the appropriate gentleman and turn his head sufficiently that I would never again worry about how, whether, and when the merchants got paid. What’s more, the prospect of losing Scottie no longer terrified me; wasn’t she lost to me as it was? Didn’t she already distrust my stability, my judgment? Hadn’t she become, during my absences, entirely Scott’s child?
July 20th, 1933
I know what you said in your last letter was right. Scott appears to be a hopeless case and I have too often felt pushed beyond my limits. We aren’t either of us model spouses, though, are we? You know how I can get when I’m irritated—and even if I was once the darling of the social scene, I’m slightly less of a prize these days.
Who else would have stood by me so rigorously when I was the one who appeared hopeless? He must love me. This must be just another rough patch.
He’s so brilliant, Tootsie, but so, so fragile. I want to swaddle him like we do all our finest Christmas ornaments before we store them away, protect him from even the most innocent-seeming hazards that can result from too much admiration.
I mean to try writing another novel. Max has said he’d be glad to see one from me. Scott will have a fit, as he’s still a long way from being done with his. I am girding myself once again. If you think God is still listening to anyone on our dissipated behalves, say a prayer for Scott and me.
Best love to you, and Newman too—
All that summer we bloodied our knuckles, Scott and I did, neither of us giving an inch. I was fighting for my right to exist independently in the world, to realize myself, to steer my own boat if I felt like it. He wanted to control everything, to have it all turn out the way he’d once envisioned it would, the way he’d seen it when he’d first gone off to New York City and was going to find good work and send for me. He wanted his adoring flapper, his Jazz Age muse. He wanted to recapture a past that had never existed in the first place. He’d spent his life building what he’d seen as an impressive tower of stone and brick, and woken up to find it was only a little house of cards, sent tumbling now by the wind.
In August, on a day when Scott was upstairs working and my kitchen was aflutter with me, Scottie, and three of her friends attempting to make “gen-u-ine Southern biscuits,” the telephone rang.
I hurried over to the nook and answered before the ringing could disturb Scott further. Tootsie was on the line. “Zelda, listen, honey, something’s happened. It’s Tony.”
The girls were still chattering away, so I plugged my free ear. “What? What happened?”
“I know you and Mama have been corresponding about his treatment since he took ill last month; thank you so much for trying to help.… You spoke to him, didn’t you?”
My heart was beating wildly. “Yes. God, he was a wreck.” He’d been depressed about losing his job and was hearing voices, he said, or maybe they were waking dreams, what did I think? Something was urging him to kill Mama, he said, and he was desperate to make it stop. After seeing doctors in Charleston, Asheville, and finally Mobile, he’d checked into the sanitarium there.
“He was bad off,” Tootsie said. “Baby, is anyone there with you? Is Scott home?”
“Just tell me,” I said, choking out the words. The girls, all as flour-covered as I was, had gone silent and were watching me.
“He had a fever, he was delirious, he—God, Zelda, he climbed out his window and jumped. The fall killed him. He’s gone.”
I swallowed hard and blinked back my tears. Delirium? Had that really been the case, or was that the story Tootsie was telling in case the operator listened in? Had he just been desperate?
Then Scottie was next to me, saying, “What’s the matter, Mama?”
“Oh. Aunt Tootsie has some awfully sad news.”
“Is it Granny?”
“I’ll call you later,” I told Tootsie, then placed the handset in its cradle, saying, “Not Granny, no. Uncle Tony. He had an accident. He … he … He passed. Uncle Tony is dead.”
What dread filled me then! It was as if my saying the words had turned my blood to a thick, cold fog. Gooseflesh covered my arms; I wrapped them tight around myself and thought, Tony and I, aren’t we two of a kind? There was no escape for either of us, no escaping our bad blood, our bad fate, those moody ghosts that had followed one or another of us all our lives. No escape, except the ultimate one.
I looked at Scottie, her budding loveliness, her kind eyes, and before I could stop the words that were rising like a bubble in my chest, I said, “Oh, sweetness, we’re doomed.”
We both started at a noise from the corridor. Scott was there.
“No one is doomed,” he said, his voice firm but soft, too, a salve for me, a raft for Scottie to climb onto. “But we will all be sad for a while. Girls, I’m sorry, I’ll need you to wash up and get your things, and Scottie and I will drive you home.”
They all got busy cleaning up. Only I saw in Scott’s eyes the fear and dread that he’d managed to keep out of his voice. He’d understood what had happened without my having to tell him. That’s how obvious it was, how easy for any thinking person to spot the rotten strain running through our family.
He caught me watching him. “Zelda,” he said quietly, coming over to me. “No. His troubles were different from yours.” He took my hands. “Look at you—having a perfect day in a perfect home with your charming, happy daughter. I could hear you all from upstairs; the girls were having a grand time. You were the life of the party.”
I nodded and drew a deep breath; my heart felt heavy as a brick in my chest. “Yes, okay. Okay.” In my ears, though, my pulse thumped away, Doomed, doomed, doomed.
I asked Scott, “Why do you suppose we haven’t gotten divorced yet?”
It was Christmas Eve 1933, not long after we’d moved from La Paix to a cheaper residence, a redbrick row house in Baltimore. Scottie had fallen asleep during Scott’s discussion—lecture, really—on Ivanhoe and was now in bed awaiting Santa Claus. Scott and I sat in wing chairs facing the fireplace, both of us with one glass of double-strength eggnog in hand and another already in our bellies—my first drink in ages, and it was having an effect.
Back in the fall, Scott had checked himself in for treatment at Johns Hopkins a few times, which would have impressed me greatly if he had admitted it was to get help with his drinking. What he said was that his old lung ailment—mild tuberculosis he claimed he’d caught in 1919—kept flaring up. Still, he managed to finish Tender Is the Night, his novel about the psychiatrist in love with a patient, and then sold the serialization to Scribner’s Magazine. He had written Hemingway to share his news, and Hemingway had written back, I’ll bet you feel like you’ve shit a boulder finally. Scott was disappointed; he’d hoped for something a little more congratulatory. He excused the slight, saying how Hemingway was occupied with his new baby, a new novel, and an African safari. (The new wife was yet to come.)
With Scott’s book finished, I had again asserted my desire to write mine. I’d been reading every psychiatric tome I could find, learning all about the complex interplay of brain matter and chemistry and environment, trying to chase away Doomed by telling a story about it. Scott, though, insisted, “If you want to use anything about psychiatry, you’ve got to wait until my novel has carved its place into the American consciousness.” He told my doctor that regardless of subject matter, he believed another attempt at a novel would only harm me. The doctor, not wanting to take any risk that might compromise his own reputation for success, agreed. We’d been fighting a lot about that.
Gazing at the fire, I continued, “I mean, I sure do hate you. You aren’t anything like the man I thought I was marrying.”
“I’m exactly the man I was. The real mystery is why I don’t divorce you.”
“Why would you want to? I’m smart and talented and I can be loving and devoted. I definitely have it in me.”
“Remember the night we went riding down Park Avenue with you on the hood of that taxi and me on the running board, hanging on to the roof?”
I smiled. “Didn’t we meet Dottie that night, at the Algonquin?”
“Mm. That dinner that Bunny arranged … New York sure was a blast.”
“Lord, we had fun.”
Scott reached for my hand. “Damn it all, you are the love of my life.”
Warm words, though, are no panacea. Our ruts were now so deeply cut into the landscape, and we were so tired and worn, that neither Scott nor I could steer ourselves anyplace new.
In early February I trudged the six blocks over snow-crusted concrete to Sara Haardt Mencken’s house, thinking, Gray, cold day, gray, cold month, gray, cold life. Tony’s body was gray and cold when I viewed it, same as Daddy’s was when he left me behind. Gray cold awaits every living thing. Even the light-falling snow appeared gray to my eyes. The wind whipped bits of paper trash about my feet. A delivery truck sputtered past, spewing oily smoke into the air in front of me. God, why have you drained all the color from Baltimore? Isn’t it enough to steal all the warmth?
At Sara’s stoop, I looked up at the dozen steps I’d have to climb to reach the door and sighed as if I’d come to the base of Mont Blanc. It might be easier to turn around and go home.
Except, inside one of those windows up there is Sara.
And I needed to see my darling good friend, my touchstone. It wasn’t as if I had any particular complaint to share, no particular crisis, no event to fuss about. My list of Scott’s offenses had grown so long that the devil himself would grow bored hearing it. But with Scottie gone all day at the Bryn Mawr School, our house was an inanimate space, lacking color, warmth, inspiration, purpose—or maybe that was just me.
“It’s awfully cold and gray today,” Sara said, after her maid had shown me into the parlor. She coughed, then said, “I shouldn’t have asked you over when it’s so raw out.”
“No, I’m glad to see you.”
“Goodness, you’re so thin! Are you eating? Your hands are like ice! Here, sit by the fire. How about some hot broth?”
“Fine, sure,” I said dully. Trying harder, I added, “Where’s Henry today?”
“At the office. It’s Tuesday.”
“Of course.” I stared into the grate. Tuesday. Of course.
“I haven’t seen him since yesterday.”
“Ah. Zelda … that’s partly why I wanted to see you.”
I turned toward her. “You know where he is?”
“No.” She shook her head. “We saw him on Friday, though. Henry was having a couple of friends in. A quiet gathering—you know how he is.” She paused to cough. “No liquor, no music, just a lot of book talk. There was a commotion downstairs, then next thing we knew, Scott was stumbling up the stairs and calling out to ask if they’d started without him.”
“But he wasn’t invited.”
“Yes. So there was a bit of an argument. He’s been coming by a lot—late at night, sometimes, long after we’ve turned in. Henry was losing patience. He said, ‘Scott, can’t you see this isn’t your sort of gathering?’ And Scott said, ‘Right, right, I may have a new novel being serialized by Scribner’s Magazine, but I haven’t got the exalted qualifications to be a part of this esteemed group. What I do have, however’—and he undid his pants, then dropped them, saying—‘is this.’”
“He exposed himself?”
Sara nodded. “I looked away, of course. We were all terribly embarrassed for him, and Henry hauled him out of the room. Later, Henry said there’d be no more socializing with either of you. He had steam coming from his ears, I swear to you, and that never happens.”
I felt sick. “Who can blame him?”
“He eased up regarding you, though. Really, he has nothing against you. But Zelda, Scott has got to get help. How can you bear to stay with him?”
“When did you last see a doctor?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “They can’t cure me, and Scott can’t afford to pay them anyway, and I can’t pay for myself.” I glanced out the window. The view was of pale gray clouds and medium gray buildings and the dark gray water of the bay.
“Maybe you should go stay with Tootsie or Tilde.”
I shrugged again.
“Are you writing at all?”
“I’ve been forbidden. The doctors agree with Scott that it’s harmful for me. Maybe they’re right.”
Sara began to cough, a cough that seemed endless and left blood on her handkerchief.
“When did you last see a doctor?” I asked when the spell was past.
“Henry makes me go twice a month. Though of course there’s nothing anyone can do.”
Those words, that truth about her life and my life and all of life, seeped into my head and played themselves over and over and over. There’s nothing anyone can do.
I used them as a mantra after reading the serialization of Tender Is the Night, which I’d expected to be a perhaps tragic but certainly romanticized, well-fictionalized story that used our experiences as a frame at most. But, no, no, Scott had used whole passages of tortured letters I’d written him from Prangins. He’d made his not-me into a half-homicidal incest victim whose eventual health comes only through the complete destruction of her once-exalted husband’s life. I couldn’t get any distance from it, couldn’t separate myself from his Nicole.
I said nothing.
I poured a drink.
I poured another.
There’s nothing anyone can do.
I guess the words showed up on my face and in my eyes, and at some point Scott noticed, and then somehow I found myself in a hospital room at Phipps.
—Tell us what you’re feeling.
—Tell us what you’re thinking.
—Are you angry / hurting / fearful / sad?
I told them nothing. I was blank.
Phipps wouldn’t take on such an uncooperative patient. Scott consulted Dr. Forel, and then off I went to Craig House, an institution in Beacon, New York. Another long train ride to nowhere, I thought.
At first, all I could see—when I was alert enough to see anything at all—was a landscape of frozen, barren everything. I welcomed the slow, sucking haze of sedation. I lay prostrate for the team of nurses who prepped me for my insulin-shock therapy, anticipating the bliss of absence that would follow the convulsions. I didn’t speak to anyone; what was there to say?
Spring was breaking, though, and soon the ground began to shiver with shocking-white snowdrops and agonizingly blue gentians that, the moment I noticed them, demanded I render them with watercolors.
“I’d like paper, paints, and brushes—and an easel,” I told Dr. Slocum, my new dungeon master, when he came by on rounds one morning.
Startled, he said, “Beg pardon? You can speak?”
“You’re a sharp one,” I told him, and I even tried out a smile. “Those flowers outside are beautiful, see? I have an itch to put them in a picture.”
He glanced out the window, then back at me. “Suppose you get dressed and come tell me more about this itch when I finish my rounds.” So I did, and during that first session we struck a deal: painting supplies in return for the sort of conversational minutiae psychiatrists thrive on.
As the weeks went by, within those minutiae I tucked my requests for milder sedatives, and fewer insulin treatments, and biscuits with peach preserves. My days began to look like a lady of leisure’s; Craig House was resort-like for patients who didn’t have to spend their days sedated, or bound to their beds, or both. Plenty of new friends and recreation, little stimulation. I could only guess at what it was costing Scott to keep me there.
“I’d like permission to do some writing,” I said one morning, when I’d been there for about a month. I told Dr. Slocum, “I have some short-story ideas nibbling at my brain.”
He tented his fingers on his ample stomach. “It’s important that you not overtire yourself.”
“Maybe I could substitute golf and massage for writing, then.”
He smiled wanly. “Here’s my concern, Mrs. Fitzgerald: your illness was at its outset preceded by a rise in ambition—”
“That’s not what this is,” I said. “Probably my husband hasn’t mentioned this, but he’s heavily in debt. I was thinking I could sell some stories, maybe an essay or two, maybe some of my artwork—but only to help pay for my treatment. Think of it as the equivalent of a woman taking in sewing to help meet expenses. I can’t sew worth a damn, but I can draw and paint—and write—well enough to earn what I would with piecework or alterations. I really need to be able to help out in what ways I can.”
“Yes, well, admirable as that is, your husband was quite clear about his expectation that we continue the restriction. You yourself have told me that your greatest battles with him have been about your wish to write another book.”
“Because he’s wrong, and the other doctors were wrong; I feel better when I write.”
“But inevitably you’re disappointed in the outcome and feel worse. The drawing and painting are clearly therapeutic; pursue that as your economic contribution and all will be well.”
“Will it?” I asked. And then I threw myself into the effort with all the determination I’d once put into my dancing.
“‘Parfois la Folie Est la Sagesse,’” I said, reading from one of the brochures the gallery had printed for my exhibition. Sometimes madness is wisdom. Scott and I were alone in my room on an afternoon when most of my fellow residents were having massage. “It looks real good, Scott. Real professional.”
“It does. This just might be everything you’ve waited for, darling. Finally you’ll get all the recognition you’ve longed for and deserve.”
The art gallery, a space in uptown Manhattan, would show my work for the entire month of April. We’d met the gallery’s owner in Antibes years earlier; he’d been wild about my Girl with Orange Dress and always believed I ought to have a showing. Scott had seen to most of the details, as enthusiastic about this as he’d been about the Junior League production we’d done back in St. Paul.
I went to the window. All of winter’s dun colors had given way to the brilliant, blissful green of new leaves and new grass. Cows dotted a distant hillside beneath wispy white clouds. “I don’t know, Deo … I’d rather not get my hopes up.”
“Hope is one thing you deserve to have more of,” he said, coming up behind me. When I turned, he kissed me, kissed me tenderly, kissed me with all the passion and desire we’d used to take for granted.
Then he eased back, and I said, “Well then, I hope you’ll kiss me like that again.”
He shut my door and complied. We made love then, with quick, sweet urgency, certain we’d get caught, laughing one moment, breathless and desperate the next.
“God, I miss you,” he said when we’d finished and were buttoning up what we’d unbuttoned. “I miss us, this us—where do these two people live? Why is it so difficult to find them?”
I looked into those Irish Sea eyes. “I’m awfully sorry” was all I could think to say.
For the exhibit, I would show eighteen drawings and seventeen paintings in all. Some were whimsical expressions of the seventeenth-century French art I’d studied during our time at Ellerslie. Some were tortured-looking ballet dancers—I wanted to show the dancers’ impressions of themselves, not the audience’s impression of the dancers. Some were linear fantasies inspired by Braque and Pablo. I’d painted huge flowers, and lactating mothers. I’d painted Scott with feathers for eyelashes, his head encircled by a piercing crown of thorns.
For the opening, I was allowed to leave the hospital with a nurse as my travel companion; Scott made sure she had a separate room from us at the Plaza. He had invited every single person we’d ever met plus any and everyone he came across in his daily treks. The Murphys turned out, and Max, plus my doctors, Dos Passos, Dottie Parker, Gilbert Seldes, Bunny, and Henry—who brought the news that Sara was in the hospital with a lung infection, but sent her love.
Some members of the press were there, too, but few strangers came. The ones who did seemed unsure what to make of such a hodgepodge collection. “What is she?” they murmured, unable to figure out which label to apply. Six or eight things sold, most of them for almost no money at all, then I went back to Craig House.
Time magazine ran a review and had found a label for me: Work of a Wife, read the headline, and despite the praise that followed in the body of the review, I felt myself deflating.
Work of a wife.
That was it, W-I-F-E, my entire identity defined by the four letters I’d been trying for five years to overcome.
Why was it that every time I finally chose, every time I did, my efforts failed—I failed—so miserably? Why was I so completely unable to take control of my own life? Was there any point to it, for me? I’d thought it was Scott I’d been fighting against, but now I wondered if it was Fate.
When I was young, I’d believed that it would be awful to try and try and try at something only to find that you could never succeed. Now I knew I’d been right: I was not a sufficient dancer, or writer, or painter, or wife, or mother. I was nothing at all.
Send me someplace cheaper, I wrote Scott. I don’t need all of this and only feel worse staying here knowing I will never be able to offset the expense. Didn’t Hemingway tell you that I was worthless and you ought to save yourself? He was right.
Upon swallowing this black, bitter truth, I began to shrink, and before long grew so tiny within the world that I
Blackness had poured into my head like hot tar. What came afterward is mostly lost to me, though here’s what I’ve since been told:
Scott was out of money, so I moved to a grim sanitarium called Sheppard Pratt Hospital in May of ’35. The doctors tried to thin that tar with insulin therapy, or scare it off with electroshock treatments, or blast it from me with pentylenetetrazol, a compound that provokes brain seizures. Still the blackness remained, and I began to see and converse with God.
Poor Scott had nothing but debt to show for all these efforts to get me well, yet the doctors insisted that the only way out was through, so he consented to more of the terror. He wrote stories when he was able to—but most got rejected or brought far less money than he used to command. He borrowed from the few friends who would still see him, and tried to find his own escape with a lot of liquor and a few women.
At some point someone told me that, unimaginably, Gerald and Sara had lost their oldest boy, Baoth, to meningitis. Then my sweet Sara Haardt got it, too, and between that and the tuberculosis, she’d given up her fight. Then poor Patrick Murphy succumbed to his tuberculosis two years later. Death was everywhere. Tootsie, bless her, saw that I had become eighty-nine pounds of incoherent despair, so she bullied Scott into breaking me out and moving me to a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where one of Newman’s cousins had been treated with good results. Scott had been spending time in the area off and on—for lung treatments, that’s what he said—but meantime hunting hounds with his friend James Boyd, or luxuriating in the rustic elegance of the Grove Park Inn. If North Carolina was a suitable escape for him, he’d reasoned, maybe it would do me good as well.
Highland Hospital was no luxury mountain resort. They had their regimens of drugs and shocks and reeducation. When I was finally capable of noticing my surroundings, I hated myself for being a burden to Scott, who insisted on living in the area in order to see me as often as he could, and too often still drank himself into oblivion in between times. He’d turned forty and, in his pathetic, diminished state, had given an interview to the New York Post that persuaded all who read it that he was absolutely ruined.
Highland did something right: in time, I gained back the weight I needed, played a great lot of volleyball, went hiking in the hills, and started painting again. When Scott got an offer to work in Hollywood once more, the money and I both persuaded him to go. “You can do this,” I assured him, praying I was right.
By early ’38, I was stable as ever, and I stayed that way. I also stayed there at Highland because the doctors insisted that the improvement was temporary. They told Scott I needed to stay put indefinitely—for careful monitoring and control, they said, while Tootsie and Mama were saying what I thought: that for Highland, just as it had been for Prangins, it was all about the money. Scott, though, was terrified by the prospect of having to tend me when he was barely in control of himself. He elected to believe the doctors.
With my ability to see and think and feel restored, what I saw was that even in Hollywood Scott was still stuck—and growing desperate. He was drinking often but working only intermittently, had no money at all, couldn’t sell what little fiction he wrote, hardly saw Scottie, had few friends, little hope, and, during a catastrophic trip we took to Cuba in April last year—he got so sick and so drunk that I had to take him to the hospital in New York afterward—the saddest eyes I’d ever seen except in my mirror. “I’ll never leave you, Zelda,” he said.
What I thought when I saw him being wheeled off was He’s such an extraordinarily brilliant person that it would be terrible if he let himself do nothing in the end.
What I felt was that same terrible lump in my throat that I’d felt in 1919 right before I’d cut him loose.
Knowing what I had to do, I found a way out of Highland myself. If it involved coercing a certain Dr. Carroll, whose own crimes against certain patients were far worse than my little blackmail plan, well, that was between the doctor and myself. For the first time in a decade, both Scott and I were free.
And now, I wait.
Tootsie is here for the holidays. She and Newman are staying at Marjorie’s, so as to keep things simple for Mama and me. We sit together on the porch swing while Mama naps; this is the most pleasant time of day, we agree. I’ve just filled her in on what’s happening with Scottie, and Scott. “I’m hoping he’ll wire me money for a trip to see him,” I say. “Maybe I’ll move out there. Maybe I’ll try my hand at scripts.”
“Hmm” is her reply. “Well, I can’t help noticing how relaxed you are. You sound good, you look good—though a decent haircut would improve the whole package. Do you feel as serene as you look?”
I knock my head with my fist. “Shock therapy. Calms the wild beast.”
“It’s more than that. Without Scott, you’re—”
“Balanced?” Tootsie nods and I say, “I know. I figured that out a good while ago, at Highland.”
“Then why ever would you want to change anything? Life here is just about perfect.”
“Scott’s remade, as much as I am. I think all the chemicals we’ve put through our systems have finally washed the devil out of us both. It’ll be different from now on.”
Tootsie looks skeptical. “If you believe that’s true, I’ll try to do the same. But I have to tell you, I’ve never forgiven him for abandoning you at Sheppard Pratt. When I found you there”—she shudders—“you were nearly dead, Zelda. Do you remember any of that?”
“Not in any linear way, but I have impressions.”
She takes my hand. “What was it like?”
“Do you recall the African river Aunt Julia used to talk about, the one she’d learned of from some tale her granddaddy told?”
Tootsie shakes her head, so I tell her what I remember from Aunt Julia’s story, which she told like this:
“In the deep, wet, tangled, wild jungle where even natives won’t go is a mystical, dangerous river. The river’s got no name because naming it would make it real, and no one wants to believe that river be real. They say you get there only inside a dream—but don’t you think of it at bedtime, now, ’cause not everyone who goes there be able to leave!
“That jungle canopy, it so leafy true daylight can never break in. The riverbank, it be wet muck thick with creatures that eat you alive if you stay still too long. To miss that fate, you gots to go into the black water. But the water be heavy as hot tar; once you in, it bind you and pull you along, bit by bit, ’til you come to the end of the land, and then over the water goes in a dark, slow cascade, the highest falls in the history of the world ever.
“There be demons in that cascading water, and snakes, and wraiths that whisper in your ears. They love you, they say. You should give yourself to them, stay with them, become one of them, they say. ‘Isn’t it good here?’ they say. ‘No pain, no trouble.’ But also no light and no love and no joy and no ground. You tumble and tumble as you fall, and you try and choose, but your mind be topsy-turvy and maybe you can’t think so well, and maybe you can’t choose right, and maybe you never wake up.”
“It felt like that,” I tell Tootsie, “even after you got me out and Scott moved me to Highland. I couldn’t choose. I couldn’t shut out the wraiths.… But you would say, ‘Hang on, sweetie,’ and Scottie would say, ‘I miss you, Mama,’ and Scott would hold me, just hold me and say nothing at all.”
Tootsie snorts. “Scott was useless the whole while.”
“Scott was in the river, too.”
Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The light’s already fading when I go to the closet for my coat. “I need some exercise,” I tell Mama, who’s got the radio on and is listening to news about the Germans bombing Liverpool again. This new war makes me heartsick. What is wrong with the world? Isn’t there enough trouble, sadness, injury, death, in everyday life?
“Where will you go?” Mama asks. “It’ll be dark soon.”
“Just for a walk. I’ll be back in time to help with supper.”
My walks are my favorite part of being here in Montgomery. At first, they were my escape from Mama’s too-watchful eye. If I so much as frowned, she worried that I was slipping back into depression. “I’m fine,” I’d tell her, hiding my irritation because I know she worries that I’ll end up like our poor Tony.
Now I go more for the pleasure of getting to revisit my past. There is the courthouse, so timeless in appearance that it’s the most natural thing in the world to imagine my father inside, hard at work to understand and delineate some finer point of law before tidying his desk and shutting off the light, then catching the streetcar for home.
There is the building where the Red Cross had its office during the Great War, which everyone now calls the First World War. Not one of us, back in 1918, would have believed that only twenty years would pass before the Europeans would be at one another’s throats again.
There is Eleanor’s house, where I am a giddy girl who is unconcerned about women’s rights and too concerned about romance.
And there is the corner where Scott proposed to me. Suppose I’d gone home that night and decided that, no, I stood to lose more than I might gain by taking such a risk? In that alternate world, there might be no Paradise, no Gatsby, none of the hundred or more published stories that readers so love. Ernest Hemingway might yet be poor and little known. And my life, it would look like Marjorie’s: safe and predictable and unexceptional and dull. Even now, I wouldn’t choose differently than I did.
Passing the post office, I think, again, of following yesterday’s letter to Scott. I might miss Montgomery when I’m gone—it has become dear, after all—but I’m willing to sacrifice life here once more if it means I get a shiny new one with Scott. He’s forty-four now, and I’m forty, which are not quite the unimaginably old ages we’d once believed they must be. We can start anew.
Finally I’m back at Mama’s little house on Sayre Street, where she’s lived for several years now. I’m just in time to make it inside before full dark. She worries if I’m not in by dark—which amuses me no end, since it never troubled her when I was young. She’s scared of pretty much everything on my behalf. If it’s cool out, she fears I’m going to catch cold; if it’s hot out, she fears I’m going to get overcome with heat prostration; if it’s raining, I’m risking pneumonia; if it’s sunny, I’m risking a burn. Too much walking will tire me out, she says. “Why do you persist in going for miles and miles?” She keeps encouraging me to take up knitting; my modernist paintings trouble her.
Scottie, meantime, is at Vassar and doing quite well despite her upbringing. To hear her tell it, her childhood was replete with wonderful nannies and terrific friends and fascinating teachers. She is a student of the world, as fluent in French as she is in English. Her voice is seasoned with Southern—my hope is that this is all she’ll have inherited from me. No, I take that back: I hope she’s got my capacity for forgiveness, and her father’s, too. We sure don’t have anything else of value to pass on to her.
She’s staying with Harold Ober and his wife and son for her break from school, but she’ll be here for Christmas. My sweet little lamb, all grown up; this feels somehow both so right and so wrong.
The smell of frying pork greets me when I enter the house. “Mama, I’m back!”
There’s no reply, so I leave my sweater on the doorknob and go to the kitchen. Mama’s sitting at the table with her folded hands pressed to her mouth. Her eyes are damp.
“What’s the matter?” I ask. “More bad news? You should stop listening to the radio. There’s nothing we can do and it’s just so upsetting.”
“A man phoned while you were out,” she says. “A friend, he said … a friend of yours—”
“Harold? Was it Harold Ober? Is it Scottie?”
She shakes her head. “Not Harold.”
“Who, Mama? Is Scottie all right? She was going to a dance in Poughkeepsie tonight—is it about the dance? Did something happen? It’s icy there—”
“No, she’s fine.” Mama waves her hand, shooing away that particular worry. Then she says, “It’s Scott.”
“Scott died, Baby. A heart attack. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
See me sitting in Montgomery’s empty Union Station on a cold, late-December morning, when most of the town’s residents are home wrapping presents, baking pies, singing along to carols on the radio. I’m the woman alone on the long wooden bench, there in the middle of the waiting room. Pine garlands with glossy red ribbons make the balcony railings festive. High windows display a steely-gray sky. The arrivals platform is thirty feet away from me, through the stained-glass archway, right outside the doors.
My brothers-in-law Newman and Minor have stayed outside to keep the local reporters at bay. Those reporters, who’ve been calling the house and stopping by, want to see the weeping widow. They want newsworthy statements—something to supplement the lengthy obituary that ran yesterday, naming F. Scott Fitzgerald as Montgomery’s favorite adopted son. Well, here’s all I have to say, all that matters, a truth that’s so simple but, for me, profound:
Scott is gone.
I’ve had two days with this truth. This truth and me, we’re acquainted now, past the shock of our first unhappy meeting and into the uneasy-cohabitation stage. Its barbs are slightly duller than they were that first night, when even breathing felt agonizing and wrong. Tootsie and Marjorie hovered over me, waiting to see whether I’d collapse, while Mama looked on, white-faced, from her rocker by the fire. “Gone?” I would whisper, to no one in particular. I, too, waited for me to be overwhelmed—but all that happened was what happens to anyone who has lost their one love: my heart cleaved into two parts, before and foreverafterward. And then in the morning, I called my daughter and delivered the awful news.
Now I sit in the station remembering the suit I wore when I waited in this lobby twenty years and eight months ago, on a spring morning when the train would take Marjorie and me to the grandest city on the planet, to a young, prospering fella who’d imagined and arranged a romantic, imprudent existence for himself and his bride. Now I wear widow’s black from the soles of my shoes to the crown of my simple wool hat. Now Scott—Scott’s remains, I should say (oh God, that sounds so wrong), are traveling by train to Maryland for the funeral next week. Now the train will deliver my daughter, our daughter, a girl who’s left with only her mother to depend upon.
“He said he was getting better,” Scottie had protested when I called. “He sent me Sheilah’s old fur coat, and we were— Oh, Mama,” she whispered, and the whisper was swollen with tears. “I wasn’t supposed to—”
“Shh,” I said, tears filling my own eyes again. “It’s all right. I knew. I didn’t know her name is all. It didn’t mean anything.”
“He chided me about how I would write my thank-you note—before I’d even begun to think of writing it!”
I smiled a little. “Always looking ahead.”
“How can he be gone?” she asked me. “It just feels impossible, doesn’t it?”
It does. It feels as if, when the train pulls in this morning, Scott will step off it, then stride through the doors and wrap me in his arms. He’ll kiss my wet cheeks and say, “What’s this? Did you think I wasn’t coming back?”
“Yes. Wasn’t that silly of me?”
“Lingering side effects,” he’ll tell me, and tap my forehead gently. “Not to worry. I said I’d never leave you and I meant it. You know me, Zelda. I’m a man of my word.”
And he was. Anything that didn’t happen—for us, for him—turned out that way despite his best efforts.
Here’s the train’s whistle now, for the crossing at Court Street, and here’s the rumbling that hails the train’s approach. I know when I see Scottie, I’ll see Scott’s face in hers. The past lives in the present, just like he always said, like he always wrote. There’s comfort in the thought.
And then when Christmas is done—a strange, somber event it’s going to be—Scottie will board the train again, this time bound for Maryland. Again, she’ll be traveling alone. All the worriers around me fear I’m too fragile to endure Scott’s funeral, and I’ve chosen not to fight the current this time.
There’s no need for me to be present; I’m not saying good-bye.
Upon Scott’s death, Zelda directed his lawyer to have Scott interred in the Fitzgerald family plot at St. Mary’s Church in Rockville, Maryland, which he had said was his wish. The church, however, wouldn’t allow this, as Scott was a lapsed Catholic at his death. He was buried instead at the Rockville Union Cemetery.
Together with Max Perkins, Zelda then put Scott’s manuscript and notes for The Love of the Last Tycoon into Edmund “Bunny” Wilson’s hands for editing. In late 1941, Scribner published it as part of a volume that included The Great Gatsby and the five short stories that Perkins felt were Scott’s strongest works. Titled The Last Tycoon, the book was well regarded by critics, beginning an F. Scott Fitzgerald renaissance that would be helped along by paperback Armed Services Editions of Gatsby and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” which were distributed to servicemen during the Second World War. Soon after, Bunny Wilson compiled Scott’s essays in a 1945 collection called The Crack-Up, and Dorothy Parker edited a collection titled The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald. These efforts led to others, ensuring Scott’s membership in the literary canon he always believed he should be part of, as well as sales of some twenty million copies of The Great Gatsby alone, to date.
Because Scott was in debt when he died and because it would be some time before his work would earn more than negligible royalties, Zelda and Scottie had only the thirty-five thousand dollars from his life insurance policy with which to fund Scottie’s studies and support Zelda indefinitely. Her monthly income from the trust established by Scott’s Princeton friend and lawyer John Biggs, who administered the estate, was not quite fifty dollars, which was supplemented by the thirty-five dollars a month she received for being a veteran’s widow. Zelda, therefore, continued to live with her mother in Montgomery. She maintained relationships with a great many friends, including Sara Mayfield, the Murphys, the Obers, and Ludlow Fowler, traveling to visit them and others as often as her budget would permit.
Severed for good, however, was Zelda’s connection to Ernest Hemingway, who was becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol and suffered worsening periods of depression. His opinion about the Fitzgeralds grew ever more critical in the years that followed, perhaps as if to push back against Scott’s returning popularity. Though biographers and researchers have shown that the unflattering stories Hemingway wrote about the Fitzgeralds in A Moveable Feast consist of half-truths and outright fictions, they persist in popular culture as truth. Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961.
In the 1940s, Zelda worked on a novel she called Caesar’s Things and painted some of her most charming and whimsical works. She did a series of cityscapes depicting New York City and Paris locations, as well as scenes from fairy tales, and made a collection of intricately done, Arthurian-themed paper dolls. All these she exhibited at various galleries, and enjoyed genuine critical acclaim. Many of the paintings have since gone missing or been destroyed, but others have been preserved and are still sometimes exhibited publicly.
Scottie and Zelda’s relationship following Scott’s death was not always easy. Having been ill during Scottie’s most formative years, Zelda was not as close to her daughter as Scott had been, and the two of them sometimes differed in their opinions on appropriate ways to ensure Scott’s legacy. Zelda was delighted, though, with Scottie’s 1943 marriage to a well-off tax attorney. The births of a grandson in 1946 and a granddaughter in early 1948 brought her real joy. Scottie, who would later have two more children, worked as a journalist, wrote musical comedies for charity events, struggled with alcoholism, and eventually returned to live in Montgomery, where she encouraged young women to get involved in politics.
While Zelda undoubtedly suffered from some type of mental illness, one of her physicians at Highland Hospital, Dr. Irving Pine, believed that Zelda had been largely misunderstood by her other doctors, as well as misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. According to more recent opinions of doctors who have reviewed her medical records, she had what’s now called bipolar disorder, which was initially complicated by alcohol use and weakness from excessive physical activity. She suffered debilitating and permanent side effects from some of the very treatments that were supposed to make her well. The cumulative effect of years of “reeducation” and drug therapies may have contributed to her later infrequent episodes of depression and insecurity.
When these episodes occurred, she would go to Highland for brief periods of what she called “stabilization.” It was her fourth such stay, begun in January 1948, that would be her last. During the night of March 10, Highland Hospital caught fire; Zelda, who had been out to a dance earlier that evening and then took her prescribed sedative before bed, was one of nine women who were trapped inside. All nine perished in the fire.
Zelda’s remains were interred alongside Scott’s at Rockville Union Cemetery. In 1975, however, Scottie prevailed in her efforts to have her parents’ graves moved to the Fitzgerald family plot and had a marker engraved with the sentence that ends The Great Gatsby:
SO WE BEAT ON, BOATS AGAINST THE CURRENT, BORNE BACK CEASELESSLY INTO THE PAST
This book is a work of fiction, but because it’s based on the lives of real people, I have tried to adhere as much as possible to the established particulars of those people’s lives.
It’s impossible to find universal agreement, however, about many of those particulars. Where the Fitzgeralds are concerned, there is so much material with so many differing views and biases that I often felt as if I’d been dropped into a raging argument between what I came to call Team Zelda and Team Scott. For every biographer or scholar who believes Zelda derailed Scott’s life, there is one who believes Scott ruined Zelda’s. Further, popular culture has elevated certain aspects of the Fitzgeralds’ lives to myth. (For example, there is steadfast belief but no apparent facts regarding Scott cavorting in the fountain outside the Plaza.) In my efforts to determine where fact gave way to opinion, and where gossip had grown into belief, I tracked differing accounts against established time lines and compared multiple sources, including ones compiled by the Fitzgeralds themselves.
The richest, and in many ways most reliable, resource was the collection of letters the two of them exchanged during their courtship, and then throughout the periods when Zelda was in the hospital and Scott was working in Hollywood. Invaluable, too, were the collections of letters Scott exchanged with his friends, his editor, his agent, and Ernest Hemingway. While all the letters that appear within the novel are my creations, they are inspired by this amazing body of correspondence.
Fiction based on real people differs from nonfiction in that the emphasis is not on factual minutiae, but rather on the emotional journey of the characters. I’ve striven to create the most plausible story possible, based upon all the evidence at hand. Of particular interest to me was the exceptional animosity between Zelda and Ernest Hemingway. The animosity was real, yet I found no exploration of the issue, no explanation of why it began. Popular belief is that Hemingway simply knew Zelda was “crazy” and bad for Scott right away, but the record shows that he was uncritical and quite warm toward her for a while—until suddenly he was not. I approached the mystery of why much as a detective might, considering known motivations, character, and events, to arrive at the scenario I present in the novel.
I want to express my gratitude to the following biographers and editors, whose books and articles about Zelda, Scott, Hemingway, and the Murphys made it possible for me to envision the Fitzgeralds’ journey so thoroughly: Linda Wagner-Martin, Nancy Milford, Sally Cline, Kendall Taylor, Amanda Vaill, Andrew Turnbull, John Kuehl, Jackson Bryer, Cathy W. Barks, Mary Jo Tate, Kenneth Schuyler Lynn, and Matthew J. Bruccoli. Special recognition goes to Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald for working with Scribner’s to create The Romantic Egoists, a rich photographic representation of her parents’ scrapbooks. I recommend it highly.
Also invaluable were Zelda’s and Scott’s creative works—their stories, novels, and articles, many of which are mentioned here in the novel. For an insightful look at Scott’s early work, see the story collection Before Gatsby. All of Zelda’s published work can be found in The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald. Both books (and many others about the Fitzgeralds) were edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, whose high regard for them was lifelong and greatly informs my own.
My respect and affection for both Scott and Zelda inspired this book, which, again, is not a biography but a novelist’s attempt to imagine what it was like to be Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.
It’s my good fortune to have the support of many friends and family members, including my colleagues from the Fiction Writers Co-op and beyond, members of the Hasenladies Book Club, Pam Litchfield, Sharon Kurtzman, Larry and Jean Lubliner, Michelle and Chuck Rubovits, Bryan and Susan Fowler, Earl Fowler, Pat and Bernie Clarke, Maggie Balistreri-Clarke, Ed Clarke, Jason and Linda Timmons, Adele Dellava, my husband, Andrew, and our boys.
Many thanks to the Weymouth Center for the Arts in Southern Pines, North Carolina, where I was writer-in-residence twice during the creation of this book. To work in what was once novelist James Boyd’s home—a home visited by Thomas Wolfe and Scott Fitzgerald, among others—was a genuine privilege and pleasure.
I want to express my enduring appreciation and gratitude to Wendy Sherman, who has been coach and shepherd and friend these seven years, and to Jenny Meyer, for always telling it true.
I’m so pleased to have joined forces with Lisa Highton and the Two Roads team, who are bringing Z to readers in the UK and many points beyond.
I am honored by and grateful for the enthusiasm St. Martin’s Press has shown for this book. In particular, I want to thank Dori Weintraub for her myriad contributions; Silissa Kenney, Laura Flavin, Laura Clark, Stephanie Hargadon, Steven Seighman, and Olga Grlic for their invaluable efforts; and Sally Richardson, whose faith and enthusiasm mean the world to me. Sally is purely a wonder. Finally, I give my forever-affection to the wise and brilliant Hope Dellon, editor extraordinaire.
Therese Anne Fowler is a Illinois native and a graduate of North Carolina State University, where she earned a BA in sociology and an MFA in creative writing. She taught undergraduate fiction writing and was editorial assistant for the literary magazine Obsidian III before leaving to write fiction full-time. Therese has two grown sons and two nearly grown stepsons, and currently lives with her husband in Florida.
Published in April, 2013.