A rout of dancers then came in:
Dancers who were young in dances that were dead.
—JOHN PEALE BISHOP
FROM THE PORT OF GENOA, WHERE their boat docked, the Fitzgeralds traveled along the Mediterranean coast toward Nice. They stopped there briefly as if to gather strength and refreshment from the Riviera and then continued up to Paris. Zelda immediately arranged with Egorova for her dancing lessons to begin: class lessons in the morning with a private afternoon lesson. Painful as it was for Scott, he impotently stood by while Zelda’s entire world was once again consumed by those exhausting lessons. Zelda said: “I worked constantly and was terribly superstitious and moody about my work; full of presentiments… I lived in a quiet, ghostly, hypersensitized world of my own. Scott drank.” When she returned home from the ballet Scott was rarely there, and if he was, a barrier of indifference held them apart. It was impossible for him to share her conviction that she would one day become a dancer of the first rank. He did not object to the lessons, but they were an irritant between them. Daily Zelda sent her teacher armfuls of fresh flowers. She saw Egorova in her poverty and dedication as an ideal ? figure whom she wished to emulate. One evening Scott and Zelda took Egorova to dinner at a splendid restaurant, George V; during the dinner Scott flirted mildly with the older woman and to Zelda’s surprise Egorova was pleased and rather charmed. Scott enjoyed the situation, and chided Zelda about her reaction, which was first one of shock and then of annoyance. He thought it was ridiculous of her to insist on regarding Egorova as an exemplar of dedication to the dance and impatiently he told her so.
Although Ernest Hemingway was living in Paris that spring the Fitzgeralds saw very little of him. A certain coolness had developed in their friendship, which Scott could not at first fathom. Hemingway seemed more irritable and avoided many of those drinking companions and cronies he had chummed around with the year before at the Closerie des Lilas and Lipp’s. He had recently remarried and Scott knew he was working to complete his new novel, A Farewell to Arms, for Hemingway had allowed him to read it in manuscript. Scott had not done the amount of work on his own novel that he had hoped to do and felt guilty before Hemingway’s progress. There was also an increasing tension between Zelda and Hemingway. They were polite to each other, but Scott was well aware of their mutual dislike. Therefore, when the men saw each other they were usually alone together. Morley Callaghan, a young Canadian writer who had known Hemingway in Toronto, was visiting Paris for the first time that spring; he was surprised to find that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were not on closer terms. Perkins, who was his editor as well as theirs, had told him that they were good friends. Callaghan, too, noticed the change in Hemingway. He suspected Hemingway of testing him, of wanting to engage in bouts where he would come off the victor, whether it was boxing or drinking. When the Callaghans met the Fitzgeralds they were impressed by their handsomeness, their air of superb confidence. But they were . surprised when Zelda, whom they had expected to be gay and madcap, sat silent, studying them.
At their first meeting, Callaghan reports, Scott read him portions of A Farewell to Arms from the manuscript copy he had. When he had finished he asked if it wasn’t beautiful. Callaghan wasn’t sure, maybe it was, but as his reluctance became clear, Scott seemed a little injured. Zelda, however, was pleased by Callaghan’s reaction and said Hemingway’s prose sounded “pretty damned Biblical” to her. With that Scott put the manuscript away. Then, after some talk on Zelda’s part about writing in general, Scott, who seemed to them to be watching her closely, letting her talk while saying little himself, abruptly told her she was tired and should go to bed. He explained to the Callaghans about her ballet lessons, said that she had to be up early, and hoped they would understand. They didn’t quite, but all the same Zelda left them.
The next time they met, Callaghan remembers, Zelda suddenly began to talk about her own writing; she was at pains to insist that she too wrote, and wrote well. He was taken aback by her assertion, not so much because he thought she did not write well, but because of her intense insistence. The two couples had been having dinner together, and when they were finished, “Zelda laughed out loud, looking around. She had the restless air, the little sway of a woman seeking some new exhilaration, a woman in Paris who knew the night should be just beginning. She kept saying, ’What’ll we do? Let’s do something,’” and then she suggested that they go roller-skating together. The Callaghans had agreed, when to their surprise Scott, who had been politely demurring, grabbed Zelda by the wrist and told her it was time for her to go home to bed. He put her into a taxi, and as he did so they noticed that Zelda’s entire manner changed; Callaghan wrote: “… it was as if she knew he had command over her; she agreed meekly… And suddenly she had said good night like a small girl and was whisked away from us—and Scott dismissed the little scene almost brusquely.” Again he explained about the strain of her ballet lessons, and when Callaghan asked him why Zelda wanted to dance, he told him it was quite simple, she “wanted to have something for herself, be something herself.”
In the winter of 1928-1929 Zelda began writing the first in a series of short stories that dealt with the lives of six young women. Harold Ober made a note to himself in February about the Fitzgeralds’ arrangement with College Humor. “SF said that Z would do six articles for College Humor, that he would go over them and fix them up and that the articles would be signed with both their names. He said that as he remembered, they paid $200 for one article that Zelda did, and $250 for another. He said we had better leave the price until they did the first article. They are to be articles about different types of girls. I should think they ought to pay $500 for them, if they are 4 or 5 thousand words in length.”
Each story was written in an astonishing but hazardous burst of energy, for Zelda was at the same time continuing her ballet lessons and her strength, although seemingly boundless, was taxed to the breaking point. By June, 1929, Zelda’s fourth sketch had been sent to Ober. Five of these stories were to be published in College Humor, which had taken two of her articles in 1928 and considered her talented in her own right. Nevertheless, without exception the stories were published under both Fitzgeralds’ names. Later Scott wrote Ober asking for $1,000 for the best of the stories. He said that if College Humor could only pay S500, Zelda’s name should stand alone. Most of the stories, he told Ober, “have been pretty strong draughts on Zelda’s and my common store of material. This is M—— for instance [probably in reference to the last story in the series, published by College Humor, „The Girl with Talent,“ for which they received $800] and the ’Girl the Prince Liked’ was J—— both of whom I had in my notebook to use.”
The sixth story, “A Millionaire’s Girl,” was published by the Saturday Evening Post, and although it was Zelda’s story, Scott’s name alone was signed to it. (A wire from New York assured him that the Post would pay $4,000 if Zelda’s name was omitted, and it was.) Scott later wrote that the story “appeared under my name but actually I had nothing to do with it except for suggesting a theme and working on the proof of the completed manuscript. This same cooperation extends to other material gathered … under our joint names, though often when published in that fashion I had nothing to do with the thing from start to finish except supplying my name.”
The stories attracted considerable notice at the time. Sometime about July, 1930, Scott in a letter to Perkins told of three more stories that he was sending on to Harold Ober to place. Those stories were not published and were eventually lost. Zelda had written them, Scott said, “in the dark middle of her nervous breakdown. I think you’ll see that apart from the beauty and richness of the writing they have a strange haunting and evocative quality that is absolutely new. I think too that there is a certain unity apparent in them—their actual unity is a fact because each of them is the story of her life when things for a while seemed to have brought her to the edge of madness and despair.” The same might have been said of the stories which were published during 1929, for the breakneck speed at which they were written did not impair their effectiveness, and they remain a remarkable expression of Zelda’s considerable talent as an essentially descriptive writer.
From the titles of the stories one notices that each is the portrait of a girl rather than a woman, although their ages range from sixteen well into the thirties, and although all but one have married (four have children as well). The husbands and children are, however, vague presences, placed in the stories, one suspects, as proof of a certain adequacy—that the girls have passed through a phase of life successfully—rather than as significant figures in themselves. The girls are adventuresses: sleek but restless and lonely women who are always exceptionally pretty. They are ambitious; they wish to distinguish themselves without fully knowing how to do so. And they share an immunity toward the everyday aspects of life by being in the main heiresses or actresses or dancers. There is something disquieting about these figures of allure, for they are imbued with a selfishness that is nearly as total as their attractiveness. What they suffer from is a boredom of spirit. As she says of one of them, “She wanted to get her hands on something tangible, to be able to say, ’That is real, that is part of my experience, that goes into this or that category, this that happened to me is part of my memories.’”
But they do not quite succeed in coming to life. Seen always from a distance by a detached and omniscient narrator about whom we know nothing (we are not even sure whether that observer is male or female), the girls do not interact with life. Rather, they are moved through it. Dialogue is almost nonexistent. Zelda states again and again that they are courageous girls, but we do not see that courage tested or at work. What she does is to describe the characters, not develop them.
If they are not entirely satisfactory as characters, the skill Zelda exercises in describing their situations and their backgrounds is nevertheless impressive. These are the fashionable, “rose-gold,” and formidable girls that the nineteen-twenties cherished and whom Zelda took as her material. They are le beau monde. They live in silver apartments “with mulberry carpets,” surrounded by “pastel restraint.” Their boyishness, their air of being children of the world, their carelessness, we are told, is only a decoy for their total control of social situations. Yet they seem to have no control whatsoever over their lives, through which they float without urgency, and ultimately, for all the author’s insistence to the contrary, they are passive and elusive women.
In July the editor of College Humor sent Zelda some copy written to accompany one of her stories, “Southern Girl.”
You know how sweethearts have a song between them, one they have grown to like very much. When they are separated and this song is played, their song, for them it immediately recalls the happiness they shared, and those dusty words, “I love you.”
Examine very carefully Southern Girl, which the Fitzgeralds have done for this issue. There is not a line of conversation in it, but with very few words they have struck out a soft pattern of beauty and characters which were so real in their own lives that they come alive in your own… I am so happy to have it because it marks an important milestone in the literary career of Zelda Fitzgerald. I cannot imagine any girl having a richer background than Zelda’s, a life more crowded with interesting people and events. She is a star in her own right.
This, then, was the public image of the Fitzgeralds, cultivated by the slick magazines and the tabloids. Its variance from their private lives in the summer of 1929 was staggering.
Later in her life Zelda said she wrote to pay for her dancing lessons; she hated to take Scott’s money for them, because she wanted her dancing to be her exclusive possession. At the time, however, the vehemence of her thoughts on this score were concealed from Scott. He was astonished by her productivity and even resented it in comparison to his own vexing inability to move forward on his novel. The strain of her pace began to show in fatigue, and she began to give way in her outward behavior. She was easily distracted and even the simplest conversations were difficult for her to maintain. She took refuge in an impenetrable and unnerving silence. She and Scott attended few parties together, and when they did Scott was watchful for those first signals of tension that spelled ruinous quarrels if Zelda was not sent home immediately to rest. Zelda for her part had her hands full when Scott drank excessively, and she was frequently humiliated by his conduct. They avoided being alone together in their drab apartment. The tacit motivation for their behavior was more similar than they were able to admit, and as desperately as they needed each other, they blindly strove to disentangle themselves from each other. They became engaged in a contest for personal survival very much like the one between Nicole and Dick Diver, which Scott would write about in Tender Is the Night. He has Dick say, “’I can’t do anything for you any more. I’m trying to save myself.’”
The contest between the Fitzgeralds was no more pretty than that between the Divers; all rules of conduct were void. There were delirious parties that ended at Maxim’s or the Coupole. Zelda wrote, “Nobody knew whose party it was. It had been going on for weeks. When you felt you couldn’t survive another night, you went home and slept and when you got back, a new set of people had consecrated themselves to keeping it alive.” And the Fitzgeralds were seen stepping from taxis, their handsome faces half hidden in the shadows of the night. Those were the evenings, indistinguishable from each other, spent in the company of the lively and exotic Kiki, or with Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece, who had kohl-rimmed eyes and a total lack of discretion. Scott would make her an American girl in a canceled episode in Tender Is the Night and name her Vivian Taube: “To be a tall rich American girl is a form of hereditary achievement… Nevertheless it was increasingly clear to him that Miss Taube had more immediate concerns—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 passage. An hour later he came out of somewhere to a taxi whither they had preceded him and found Wanda limp and drunk in Miss Taube’s arms.” This was later cut from the manuscript, as were most of the other descriptions of homosexuals.
On the boat to Europe Zelda had mentioned to Scott that she thought a friend from the ballet was a homosexual. Now, desperately uncertain of herself, she accused Scott of a homosexual liaison with Ernest Hemingway. Scott, who had gone without Zelda to have a drink one evening with Hemingway and his wife, had returned home intoxicated and had fallen into a deep sleep. In his sleep he had murmured, “no more baby,” which was taken by Zelda as absolute proof of her suspicions. Fitzgerald was dumfounded. They quarreled violently, each making increasingly wild accusations against the other. Scott did not once question Zelda’s sanity.
If the origin of such an unhappy rupture in the Fitzgeralds’ marriage can be dated, it would be early in 1926. For it was then that Scott worriedly told the wife of a friend of theirs that Zelda complained of his inability to satisfy her. It was also in the winter of 1926-1927 that they had begun trying to have another child, for they very much wanted a son. Several months later Robert McAlmon told Hemingway that Scott was a homosexual. Hemingway must have relayed the accusation to Fitzgerald, for Scott mentioned it in a letter to Maxwell Perkins: “Part of his [McAlmon’s] quarrel with Ernest ? some years ago was because he assured Ernest that I was a fairy— God knows he shows more creative imagination in his malice than in his work. Next he told Callaghan that Ernest was a fairy. He’s a , pretty good person to avoid.” Zelda knew of McAlmon’s canard. By the spring of 1929, the Fitzgeralds’ own physical estrangement all but complete, Zelda turned that charge against Scott. It took surprising effect. For a while at least Scott had begun to believe her.
Morley Callaghan, in his memoir of this spring in Paris, reports an incident that struck him as peculiar at the time. He and his wife had gone into the St. Sulpice Church, which was near the Fitzgeralds’ apartment. Scott was with them but he refused to enter the church and waited outside. Then they came back out and began to cross the square together. Scott said quietly, “’I was going to take your arm, Morley …’
“’Well, so …’
“’Remember the night I was in bad shape? I took your arm. Well, I dropped it. It was like holding on to a cold fish. You thought I was a fairy, didn’t you?’
“’You’re crazy, Scott,’ I said. But I wished I had been more consoling, more demonstrative with him that night.“
By the time the Fitzgeralds left Paris for the Riviera in July not only their marriage, but their very identities were in peril.
They stayed at the Villa Fleur des Bois in Cannes that summer. Zelda looked weary and haggard; her complexion, which had always been fresh, was ashen and colorless. Even her speech seemed to have changed. Gerald Murphy remembered her sudden bursts of laughter for no discernible reason, which came more as spasms of reaction than from enjoyment. He said: “The laughter was her own, not like a human voice. Something strange in it, like unhinged delight. It was ecstatic, but there was a suppressed quality about it, a low, intimate sound that took one completely off guard.” And he remembered going to a movie at the local cinema near Antibes that summer with the Fitzgeralds and Sara. It was a documentary about underwater life and had been filmed in an aquarium. “There were all sorts and varieties of strange fish swimming by the camera; there were myriad reeds and seaplants swaying in the water, and then the movie began to show photos of the predatory fish in their natural habitat. Quite nonchalantly an octopus, using his tentacles to propel himself, moved diagonally across the screen. Zelda, who had been sitting on my right, shrieked and threw herself all the way across my lap onto my left shoulder and, burying her head against my neck and chest, streamed, ’What is it? What is it!’ Now, we had all seen it and it moved very slowly—it was perfectly obvious that it was an octopus—but it had nevertheless frightened her to death. She was hardly a timid woman; I mean, she was really absolutely fearless and she was an expert swimmer. One simply didn’t think she would have been so frightened by what she had seen, unless, of course, she had seen it as a distortion of something horrible.”
All through that summer Zelda sank more deeply into her private world, becoming increasingly remote from Scott and Scottie. She continued her ballet lessons and danced professionally for the first time at brief engagements in Nice and Cannes. She was encouraged by her success, minor as she knew it was, and hoped that upon her return to Paris she could begin dancing with a major ballet company like Diaghilev’s.
Scott quarreled with the Murphys that summer too, and the escapades of the Fitzgeralds that had once had such elan now took on a sinister cast of self-destructiveness that was unavoidably clear to their friends. Sara Murphy said, “I don’t think he knew much about women and children.” She once wrote Scott: “You don’t even know what Zelda or Scottie are like—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.”
At the end of the summer, with the accumulation of grievances bearing down hard upon him, Scott wrote Hemingway:
My latest tendency is to collapse about 11:00 and, with tears flowing from my eyes or the gin rising to their level and leaking over, tell interested friends or acquaintances that I haven’t a friend in the world and likewise care for nobody, generally including Zelda, and often implying current company—after which the current company tend to become less current and I wake up in strange rooms in strange palaces. The rest of the time I stay alone working or trying to work or brooding or reading detective stories—and realizing that anyone in my state of mind, who has in addition never been able to hold his tongue, is pretty poor company. But when drunk I make them all pay and pay and pay.
Scott’s pallor had become such that when he slept beneath the striped umbrellas on the plage he looked unearthly. What hopes the Fitzgeralds had invested in the Riviera as a place which would revive their troubled spirits vanished, and they returned to Paris in October. It was on the automobile trip back to Paris along the Grande Corniche through the mountainous and steep roads of the south of France that Zelda grabbed the steering wheel of their car and tried to put them off the cliff. To her it seemed that the car had a will of its own, that it swerved as though by its own volition: “… it seemed to me it was going into oblivion beyond and I had to hold the sides of the car.”
Hemingway answered Scott’s letter by reassuring him that the summer was a disheartening time of year to work. Death, he said, was not in the air as it was in autumn. In the fall of 1929 Paris was filled with Americans. Zelda wrote, “There were Americans at night, and day Americans, and we all had Americans in the bank to buy things with.” But the dollar was about to collapse, and the gala spree, the ceaseless and unrelenting party, was nearly over for all of them. Zelda said, “We went [to] sophisticated places with charming people but I was grubby and didn’t care.” Her nervousness made Scott edgy, and there were dinners taken together when Zelda held the sides of the table in order to endure sitting through the entire meal. She was nearly fifteen pounds under her normal weight. She continued her dancing lessons as if driven, and indeed she was.
On September 23, 1929, Zelda was invited to join the ballet school of the San Carlo Opera Ballet Company in Naples. She was offered a solo role in Aida as her debut, with the promise of other solos in other operas during the season. Madame Julia Sedova, who ran the school as well as the ballet company, added in her letter of invitation that living in Naples was inexpensive; one would be able to have a complete pension for thirty-five lire a day. It was Zelda’s chance and it was not such a bad one, but inexplicably she did not take it. Scott never acknowledged that Zelda had come this close to a serious career as a ballerina. As late as 1936 he was writing that Zelda had been hoping to get “bits” in the Diaghilev Ballet and that the only people who came to the studio to watch her “who she thought were emissaries of his and who turned out to be from the Folies Bergeres … thought they might make her into an American shimmy dancer.”
In what had by now become a pattern with them, they traveled to North Africa in February, 1930, as much to escape as to vacation. “It was a trying winter,” Zelda wrote, “and to forget bad times we went to Algiers.” Since they were fleeing from themselves, they did not find respite. They took a series of snapshots which they carefully saved in one of their scrapbooks, dated 1929-1931. Scott was tanned and his hair was thinner, but Zelda looked ravaged in the harsh and telling light. It was characteristic of her to appear entirely different in each of her pictures, but in these the effect was eerie; she is wraithlike, as if haunted. Her shoulders are hunched, deep lines surround her eyes, her mouth is unsmiling always. She looks furtive and distracted.
One afternoon after the Fitzgeralds’ return from North Africa, the Murphys, who were living in Paris for the spring, went to the Fitzgerald’s apartment on the rue Pergolese to pick up Zelda, whom they were taking to an art exhibit. As they approached the apartment they saw both Fitzgeralds and John Bishop leaving the building. “We immediately sensed something wrong between them. You know the way one can tell if there has been something embarrassing or upsetting that has happened. Zelda was surprisingly quiet and didn’t say anything to us, which was not her usual form; in fact, she hardly spoke to us. Suddenly she turned to both of them and said, ’Were you talking about me?’ She was watching them very closely and they were embarrassed. Scott turned away toward me as though to say, ’You have no idea of what we have been through this afternoon.’ They had all been having luncheon together at the Fitzgeralds’. Can you imagine her suspecting that they were talking about her? I mean, she was sitting right there with them!”
But such incidents were no longer rare. Undoubtedly as Zelda’s own behavior became more clearly peculiar her friends did reflect something of their discomfort in her company. Zelda’s reaction was to become suspicious of all those people who had formerly been considered their friends—now she thought of them as Scott’s friends.
Inevitably the break came. During a luncheon party in April which the Kalmans, old friends of theirs visiting from St. Paul, attended, Zelda became afraid of missing her ballet lesson and abruptly left the table to catch a taxi. Kalman, noticing how nervous she seemed, went with her. In the taxi, while Zelda changed into her practice clothes, he tried to persuade her to take a rest from the ballet. But she did not appear to hear him and mumbled something unintelligible. As the taxi paused at a crossing, Zelda ran from the car toward her studio. Kalman returned to Scott, told him what had happened, and suggested that there was something seriously wrong with Zelda.
Madame Egorova, too, had begun to notice a change in Zelda. One afternoon Zelda invited her to tea. They were alone in the apartment and it became clear to the older woman that there was something strange happening to Zelda—her gestures, her face, and even her voice seemed increasingly peculiar. When they had finished their tea, Madame Egorova sat down on the couch facing Zelda. Suddenly Zelda threw herself down on her knees at Egorova’s feet. Trying to prevent the situation from going any further, Egorova rose calmly and told Zelda that it was late and that she had to go home, and quietly left the apartment.
On April 23, 1930, slightly more than a decade after their marriage, Zelda entered a hospital called Malmaison on the outskirts of Paris. She was in a state of extreme anxiety, and restlessly paced the room, saying: “It’s dreadful, it’s horrible, what’s to become of me, I must work and I won’t be able to, I should die, but I must work. I’ll never be cured. Let me leave, I must go to see ’Madame’ [Egorova], she has given me the greatest possible joy; it’s like the rays of the sun shining on a piece of crystal, to a symphony of perfumes, the most perfect harmonies of the greatest musicians.” She was slightly intoxicated on her arrival and said that she found alcohol a necessary stimulant for her work. On the 2nd of May Zelda abruptly left the hospital against her physician’s advice.
Unfortunately, when she returned to their apartment, Scott was involved in a series of wedding parties and bachelor dinners for Powell Fowler (the brother of Ludlow Fowler). There was a lot of drinking and no time for convalescence. Scott wrote Perkins at the time that “Zelda got a sort of nervous breakdown from overwork and consequently I haven’t done a line of work or written a letter for twenty-one days.” But Zelda’s collapse was far more serious than Scott implied. She returned to her ballet lessons with a frenetic exuberance. Less than two weeks later she was dazed and incoherent. She heard voices that terrified her, and her dreams, both waking and sleeping, were peopled with phantoms of indescribable horror. She had fainting fits and the menacing nature of her hallucinations drove her into an attempted suicide. Only an injection of morphine could comfort her. The demonic dreams which she experienced became more real for her than reality and Scott could not let her out of his sight. She entered Valmont, a clinic in Switzerland, on the 22nd of May. But Valmont handled gastrointestinal ailments primarily and the physicians there recognized that Zelda’s illness was of a deeply psychological nature. At the request of her physician, Dr. Oscar Forel was called in to examine her. The report from Valmont was ominous.
At the beginning of her stay Mrs. Fitzgerald declared that she had not been sick and that she had been taken by force to a sanitarium. She repeated daily that she wanted to return to Paris in order to resume her work in ballet, in which she believed she could find her only satisfaction in life… The husband’s visits often were the occasion of violent arguments, provoked especially by the husband’s attempts to reason with the patient and to refute the patient’s insinuations suspecting the husband of homosexuality. Mrs. Fitzgerald became highly excited at the thought that … she was losing precious time…
At calm moments the patient understood quite well that she was at the end from a physical and nervous [psychological] standpoint and that she badly needed to take care of herself, but then an hour later she again wanted to know nothing about that and insisted on her return to Paris. Numerous discussions with her were fruitless because of all her real thoughts she expressed only a few incoherent ones.
From an organic standpoint there is nothing to report, no signs of mental illness. [In the sense of an ailment such as a tumor or injury to the brain.-N.M.] It became more and more clear that, a simple rest cure was absolutely insufficient and that psychological treatment by a specialist in a sanitarium was indicated. It was evident that the relationship between the patient and her husband had been weakened for a long time and that for that reason the patient had not only attempted to establish her own life by the ballet (since the family life and her duties as a mother were not sufficient to satisfy her ambition and her artistic interests) but that she also [had withdrawn] from her husband. As far as her 8 year old daughter is concerned she expressed herself as follows to the question: “What role did her child play in her life?”: [in English] “That is done now, I want to do something else.”
In view of the necessity of psychological treatment for this complicated case, a consultation with Dr. Forel of the Clinic of Prangins near Nyon was requested, with the request that he advise from a therapeutic standpoint. After he studied the case, Dr. Forel declared his willingness to receive the patient in his clinic if she wanted to go there of her own will. He insisted that treatment could only be psychotherapy, based on an analysis of all the factors which were able to lead the patient into such a complicated situation. Admission to Prangins would be possible only on the condition of a temporary separation from her husband.
On the evening of the consultation (3 June) the patient said herself that she felt very tired and sick and that she very much needed treatment. One had the impression that she agreed to go to Prangins. The next morning she was again in a bad mood and unreasonable. She is leaving the clinic with her husband.
On June 4 Zelda left Valmont. Rosalind’s husband, Newman Smith, who had been living in Brussels, arrived to try to help Scott cope with the situation. He not only lent his moral support but he tacitly represented Zelda’s side of the family. Somehow they persuaded Zelda to enter Les Rives de Prangins for extensive psychiatric treatment. Later she was to write of that journey to the asylum:
Our ride to Switzerland was very sad. It seemed to me that we did not have each other or anything else and it half killed me to give up all the work I had done. I was completely insane and had made a decision: to abandon the ballet and live quietly with my husband. 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. The light in which the thing presented itself to me was: I had got to the end of my physical resources… If I couldn’t be great, it wasn’t worth going on with though I loved my work to the point of obsession. It was all I had in the world at the time.
AHEAD OF THEM WOULD BE THE slow agony of putting the pieces of their lives together again. They did not yet realize the extent of Zelda’s breakdown, nor the amount of time that it would take to “cure” her, nor even if she could be cured. She was diagnosed by Dr. Forel as a schizophrenic, and not simply a neurotic or hysterical woman. It was as if once Zelda had collapsed there was no escape other than her spiraling descent into madness. Except, of course, it was not a simple descent; it was upheaval, spin and skid into a treacherous insanity where nothing was what it seemed. To record her breakdown is to give witness to her helplessness and terror, as well as to explore again the bonds that inextricably linked the Fitzgeralds.
Les Rives de Prangins was located on the shoreline of Lake Geneva near Nyon, twenty-two kilometers from Geneva. It had opened that year under the direction of Dr. Oscar Forel and was quickly becoming established as the foremost sanitarium for the treatment of mental illness in Europe. (James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, was diagnosed as a schizophrenic by Dr. Forel and was placed under his care at Prangins briefly in the summer of 1933 and again in 1934.) Prangins looked like a splendid resort hotel for the wealthy; most of its hundred acres of grounds was immaculately groomed, -with trees trimmed into cones and pyramids, and exact rows of sculptured hedges. There were winter gardens, tennis courts, farms, and seven villas (four of which were reserved for patients, who were called guests). The atmosphere was intended to be homelike rather than institutional and the number of patients admitted was limited to ensure close psychiatric care. The physicians and their families lived on the grounds and participated in the life of the institution.
Zelda arrived at Prangins late in the afternoon of June 5 with Scott and Newman Smith. She showed no signs of resistance to being there, but the first night was difficult, for she was naturally anxious and ill at ease. The following day she said that she wished to be cured and that she would cooperate with the doctors; she also said she wanted to paint outdoors. Dr. Forel noted that Zelda was afraid of contact with other patients and shied away from direct conversation about herself.
On the 8th of June the first in a series of ruminative letters from a member of Zelda’s family arrived for Dr. Forel, written in an effort to provide him with a picture of Zelda’s background and heritage. The Sayres were described as intellectuals of simple and temperate habits, and, the writer added, there was no history of insanity in their family. Zelda’s childhood had been entirely normal. The only person she had ever been attached to was her mother, toward whom she was extraordinarily loving. Although thoroughly spoiled by Mrs. Sayre, Zelda had been the most vigorous and healthy of the Sayres’ children, with the others inclining toward nervousness and depression. Perhaps those traits had developed because of the character of Judge Sayre and the tenseness that resulted from it in the family. The Judge was described as a solitary man in the most thoroughgoing sense; he was silent, not at all sociable, and possessed no sympathy toward youth. Their home life was consequently not happy. He was devoted to their mother, who was a gay and warm woman, but on his own terms; he did not show affection and his restraint eventually cast an oppressive aura over the entire family.
Scott wrote to Dr. Forel on the same day. He tried to give the background of Zelda’s life, but solely within the context of their marriage. The letter revealed more about his own attitude toward Zelda and their life together than it did about Zelda herself. Scott selected five elements that seemed crucial to him for an understanding of Zelda’s current condition, but he began by assuring Forel that he was in absolute agreement with him about her and that, as slow as her recovery might be, he would abstain from seeing her until “the moment when her attitude toward me will change.”
Zelda, he wrote, was the child of parents who were over forty years old when she was born. She had always been something of a defeatist, “or at least a fatalist, opposed to my ability of finding ways to fight against difficulties or obstacles.” He mentioned that they had tried several times to have more children, but always without success, and that the failure had deeply distressed him. The “lessening of our sexual relationship” was not due to “coldness” on his part, he wrote,
as she would have it understood … but rather to the facts of her growing absorption in the ballet, and that I have been drinking too much during the last 18 months, as well as to the animosities and hostilities caused by all of this. After having worked all day at home, I would want to go out at night—my wife, on the contrary, having been gone all day, wanted only to stay home and go to bed… The last six months she did not even take any interest in our child… Before she devoted herself to the ballet she took care of all her duties and more.
In closing he mentioned that he had a story with him that Zelda had written while at Valmont and he wondered if she was well enough to revise and correct it before he sent it off to America. If he could not see her, could he have flowers sent to her every other day? And lastly he asked, “When could I without danger start sending her short notes, mentioning neither the misunderstandings of these last days nor her sickness?”
In an undated, penciled letter (which may have been a draft of a letter never sent) he wrote to Zelda about how he felt while looking at a snapshot of her. The letter speaks for itself of how deeply wounded Scott was, and of how deeply he loved Zelda.
When I saw the sadness of your face in that passport picture I felt as you can imagine. But after going through what you can imagine I did then and looking at it and looking at it, I saw that it was the face I knew and loved and not the mettalic superimposition of our last two years in France… The photograph is all I have; it is with me from the morning when 1 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 L in my file… 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 am hardened to write you so brutally by thinking of the ceaseless wave of love that surrounds you and envelopes you always, that you have the power to evoke at a whim—when I know that for the mere counterfiet of it I would perjure the best of my heart and mind. Do you think the solitude in which 1 live has a more amusing decor than any other solitude? Do you think it is any nicer for remembering that there were times very late at night when you and I shared our aloneness? 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. I have the terrible misfortune to be a gentleman in the sort of struggle with incalculable elements to which people should bring centuries of inexperience; if I have failed you is it just barely possible that you have failed me … I love you with all my heart because you are my own girl and that is all I know.
Scott had written to the Sayres about Zelda’s breakdown as soon as it occurred, but he did not stress the seriousness of her collapse. He told them it was a case of nervous exhaustion as a result of overwork, and that she was taking a cure in Switzerland. Mrs. Sayre was not taken in by the evasion. Zelda had written to her mother regularly once a week and those letters had now stopped. She wrote Scott, “I get frantic for news from my little baby.” Although she was upset by her daughter’s breakdown, her reaction was one of resignation. She had gone through similar periods with her oldest daughter, Marjorie, and with the Judge. Zelda, she realized, would have to remain in Europe and rest; they would all have to guard against relapses; and, she wrote Scott, “we might just as well face facts for there is no dodging them.”
At the end of June Zelda was no better and she wrote Scott:
Just at the point in my life when there is no time left me for losing, I am here to incapacitate myself for using what I have learned in such a desperate school—through my own fault and from a complete lack of medical knowledge on a rather esoteric subject. If you could write to Egorowa a friendly impersonal note to find out exactly where I stand as a dancer it would be of the greatest help to me— Remember, this is in no way at all her fault. I would have liked to dance in New York this fall, but where am I going to find again these months that dribble into the beets of the clinic garden? Is it worth it? And once a proper horror for the accidents of life has been instilled into me, I have no intention of joi[n]ing the group about a corpse. My legs are already flabby and I will soon be like A.———, huntress of corralled game, I suppose, instead of a human being recompensed for everything by the surety of a comprehension of one manifestation of beauty— Why can’t you write me what you think and want instead of vague attempts at reassurance? If I had work or something it would be so much decenter to try to help each other and make at least a stirrup cup out of this bloody mess.
You have always had so much sympathy for people forced to start over late in life that I should think you could find the generosity to help me amongst your many others—not as you would a child but as an equal.
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 that I am going to spend the rest of my life roaming about without happiness or rest or work from one sanatorium to another like K.___ 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.
In a postscript she added:
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 my 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 Egorowa would not want to be bothered with me— Thanks.
Dr. Forel was absolutely certain that the way to Zelda’s recovery did not lie in further dancing, and he too thought that Scott should write to Egorova. But he suggested that Fitzgerald make clear to her their preference that in her answer she discourage Zelda, even if it was a gross deception. Zelda, Forel decided, had to be made to realize that dancing was not her vocation. She wanted to begin working again, but in Forel’s opinion it was medical treatment that she urgently needed rather than more dancing. The weekend before, Zelda had gone out with her nurse and tried to run away. It was only with the assistance of several nurses that she was brought back to Prangins and he found it necessary to transfer her to the Villa Eglantine, where patients were placed under restriction. It was a severe blow to both Zelda’s and Scott’s hopes for her rapid recovery.
Scott did write to Egorova, but he could not bring himself to suggest to her that they deceive Zelda about her potential as a ballerina. He asked very specifically, however, just what her abilities were in comparison with the professionals in Mme. Egorova’s studio. Egorova did not equivocate. She wrote that Zelda had started dancing too late to become a dancer of the first rank; she could, however, become a good dancer; she could dance with success important roles in the Ballet Massine in New York. But among Madame’s pupils there were many who were superior to her and who would always be. She would never equal stars such as Nemtchinova. For Zelda, Egorova’s judgment (when and if she learned of it) would be a crushing blow, but to Scott and Dr. Forel it was far more positive than they had anticipated.
Zelda, meanwhile, in an effort to understand her own condition, began writing letters to Scott that were a recapitulation of their life together. She had no idea that she would remain at Prangins under treatment for the next fifteen months. And these letters to Scott, whom she was allowed to see only once every few weeks, had a voice and tone of their own. They were unlike anything she had written during the course of their marriage; strangely enough, they were perhaps most like the candid letters she had written to him during the period of separation in their courtship during the spring of 1919— but without the girlishness, without the absolute self-confidence. They permit access to the terrain of her anguish.
Every day it seems to me that things are more barren and sterile and hopeless— In Paris, before I realized that I was sick, there was a new significance 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. There was music that beat behind my forehead and other music that fell into my stomach from a high parabola and there was some of Schumann that was still and tender and the sadness of Chopin Mazurkas— Some of them sound as if he thought that he couldn’t compose them—and there was the madness of turning, turning, turning through the deciciveness of Litz. Then the world became embryonic in Africa—and there was no need for communication. The Arabs fermenting in the vastness; 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— But even that was better than the childish, vacillating shell that I am now. I am so afraid that when you come and find there is nothing left but disorder and vacuum that you will be horror-struck. I don’t seem to know anything appropriate for a person of thirty: I suppose it’s because of draining myself so thoroughly, straining so completely every fibre in that futile attempt to achieve with every factor against me— Do you mind my writing this way? Don’t be afraid that I am a meglo-maniac again— I’m just searching and it’s 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?] must have been an awful bore for you.
Why do you never write me what you are doing and what you think and how it feels to be alone—
There were also letters that were accusing, sometimes incoherent, plaintive, questioning, violent, and loving. It was at great cost and pain that Zelda admitted her illness, admitted her own need for psychiatric help. And her recapitulation, although often a line of defense, was never that alone. She faced her madness and by way of explaining it to herself tried to express it to Scott. What she could not fully grasp was the extent of her damage or her own part in it.
There is no use my trying to write to you because if I write one thing one day I think another immediately afterwards. I would like to see you. I don’t know why I have constantly a presetiment of disaster. It seems to me cruel that you cannot explain to me what is the matter since you will not accept my explanation. As you know, I am a person, or was, of some capabality even if on a small scale and if I could once 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 to escape. I do not want to lose my mind. Twice horrible things have happened to me through my inability to express myself: once peritonitis [See Notes for Chapter 8.] that left me an invalid for two years and now this thing. Won’t you please come to 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 and completely humiliated and broken if that was what you wanted. There are some things I want to tell you.
To recapitulate: as you know, I went of my own will to the clinic in Paris to cure myself. You also know that I left (with the consent of Proffessor Claude) knowing that I was not entirely well because 1 could see no use in jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire, which is what was about to happen, or so I thought. I also went, practically voluntarily but under enormous pressure to Valmont 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 … During all this time you, knowing everything about me, since in all this dreary story I have never tried to conceal the slightest detail from you, but have on the contrary urged you to manifest some interest in what I was doing, never saw fit to either guide or enlighten me. To me, it is not astonishing that I should look on you with unfriendly eyes… if you had explained to me what was happening the night we had dinner with John Bishop and went to the fair afterwards which left me in hysterics. The obligation is, after all, with the people who understand, and the blind, of necessity, must be led. I offer you this explanation because I know I owe you one and because it is like this that I began this abominable affair.
My attitude towards Egorowa has always been one of an intense love: I wanted to help her some way because she is a good woman who has worked hard and has nothing, or lost everything. 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, though apparently could not execute. I wanted to be first in the studio so that it would be me that she could count on to understand what she gave out in words and of cource I wanted to be near her because she was cool and white and beautiful… at home there was an incessant babbling it seemed to me and you either drinking or complaining because you had been. You blamed me when the servants were bad, and expected me to instill into them a proper respect for a man that they saw morning after morning asleep in his clothes, who very often came home in the early morning, who could not sit, even, at the table. Anyhow, none of those things matter. I quite realize that you have done the best you can and I would like you to try 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. That’s not all, but the rest is too complicated for me now. Please send me Egorowa’s letter—
Knowing how defeated she would feel by Egorova’s letter, Scott suggested that Dr. Forel use caution in showing her the reply: “Poor girl, I am afraid it will be taking away from her what appears to her as her last refuge.”
By mid-June Zelda had developed a severe eczema that covered her face, neck, and shoulders. It came on the heels of a visit from her daughter, when Zelda had made a valiant effort to appear normal so that Scottie would see none of the traces of her illness. The strain was too great. Zelda had suffered from eczema before, but always for brief periods of time, and at those times it had been thought that the skin irritation was due to drugs she had been taking. This time there was an obvious psychological link, and the eczema was virulent and painful. None of the medicines tried at Prangins were effective against it. For the rest of July, all of August, and early September Zelda suffered its debilitating pain, which Scott was later to make use of in Tender Is the Night, where he wrote:
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 in the Iron Maiden. She was coherent, even brilliant, within the limits of her special hallucinations.
Zelda wrote to Scott, at the onset of the affliction:
Please, out of charity write to Dr. Forel to let me off this cure… For a month and a week I’ve lived in my room under bandages, my head and neck on fire. I haven’t slept in weeks. 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. If you could see how awful this is you would write lots more stories, light ones to laugh about. I want to get well but I can’t it seems to me, and if I should whats going to take away the thing in my head that sees so clearly into the past and into dozens of things that I can never forget. Dancing has gone and I’m weak and feeble and I can’t understand why I should be the one, amongst all the others, to have to bear all this—for what? …
I can’t read or sleep. Without hope or youth or money I sit constantly wishing I were dead.
Mamma does know whats the matter with me. She wrote me she did. You can put that in your story to lend it pathos. Bitched once more.
The panic seems to have settled into a persistent gloom punctuated by moments of bombastic hysteria, which is, 1 suppose a relatively wholesome state. Though I would have chosen some other accompaniment for my desequilibrium than this foul eczema, still … I am waiting impatiently for when you can come to see me if you will— Do you still smell of pencils and sometimes of tweed?
Yesterday I had some gramophone discs that reminded me of Ellerslie. I wonder why we have never been very happy and why all this has happenned— 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 someway —even by imagining?
The book came—thanks awfully—
Dear, I will be so glad to see you—
Sometimes, 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—
Dr. Forel told me to ask you if you had stopped drinking—so I ask—
In early fall Scott wrote Maxwell Perkins from Geneva, where he was living: ’’Zelda is almost well. The doctor says she can never drink again (not that drink in any way contributed to her collapse), and that I must not drink anything, not even wine, for a year, because drinking in the past was one of the things that haunted her in her delirium.“Scott not only exaggerated the rate of Zelda’s improvement, but he was also unable to admit the hold that alcohol had over him. However, in a letter written to Dr. Forel that summer, he stated that he could not give up all drinking permanently. Although he was as trapped in alcoholism as Zelda was in her madness and eczema, he avoided coming to terms with it by placing the blame on Zelda.
Dr. Forel …
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. Now that, due to your tireless intelligence and interest, there is a time in sight where Zelda and I may renew our life together on a decent basis, a thing which I desire with all my heart, there [are] other considerations due to my nessessities as a worker and to my very existence that I must put before you.
During my young manhood for seven years 1 worked extremely hard, in six years bringing myself by tireless literary 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 such as few European writers ever achieve. 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. Doubtless a certain irritability developed in those years, an inability to be gay, which my wife—who had never tried to use her talents and intelligence—was not inclined to condone. It was on our coming to Europe in 1924 and upon her urging that I began to look forward to wine at dinner—she took it at lunch, I did not. We went on hard drinking parties together sometimes but the regular use of wine and apperatives was something that I dreaded but she encouraged because she found I was more cheerful then and allowed her to drink more. The ballet idea was something I inaugurated in 1927 to stop her idle drinking after she had already so lost herself in it as to make suicidal attempts. Since then I have drunk more, from unhappiness, and she less, because of her physical work—that is another story.
Two years ago in America I noticed that when we stopped all drinking for three weeks or so, which happened many times, I immediately had dark circles under my eyes, was listless and disinclined to work. I gave up strong cigarettes and, in a panic that perhaps I was just giving out, I applied for a large insurance policy. The one trouble was low blood-pressure, a matter which they finally condoned, and they issued me the policy. I found that a moderate amount of wine, a pint at each meal made all the difference in how I felt. When that was available the dark circles disappeared, the coffee didn’t give me excema or beat in my head all night, I looked forward to my dinner instead of staring at it, 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 I concealed her weaknesses, and 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. Wine was almost a nessessity for me to be able to stand her long monologues about ballet steps, alternating with a glazed eye toward any civilized conversation whatsoever.
Now when that old question comes up again as to which of two people is worth preserving, I, thinking of my ambitions once 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. I say that without defiance but simply knowing the limits of what I can do. To stop drinking entirely for six months and see what happens, even to continue the experiment thereafter if successful—only a pig would refuse to do that. Give up strong drink permanently I will. Bind myself to forswear wine forever I cannot. My vision of the world at its brightest . is such that life without the use of its amentities is impossible. I have lived hard and ruined the essential innocense in myself that could make it possible, and the fact that I have abused liquor is something to be paid for with suffering and death perhaps but not with renunciation. For me it would be as illogical as permanently giving up sex because I caught a disease (which I hasten to assure you I never have.) I cannot consider one pint of wine at the days end as anything but one of the rights of man.
Does this sound like a long polemic composed of childish stubborness and ingratitude? If it were that it would be so much easier to make promises. 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 … Is there not a certain disingenuousness 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 had caused this calamity, and that I thereby admitted it? Wouldn’t she finally get to believe herself that she had consented to “take me back” only if I stopped drinking? I could only be silent. And any human value I might have would disappear if I condemned myself to a life long ascetism to which I am not adapted either by habit, temperament or the circumstances of my metier.
For portions of August and mid-September Scott vacationed in Caux. He finished “One Trip Abroad” and “A Snobbish Story” during those periods of relative peace. But he did nothing with his novel. He had begun to work on a sixth draft in the spring of 1930, but with Zelda’s illness he apparently put it aside and turned to writing short stories for quick cash. At the beginning of “One Trip Abroad” (which Matthew Bruccoli rightly calls “a miniature of Tender Is the Night”) Fitzgerald wrote about “the young American couple” Nicole and Nelson Kelly: “Life is progressive, no matter what our intentions, but something was harmed, some precedent of possible non-agreement was set. It was a love match, though, and it could stand a great deal.” The Kellys, who showed signs of being modeled after both the Fitzgeralds and the Murphys, did stand a great deal, until restlessness and their own inner resources began to give way. At the end of the story Nicole says,” ’It’s just that we don’t understand what’s the matter… Why did we lose peace and love and health, one after the other? If we knew, if there was anybody to tell us, I believe we could try. I’d try so hard.’ “
During that time Zelda wrote to Scott:
I hope it will be nice at Caux. It sounds as if part of its name had rolled down the mountain-side. Perhaps when I’m well I won’t be so afraid of floating off from high places and we can go to-gether.
Except for momentary retrogressions into a crazy defiance and complete lack of proportion 1 am better. It’s ghastly losing your mind and not being able to see clearly, literally or figuratively—and knowing that 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—
Where are all my things? I used to always 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 can have a house with a room to paint and write maybe like we had with friends for Scottie and there will be Sundays and Mondays again which are different from each other and there will be Christmas and winter fires and pleasant things to think of when you’re going to sleep—and my life won’t lie up the back-stairs of music-halls and yours won’t keep trailing down the gutters of Paris—if it will only work, and I can keep sane and not a bitter maniac—
I wish I could see you: I have forgotten what it’s like to be alive with a functioning intelligence. It was fine to have your post-card with your special reaction to Caux on it. Your letters are just non-commital phrases that you might write to Scottie and they do not help to unravel this infinite psychological mess that I’m floundering about in. I watch what attitude the nurse takes each day and then look up what symptom I have in Doctor Forel’s book. Dear, why has my ignorance on a medical subject which has never appeared to me particularly interesting reduced me to the mental status of a child? I know that my mind is vague and undisciplined and that I only know small smatterings of things, but that has nothing to do with cerebral processes…
I don’t know how we’re going to reverse time, you and me; erase and begin again—but I imagine it will be automatic. I can’t project myself into the past no matter how hard I try. There are lots of days when I think it would have been better to give me a concise explanation and let it go—because I know so much already. One illusion is as good as another.
Write me how you are and what you do and what the world is like at Caux— and Love Zelda
As the summer passed Zelda wavered between a seeming recuperation and yet deeper illness. Once when things seemed very black indeed for her recovery Dr. Forel asked her as part of his therapy to write out a summary of the way she felt about her family and herself. In this document she was able to reveal something of herself to Forel for the first time, with fewer of the restraints and disguises she usually employed. She wrote quickly and in a highly idiosyncratic French. (The following are excerpts from a translation of that record, which in the original runs to about seven pages.) Dr. Forel asked Zelda to describe her parents. She remembered her mother as being extremely indulgent of others’ faults, an artistic woman who wrote, played the piano and sang. Zelda said Mrs. Sayre had a passion for flowers and birds. She saw her mother in terms of a mood photograph: “I can always see her sitting down in the opalescent sunlight of a warm morning, a black servant combing her long grey hair.” But no such images of her father came to mind. She described him exclusively in terms of what he was and did. She said he was a man without fear—intellectual, silent, serious. He was a man of “great integrity.” “I had an enormous respect for my father and some mistrust.” Then he asked her about their marriage.
When I was a child their relationship was not apparent to me. Now I see them as two unhappy people: my mother dominated and oppressed by my father, and often hurt by him, he forced to work for a large family in which he found neither satisfaction nor a spiritual link. Neither of them complained.
When asked about her parents’ influence on her, Zelda insisted that they had had absolutely none.
Her relationship toward her brother and sisters she simply described as “vague.” She was a great many years younger than they and did not have memories of a youth passed together. Her sisters were pretty; she quarreled with them constantly. Her favorite was Rosalind, who “appeared elegant, perfumed, sophisticated.”
The great emotional events of her life were:
My marriage, after which I was in another world, one for which I was not qualified or prepared, because of my inadequate education.
A love affair with a french aviator in St Raphael. I was locked in my villa for one month to prevent me from seeing him. This lasted for five years. When I knew my husband had another woman in California I was upset because the life over there appeared to me so superficial, but finally I was not hurt because I knew I had done the same thing when I was younger.
I determined to find an impersonal escape, a world in which 1 could express myself and walk without the help of somebody who was always far from me. I had begun dancing in Paris, with a great ballet dancer, but I was obliged to leave her because of my illness… When I returned to Paris I went again into the same school. 1 have worked four hours a day and in the evening, and Sundays, during the holidays, on the boat when I was travelling. I began to understand it.
Suddenly last spring I began to see all red while I worked or I saw no colors— I could not bear to look out of windows, for sometimes I saw humanity as a bottle of ants. Then we left for Cannes where I worked on technique and where after the lessons I had the impression that I was an old person living very quietly in winter. I loved my ballet teacher in Paris more than anything else in the world. But I did not know how. She had everything of beauty in her head, the brightness of a greek temple, the frustration of a mind searching for a place, the glory of cannon bullets; all that 1 saw in her steps. From Christinas on I was not able to work correctly anymore, but she helped me to learn more, to go further. She always told me to look after myself. I tried to, but it was worse. I was in a real “mess.” … One day the world between me and the others stopped— I was dragged like by a magnet— I had headaches and 1 could jump higher than ever, but the day after I was sick. I left my lessons, but without them I could not do anything. It was Easter, I wanted to do something for my little girl, but I could not stop in a shop and Madame came to encourage me. Enough to give me the strength to go to Malmaison. There the doctors told me that I was well and I came back to the studio, unable to walk in the streets, full of medicine, trying to work in an atmosphere which was becoming more and more strange… My husband forced me to go to Valmont—and now I am here, with you, in a situation where I cannot be anybody, full of vertigo, with an increasing noise in my ears, feeling the vibrations of everyone I meet. Broken down.
Then, perhaps in a moment of recognition, she added:
I am dependent on my husband, and he told me that I must get cured. 1 accept, but as I am lost about anything with him, with his life in which there is nothing for me except the physical comfort, when I get out of your clinic it will be with an idea: to arrange myself in any condition to be able to breathe freely. Life, beauty or death, all that is equal for me.
I must add another thing: this story is the fault of nobody but me. I believed I was a Salamander [Zelda may have been referring to the mythical salamander, which was able to live in fire and endure it without harm.-N.M.] and it seems that I am nothing but an impediment.
That summer Scott sent Harold Ober three of Zelda’s stories, asking him to show them to Maxwell Perkins for possible publication in Scribner’s Magazine. After Perkins had seen them he wrote Scott,
I have read Zelda’s manuscripts over several times—they came to me while I was away—and I do think they show an astonishing power of expression, and have and convey a curiously effective and strange quality. But they are for a selected audience, and not a large one, and the magazine thinks that on that account, they cannot use them. One would think that if she did enough more they might make a book. Descriptively they are very rare, and the description is not just description. It has a curious emotional content in itself. But for the present 1 shall have to send them back to Ober. I think one of the little magazines might use them. I wish we could.
I am terribly sorry about Zelda herself. But if she has made progress maybe it should become more rapid, and everything will come out right.
Scott replied that he
was sorry of course about Zelda’s stories—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. One of them, I think now, would be incomprehensible without a waste-land footnote. She has those series of eight portraits that attracted so much attention in College Humor and … I think a book might be got together for next spring if Zelda can add a few more during winter.
But that was wishful thinking, for Zelda was not able to concentrate on anything consistently throughout the rest of the summer and fall of 1930, so completely was she in the relentless grip of the eczema. She wrote 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. Neither would I have if I had understood I can’t live any more under these conditions, and anyway I’ll always know that the “door is tacticly locked”—it it ever is.
There’s no justice—no quiet place of rest left in the world, and 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 must have seen. You said it was too good to spoil. What’s spoiling is me, along with it and I don’t see how any-body in the world has a right to do such a thing—
Zelda needed Scott’s reassurance and, even more than that, she expected that he alone could explain to her the causes of her malady, and rescue her from them. She wrote desperately to him:
I seem awfully queer to myself, but I know I used to have integrity even if it’s gone now—You’ve got to come to me and tell me how I was. Now I see odd things: people’s arms too long or their faces as if they were stuffed and they look tiny and far away, or suddenly out of proportion… Please explain— I want to be well and not bothered with poissons big or little and free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person—because it seems to me that then you can’t see the parts so you can never write about them or even remember them very well—
In September the eczema had grown worse and Dr. Forel tried a completely different and experimental approach. He hypnotized Zelda and the results were dramatic. Zelda fell into a deep hypnotic sleep that lasted for thirteen hours and when she awoke the eczema was almost completely gone. It was to reappear again, but in a milder form. Immediately after the treatment Zelda told him that she had felt the eczema oozing in her trance, and she added that she thought there was a link between the eczema and her psychological condition. When she felt normal and realized the danger in her conjugal conflicts the eczema appeared. It came, she thought, as a sort of warning device. Her behavior toward Scott vacillated between being loving and being nasty. She was impulsively affectionate at moments when Scott least expected it, yet she might turn on him as he responded to her affection.
Looking at the letters which she wrote to Scott during the autumn, one catches the wild fluctuations of her moods. Scott was to incorporate portions of these letters into Tender Is the Night to indicate the progress of the relationship between Nicole and Doctor Dick Diver. He moved freely among those letters of Zelda’s which were the most peculiarly disordered to those which were intensely loving. However, one notices that even among the latter letters there were often currents of strangeness. She seemed now to need to express her dependence upon Scott, as though it was proof of her sanity.
Goofy, my darling, hasn’t it been a lovely day? I woke up this morning and the sun was lying like a birth-day parcel on my table 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 in other mornings like a school-mistress. And you ’phoned and said I had written something that pleased you and so 1 don’t believe I’ve ever been so heavy with happiness… Darling— I love these velvet nights. I’ve never been able to decide whether the night was a bitter enemie or a “grand patron”—or whether I love you most in the eternal classic half-lights where it blends with day or in the full religious fan-fare of midnight or perhaps in the lux of noon— Anyway, I love you most and you ’phoned me just because you ’phoned me to-night— I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me. My dear—
I’m so glad you finished your story— Please let me read it Friday. And I will be very sad if we have to have two rooms. Please.
Dear. Are you sort of feeling aimless, surprised, and looking rather reproachful that no melo-drama comes to pass when your work is over— as if you [had] ridden very hard with a message to save your army and found the enemy had decided not to attack—the way you sometimes feel —or are you just a darling little boy with a holiday on his hands in the middle of the week—the way you sometimes are—or are you organizing and dynamic and mending things—the way you sometimes are—
I love you—the way you always are.
Dear—dear dear dear dear dear dear
Dear dear dear dear dear dear
Dear dear dear dear dear dear
Dear dear dear dear dear dear
Dear dear dear dear dear dear dear… [etc.]
Although by the end of October the eczema was nearly cured there was no essential change in Zelda’s mental attitude. She continued to complain about “something” in her head which was not normal. ? When she was left alone during the day she daydreamed, and she was unresponsive to questions put directly to her. She appeared dull and expressionless. Dr. Forel began to fear organic brain damage. By the 10th of November, 1930, the eczema had reappeared and Zelda grew worse. Dr. Forel transferred Zelda once again to the Eglantine. Scott considered this to be a major setback and he was dissatisfied with the progress of her treatment. He played what he called “a sort of American hunch” and asked Forel if something else couldn’t be tried to expedite her cure. On the 22nd Dr. Forel called in Dr. Paul Eugen Bleuler for consultation. Bleuler was a distinguished authority on psychosis (specifically schizophrenia, which he had named) in Europe at that time.
Dr. Forel says he called in Bleuler to clear his own diagnosis. It was extremely important that he arrive at a correct diagnosis, for the treatment depended upon it. “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. It was a great help to discuss this difficult patient with Bleuler.” He also mentioned that he had not been able to psychoanalyze Zelda for fear of disturbing and perhaps sacrificing what precious little equilibrium she possessed. Dr. Forel wrote, “Mrs. Fitzgerald is more intuitive than intelligent, more brilliant than cultivated.” He noticed that she liked to pretend she was more childish than she actually was; she was also sneaky and, he said, always found ways of avoiding the discipline of the hospital.
Scott wrote Judge and Mrs. Sayre telling them of the consultation with Bleuler. He was careful to give all of the details of both Forel’s and Bleuler’s professional standing. “… Forel’s clinique is as I thought the best in Europe, his father having had an extraordinary reputation as a pioneer in the field of psychiatry, and the son being universally regarded as a man of intelligence and character.” Bleuler had been chosen after careful consideration. Dr. Jung was Scott’s alternative choice, but Jung handled cases of neurosis primarily. The consultations were expensive ($500) and Scott did not want questions of medical etiquette to complicate an already thorny case.
Bleuler spent an afternoon with Zelda and the evening with Forel and Scott. Zelda’s personal reaction to Bleuler was succinct; she thought him “a great imbecile.” Bleuler told Scott that three out of four cases such as Zelda’s were discharged as cured, “perhaps one of those three to resume perfect functioning in the world, and the other two to be delicate and slightly eccentric through life—and the fourth case to go right down hill into total insanity.” Zelda must absolutely not be moved from the clinic to America at the risk of her sanity. Bleuler additionally felt that Zelda’s re-entry into the world was going perhaps a little more quickly than it should and that she must be brought along slowly. He reassured Scott (and Scott reassured the Sayres, as well as himself): “’This is something that began about five years ago. Let us hope it is only a process of re-adjustment. Stop blaming yourself. You might have retarded it but you couldn’t have prevented it.’” Scott asked both doctors if a change in his attitude toward Zelda would help her since, as he explained, Zelda had always shown a preference “for men of a stable and strong character.” They told him that it was “possible that a character of tempered steel would help, but that Mrs. Fitzgerald loved and married the artist in Mr. Fitzgerald.”
Once Scott took up residence in Lausanne he began to see Zelda for brief visits once every two or three weeks as Dr. Bleuler had re-commended. He planned to visit Scottie in Paris once a month for four or five days. It was unsatisfactory, but her life had to continue with as little interruption as was possible under the circumstances of her mother’s illness. It was best for her to remain in Paris and continue her schooling there among her friends.
Zelda was not able to write often and her letters to her daughter were therefore few. Her world was not comprehensible to a child and Zelda must have realized how distant she had become from Scottie. She wrote that she wanted Scottie to continue her dancing lessons:
It is excellent to create grace and interest in the arts and I was not pleased that you had to stop, and I hope in the spring you will be capable of going on again as you did before— The saddest thing in my life is that I was no good at it having begun so late—but thats only an excuse on my part, as you have easily guessed I suppose.
She said she missed her “darling baby” and she was tired of the Swiss landscape, the endless winter, and her own sickness.
If Scott did not actually blame himself for Zelda’s collapse he was nevertheless aware of having contributed to it. The very style of their life together was conducive to instability; they had lived hard amidst increasing disorder. It was necessary for Scott to try to comprehend in the most personal terms the calamity that had befallen them. In order to do that He had to write about it. In a manuscript or a letter which was intended for Zelda, or at any rate addressed to her (“Written with Zelda gone to the Clinique”), he attempted to recover those days from their past when things had first begun to go wrong. It is not simply a recapitulation, but the cri de coeur of a man who while wounding had been himself deeply wounded.
I know this then—that those days when we came up from the south, from Capri [February-March, 1925; Scott had completed Gatsby in November, 1924], were among my happiest—but you were sick and the happiness was not in the home.
I had been unhappy for a long time then—when my play failed a year and a half before, when I worked so hard for a year twelve stories and novel and four articles in that time with no one believing in me and no one to see except you and before the end your heart betraying me and then I was really alone with no one I liked. In Rome we were dismal and [I] was still working proof and three more stories and in Capri you were sick and there seemed to be nothing left of happiness in the world anywhere I looked.
Then we came to Paris and suddenly I reallized that it hadn’t all been in vain. I was a success—the biggest one for the moment in my profession everybody admired me and I was proud I’d done such a good thing. I met Gerald and Sara who took us for friends now and Ernest who was an equal and my kind of an idealist. I got drunk with him on the Left Bank in careless cafes and drank with Sara and Gerald in their garden in St Cloud but you were endlessly sick and at home everything was unhappy. We went to Antibes and I was happy but you were sick still and all that fall and that winter and spring at the cure and I was alone all the time and I had to get drunk before I could leave you so sick and not care and I was only happy a little while before I got too drunk. Afterwards there were all the usual penalties for being drunk.
Finally you got well in Juan-les-Pins and a lot of money came in and I made [one] of those mistakes literary men make—I thought I was a man of the world—that everybody liked me and admired me for myself but I only liked a few people like Ernest and Gerald and Charlie McArthur and Sara who were my peers. Time goes bye fast in those moods and nothing is ever done. I thought then that things came easily—I forgot how I’d dragged the great Gatsby out of the pit of my stomach in a time of misery. I woke up in Hollywood no longer my egotistic, certain self but a mixture of Ernest in fine clothes and Gerald with a career—and Charlie McArthur with a past. Anybody that could make me believe that, like Lois Moran did, was precious to me.
Ellerslie, the polo people and Mrs. Chanler, the party for Cecilia were all attempts to make up from without lor being undernourished now from within. Anything to be liked, to be reassured not that I was a man of little genius but that I was a great man of the world. At the same time I knew it was nonsense—the part of me that knew it was nonsense brought us to the Rue Vaugirard.
But now you had gone into yourself just as 1 had four years before in St. Raphael—and there were all the consequences of bad appartments through your lack of patience (“Well, if you want a better apartment why don’t you make some money”) bad servants through your indifference (“Well, if you don’t like her why don’t you send Scotty away to school”) Your dislike for Vidor, your indifference to Joyce I understood —share your incessant enthusiasm and absorption in the ballet 1 could not. Somewhere in there I had a sense of being exploited, not by you but by something I resented terribly no happiness. Certainly less than these had ever been at home—you were a phantom washing clothes… I remember desolate trips to Versaille to Phienis, to LaBaule undertaken in sheer weariness of home. I remember wondering why I kept working to pay the bills of this desolate menage I had evolved. In despair I went from the extreme of isolation, which is to say isolation with D———, or the Ritz Bar where I got back my self esteem for half an hour, often with someone I had hardly ever seen before. On the evenings sometimes you and I rode to the Bois in a cab—after awhile I preferred to go to Cafe de Lilas and sit there alone remembering what a happy time I had had there with Ernest, Hadley, Dorothy Parker and Benchley two years before. During all this time, remember I didn’t blame anyone but myself. I complained when the house got unbearable but after all I was not John Peale Bishop—I was paying for it with work, that I passionately hated and found more and more difficult to do. The novel was like a dream, daily farther and farther away.
Ellerslie was better and worse. Unhappiness is less acute when one lives with a certain sober dignity but the financial strain was too much. Between Sept when we left Paris and March when we reached Nice we were living at the rate of forty thousand a year.
But somehow I felt happier. Another Spring— I would see Ernest whom I had launched, Gerald and Sarah who through my agency had been able to try the movies. At least life would [seem] less drab: there would be parties with people who offered something, conversations with people with something to say. Later swimming and getting tanned and young and being near the sea.
It worked out beautifully didn’t it. Gerald and Sara didn’t see us. Ernest and I met but it was a more irritable Ernest, apprehensively telling me his whereabouts lest I come in on them tight and endanger his precarious lease. The discovery that half a dozen people were familiars there didn’t help my self esteem. By the time we reached the beautiful Rivierra I had developed such an inferiority complex that I couldn’t face anyone unless I was tight. I worked there too, though, and the unusual combination exploded my lungs. [At various periods in Fitzgerald’s life he referred to having had tuberculosis. Usually it was a pretext to cover his drinking. And because he was something of a hypochondriac it is difficult to decide if he suffered from tuberculosis to the degree that he thought he did. According to his biographer Arthur Mizener, Scott did suffer a mild attack in 1919. and in 1929 “he had what subsequently proved to have been a tubercular hemorrhage…”-N.M.]
You were gone now—I scarcely remember you that summer. You were simply one of all the people who disliked me or were indifferent to me. I didn’t like to think of you.— You didn’t need me and it was easier to talk to or rather at Madame Bellois and keep full of wine. I was grateful when you came with me to the Doctors one afternoon but after we’d been a week in Paris and 1 didn’t try any more about living or dieing. Things were always the same. The appartments that were rotten, the maids that stank—the ballet before my eyes, spoiling a story to take the Troubetskoys to dinner, poisening a trip to Africa. You were going crazy and calling it genius—I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand. And I think everyone far enough away to see us outside of our glib presentations of ourselves guessed at your almost meglomaniacal selfishness and my insane indulgence in drink. Toward the end nothing much mattered. The nearest I ever came to leaving you was when you told me you [thought] that I was a fairy in the Rue Palatine but now whatever you said aroused a sort of detached pity for you. For all your superior observation and your harder intelligence I have a faculty of guessing right, without evidence even with a certain wonder as to why and whence that mental short cut came. I wish the Beautiful and Damned had been a maturely written book because it was all true. We ruined ourselves— I have never honestly thought that we ruined each other
The letter breaks off here, incomplete. Zelda was in even less of a position to cope with the fissures within their marriage than Scott. In a letter that may have been a reaction to this one of Scott’s, she struck back.
Your letter is not difficult to answer with promptitude since I have done nothing but turn over cause and effect in my mind for some time. Also 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. If you so refer to giving your absolute minimum of effort both to your work and to our mutual welfare with no hope or plans for the future save the vague capricices which drive you from one place to another, 1 envy you the mental processes which can so distort conditions into a rectitude of attitude for you. You have always told me that I had no right to complain as long as I was materially cared for, so take whatever comfort you may find in whatever self justification you can construct. Also, I quite understand the restless dissatisfaction which drives you from existing conditions since I have been through it myself, even to the point of being completely dependent on a mentality which had neither the desire nor the necessity of touching mine for the small crumbs of beauty that I found I must have to continue. This is not a treatise of recriminations, but I would like you to understand clearly why there are certain scenes not only toward the end which could never be effaced from my mind. I am here, and since I have no choice, I will try to mister 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 and 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.
When you saw in Paris that I was sick, sinking—when you knew that I went for days without eating, incapable of supporting contact with even the servants—You sat in the bathroom and sang “Play in your own Backyard.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t any yard: it was a public playground apparently. You introduced me to ___ and sat me beside ——— one moment and the next disparaged and belittled the few friends I knew whose eyes had gathered their softness at least from things that I understood. Some justification has always been imperative to me, and 1 could never function simply from the necessity for functioning not even to save myself as the King of Greece once told Ernest Hemmingway was the most important thing of all as you so illuminatingly told me.
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 and ___ and my coiffeur in Paris—as you know, my memories are mostly lost in sound and smell, so there isn’t even that, I’m sorry. In Paris, I hope you will get Scottie out of the city heat now that she has finished school.
later, in a calmer mood, she wrote again:
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… Try to understand that people are not always reasonable when the world is as unstable and vacillating as a sick head can render it—that for months I have been living in vaporous places peopled with one-dimensional figures and tremulous buildings until I can no longer tell an optical illusion from a reality—that head and ears incessantly throb and roads disappear, until finally I lost all control and powers of judgement and was semi-imbecilic when I arrived here.
At the end of November Zelda wrote Dr. Forel:
Can’t you 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… I am forced to bear the hopeless months of the past and God knows what in the future. Exalted sophistries are not much of a prop. Why do I have to go backwards when everybody else who can goes on? … and if you do cure me whats 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.
Christmas, 1930: the nightmare darkened. Although Zelda had asked to see Scottie, she behaved badly when confronted by her, breaking the ornaments on their tree and talking incoherently. Scott took Scottie skiing at Gstaad to try to mitigate what must have been a painful and upsetting scene for the child.
Suddenly, at the end of January, Scott’s father died in Washington. Deeply sorrowful at the loss, he planned to return to America immediately for the funeral. Before he left there was a final meeting with Zelda. In his detailed report to Dr. Forel, he said that, although a first-year medical student could phrase it better than he could, he had a theory about Zelda which he wished to put forth. He then plotted the course of her illness in outline form from age fifteen to the present. His notion was that some “uneliminated poison attacks the nerves.”
In brief my idea is this. That the eczema is not relative but is the clue to the whole business. I believe that the eczema is a definite concurrent product of every struggle back toward the normal, just as an alcoholic has to struggle back through a period of depression… I can’t help clinging to the idea that some essential physical things like salt or iron or semen or some unguessed at holy water is either missing or is present in too great quantity.
Scott felt that Zelda needed some intense form of physical activity to aid her in the cure. Her poor eyesight and her highly developed artistic sense made embroidery, carpentry, and bookbinding insufficiently involving; nor were these activities, he felt certain, any real substitute for sweating.
Zelda, too, was moved by his father’s death, as well as by Scott’s grief. He said she literally clung to him for an hour.
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.
Zelda realized that their meeting had not been satisfactory and wrote him a note in an effort to reach him before he was at sea. “I would have been so happy to help you. A neurose is not much good in times of distress to others…”
With Scott in America Zelda suddenly began to improve. No one on the staff linked her beginning recovery to Scott’s absence, but it must have been related for it was astonishing how rapidly she now began to take hold. She ate her meals at the table regularly with the other patients, and the odd little smile which had uncontrollably marked her expression from the beginning of her illness disappeared. She also began to ski every day at nearby St. Cergues when the snow was good. There were photographs taken of her smiling happily in her chamois jacket, her hair flying. It was as if the skiing itself were an indication that the tide of her illness had turned in her favor. Scott had guessed right when he said that she needed physical exercise. She also apparently needed distance from him.
During Scott’s stay in America he managed a brief trip to Montgomery to see the Sayres about Zelda. The Judge was ill with the flu, and the visit was only a partial success. It did, however, serve to reassure Mrs. Sayre about Zelda’s recovery, and she was grateful to Scott for having come.
As the spring passed it became clear that Zelda had definitely improved. The tone of her letters changed and her relationship to Scott was slowly evolving into one more loving and less charged with bitterness and recrimination. She thought back on good times they had shared together.
I keep thinking of Provence and thin brown people slowly absorbing the deep shade of Aix—the white glare on the baking dust of a country pounded into colorless oblivion by an incessantly rotating summer—I’d like awfully to be there—Avignon must be perfect now, to feel the wide quiet of the Rhone, and Aries obliterating its traces with the hum of cafes under the great trees— I’d like to be eating the lunch we had at Chateau Neuf du Pap, where the air was not vibrant and full of the whole spectrum—looking over a deep valley full of grape-vines and heat and far away the palace of the Popes like a mirage—
I would like to be walking alone in a Sirocco at Cannes at night passing under the dim lamps and imagining myself mysterious and unafraid like last summer—
At the end of the letter her tone changed into something other than poetic reminiscence, as if she were trying to ascertain what degree of change comparable to her own might have taken place in Scott.
I would like to be working—what would you like? Not work, I know, and not lone places. Would you like to be in New York with a play in rehearsal like you always said? and to have decorative people about you—to be reading Spengler, or what? It is not possible that you should really want to be in the hurry and disorder of the Ritz Bar and Mont Matre and the high excitability of scenes like the party we went to with McGowan where you passed so much of your time recently—
She asked that Scott send her books to read; she wanted Spengler’s The Decline of the West and a book on playwriting that he had once promised her. “I have been reading Joyce and find it a nightmare in my present condition…” She did not want anything in French, “since I have enough difficulty with English for the moment 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, please—”
Throughout the spring and into June she and Scott were able to see more of one another without the side effects of eczema or irritation that their earlier meetings had provoked in Zelda. It rained steadily on the lake now, and the dreariness of the days made her a little sad.
I can’t write. I tried all afternoon—and I just twisted the pencil round and round… When you can’t write you sit on the bed and look so woe-begone like a person who’s got to a store and can’t remember what they wanted to buy—
Good-night, dear. If you were in my bed it might be the back of your head I was touching where the hair is short and mossy or it might be up in the front where it make[s] little caves about your forehead, but wherever it was it would be the sweetest place, the sweetest place.
When they met now, there were day trips taken together at Lausanne and Geneva for shopping, or luncheons of hot chocolate and apricot tarts and whipped cream at the cafes. When they could not meet, Zelda wrote to him telling him how she felt and what she was doing, and how much she missed him.
And theres always my infinite love—You are a sweet person—the sweetest and dearest of all and I love you as I love my vanished youth— which is as much as a human heart can hold—
It continued to rain and the sky, Zelda wrote, was
filled with copper clouds like the after-math of cannon-fire, pre-war, civil-war clouds and I feel all empty and bored and very much in love with you, my dear one, my own. 1 wish you were here so we could stretch our legs down beside one another and feel all warm and hidden in the bed, like seeds beaten into the earth. Why is there happiness and comfort and excitement where you are and no where else in the world, and why is there a sleepy tremulo in the air when you are near that’s promising and living like a vibrating fecundity?
And then her last line, to tease and please him: “excuse me for being so intellectual. I know you would prefer something nice and feminine and affectionate.”
Gerald Murphy, who was living with his family in Switzerland, recalled Fitzgerald’s coming to see him that spring: “Scott called me and said, ’At last she is asking to see someone. She wants to see you, Gerald.’ We knew how important that was. It was a breakthrough. But he warned me that it might be a terrible experience and he didn’t want to press me into going if I felt I couldn’t. I remember telling him that of course I would go—and feeling absolutely terrified at the same time.”
Dr. Forel screened him carefully before letting him see Zelda. He explained what she had been through and cautioned Gerald against mentioning certain things that were known to upset her.
“She had chosen basket therapy when she was well enough and she was outside in a courtyard working on one when I went to visit her. I remember spotting her near a lovely old house—there was a fig tree near her and I noticed that she was watching me without seeming to do so. I had to cross the entire courtyard and that was the most God awful long walk that I have ever made. She looked altered, distrait. I moved as calmly as I could and when I reached her I smiled and said that all my life I had wanted to make baskets like hers—great, heavy, stout baskets. She accepted that, smiled back at me and asked, ’Where did you come from?’ I told her where we were living and that I was on my way to Geneva, I had just stopped to say hello. Actually, I stayed less than five minutes with her, but it was a harrowing experience.”
Zelda began to take trips with other patients (rather than in the company of nurses) into Berne and Geneva, and she asked Scott how he could love “a silly girl who buys cheese and plaited bread from enchanted princes in the public market and eats them on the streets…” As her world expanded she tried to let Scott know how delicious her freedom was, as well as how much she missed his presence.
I went to Geneva all by myself with a fellow maniac and the city was thick and heavy before the rain… and I wanted to be in Lausanne with you— … Have you ever been so lonely that you felt eternally guilty—as if you’d left off part of your clothes—[...]
I hope you know they are kisses splatterring you[r] balcony to-night 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
In July there were two idyllic weeks that Zelda spent with Scott and Scottie at Annecy. They said they would “never go there again because those weeks had been perfect and no other time could match them.” They played tennis and fished and danced in the warm nights by the lake, “white shoes gleaming like radium in the damp darkness. It was like the good gone times when we still believed in summer hotels and the philosophies of popular songs.”
When she was back she teased him playfully, lovingly:
My dearest and most precious Monsieur,
We have here a kind of maniac who seems to have been inspired with erotic aberrations on your behalf. Apart from that she is a person of excellent character, willing to work, would accept a nominal salary while learning, fair complexion, green eyes would like correspondance with refined young man of your description with intent to marry. Previous experience unnecessary. Very fond of family life and a wonderful pet to have in the home. Marked behind the left ear with a slight tendency to schitzoprenie.
Toward the end of the summer Dr. Forel suggested that the Fitzgeralds take another trip together—a trial run so that Zelda might work her way back into society. The Murphys had taken up residence at an old manor house in the Austrian Tyrol; they likened it to a hunting lodge, with its sanded floors and white walls. It was simple and solid and it stood amid beautiful fields of grain. As it was not far from Switzerland, the Fitzgeralds decided to visit them there. Zelda would be with people she liked, she could relax, and the atmosphere was both refreshing and calming. “At first we were petrified at the idea of their coming,” Gerald Murphy said. “But once she was there she enjoyed it so, relished it, really. Scott was delighted with the place and enormously reassured by Zelda’s behavior.” One incident marred the long weekend that the Fitzgeralds spent with them, but it had nothing to do with Zelda. The Murphys had brought with them their nursemaid for their own three children. In the evening when it was time for their baths the nurse asked Scottie (who was nearly ten) if she wanted her bath as well. Scottie rebelled. “She was sure the bathwater was dirty; she thought Mademoiselle had used the same water to bathe each of the three Murphy children. It was cloudy and she ran and told her mother and father. Zelda took it beautifully, but Scott—well, Scott behaved like a child, he made a great deal of fuss over the whole thing.” Bath salts, which clouded the water, had been used to soften it, and Scottie thought it was dirty. Scott may also have been more worried than he let on about the tuberculosis of one of the Murphy sons. He had always thought of himself as tubercular and he must have been anxious about Scottie’s coming in contact with it. Gerald Murphy said: “Well, it’s all written into Tender Is the Night— changed a little of course. But we were stunned, we would never have dreamed of washing them all in the same water!”
Zelda had passed those various tests of her ability to cope with her life with Scott and her child. She was now able to reassure Scott when he felt blue about their future together.
Please don’t be depressed: nothing is sad about you except your sadness and the frayed places on your pink kimona and that you care so much about everything— You are the only person who’s ever done all they had to do, damn well, and had enough left over to be dissatisfied… Can’t you possibly be just a little bit glad that we are alive and that all the year that’s coming we can be to-gether and work and love and get some peace for all the things we’ve paid so much for learning? Stop looking for solace: there isn’t any, and if there were life would be a baby affair…
Stop thinking about our marriage and your work and human relations—you are not a showman arranging an exhibit— You are a Sun-god with a wife who loves him and an artist—to take in, assimilate and all alterations to be strictly on paper—
On September 15, 1931, after a year and three months of treatment, Zelda was released from Prangins. Her case was summarized as a “reaction to her feelings of inferiority (primarily toward her husband)…” She was stated to have had ambitions which were “self-deceptions” and which “caused difficulties between the couple.” Her prognosis was favorable—as long as conflicts could be avoided.
The Fitzgeralds motored directly to Paris and from there went on to board the Aquitania for the United States. On a sunny day during the crossing, with Scottie playing shuffleboard next to them, Scott took a snapshot of Zelda sitting on a canvas deck chair. She is wearing sturdy low-heeled shoes and her hair is pushed back clumsily beneath a pale beret. She is smoking a cigarette and on her lap balances a large sketching pad. She is not smiling, but scowls against the sun. If it were not that the photograph is included in the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbook and labeled “Homeward bound on the Aquitania” one could not identify Zelda, for she is altered and aged beyond recognition. She had lost her good looks and what remained was a face hardened by suffering and despair.
Earlier that year when it had seemed to her that she might recover she had written Scott: “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—how big a role circumstance played and what proportion was voluntary—but if such a thing as expiation exists it is taking place and I hope you will forgive me the rest of my part—”
THEY STAYED IN NEW YORK ONLY A few days before traveling to Alabama to see Zelda’s anxious family. They were considering settling in Montgomery, perhaps even buying a house. At last Scott would be able to return to his novel, which he had not touched thus far in 1931, while Zelda set up housekeeping.
Montgomery was a haven from the Depression, which seemed to have had no effect upon life there, and even the passage of time left the city unaltered. Zelda wrote, “In Alabama, the streets were sleepy and remote and a calliope on parade gasped out the tunes of our youth.” “Nothing,” she added, “had happened there since the Civil War.”
The Fitzgeralds searched for a house and found one at 819 Felder Avenue, which was on the edge of Montgomery’s first suburb, Cloverdale. It was, as usual, an improbable place, far too large for them. They hired a Negro couple to take care of housekeeping and cooking as well as the secondhand Stutz they had just bought. They acquired a white Persian cat, which they called Chopin, and a bloodhound, named Trouble. Life settled down to a quiet routine of football games, tennis, and golf, and visiting old friends. By October Scott was bored and wrote in his Ledger, “life dull.”
Zelda seemed peculiar to her friends, few of whom knew about her recent breakdown, and her appearance startled them. She was haggard and her mouth fell into a slight smile, as if she were permanently amused. The Fitzgeralds had always provided Montgomerians with a topic of conversation and gossip, but now it was no longer entirely out of envy that their names came up. Someone overheard them quarreling about a suicide pact made in the early days of their marriage when they had promised that at thirty-five they’d call it quits. The notion had definitely lost its appeal for Scott, who turned thirty-five that September. He wrote at the top of his Ledger, “Recession and Procession,” adding, “Zelda well, worse, better. Novel intensive begins.”
Zelda began to feel increasingly uncomfortable in Montgomery. She felt surrounded by women of limited horizons. “You know the kind: women of fifty still known as ’Baby.’” She gave a friend a copy of Faulkner’s new novel, Sanctuary, and was delighted when she learned that the woman was sleepless after reading it. She wondered if it mightn’t do many of the women in Montgomery good to be shocked out of their complacency.
Judge Sayre was gravely ill. He had not recovered from the influenza of the previous spring and the strain of his long sickness exhausted Mrs. Sayre. Outwardly she was composed, even calm, but she tended to reminisce more than she had before, as if her memories gave her comfort. It was in the midst of this atmosphere of illness and impending death that Scott announced his plans to go to Hollywood. An offer came via Harold Ober to work on a film script under the direction of Irving Thalberg, and Scott felt he could not turn it down. The money was good and he was eager to try his hand at films again after his rankling failure in 1927. He would be gone no more than eight weeks and be home by Christmas.
Even before Scott left, Zelda had begun to work on her writing. It was the only field she felt remained open to her in which she might be able to accomplish something professionally. Dancing was now permanently out of the question, for she was no longer in top physical condition and she realized the limitations of both her age and her ability. She felt her talents as a painter were second-rate and, besides, her poor eyesight made painting difficult and tiring. She had attracted a modest amount of attention as a short-story writer in the College Humor pieces and she hoped there would be a market for the kind of stories she wanted to write. Writing regularly, with an astonishing degree of self-discipline and speed, she finished at least seven stories and began planning a novel during the period Scott was in Hollywood. Only one of the stories was a revision from the previous summer, and they were usually mailed to Harold Ober just as soon as they were typed. Unfortunately, only one of the stories was published and none survive in manuscript. The synopses kept by Ober give us our only clue to their general content.
Two stories were Southern in their locale and in both there was a clutter of sensational events: miscegenation, attempted incest, a shooting, and automobile accidents were elements about which the stories turned. The others centered on the chic worlds of Long Island and Europe. But no matter what their themes were, Ober could not sell them.
In notes accompanying the stories, Zelda asked Ober what he thought about them and suggested where they might be published. “Please tell me your frank opinion… I wish we could sell something. Can’t we give them away? I feel sure ’Nuts’ is a good story, why won’t Scribner’s take it? It’s so satisfactory to be in print.” Scribner’s did eventually take it (if “Nuts” refers, as it seems to, to “A Couple of Nuts”) and it was published the following summer. It was a good story, possibly the best of Zelda’s short fiction. It possesses a Fitzgeraldian aura of romance falling apart but it is unmistakably Zelda’s. All too frequently her stories had failed because they became homilies on conduct overly laden with description of setting. Her characters froze into prototypes rather than growing as memorable and separate people. But in “A Couple of Nuts” Zelda was in control of her talent.
The story is about a young American couple, Larry and Lola, who play the banjo and sing in a club in Paris. They are “young and decorative” and “In those days of going to pieces and general disintegration it was charming to see them together.” Their innocent youthfulness and good looks soon make them a fashionable pair among the rich. They attract a patron who introduces them on the Riviera, where they become a success. “Their stuff was spectacularly American and they made a killing at it, being simple kids.” Within a year they are a vogue, but they’ve also become calculating. Lola is romantically involved with their patron and careless; Larry’s role is to ignore the situation, which he does. There is a casual reference to an abortion, which they have to borrow money to cover. Eventually Larry persuades Lola to leave with him for America, where, he believes, they can make a name for themselves. We learn of their flop in the States through the patron, who had been instrumental in providing them with an introduction to the smart club in America where they failed. The plot becomes complicated at this point as Mabel, the patron’s ex-wife, falls for Larry. Lola retaliates by bringing a lawsuit for a hundred thousand dollars against them. It saddens the narrator to think back on the couple, for “They had possessed something precious that most of us never have: a jaunty confidence in life and in each other…” At the end of the story Larry and Mabel are drowned on Mabel’s yacht. Lola survives with a lonely existence before her. The narrator remembers the times they had shared together and the night he was given their Paris address: “I had promised to send them some songs from home—songs about love and success and beauty.”
Those three words were the themes of Zelda’s fiction, and of her life before her breakdown. The missing word was ruin. She understood that a failure of love made meaningless the otherwise potent nouns success and beauty—each of which was liable to impermanence. There is in the story an indictment of the rich as seducers nearly as strong as Hemingway’s was to be in A Moveable Feast. Except that Zelda points out both the responsibility and the foolishness of those who take their attention as anything more than part of an intricate game, in which the rich play as masters with little at stake.
The story was reviewed in St. Paul by James Gray, who knew the Fitzgeralds. He called it a companion piece to Gatsby, and added that a dual egotism had sustained the main characters—an absorption in each other was the first thing that distinguished them—as it had Scott and Zelda, he might have added.
That absorption in each other had already left its mark on both their lives, and now that Scott was in Hollywood Zelda felt intensely her need for him, his company, and his reassurance. During the eight weeks that Scott was gone Zelda wrote him thirty-odd letters. In these letters she again and again told him of her dependence upon him. She had sensed Scott’s boredom in Montgomery, feeling bored to some extent herself, but she was more than a little uneasy about his abrupt trip to Hollywood without her.
Roaming Montgomery during her morning walks, she found the old blind bugler from the Civil War who had sold candy to her and Scott when they were courting, and bought a cream bar from him for remembrance’s sake. She continued working on her short stories and she began to read one of Scott’s stories every night before falling asleep. Once while reading “The Offshore Pirate” she wrote him, “You were younger than anybody in the world once— what fun you must have had in that curious place that’s younger than life.” In full admiration of the excellence of “Absolution” she told him, “I will never be able to write like that.”
Rereading his stories was in part a gesture of love made in his absence, but Zelda was also reading them in order to learn how to construct fiction. It was inevitable that she would model her work on his. The social and emotional territory of their work had always been strikingly similar. She now became deeply aware of Scott’s skill as a writer, and her opinion of her own work suffered by comparison. Unfortunately this stimulated one of the symptoms of her illness, competitiveness toward Fitzgerald. For what she was doing now was measuring her abilities as a writer against his—and finding her own lacking.
In her letters to him she constantly belittled her own attempts and insisted that her writing was not going well: “… my stuff (the last two since you left) has got too thin and spiritless to be worth the effort. With some ruinous facility junk just flows and is utterly worthless.” Still, she finished her stories and continued with others, all the while writing him, “I do not believe I can write.” When she did not hear immediately from Ober she began to think she was writing for herself. No one, or at least neither Scott nor Zelda nor the Sayres, questioned the intense speed at which she was working. The isolation she must have required in order to write did not then strike Fitzgerald as being at all out of hand, nor did it remind him of that period just prior to her breakdown in Paris when she was extremely productive, writing at a tremendous clip, while continuing her ballet.
Suddenly in early November the Judge grew worse. “Daddy is sinking rapidly the Doctors say. I only go once a day and take Mamma for a long drive, since he is completely unconscious and does not know us or seem to want anybody about.” On the night of November 17 he died. Zelda was notified the following morning. She wired Scott of the Judge’s death and when she had a moment to herself she wrote to him in those abstract terms with which she had learned to describe her father, calling his death “the end of another brave, uncompromising effort to preserve conceptions—.” She added as an afterthought, “I wonder what ironic sequence, what stamina of spirit Daddy has carried over that made him think so little of the world and so much of justice and integrity?”
At his death the State of Alabama paid him its highest honors. At the capitol the main entrance to the supreme court chamber was draped with black crepe and the flag flew at half staff. Roses were cut from the grounds of the capitol and placed around his casket. A simple burial sermon was read and there were no hymns, for the Judge had requested that manifestations of sentiment be avoided. Zelda bought a blanket of flowers for the Judge’s coffin because, she wrote Scott, no one else in the family had the money to do it and “I knew how you felt towards Daddy and that you would have wanted us to.” She told him the Judge looked “very little in his clothes,” and she said simply, “It’s just the little personal things we care about in people… Who cares what good or evil dies? And all of us care that we will never hear a certain chuckle again or see the fingers meet a certain way.”
In an obituary in the Montgomery newspaper, after the Judge had been praised for his excellence and fairness it was noted: “The remarkable thing about his success before the people is that he was in no sense a politician. We doubt if any holder of a State office in the last 20 years has known so few Alabamians personally as Judge Sayre. He did not make speeches, he did not lend his name and time to various public movements, he did not go about over the State much, he was not a joiner.”
A few days after the funeral, Zelda and her mother went to the capitol and closed the Judge’s office. Zelda told Scott how it had looked, “musty and masculine and cerebral,” with a gorgeous butterfly pinned over a map of the L & N railroad lines, some dusty cotton shirt samples and a copy of Josephus.
Zelda managed to keep her equilibrium throughout the difficult ordeal of her father’s illness and death, but she began to suffer signs of distress that were all too familiar to her. She wrote to Scott that her eyes were bothering her, that she had been sleepless with asthma [Zelda first developed asthma when she was twenty-three. Fitzgerald later told Dr. Forel she was allergic to moose hair.-N.M.] and had recently noticed touches of eczema “which I could not trace since I have done my best to lead as healthy a life as possible so you would find me fresh and cheerful when you got back.” Her father’s death had filled the house with relatives and that climate of bereavement was a great strain on her. It was doubly difficult without Scott. She wrote him, “Life is horrible without you because there’s not another living soul with whom I have the slightest communion.”
On her mother’s birthday, which was only a few days after the Judge’s death, Zelda invited her family to lunch.
Anthony’s wife is awfully nice and Tilde is pretty and Marjorie is good and kind and there we were: All Daddy had to leave behind. Mamma sat in that more aristocratic world where she and Daddy have always lived. She is so sweet and foolish and infinitely courageous.
But even with her family around her she felt isolated and out of place.
I feel like a person lost in some Gregorian but feminine service here—I have come in on the middle and did not get the beginning and cannot stay for the end but must somehow seize the meaning— It’s awful to think that Daddy isn’t here any more— I would like to pick up Mamma and go—
Her family fatigued her and she felt remote from them, yet obliged to make an attempt to understand them and keep in their company. When Scott wrote back to her about Hollywood Zelda replied that if he again mentioned “Lily Dalmita or Constance I will go off to Florida for a week and spend our money and make you jealous of my legs a la Creole when you get home.”
Then, as her asthma grew more harassing she did decide to spend a long weekend on the coast of Florida to recuperate. She told Scott that although she had everything in the world in Montgomery, except him, she needed to get away.
I know I am nervous and too introspective and stale— …just long riding rolling along will give me back the calm and contentment that has temporarily disappeared with my physical well-being. Please understand and do not think that I leave in search of any fictitious pleasure. After the utter solitude of Prangin there have been many people lately and people that I love with whom my relations are more than superficial and I really think I need a day or two by myself.
But Scott did not understand and had misgivings about her traveling alone. Zelda in turn was hurt by his lack of confidence in her. “If you feel that I am such an irresponsible person you should have left me in a clinic.” She added that she did not intend to do anything to injure him or herself.
I wish you could believe that though I may have transitory and uncorrelated ideas and impulses which make it difficult to appear as a solid individual, still they are more fleeting always and my actions accord with what I would like to be—as well as I am able.
Scott did not want to rob her of her self-confidence just when she was doing so well and he relented. Before she left she wrote him:
Scottie and I have had a long bed-time talk about the Soviets and the Russian idea… You will be absolutely ravished by her riding trousers and yellow shirt and Scottie rearing back in her saddle like a messenger of victory. Each time she goes she conquers herself and the pony, the sky, the fields and the little black boy who follows on a fast shaven mule. I wish I were a fine sweet person like you two and not somebody who has to go 200 miles because they have a touch of asthma… I hope you haven’t worked yourself to death. We must reduce our scale of living since we will always be equally extravagant as now. It would be easier to start from a lower base. This is sound economics and what Ernest and most of our friends do.
She traveled to Florida, and as a compromise took along a trained nurse.
The day before Thanksgiving Zelda received a recording of Scott’s voice which delighted both her and Scottie. “It made me feel all safe in the center of things again and important.” She played it over and over. She told him she was busy writing, but “Fantastic exhuberance has deserted me and everything presents itself in psychological terms for novels.” Certainly she had been working very hard on her stories, but as yet none of them had been sold and perhaps a novel would do better. She said she wanted to send her stories to Scott, “but I know you are absorbed in your own so I’ll do the best I can and send it on to Ober. Darling I miss you so not having anyone to trust and talk to intellectually. There’s no use asking anybody else’s opinion because I don’t care what it is.”
The fact that Zelda did not show Scott her stories for his opinion or approval, while reiterating her deep need for him, is worth notice. The ambivalence that lay behind it would reappear when she completed the manuscript of her novel, with disastrous consequences.
On Thanksgiving Day after the turkey dinner at her mother’s she wrote Scott again:
It makes me remember all the times we’ve been to-gether absolutely alone in some supended hour, a holiday from Time prowling about in those quiet place alienated from past and future where there is no sound save listening and vision is an anesthetic… My story limps homeward, 1,000 words to a gallon of coffee… I have a wonderful plot for a short thing that I will get at as soon as I can. It’s for your Christmas… It’s fun thinking of Christmas and the night you will get home and how you’ll look as you come out the gate. I will be surprised at your mondanity [?] and very amazed that you are concise and powerful and I will be very happy that you are so handsome and when I see how handsome you are my stomach will fall with many un-pleasant emotions like a cake with too many raisins and I will want to shut you up in a closet like a dress too beautiful to wear.
It was only with Scott gone that she realized how dependent upon him she had become; it was as if he were a source of energy for her to draw upon. It was not that she hadn’t ideas of her own; it was that she needed him to confirm them and herself. She asked him repeatedly, “Do you love me so very much like I do you?” “Is it possible for a person to be as absolutely perfect as I think you are.” The tone grew to be obsessional.
Deo, my love, my one, my person, I miss you so terribly. It seems a year since you went and it’s very pale and pathetic just trailing about in the wake of your thoughts. When you are not there everything presents itself only in terms of your impressions and I have no independent self save the one that lives in you—so I’m never thoroughly conscious except when you’re near.
She left Scott’s hat in the hallway and his cane on their bed, “… and you could not tell that it’s all just a bluff and a make-shift without you.” She kept the light on in his study at night so that she would think he was there when she woke up. And she said her disposition suffered in his absence; maybe it was the result of her asthma attacks. “I am going to dig myself a bear-pit and sit inside thumbing my nose at the people who bring me carrots and then I will be perfectly happy.” Caught up among her own imaginings she told Scott some bears were lovely and pleasant and lived on honey and wildflowers. “But I will be a very dirty bear with burrs in my coat and my nice silky hair all matted with mud and I will growl and move my head about disconsolately.” She said he must never go off without her again.
These letters suggest that without Scott Zelda’s own existence and estimation of herself were impaired. She may have exaggerated her sense of dependence on him in order to demonstrate to him and to herself how perfectly normal she had become, for part of Forel’s cure had been a somewhat mysterious “re-education” of Zelda in terms of her role as wife to Scott. That may have instilled in Zelda a standard of normality against which she tried to measure herself. That it seems to have been foreign to her individual temperament and personality was not taken into consideration. Certainly it seems strained for Zelda to write, “We are like a lot of minor characters at table waiting for the entrance of the star.” But in 1931 that was her tone.
In late November Scott wrote Dr. Forel from Hollywood about Zelda. He said that she was well, living cautiously, and drinking no alcohol whatsoever. He said that their relationship had never been better. He also mentioned that Zelda had begun writing. The death of the Judge, which he said they had expected, Zelda had taken in her stride. He had felt no hesitation about leaving her to go to Hollywood.
Scott mocked Hollywood and he never entirely got over the feeling that there was something demeaning about going there to write. But it intrigued him as a place of false glamour against which a part of him competed for attention. He went to the parties and allowed his real charm to dissolve in alcohol. In early December he must have written Zelda about his dissatisfaction at the studios; for she replied:
I’m sorry your work isn’t interesting. I had hoped it might present new dramatic facets that would make up for the tediousness of it. If it seems too much drudgery and you are faced with ’get to-gether and talk-it-over’ technique—come home, Sweet. You will at least have eliminated Hollywood forever. I wouldn’t stay and waste time on what seems an inevitable mediocrity and too hard going.
Although Zelda never directly told Scott of her anxieties about Hollywood, they once took shape in a nightmare, which clearly revealed her sense of impending panic about Scott and herself.
Dearest, My Love:
I had the most horrible dream about you last night. You came home with a great shock of white hair and you said it had turned suddenly from worrying about being unfaithful. You had the big leather carry-all trunk you have always talked about buying and in it were two huge canvasses, landscapes, with the trees stuffed and made of cloth and hanging off like doll’s arms. O Goofo! I love you so and I’ve been mad all day because of that dream.
She added that she missed him and wanted him near; then, astonishingly, she wrote: “Its wonderful that we have never had a cross word or done bad things to each other. Wouldn’t it be awful if we had?” She said that Scott was all she cared about on earth, “the past discredited and disowned, the future has doubled up on the present; give me the peace of my one certitude—that I love you. It’s the only instance in my life of my intelligence backing up my emotions— That was an awful dream—awful dear. I didn’t want to live and you were only formally sorry.” In the last sentence she said she didn’t mean anything she had written: “I want you to have a good time and take what you can from everywhere and love me if you want to and be kind—” She did not, of course, mean that at all. She wanted him home with her where she could be sure of him—and of herself.
Continuing to read his short stories, she wanted to cry over “The Sensible Thing,” a story Scott had written about their abortive courtship and his losing her:
Reading your stories makes me curious more than ever about you. I don’t suppose I really know you very well—but I know you smell like the delicious damp grass that grows near old walls and that your hands are beautiful opening out of your sleeves and that the back of your head is a mossy sheltered cave when there is trouble in the wind and that my cheek just fits the depression in your shoulder.
In the December issue of Scribner’s Magazine a story of Zelda’s appeared, “Miss Ella” (sometimes referred to as “Miss Bessie,” possibly its title in manuscript), which had been written in Switzerland. It was an ambitious story and as closely constructed as Zelda could make it at that time.
“Miss Ella” was one of Zelda’s Southern stories, and it is hard to imagine either the situation of the story or its central character as existing in any other area of the world than the American South. Ella is a Victorian spinster who lives a highly ordered life in which everything has its proper plate. She keeps fit by standing up twenty minutes after each meal; she naps until the hot midday sun has “cooled, and at five she goes for a drive in a carriage with her ancient aunt. The grounds of her home are hidden behind a high wall, which the children of the neighborhood climb only after the departure of Miss Ella. On the other side of the wall is a wooden playhouse which charms them. The playhouse is half hidden in a thicket by masses of overgrown flowers and it conceals inside a rusting shotgun and some dried apple blossoms pasted to the walls. A proprietary Negro tends the gardens and scolds the children severely when he catches them invading the grounds around the playhouse.
Miss Ella’s life seems as orderly as her garden; she has, however, a story, “which like all women’s stories was a love story and like most love stories took place in the past.” In her youth she had been engaged to a Mr. Hendrix, who courted her formally and conventionally. After a proper length of time he asked her to marry him and she agreed. At Christmastime during a Sunday school party to which they had all gone, Andy Bronson lighted a firecracker and from its explosion a spark caught fire to Ella’s dress. Instantly her skirts flamed up and Andy dashed to her side, the first to reach her, smothering the flames with his hands. In the weeks that followed the accident he began to send Miss Ella gifts of flowers, and silks and beads, a fan, and “an exquisite miniature of himself when his face was smaller than his great soft eyes—treasures.” Ella discovered that “she loved him with desperate suppression. One night he kissed her far into the pink behind her ears and she folded herself in his arms, a flag without a breeze about its staff.” They planned to marry, but Ella had of course to break her engagement to Mr. Hendrix, “saving and perfecting dramatically the scene she hopefully dreaded.” He took it wordlessly and stiffly and she was relieved when he left.
The following spring on the afternoon of her marriage to Bronson, while she was upstairs dressing, Mr. Hendrix quietly entered her garden and shot his head off on the steps of the playhouse. “Years passed but Miss Ella had no more hope for love. She fixed her hair more lightly about her head and every year her white skirts and peek-a-boo waists were more stiffly starched.” The story ends by repeating an image from the opening paragraph: the rims about Miss Ella’s eyes “grew redder and redder, like those of a person leaning over a hot fire, but she was not a kitchen sort of person, withal.” She avoids all contact with heat, that of the day as well as that of love. In fact, carefully placed images of heat and fire establish and underline the motion of the story, which is a glimpse of a frustrated woman. “Bitter things dried behind the eyes of Miss Ella like garlic on a string before an open fire” is the first sentence of the story. Her memories have “acrid fumes”; her hair is red. When Miss Ella is first introduced by the narrator of the story she is “dodging the popping bits of blue flame” from the coal fire before the hearth. It is a flame which ignites Ella’s skirts and draws her into contact with Andy Bronson. Even he is first seen by the reader in “The church [which] was hot… There in the smoky feminine confusion stood Andy Bronson.”
Zelda had read Faulkner before she wrote this story (we know she was reading him in Switzerland before her return to America in the fall of 1931); she was nurtured by a kindred South. She had also been reading psychological studies while at Prangins and what she had learned about repression informed her description of this Victorian spinster. “Even her moments of relaxation were arduous, so much so as to provoke her few outbursts of very feminine temper and considerable nervous agitation.” Zelda was also sharply aware of those disguises of self that mask the neurotic feminine personality. The apparent orderliness of Miss Ella’s person matches the orderliness of the grounds of her home, yet both are facades: the one for the erotic attraction she has felt toward the flamboyant Bronson, the other as a mask before the playhouse, the scene of violent and self-inflicted death.
Stories of suicide were a part of Zelda’s youth and natural material for her to draw on. Although Ella does nothing violent herself, she provokes violence. Just why she no longer believes in love after the suicide of Hendrix is never made clear. What is clear is the extent to which she lives within herself after the shock of that suicide. She retires from anything that smacks of life. She swings herself in a hammock, dressed entirely in white, rocking herself as no lover would be permitted, yet “you would never have guessed how uncomfortable she was or how intensely she disliked hammocks.” Within this woman there is sexual energy in restraint that Zelda tries to depict, and to do so she reaches back in time, describing a woman familiar in the South but hardly one of the romantic figures of her own youth. Ella is not a belle; she is an ordinary, if neurotic, spinster who no longer likes or tolerates disorder within her person. Trying to seat herself comfortably in her hammock she “invariably loosened the big silver buckle that held her white-duck skirt in place”; she ’ worries about an immodest showing of her legs and once in the hammock she tries to maintain “a more or less static position.”
Zelda was no longer content to write the slight ironic and fashionable sketches she had written earlier. She was consciously trying to extend herself in her fiction. This story did not entirely flounder in an abundance of poetical description, and what descriptive materials were included had a cutting edge of meaning to them. The flaw was still a lack of sufficient development of the characters in terms of their relationships to each other. It was not enough to plant images; those images needed to accumulate into a fuller portrait of Miss Ella and her suitors.
One of the things Zelda was trying to get at was the attempt at revolt of a conventional young woman. Ella’s alliance with Hendrix promised to be stifling from the beginning. Their plans for a life together were “modest stable plans… He told her how things were to be, and she acquiesced.” She hears his quiet voice filling the air “like smoke in an airless room.” Her one chance to avoid suffocation is to love Bronson. He gives her exotic gifts: deep red roses whose petals “shone like the purple wings of an insect,” lavish silks from Persia, which underline the sexual and feminine aspects of Ella. Only an act of violence stops her from marrying him, but once stopped she never risks herself again. This aspect of the story never clearly emerges. We are told too many things at a remove, the characters are not allowed to speak for themselves, and finally the torpor that envelops Miss Ella envelops the reader.
The publication of Zelda’s story caused a stir in Montgomery that delighted her. She wrote Scott that she had sent Dr. Forel a copy of Scribner’s Magazine “from sheer vanity.” Intoxicated with the pleasure of being published, she nevertheless fell back into her role of pupil-wife. “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.”
From Hollywood Scott wrote Zelda that if his film was really successful he might make $75,000. Zelda was ecstatic and immediately made plans about how to spend it. “We could build us a house… A great denuded square I want with frank windows that frame the world in cold impersonal rigidity. And it is to be all over yellow. We will have all the children we can, and call them Dementia Praecox Fitzgerald—Dear, how gruesome!”
Zelda wrote about how she sat with her mother in the parlor of her house during the long rainy afternoons, talking about the Civil War and Zelda’s grandfather, but she connected it all to something else. “It’s so nice to have important men and I’m so glad that you are one. I want you to come home and for us to have a son and lots of vital things we own.”
It rained nearly every day from the end of November to mid-December and Zelda wrote that she not only missed Scott and was lonely, but had a “sore throat, asthma, grippe and indigestion.” On the good days, she said, a joyous release of pent-up excitement was likely to overcome her. She had a pistol without any bullets that she kept in a bureau drawer for protection.
I love climbing out on the tin roof and brandishing my empty pistol and yelling “Who’s there?” as if I had a mob at bay. But I am, secretly, always the escaping criminal. My bravado instincts do not function on the side of law and order, as do not also a great many other interesting facets of myself: i.e., to me, interesting, of cource. [...]
I miss my Daddy horribly. I am losing my identity here without men. I would not live two weeks again where there are none, since the first thing that goes is concision, and they give you something to butt your vitality against so it isn’t littered over the air like spray[s] of dynamite.
In the wake of the Judge’s death she could bear reminiscences of her mother’s, for she knew they gave her relief from her grief, but she was bored and impatient with the conversation of friends from her girlhood.
This place is like one of those cracked phonograph records that plays always in the same place where you have to push the needle over but each revolution it sticks till you push it again and you never can come to the tune. Save me, Deo, from the darkness and the blight… I am drugged with atmosphere. It’s a shock moving about as we do—or is it growing old—suddenly finding yourself on unremembered corners surrounded by a flood of forgotten association.
It was nearly Christmas, and the household was in a flurry of preparations for the holidays and Scott’s return on the 20th. The ornaments for their Christmas tree had been stored for so long that Zelda said they had lost their “sex appeal,” but they were unbroken and she decided not to buy any more, “though there’s nothing so beautiful as shining red balls dangling like the evolution of a jewel before your eyes. I s’pose thats why savages like things like that: they are both at the same level.”
Scottie hung a sign on her door, “Voici la chambre mysterieuse” and four red wreaths at her windows. Her closet was filled with gifts wrapped in silver paper. She was a little glum about her discovery that there was no Santa Claus and decided that she wanted an electric train to help soothe her disillusionment. With Scott away Zelda had drawn closer to Scottie. But closer in the rather special sense of observing her, rather than doing things with her. Scottie came sometimes to dress herself in front of the fire in Zelda’s room and Zelda wrote Scott, “… it’s a joy to watch her long sweet delicate body and the cool of her pale hair quenching the light from the flames.” Scottie was, Zelda decided, like her father, a moon person. Zelda never said what kind of a person she thought she was, but it is unlikely that she thought of herself in terms of the moon. Scottie, who was now ten, was already being consciously nurtured by her father in a manner that he hoped would help her to avoid the pitfalls of her mother’s character, as well as his own. He did not, for example, want her educated in the South. He was suspicious of the languidness he thought the climate encouraged. And he insisted upon a far more rigorous education than Zelda could possibly oversee. In the main Zelda agreed with him, but she left to Scott, as she always had, those important choices of education and direction.
Scott was back. Christmas was more strenuous than they had planned, with many relatives in the house, and Zelda’s asthma grew ominously worse. Finally she and Scott decided to escape to Florida, where the clear, hot air might relieve her. They would both work on their novels. Their Negro chauffeur, Freeman, drove them to the Don Ce-Sar Hotel in Saint Petersburg.
It was splendid in the sun. Zelda was gentle and loving toward Scott, they swam together, and Zelda tanned herself copper. She got the rest she needed and the asthma disappeared. Buoyed by their holiday, Scott wrote Maxwell Perkins: “At last for the first time in two years and a half I am going to spend five consecutive months on my novel. I am actually six thousand dollars ahead. Am replanning it to include what’s good in what I have, adding 41,000 new words and publishing. Don’t tell Ernest or anyone—let them think what they want—….”
Without warning a spot of eczema appeared on Zelda’s neck. It left two hours later only to reappear in two days for another tense two hours. Scott thought it might have been due to a deep-sea fishing trip, which had made her seasick, “or worry about her novel which she thought was not going so well…” The eczema scotched all plans for remaining in Florida, and they prepared to leave for Montgomery at once. The first night spent on the road Zelda was sleepless. Moving restlessly about their room while Scott slept, she found a flask in his suitcase and drank everything in it. She woke Scott at 5 A.M. and told him that dark things were being done to her secretly. Finally, after hours of talking together, with Scott trying to calm her, Zelda said that she wanted to go to a clinic.
They were desperately unhappy; it was a crushing blow to their hopes for a normal life together. They returned to Montgomery, with Scott hoping it had been just a passing attack brought on by the liquor. On February 1, 1932, Scott wrote Dr. Forel for advice about Zelda. Until the night before there had been no further trouble.
She had been working all day hard and complained of her eyes which are terribly strained. At dinner she was merry and a little excited. After dinner in the middle of a chess-game (which I was winning) she complained of her eyes, quit, began an arguement and for an hour behaved distinctly irrationally—I do not mean she behaved like last winter in Prangins. More as she did in Paris before she broke down two years ago. Each time the dominant idea is that someone is causing the eczema and the eye hurting, with my connivance. This has disappeared utterly in the morning (she wanted to work some more last night but I made her go to bed) but the asthma is bad and I dread the day and the evening. She is affectionate but this time is not sorry for last night or won’t admit it; I wanted her to walk rather than work or smoke but, she answers “Dr. Forel told me when I did not feel stable I ought to work.”
Scott was worried and told Forel: “For the first time in three years I have money enough to work on my novel on which my whole fortune depends.” Scott was willing to move in the spring, but he desperately wanted to stay put for the time being and not have to break up housekeeping or put Zelda in a clinic, which would use all his reserves. “It seems terrible because we have both been so utterly happy, happier almost than we have ever been. What the moral effect on me would be, I do not know and I hardly dare to think what it would be on her.”
A week later, after spending some hours working on her novel, Zelda had another period of hysteria. It lasted no more than two hours, but it terrified both of them.
On February 10, Scott wired Dr. Adolf Meyer, the director of the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital, that he was bringing his wife to Baltimore for treatment. At Zelda’s suggestion they left Montgomery immediately by train. “My haste,” Scott later wrote Forel forlornly, “was that she begin to turn against me again…”
No one has schizophrenia, like having a cold. The patient has not “got” schizophrenia. He is schizophrenic.
—R. D. LAING, The Divided Self
ON FEBRUARY 12, 1932, ZELDA entered the Phipps Clinic. She spoke very little that first day, but what she did say supported Scott’s fears of her growing irrationality. Quietly, as if to herself, she asked: “Isn’t it terrible when you have one little corner of your brain that needs fixing—Dr. Meyer can do it, can’t he? It’s this asthma and eczema that has just disrupted our home when it was running so well.” She complained of not being able to sleep and of being under a terrific strain due to the death of her father during her husband’s absence. “I was left alone with my daughter and it was just too much.”
Scott gave the young resident physician who would be in charge of Zelda a detailed case history. He described Zelda’s youth as wild— she was “the town scandal”—and said that she had been his mistress for a year before their marriage. He stressed her relationship to her mother, saying that it was “unusual—she was spoiled and never thwarted in any way.” When asked about her family, Scott said that Judge Sayre was a brilliant idealist and the only man he had ever admired without qualification, but he thought that Mrs. Sayre tried to have Zelda succeed where she had failed. Mrs. Sayre was the saint of the family, and its center.
He also tried to describe Zelda’s personality; he explained that Zelda, although outgoing and on the surface friendly, had never been able to establish any close friendships. Her friends were followers and as such her position in relation to them was a superior one. He said she was proud and vain and always jealous of him. He stressed his opinion that she could not take criticism of any sort and became obstinate in the face of it, then he contradicted himself and said that ultimately she could be reasoned with because of her logical mind.
He said almost nothing about himself in relation to Zelda, and he did not once mention his drinking. He told fairly sketchily about his romance in 1927 with Lois Moran in order to explain Zelda’s reaction to it. But he now considered the extremity of her reaction a forewarning of her first breakdown. His only other reference to himself was to state that he had been unjustly accused by Zelda of a homosexual attachment to Ernest Hemingway.
The following day Scott returned to Alabama. Zelda appeared to be cheerful and optimistic in his absence, but when she replied to questions put to her by the doctors her sentences were long and peculiarly involved. Upon occasion she would break off abruptly for no apparent reason and make plays on words which had no meaning the doctors could fathom. Her replies were nonetheless revealing. Routinely she had been asked how old she was when she began school. “Six, and then I left and then I—I know what keeps me from getting well is shyness, and then a terrible inferiority complex that drives one to attempt anything… A feeling of being thrown into complete pandemonium when you see someone who can do more. I am not easy with people. I have never had any intimate friends. My husband and I have been very complete with each other. Everything is impersonal.”
Those sudden switches in midstream of her thoughts had always been characteristic of her, and when they were noted as examples of formal thought disorder, for the purposes of classifying her psychosis, the judgment was perhaps only partially right. Not knowing Zelda well, the doctors could not yet perceive the kinds of connections she was able to make from within her apparent disorder. Scott, for example, who knew Zelda better than anyone else, very rarely had trouble following her. Her earliest letters to him, written when she was eighteen and nineteen, were marked by a similar lack of conventional continuity and were full of sudden turns. But they were also marked to an extraordinary degree by special insights into herself and Scott. Even then she did not rely entirely upon the logical linking construction of language. Her thoughts moved rapidly by description and an appeal to the senses. She felt the death of a Confederate soldier; she could smell the aroma of loss that pervaded the South. If her thoughts were unruly, they nevertheless carried enormous meaning to Scott and it was from an emotional rather than a rational language of meaning that she wrote. Its limits, and they were severe, were that she depended on too private a mode of communication. In the end it severed her from ordinary communication with other people. It could be argued that this is precisely the limitation of the insane: they have withdrawn into a mode, habit, or even style of thought so exclusive that it seals them within their own interior, out of which they are no longer able to escape.
Now Fitzgerald kept in constant touch with the clinic, serving as a commentator on Zelda’s illness. Later in the same week, although she remained largely uncommunicative about her illness, she admitted to having had hallucinations in the form of optical illusions at Prangins; “you know just schizophrenia,” she remarked nervously. When pressed to describe her relationship to Scott, she said: “We are both monogamists so far as I know. We have both been absorbed in our love for each other and our hatred for each other. I am not a monogamist in theory.”
Soon Zelda had settled into the routine deemed necessary for her recovery. She pointedly refused to discuss her problems, but she was sleeping well, painting and writing two hours of each day. There was, however, a marked difference between the self she presented to the doctors and the self she revealed to the nurses who observed and assisted her daily. She was apt to be coy with the young resident, Dr. Mildred Squires, and epigrammatic with Dr. Meyer. And she was not beyond putting him on. For instance, Meyer would ask her about her friends. Had she made many? “Good Lord, no. There is no one I distrust like my friends— Oh, no! [a long pause] I have cat thoughts that chase the mouse thoughts and sometimes they will get all the mouse thoughts caught and I read Aeschylus to put myself to sleep.”
She remarked later to a friend that Dr. Meyer wouldn’t be able to do anything for her and she thought she’d spend the rest of her life in sanitariums. She smiled at inappropriate times and tried to cover it by pretending she had thought of something funny, but in reality that smile was uncontrollable and it terrified her. She insisted that the nurses walk on her left side, for she said she couldn’t see them if they were on her right. [Upon her entry to the clinic Scott told the doctors that she was practically blind in one eye. Years after her death, a member of her family mentioned that Zelda’s doctor in Montgomery, who had treated her from childhood, thought the retina of her right eye was “missing.” Zelda had a lorgnette, which she never wore, saying that it did no good. Scott assumed it was out of vanity that she refused to wear it. She did suffer from headaches caused by eyestrain, but there is no other evidence of a defective or detached retina.-N.M.] She continued sketching and writing, spending more and more of her free time working on her novel.
It is a classic symptom among schizophrenics that they are rarely able to form intimate relations with people and are generally quite isolated from ordinary human contact. Dr. Meyer repeatedly asked about her friends; one suspects that he was trying to bring Zelda into some sort of admission of her isolation to herself. Exasperated by his insistence upon this theme she said: “I can’t tolerate my friends. I hate them—the ones I used to love. I can only tolerate my acquaintances and enemies. So you see where that puts me. It makes me unfit to live in the world, but I’m not unhappy.”
She asked Dr. Squires to read her novel, a section of which she had just had typed. The doctor wrote Scott saying she found the style very similar to that of “Miss Ella”; it was vivid and it had charm, but it noticeably tended to break off and leave the reader stranded. However, she expected that Zelda would revise this first draft. So far, on the surface, things were going smoothly.
At the end of February Zelda wrote Scottie:
I am very glad that you and Daddy have found something to do in the evenings. Chess is such a good game—do learn to play it well. I have never been able to endow it with much of an existance apart from Alice-in-Wonderland and my pieces usually spend most of the game galloping in wild pandemonium before the onslaughts of Daddy. But we must play when I get home. You will soon be an accomplished dame-de-compagnie for him and I shall have to sit cutting paper-dolls and doing my chemical experiments while you two amuse yourselves… I expect you to keep the house supplied with soap, flowers and tap-dancers during my absence… Take care of Daddy. See that there’s plenty of spinach and Dinasaurus meat for Sunday. And profit by my absence to be as bad as you can get away with.
You are a darling and it is very, very, very lonely not to be able to work myself into a grouch by coming into cover you up when I think you’re cold.
Are you practicing standing up straight in your long hours of doing nothing—straight on your hands, I mean. You will be an unsuccessful debutante if it isn’t perfected by the time you’re twenty—
Send me a blossom from your garden—
With all my love— Mummy
Scott returned to Montgomery feeling depressed about Zelda’s re-lapse and its meaning in terms of his novel. Certainly he found it difficult to write now, and he was simply waiting until the lease ran out on their house before he left for Baltimore to try to find them another there. He also wanted Scottie to finish the school year without further interruptions. In his Ledger he wrote, “Scotty sick, me sick, Mrs. Sayre playing the fool … everything worser and worser.” Worrying that Zelda’s illness might exhaust them financially, Scott again set about writing stories for the Post. Zelda seemed to understand how deeply disappointed he was: “It seems so awful that you should have to leave your novel. I’ve cut my cigarettes way down and am getting enough exercise to give me a muscular hemmorage and I can’t write very well, so I ought to be better soon. Darling, what an awful struggle you have.”
As unhappy as he was, early one evening he took Scottie to dinner at the country club, perhaps for company, perhaps for a treat. A friend of theirs remembers Fitzgerald gently leading Scottie out to the edge of the dance floor, talking to her quietly, and then very slowly swinging the little girl out in graceful arcs to a slow fox trot. They were not recognized in the dim light until someone pointed them out and said, “That’s Scott Fitzgerald and his little girl.” They stopped as quietly as they had begun and left the club arm in arm.
Zelda missed Scott and wrote to him:
We always have such fun pricking each others aesthetic pompousities, which we pretend to take very seriously. Sometimes I almost believe that our fundamental attraction is an intellectual suspicion… Anyway, I am very lonely for you.
She mentioned her own writing and the two-hour limit she had to work within according to her doctors’ schedule for her.
I am reading Ian Gordon’s Modern French Painters. He speaks of the sense of growing things in Van Gogh’s work. 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 at Prangins. They reassured me… Dearest—I suppose I will spend the rest of my life torn between the desire to master life and a feeling that it is, au fond, a contemptuous enemy. If there weren’t you + Scottie, melancholia is about as happy a state as any other I suppose. There’s a woman here who wanders tentatively about the halls like the ghost in a poor detective story. It is impossible to feel sorry for crazy people since their realities do not coincide with our normal conceptions of tragedy etc. And yet, a woman’s brother came to pay a visit. I thought how awful and poignant—that boney casket full of nothing that the man had ever loved and he was saying that he wanted her to come home again. It made me feel very sorry. I presume he was addressing his past—… Anyway, there’s nothing so sordid as being shut up—When man is no longer his own master, custodian of his own silly vanities and childish contentments he’s nothing at all—being in the first place only an agent of a very experimental stage of organic free will—
I love you —
Dear, My Own—My love
March began with Dr. Squires feeling certain that Zelda was making definite progress. She wrote Scott saying that Zelda’s tenseness had decreased, and that she had completed the second chapter of her novel by March 2. Dr. Squires told Scott that this chapter was superior to the first and that if Zelda could keep it up the book would be a success. Working consistently, Zelda had made great strides toward its completion and wrote 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—Perhaps too much so. Being unable to invent a device 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.
Scott was naturally curious about the novel and Dr. Squires’s letter to him about it prompted him to write her back: “The lack of continuity in her novel doesn’t worry me. She isn’t 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. Anyhow the form of so many modern novels is less a progression than a series of impressions, as you know—rather like the slowly-turned pages of an album.” He added: “Like all Americans she is in some ways and to some extent a puritan and literally can’t survive without some code, and she has too much tendency to submerge herself in my turbulent Irish anarchism.”
Dr. Squires answered his letter the following day with the astonishing news that Zelda had, that morning, March 9, completed her novel. Zelda sent it immediately to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s with the following 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?” Then Zelda wrote Scott. She told him she was sure Scribner’s would refuse it; she did not send the manuscript with her letter, but promised to mail it to him the following Monday.
On March 14 Scott wrote Dr. Squires in a fury. He had just received Zelda’s manuscript. For four years, he wrote, he had been forced to work intermittently on his novel, “unable to proceed because of the necessity of keeping Zelda in sanitariums.” Zelda had heard fifty thousand words of his novel and “literally one whole section of her novel is an imitation of it, of its rhythm, materials … 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. Her own material—her youth, her love for Josanne, her dancing, her observation of Americans in Paris, the fine passages about the death of her father—my criticisms of that will be simply impersonal and professional.” She had even named one of the main characters Amory Blaine (the name of Scott’s hero in This Side of Paradise).
Fitzgerald was angry and things had to calm down, he wrote, if he was to continue turning out his stories for the Post. “It is getting more and more difficult in this atmosphere of suspicion to turn out the convinced and well-decorated sophisms for which Lorimer pays me my bribe.” He was living in a state of “mild masturbation and a couple of whiskeys to go on” until his lease ran out in mid-April. His anger did not subside and two days later he wired Scribner’s that Zelda’s novel would “seriously compromise what literary future she may have and cause inconceivable harm in its present form…”
Zelda had for the first time directly invaded what Scott considered his own domain, and the violence of his reaction was telling. Her novel was intensely, even naively autobiographical, and as she drew on her own life, so she drew on her life with Scott, for it was her material as well as his. Scott strenuously disagreed. The psychiatrists at Phipps were surprised by the vehemence of his reaction and could only apologize for having allowed Zelda to mail the novel to Scribner’s without first gaining Fitzgerald’s release. They wired him to say that she had switched addresses at the last moment without their knowledge. They promised it would not happen again, but clearly no one had anticipated his fury.
It is probable that when in 1930 Scott abandoned his idea for a novel which would turn upon matricide, he was very much under the influence of Zelda’s first illness. In January, 1932, he proceeded to sketch out a longer novel than he had originally intended to write, salvaging what he could use from his earlier drafts, while immersing his fresh version in Zelda’s insanity and his own complex reactions to it. He called his seventh draft The Drunkard’s Holiday and it was about Nicole and Doctor Dick Diver. Zelda had undoubtedly heard or read portions of his revised plot in Florida and Montgomery as she worked on her own novel.
In early spring Scott drew up his “General Plan” (but it is unclear whether in Montgomery or in Baltimore, where he was to move in April, because none of the manuscript is dated); he wrote:
The novel should do this. Show a man who is a natural idealist, a spoiled priest, giving in for various causes to the ideas of the haute Burgeoise, and in his rise to the top of the social world losing his idealism, his talent and turning to drink and dissipation. Background one in which the liesure class is at their truly most brilliant & glamorous, such as Murphys.
The hero born in 1891 is a man like myself brought up in a family sunk from haute burgeosie to petit burgeoisie, yet expensively educated. He has all the gifts and goes through Yale almost succeeding but not quite getting a Rhodes scholarship which he caps with a degree from Hopkins, & with a legacy goes abroad to study psychology in Zurich. At the age of 26 all seems bright. Then he falls in love with one of his patients who has a curious homicidal mania toward men caused by an event in her youth. Aside from this she is the legendary promiscuous woman. He “transfers” to himself & she falls in love with him, a love he returns.
In a “Further Sketch” he added, “The Drunkard’s Holiday will be a novel of our time showing the break up of a fine personality. Unlike The Beautiful and Damned the break-up will be caused not by flabbiness but really tragic forces such as the inner conflicts of the idealist and the compromises forced upon him by circumstances.” Later, he very carefully drew up outlines of Dick’s and Nicole’s lives. It is Nicole’s life that is of especial interest in relation to Zelda.
Always one year younger than century.
Born July 1901
courtship for two and one half years before that, since she was 13.
Catastrophe June 1917 Age almost 16
Clinic Feb. 1918 Age 17
To middle October bad period
After Armistice good period
He returns in April or May 1919
She discharged June 1, 1919. Almost 18
Married September 1919. Aged 18
Child born August 1920
Child born June 192
2nd Pousse almost immediately to October 1922 and therafter
Frenchman (or what have you in summer of 1923 after almost 4 years of marriage.
In July 1925 when the story opens she is just 24
(One child almost 5 (Scotty in Juan les Pins)
One child 3 (Scotty in Pincio)
In July 1929 when the story ends she is just 28
The heroine was born in 1901. She is beautiful on the order of Marlene Dietrich or better still the Norah Gregor-Kiki Alien girl with those peculiar eyes. She is American with a streak of some foreign blood. At fifteen she was raped by her own father under peculiar circumstances— work out. 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 what he supplies her. Portrait of Zelda—that is, a part of Zelda.
We follow her from age 24 to age 29
Then, after a brief description of “Method of Dealing with Sickness Material” and a “Classification of the Material on Sickness,” he charts in detail Nicole’s case history against Zelda’s. (The chart is reproduced in the second section of illustrations.)
Various elements of Nicole’s background are pure invention. For instance, Zelda was not raped by her father, and she showed no homicidal tendencies toward men, but the degree to which Scott used Zelda in a fictional counterpart is otherwise explicit enough. How much of this was clearly worked out in 1932 we do not know, but the basic elements of Dick’s and Nicole’s characters probably were. At last Fitzgerald had found his theme. That it involved a use of Zelda, that she might object to it, be wounded by it, did not seem to have disturbed him. He saw it only from a writer’s point of view.
He had spent years in a quandary about this novel; he had not published a novel since Gatsby in 1925, seven years before. He clearly resented the time he put into short-story writing, although that resentment now seems completely out of proportion. His income in 1931 was at its apex: he had earned $37,599 in the middle of the Depression. But writing short stories was more than just economically profitable for Fitzgerald. His stories were usually not the hack work he seemed to feel compelled to call them. The best of them, written for the top magazines in the country, have withstood whatever scrutiny was directed toward them, and many of the others were exploratory exercises in his craft. He stripped and mined the latter mercilessly for scenes and characters and moods to be incorporated into his novels. As such, these stories, about 160 in his relatively brief career, were not a compromising of his talent, as he liked to think, but a disciplining of it. They made him money and they kept him writing while he floundered with his fourth novel.
Although furious with Zelda, Scott had not written directly to her about her novel. Learning of his reaction through her doctor, she tried to soothe his irritation with a letter of careful explanation.
Dr. Squires tells me 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 on your own and honestly feeling that I had no right to interrupt you to ask for a serious opinion. Also, I know Max will not want it and I prefer to do the corrections after having his opinion. Naturally, 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 poste haste, hoping to have yours and Scribner’s criticisms to use for revising.
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. I was also afraid we might have touched the same material. Also, 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. 1 have had enough discouragement, generally, and could scream with that sense of inertia that hovers over my life and everything I do. 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. Try, dear—and then I’ll remember when you need me too sometime, and help.
Scott was having none of it. He scored sections of the first paragraph in red pencil and made a note to himself in the margin: “This is an evasion. All this reasoning is specious or else there is no evidence of a tornado in the sta …” and the rest was made illegible by a smudge of ink. His resentment, however, was clearly enough expressed; he was not just suspicious, he was sure she was purposely trying to harm him. In the latter part of her letter when she wrote, “I was also afraid we might have touched the same material,” she had, in Scott’s opinion, given herself away.
Zelda knew perfectly well that if any portion of her book imitated or even echoed Scott’s novel he would insist that she change it. If she had sent it first to Perkins as a ploy to avoid Scott’s criticism or his demand that certain changes be made before he would allow its publication, she failed utterly. Certainly she must have known that sending it to Scott’s editor was hardly a way of keeping it from Scott. Her action could not have been as underhanded as Scott felt it was, but neither was it as innocent as Zelda maintained: she had heard portions of his novel and throughout the past four months she had consciously tried to learn from his style. Her motives were mixed. But Scott’s reaction, especially since he was the more balanced of the two, was completely out of proportion.
Scott must have written Zelda in the same accusing and defensive vein as he had Dr. Squires—she had been able to complete a novel in, at the most, three months, while he had been forced to discontinue his. At this point he was totally insensitive to Zelda’s precarious state. She answered:
Dear—You know that if I could sell any of my stories I would not have written this book. Ober is swamped with my things, and it seems worthless to plague him with more. The fact that I have had time to write it while you have had to put aside your own is due to circumstances over which I had no control and cannot bring myself to feel a sense of guilt. You, of all people, certainly would not have preferred my folding my hands during my long unoccupied hours… Believe me, dear, I quite appreciate the strain and depression under which you are existing… I realize that there is little that your life has to offer as a substitute, but I wish you could drink less—do not fly into a rage, I know you stay sober—but you need some rest and I can’t think how you can get it except by using those miserable moments that gin helps to dispel and turn into activity by resting.
I love you D.O.— I would have collapsed years ago if I’d had me on my hands…
Evidently he again wrote to her, this time insisting on specific changes in the novel. We have only Zelda’s reply.
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 the time to dwell and consequently lost any story continuity. Shall 1 wire Max to send it back? The real story was the old prodigal son, of cource. I regret that it offended you. The Pershing incident which you accuse me of stealing occupies just one line and will not be missed. I willingly relinquish it. However, 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. As you know my contacts with my family have always been in the nature of the raids of a friendly brigand. I quite realize that the quality of this book does not warrant so many excursions into the bizarre—As for my friends: first, 1 have none; by that I mean that all our associates have always taken me for granted, sought your stimulus and fame, eaten my dinners and invited “The Fitzgeralds” place[s]. You have always been and always will be the only person with whom I have felt the necessity to communicate and our intimacies have, to me, been so satisfactory mentally that no other companion has ever seemed necessary. Despised by my supiors, which are few, held in suspicion by my equals, even fewer, I have got all external feeding for my insignifigant flames from people either so vastly different from myself that our relations were like living a play or I have cherished my inferiors with color … and the friends of my youth. However, I did not intend to write you a treatise on friendship in which I do not believe.
She signed herself, “With dearest love, I am your irritated Zelda.”
The novel reopened the rift between them and it was Scott who, on the surface, was the more deeply wounded. Zelda had used him, he insisted—his writing, his life, his material—to her own advantage. Yet at the end of March just before he left Alabama for Baltimore he wrote to Dr. Squires (who, astonished by the vehemence of his reactions, had apparently suggested to him that if he and Zelda could not survive together a separation might be in order):
My whole stomach hurts when I contemplate such an eventuality— it would be throwing her [Zelda] broken upon a world which she despises; I would be a ruined man for years—
On the other hand, he could not
stand always between Zelda and the world and see her build this dubitable career of hers with morsels of living matter chipped out of my mind, my belly, my nervous system and my loins. Perhaps 50% of our friends and relatives would tell yon in all honest conviction that my drinking drove Zelda insane—the other half would assure you that her insanity drove me to drink. Neither judgment would mean anything: … these two classes [of friends and relatives] would be equally unanimous in saying that each of us would be well rid of the other—in full face of the irony that we have never been so desperately in love with each other in our lives. Liquor on my mouth is sweet to her; 1 cherish her most extravagant hallucinations.
Her affair with Eduard Josanne in 1925 and mine with Lois Moran in 1927, which was a sort of revenge shook something out of us, but we can’t both go on paying and paying forever. And yet I feel that that’s the whole trouble back of all this.
“But I warn you,” she said, “I am only really myself when I’m somebody else whom I have endowed with these wonderful qualities from my imagination.”
—ZELDA FITZGERALD, Save Me the Waltz
Zelda TOLD SCOTT SHE FOUND THE title for her novel, Save Me the Waltz, in a Victor record catalog. It is an evocative request, with a bitter edge, and like an old song it stirs memories. In the novel Zelda probes her childhood in Montgomery as well as her life with Scott Fitzgerald. Inevitably her awareness of Scott’s process of creating fiction had deeply influenced her. And she too stripped portions from various of her short stories, like “A Couple of Nuts” and “A Millionaire’s Girl,” and added them to her novel. The surface structure of the novel is quite simple; there are four chapters, which are each divided into three sections. But she has trouble sustaining a longer narrative and Save Me the Waltz is not an easy book to read. Its force depends on the cumulative effect of its vignettes rather than on an orderly flow of events. Her style is turgid, and extended chunks of poetical description, an oddity of language, as well as incorrect grammar and misspellings seriously mar the novel. (It did not appear to have been copyedited by Scribner’s at all, as several of the reviewers pointed out.) Yet, as eccentric a novel as it is, as uneven and flawed, it is nonetheless charged with her own fictional energy and voice. It becomes a good deal more than the curio of a deranged sensibility working over the grievances of a life with Scott Fitzgerald, or of a life shattered by mental illness.
Zelda recreates the life of an American girl in the Deep South before the First World War, who later, in the twenties, is exposed, through the extraordinary success of her artistic husband, to a gaudy and unstable life in New York, Paris, and the Riviera. Few women could have written about it with greater authenticity or poignancy. Again and again the autobiographical impulse seeks release in the novel, ensnaring the reader who has a prior knowledge of Zelda’s life. Perhaps that is the larger problem presented by this novel— that because it is so deeply autobiographical, the transmutation of reality into art is incomplete. We read it against the life, or as a gesture of release from the life. If Zelda is telling her side of the story, Scott’s turn will come within two years with the publication of Tender Is the Night. Both of the Fitzgeralds would corrupt and alter the story by seeing it through their private angles of vision. Save Me the Waltz is not a defense; it is Zelda’s view of that complex tangle of selves within wedlock in those postwar years when, as she wrote, “People were banking in gods…”
The original manuscript, as well as Zelda’s revisions of that first draft, have been lost. What exist are a typed manuscript used probably as printer’s copy, two consecutive sets of heavily revised galley proofs (each with a duplicate also reworked in Zelda’s handwriting) and one set of clean page proofs. There must also have been a duplicate set of pages which were reworked, for there are changes in the published version of the novel that were not made on any of the existing galleys or pages.
From evidence in Zelda’s letters to Scott, and in Scott’s correspondence with Maxwell Perkins prior to even the signing of the contract, we know that there were earlier, extensive revisions, but we do not know specifically what they were. An indication of Zelda’s rewriting is given in a letter Scott wrote to Perkins at the end of April or the beginning of May: “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 it to judge it but it may be even better than I think.” Then he asked Perkins to keep whatever praise he wished to give Zelda “on the staid side,” for Scott said it was important to the doctors at Phipps that Zelda not be made to feel too jubilant about the fame and money that might come to her through publication. “… I’m not certain enough of Zelda’s present stability of character to expose her to any superlatives. If she has a success coming she must associate it with work done in a workmanlike manner for its own sake, and part of it done fatigued and uninspired, and part of it done when even to remember the original inspiration and impetus is a psychological trick. She is not twenty-one and she is not strong, and she must not try to follow the pattern of my trail which is of course blazed distinctly on her mind.” This was all as much an indication of Scott’s feelings about his own work on his novel as it was about Zelda’s possible reactions toward hers.
In a second letter to Perkins, written about two weeks later, Scott sent him Save Me the Waltz. He wrote: “Here is Zelda’s novel. It is a good novel now, perhaps a very good novel—I am too close to tell. It has the faults and virtues of a first novel. It is more the expression of a powerful personality, like Look Homeward, Angel, than the work of a finished artist like Ernest Hemingway. It should interest the many thousands interested in dancing. It is about something and absolutely new, and should sell.”
Somewhat cavalierly Fitzgerald added that he would withdraw his restraint on praise if Scribner’s decided to take the book; Perkins might even write to Zelda directly about it. His advice was given, he said, in order to protect Zelda’s mental stability for fear of her “incipient egomania … but she has taken such a sane common-sense view lately—(At first she refused to revise—then she revised completely, added on her own suggestion and has changed what was a rather flashy and self-justifying ’true confessions’ that wasn’t worthy of her into an honest piece of work. She can do more with the galleys but I can’t ask her to do more now).” Finally, he suggested that Perkins not mention Zelda’s novel to Hemingway, who would also have a book published that season by Scribner’s. It was not that there was a “conflict between the books”; it was rather because of the conflict between Zelda and Hemingway—which was in part a struggle for prominence. Fitzgerald hinted that if Perkins praised or even mentioned the book to Hemingway there might be “curiously grave consequences—curious, that is, to un-jealous men like you and me.” He also asked Perkins not to discuss the terms of her contract with Zelda should Scribner’s take the novel; he would handle that himself.
Scribner’s did decide to publish the book and the contract for Save Me the Waltz was signed on June 14, 1932. A clause added to the agreement stipulated that one-half the royalties earned would be retained by Scribner’s to be credited against “the indebtedness of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” until a total of $5,000 had been repaid. Publication was planned for the following October.
In the first chapter of Save Me the Waltz we are introduced to the heroine, Alabama Beggs; her parents, Millie and Judge Beggs; as well as her two older sisters, Dixie and Joan. By the close of the chapter Alabama has gone to New York and married a twenty-two-year-old artist, David Knight, whom she met when he was a lieutenant stationed in the South during World War I.
Chapter 2, which is the longest in the novel (and the only one for which an earlier version exists; Zelda completely rewrote the opening thirty-three pages in galleys, reducing them to twenty-five pages, and revised ten pages of Section III), takes us from David’s extraordinary success as a painter in New York and the birth of their daughter, Bonnie, through the Knights’ journey to the Riviera, where Alabama falls in love with a French aviator, to a series of ludicrous parties in Paris, where David is lionized and Alabama is completely unhappy. By the end of this chapter a distraught Alabama has decided to become a ballet dancer, although she is aware that she is too old to be beginning. Her decision is made in retaliation against David’s attraction to a lovely movie actress, Gabrielle Gibbs. Alabama has overheard David telling Miss Gibbs that her breasts are like “a sort of blancmange,” and that he has heard she has “the most beautiful blue veins all over [her] body.” Alabama, who is at the dinner table with them, observes, “David opened and closed his personality over Miss Gibbs like the tentacles of a carnivorous maritime plant.” The following morning, when David comes home after having spent the night out, Alabama wonders why “Men … never seem to become the things they do, like women…” She tries to tell herself that she doesn’t care, but she does.
“’I can’t stand this any longer,’ she screamed at the dozing David. ’I don’t want to sleep with the men or imitate the women, and I can’t stand it!’”
When David tells her that he understands, “’It must be awful just waiting around eternally,’” Alabama tells him to “’shut up!’” and promises him, “’I am going to be as famous a dancer as there are blue veins over the white marble of Miss Gibbs.’” But she has also turned to the dance in an effort to bring order and meaning into a life “so uselessly extravagant.” This duality of motivation is important, for as Alabama becomes immersed in dancing it is far more because of her feelings of having wasted her life than out of jealousy. It is, however, the intermeshing of both strains that tightens the texture of the book.
The third chapter describes Alabama’s increasing dedication to the ballet; she becomes possessed by it. Her dancing is also seen as a defense against the collapse of her marriage, and she spends less and less time with her husband and child. She exhausts herself practicing, and she is infuriated when a member of the ballet studio asks her why she tries so hard when she already has a husband who will take care of her. Alabama says, “’Can’t you understand that I am not trying to get anything—at least, I don’t think I am—but to get rid of some of myself?’” At the end of the chapter, as the Knights plan to return to America, Alabama, in a sudden reversal of plans, accepts an invitation to dance her solo debut in the opera Faust with the San Carlos Opera in Naples.
The first and second sections of Chapter 4 deal with her success in Naples, where she is living without David and Bonnie, who are in Switzerland. These sections are perhaps the only departures from Zelda’s own life, in the sense that Zelda did not go to Naples to dance and has probably transmuted her memories from Switzerland into the Italian setting. Bonnie visits her mother in Naples, and it goes badly; the child eagerly returns to her father in Switzerland. David gets a telegram from America notifying them that Alabama’s father is dying. At the same time Alabama has suddenly fallen seriously ill in Naples with blood poisoning caused by an infection in her foot. Her foot is operated on and the tendons are severed; she will be able to walk, but never to dance again. David comes to her side during her illness, and his devotion brings them together again. As soon as Alabama is well enough to travel they return to America and the Judge’s bedside. He dies in November, 1931.
At the end of the novel the Knights have decided to leave the South and they realize that they will return only to visit Alabama’s family.
Clearly Zelda patterned her novel closely upon her own life. Judge Beggs is much like her own father, Judge Sayre, and Millie, Alabama’s mother (whose name is an interesting combination of Scott’s mother’s first name, Mollie, and Minnie Sayre’s), shares many of Mrs. Sayre’s traits, as well as her place within the marriage and family. She is their harmonizer. There are also certain resemblances between Dixie, Alabama’s oldest sister, and Rosalind. The job as society editor she holds in the novel was one Rosalind held in Montgomery, and there is the same age difference between the two sisters as there was between Rosalind and Zelda. David is twenty-two when Alabama meets him, as was Scott; Alabama and David honeymoon at Room 2109 in the Biltmore, as did Zelda and Scott; and they take a house in the Connecticut countryside shortly after their marriage, with the same intentions the Fitzgeralds had when they moved to Westport. Their Japanese houseboy is Tanka; the Fitzgeralds’ was Tanaka. But a listing of these relatively minor details is not the main concern; rather, it is with how Save Ale the Waltz works as a novel, as well as with what it tells us about Zelda, for it provides a key to those images of self that Zelda projected into her fiction.
At the heart of the novel is the characterization of Judge Beggs. It is with him that the novel opens and closes. His standards of judgment serve Alabama as a model against which she measures her life, and his austere infallibility is the pivot about which the entire motion of the novel turns. It was not until the death of Judge Sayre that Zelda began to form her book and it would seem that his death provided a kind of psychological freeing for her that stimulated her into reviewing her life up to his death. She establishes the Judge’s importance at the beginning of the book: “’Those girls,’ people said, ’think they can do anything and get away with it.’ That was because of the sense of security they felt in their father. He was a living fortress.”
The Judge has only one flaw: he is completely inaccessible. In a fortress that is an ideal quality, but in a father it is nearly disastrous. Images of defense and imprisonment from a feudal society— castles, impregnable keeps, drawbridges, strongholds, and ramparts—are carefully used by Zelda to describe the Judge’s character. He is “entrenched … in his integrity,” the “lord of the living cycle,” and his strength of character is formidable and unchallengeable, for he is always on the side of right and justice. But he stands for an ideal of conduct Alabama cannot hope to find in either herself or her own generation. When beaus come to pick her up for dates and whistle from their cars for her, she is ashamed of them. But more importantly she is ashamed also of herself for wanting to go out with them. Good manners, however, are the lightest of the burdens the Judge places on his children; they are permitted no deviation from his code of integrity, no vacillations of purpose or errors of judgment. As a result his children never learn to deal with the world on their own terms, but try to emulate his. By comparison their own efforts are inadequate. Zelda understood that failure clearly. “By the time the Beggs children had learned to meet the changing exigencies of their times, the devil was already upon their necks. Crippled, they clung long to the feudal donjons of their fathers…” Zelda also implies that as long as the Beggs children remain within the household they are safe; it is only when they move out into larger worlds where choices are less clear that they are uncertain. Their final crippling is due to their inability to exercise their own faculties of reason and judgment.
Pitted against the Judge is his wife. She is as vague and soft as the Judge is harsh and unremittingly correct. It is to her that the girls turn for relief from their father, for “the Judge became, with * their matured perceptions, a retributory organ, an inexorable fate, the force of law, order, and established discipline.” This relationship between the Judge and his wife instills in their youngest daughter, Alabama, a mode of masculine-feminine role-playing that, much as she tries to rebel against it, has formed her. The male partner may be the stronger, may possess the keener intelligence, but his authority is undercut by the rather passive deviousness of the female, who by fooling him gets her own, or in Millie’s case, her children’s way.
Millie, who had never had a very strong sense of reality, was unable to reconcile that cruelty of the man with what she knew was a just and noble character. [The Judge and Millie have just lost their only son; the Judge’s reaction to his son’s death is to turn “savagely to worry fleeing from his disappointment” and to fling the bill for the boy’s funeral at Millie, asking how she expects him to pay for it.] She was never again able to form a judgment of people, shifting her actualities to conform to their inconsistencies till by a fixation of loyalty she achieved in her life a saintlike harmony… The sum of her excursions into the irreconcilabilities of the human temperament taught her also a trick of transference that tided her over the birth of the last child… Confronted with the realism of poverty, she steeped her personality in a stoic: and unalterable optimism and made herself impervious to the special sorrows pursuing her to the end.
When Dixie dates someone whom the Judge deeply disapproves of, Millie suggests that rather than “bother” her father she “could make [her] arrangements outside”; in other words she tries not only to be the peacemaker in the family, but attempts to have Dixie avoid confrontation with the Judge by subterfuge.
The wide and lawless generosity of their mother was nourished from many years of living faced with the irrefutable logic of the Judge’s fine mind… Millie Beggs, by the time she was forty-five, had become an emotional anarchist. It was her way of proving to herself her individual necessity of survival. Her inconsistencies seemed to assert her dominance [my italics] over the scheme…
In her introduction of Alabama, Zelda takes special care to stress her heroine’s primary concern: Alabama’s quest for her own identity. And. although the novel begins with a description of the Judge in relation to his family, Alabama’s sense of herself is first described within her mother’s orbit. Alabama’s quest for her own identity will grow throughout the novel, but it is here marked by a peculiar distinction.
“Tell me about myself when I was little,” the youngest girl insists. She presses against her mother in an effort to realize some proper relationship.
“You were a good baby.”
The girl had been filled with no interpretation of herself, having been born so late in the life of her parents that … childhood [had] become more of a concept than the child. She wants to be told what she is like, being too young to know that she is like nothing at all… She does not know that what effort she makes will become herself. It was much later that the child, Alabama, came to realize that the bones of her father could indicate only her limitations.
Uncertain about who she is, the author steps in and states that Alabama “is like nothing at all…” Zelda describes “The girl” in terms of a vessel, an object which has not been “filled,” but it is a strangely impersonal figure of speech: Alabama as container.
In an interchange with her mother which immediately follows the preceding one, Alabama tries another tactic to rouse a more meaningful response from Millie. But her mother characteristically veers from a pertinent answer. Alabama asks,
“And did I cry at night and raise Hell so you and Daddy wished I was dead?”
“What an idea! All my children were sweet children.”
But Alabama does not want to know about “all” of her mother’s children, she wants something specific about herself; the very intensity of the language of her question is a push for a genuine emotional response from her mother.
Just before Alabama’s bedtime that evening she overhears the Judge asking Millie the whereabouts of Dixie (who is out with Randolph Mclntosh, whom the Judge considers a wastrel). Millie tells him, “’She’s out with some friends.’ Sensing the mother’s evasiveness, the little girl draws watchfully close, with an important sense of participation in family affairs.” (We would expect Alabama to say “her mother,” but instead Zelda uses “the,” an impersonal article, which reinforces Alabama’s sense of estrangement from her mother.) The Judge suspects that Dixie is out with Randolph and tells Millie that if she is, “’she can leave my house for good.’” Millie takes Alabama to bed “and the little girl lies in the dark, swelling virtuously submissive to the way of the clan.” As she falls asleep the aroma of pears from an orchard fills her room; she hears a band . practicing “waltzes in the distance.”
White things gleam in the dark—white flowers and paving-stones. The moon on the window panes careens to the garden… The world is younger than it is, and she to herself appears so old and wise, grasping her problems and wrestling with them as affairs peculiar to herself and not as racial heritages. There is a brightness and bloom over things; she inspects life proudly, as if she walked in a garden forced by herself to grow in the least hospitable of soils. She is already contemptuous of ordered planting, believing in the possibility of a wizard cultivator to bring forth sweet-smelling blossoms from the hardest of rocks, and night-blooming vines from barren wastes, to plant the breath of twilight and to shop with marigolds. She wants life to be easy and full of pleasant reminiscences.
In this passage Zelda weaves back and forth between two strains that she will use consistently throughout the novel. Images of flowers and gardens reinforce the development of her central characters and establish not only mood but the interior direction of these characters’ lives. Sometimes, however, that imagery extends beyond what the reader could be prepared to accept about a character within the time sequence of the novel. For example the following passage is infused with images drawn from Zelda’s memories and hallucinations at Prangins—within the context of the novel at this point the passage does not make much sense. But within the context of Zelda’s life it is explosive with autobiographical meaning.
She grows older sleeping. Some day she will awake to observe the plants of Alpine gardens to be largely fungus things, needing little sustenance, and the white discs that perfume midnight hardly flowers at all but embryonic growths; and, older, walk in bitterness the geometrical paths of philosophical Le Notres rather than those nebulous byways of the pears and marigolds of her childhood.
(Much later in the novel when Alabama is ill in Naples, she too will have fantasies, but not of “Alpine gardens” in southern Italy.)
When the war comes Alabama plans “to escape on the world’s reversals from the sense of suffocation that seemed to her to be eclipsing her family… Relentlessly she convinced herself that the only thing of any significance was to take what she wanted when she could. She did her best.” She falls in love with the romantic figure of Lieutenant David Knight, who carves a “legend” in the doorpost of the country club, “David … David, David, Knight, Knight, Knight, and Miss Alabama Nobody.” Insistently he tells her how famous he will become. He asks her to tell him she loves him.
“Say, ’dear,’” he said.
“You love me. Why won’t you?”
“I never say anything to anybody. Don’t talk.”
“Why won’t you talk to me?”
“It spoils things. Tell me you love me.”
He does. But Alabama withholds from him her own pledge of love. When Zelda describes Alabama’s love for David she says it is like pressing her nose against a mirror and looking into herself: “So much she loved the man, so close and closer she felt herself that he became distorted in her vision…” She feels “the essence of herself pulled finer and smaller like those streams of spun glass that pull and stretch till there remains but a glimmering illusion.” [R. D. Laing in his book The Divided Self uses an astonishingly similar description of schizophrenics: “His whole life has been torn between his desire to reveal himself and his desire to conceal himself… the person whom we call ’schizoid’ feels both more exposed, more vulnerable to others than we do, and more isolated. Thus a schizophrenic may say that he is made of glass, of such transparency and fragility that a look directed at him splinters him to bits and penetrates straight through him. We may suppose that precisely as such he experiences himself.
“We shall suggest that it was on the basis of this exquisite vulnerability that the unreal man became so adept at self-concealment.”-N.M.] She does not break, but remains in a sort of suspension of self within David; she feels “very small and ecstatic. Alabama was in love.”
Alabama, then, in a fantasy, enters David’s head, which is “gray and ghostly”; she looks into “the deep trenches of the cerebellum.” She runs to “’the front lines’” and becomes lost in “a mystic maze [of] folds and ridges [rising] in desolation; there was nothing to indicate one way from another.” She falls and reaches the “medulla oblongata.” “Vast tortuous indentations led her round and round. Hysterically, she began to run.” This entire scene takes place during a kiss. The mirror image at the opening is crucial, for what Alabama loves is something of herself in David. It is when she enters his head that she is terrified, and images of a bleak terrain of the mind, a deserted battlefield, are used to reinforce her terror. What she seems to be afraid of is not simply being there, but the emptiness, the oddly directionless mindscape she is within. It is immediately after this scene that David tells her he is going to see her father about marrying her.
David Knight is Alabama’s rescuer from her father’s world. A knight is a young man whose job it is to rescue princesses from their imprisonments. David Knight promises to take Alabama away with him into a world without restraint, without fortresses; a world in which law plays little part. It is the artistic world of New York.
When Knight is in New York for embarkation he describes it to Alabama in terms of a fairy tale, and his letters probably echo Scott Fitzgerald’s: “’The tops of the buildings shine like crowns of gold-leaf kings in conference—and oh, my dear, you are my princess and I’d like to keep you shut forever in an ivory tower for my private delectation.’” The third time David writes about his locked-in princess Alabama asks him (as Zelda had asked Scott) “not to mention the tower again.” In a sense she seems to believe she is a princess in a tower, but a tower like the one described in the opening of the book, which has been built by her father. She is eager to escape from it through Knight, but certainly she will not accept a change of domains on similar terms of imprisonment. However, David differs decidedly from the Judge and Alabama is attracted to him because he does. He is open-handed, an artist, a man who is comfortable with people and playful; he is also as restless and filled with dreams as Alabama is. What he lacks is the Judge’s inexorable strength and single-mindedness. One day, long after David’s splendid first successes, Alabama will find herself repelled by him, and it will be largely because she misses that quality of authority she had resented in her father. A fortress, Zelda seems to be saying, had protected as well as imprisoned. Alabama turns to memories of her father for sustenance: “She thought of the time when she was little and had been near her father—by his aloof distance he had presented himself as an infallible source of wisdom, a bed of sureness. She could trust her father. She half hated the unrest of David, hating that of herself that she found in him.” Frightened then by the disintegration of her marriage, she tries to make “a magic cloak” out of the “strength of her father and the young beauty of her first love with David…”
With Chapter 2 begins the story of the Knights’ marriage. In time, six novels written by the Fitzgeralds would grow out of their love affair and marriage: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, Save Me the Waltz, Tender Is the Night and Zelda’s unfinished manuscript, Caesar’s Things. What Zelda cut out of the chapter probably tells us something about the kind of material to which Scott objected. Still some of it was not cut entire, but recast, and in the recasting Zelda kept what she wanted.
Alabama’s peculiar genius lay in possessing a rapacious engulfing ego that swallowed her world in the swift undertow of its ebb and flow… Alabama was proud of David. Used to the plugging, slow, and costly successes of the life about her in the South, David’s triumphs filled her with an anticipatory sense of uneasiness, as if she had ordered some elaborate appurtenance and, penniless, awaited the bill.
The first sentence was altered to read “Possessing a rapacious, engulfing ego their particular genius swallowed their world in its swift undertow and washed its cadavers out to sea” (my italics). The change was clearly intended to include David as well as Alabama.
Mention of money, debt, and drinking were pared down; and the single reference to Alabama’s jealousy in the galley proof was drastically altered by the time it was published. But the primary difference between what was published and what appeared in the galleys before revision is in Alabama’s attitude toward her family, in both versions Alabama’s parents come to visit the Knights while they are living in Connecticut. Their visit is a disaster. In a comic scene, while the Knights are trying to present themselves as models of conventional young marrieds to the Beggses, two of David’s friends appear drunk on a hammock in the Knights’ back yard. Unable to think of a way to get rid of them, Alabama manages to maneuver her mother upstairs for a rest. “From the sense that she had nothing whatever to do with herself which radiated from the girl as she descended from her parents’ room David knew that something was wrong.” This reads pretty much the same in the galleys except that there are additional sentences which explain why she is the way she is: “Alabama had a way of abnegating under difficulties. It wasn’t that she shirked, but her mother had led her to believe that she could have no connection whatever with anything but perfection from babyhood.” These sentences did not appear in the published version.
The two friends eventually wander off, but they return in the early hours of the morning. David goes downstairs to quiet them and winds up drinking gin and tomato juice with them. Alabama is furious with David, tries to grab the bottle from him, and as he pushes her away she falls against the door. It smacks her in the face, giving her not only a bloody nose, but two black eyes. She tries to hide her face under layers of powder, but it is useless. As soon as the Judge sees her he decides to leave immediately for Alabama’s sister’s apartment in the city. “Alabama had known this would be their attitude but she couldn’t prevent a cataclysmic chute of her insides.” As the Judge disapproves, Alabama reacts against him, but she does not express herself directly; she “sat silently,” she “said defiantly to herself,” or “to herself bitterly,” but not once, until the very end of the scene, does she speak out.
“Understand,” the Judge was saying, “that I am not passing a moral judgment on your personal conduct. You are a grown woman and that is your own affair.”
“I understand,” she said. “You just disapprove, so you’re not going to stand it. If I don’t accept your way of thinking, you’ll leave me to myself. Well, I suppose I have no right to ask you to stay.”
“People who do not subscribe,” answered the Judge, “have no rights.”
In the galley version Alabama, at David’s suggestion, follows her parents into the city and plans to spend the night with them and her sister. David, who has just made an important sale of some frescoes, is going up to New Haven.
“Wouldn’t you mind?” she said.
“Why should I?”
Her spirits sank in disappointment.
“I don’t know,” she said. It gave her a desperate feeling to think that nothing held her—also an experimental excitement. Though she knew in her heart that she’d never have half as much fun without David as she did with him, still there was a pleasurable leap of her insides at the thought of being without him.
As she enters the elevator of Dixie’s apartment she realizes her jealousy of David’s increasing fame. Alabama’s evening with her parents and Dixie is a debacle from beginning to end. They lecture her about her and David’s extravagance; they do not listen as she tries to tell them about David’s sale of his frescoes, and when she suggests dinner out at the Ritz, they tell her it costs too much. At her insistence they go anyway. No one but Alabama has dressed for dinner; it is too early to dine properly, the Judge wants “something plain … some spinach” and everyone else orders club sandwiches. “The club sandwiches were awful. The Ritz wasn’t accustomed to serving club sandwiches at the dinner hour.” Alabama then suggests going to a show. This time the entire family balks. “Alabama took a deep breath of the warm air. The streets of New York smelled acrid and sweet to her like imagined drippings from the mechanics of a night-blooming garden.”
Alabama decides to go out with one of David’s bachelor friends and leaves her family back at Dixie’s apartment. Alabama thinks, “If they hadn’t been so completely impervious to her she would have tried to explain.” When she does not return by 3 A.M. her family calls David, who races back to New York and is furious with Alabama. The scene ends with the Judge’s and Millie’s goodbyes. Alabama reflects,” ’Another tie broken… The tie will be there but it will be different—I’m no longer part of them which they criticize but have to accept, but something foreign which they reject at will.’ “David tells her that she must” ’understand that you can’t run roughshod over the world as you evidently think you can, doing everything you like and leaving others to check up after you.’ “He suggests that she compromise. From then on her mother’s letters to her ask her to behave. At the close of the cut galleys, “Wedged in between glowing accounts of their activities, she wrote that she was going to have a baby.”
In the published version there is a little more attention given to the birth of Bonnie, but not much. It is handled piecemeal and skittishly. Interrupting the story of whether Alabama is or is not pregnant are fine passages of description of New York City. This nervous, jagged interrupting of the narrative line works effectively to quicken the tempo of these pages and to propel us into the mood of the Knights’ early married life.
The top of New York twinkled like a golden canopy behind a throne. David and Alabama faced each other incompetently—you couldn’t argue about having a baby.
“So what did the doctor say?” he insisted.
“I told you—he said ‘Hello!’”
““Don’t be an ass—what else did he say?—We’ve got to know what he said.”
“So then we’ll have the baby,” announced Alabama, proprietarily.
David fumbled about his pockets. “I’m sorry—I must have left them at home.” He was thinking that then they’d be three.
“ said ‘Baby.’”
“We should ask somebody.”
“Who’ll we ask?”
Almost everybody had theories: … but nobody knew how to have a baby.
“I think you’d better ask your mother,” said David.
“Oh, David—don’t! She’d think I wouldn’t know how.”
“Well,” he said tentatively, “I could ask my dealer—he knows where the subways go.”
Breaking into their disjointed conversation about having a baby is another descriptive passage about New York and the popularity of the Knights. Then David says:
“I’ll have to do lots of work… Won’t it seem queer to be the centre of the world for somebody else?”
“Very. I’m glad my parents are coming before I begin to get sick.”
“How do you know you’ll get sick?”
“That’s no reason.”
“Let’s go some place else.”
It is after this, in the published version, that Alabama’s parents come for their visit and Alabama remarks that “she hadn’t been absolutely sure of how to go about anything since her marriage had precluded the Judge’s resented direction.” Six pages later, almost as an aside, Zelda wrote:
Vincent Youmans wrote a new tune. The old tunes floated through the hospital windows from the hurdy-gurdies while the baby was being born and the new tunes went the luxurious rounds of lobbies and grills, palm-gardens and roofs.
(Zelda’s treatment of the birth of Bonnie is reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s attempt in The Beautiful and Damned to handle Gloria’s supposed pregnancy. In both novels the reader is left uncertain about the basic facts. In Scott’s the fact that Gloria is not with child is written about as an aside. Bonnie’s birth is, after the build-up, similarly oblique.) After this passage Zelda slips in another about New York, but this one is marked with ominous descriptive material.
The New York rivers dangled lights along the banks like lanterns on a wire; the Long Island marshes stretched the twilight to a blue Campagna. Glimmering buildings hazed the sky in a luminous patchwork quilt. Bits of philosophy, odds and ends of acumen, the ragged ends of vision suicided in the sentimental dusk. The marshes lay black and flat and red and full of crime about their borders. Yes, Vincent Youmans wrote the music.
The final sentence would seem to tie this material to that about the birth of Bonnie, but there is no direct commentary about the baby at all. She is born, that’s it. We don’t know what she looks like or, more importantly, how her parents feel about her. Suddenly the novel switches direction and the Knight menage is off for Europe.
It costs more to ride on the tops of taxis than on the inside; Joseph Urban skies are expensive when they’re real… a thread of glamor, a Rolls-Royce thread, a thread of O. Henry… their fifty thousand dollars bought a cardboard baby-nurse for Bonnie, a second-hand Marmon, a Picasso etching … two white knickerbocker suits exactly alike … and two first class tickets for Europe.
In the packing case a collection of plush teddy bears, David’s army overcoat, their wedding silver and four bulging scrapbooks full of all the things people envied them for were ready to be left behind. [...]
Alabama said to herself they were happy—she had inherited that from her mother. “We are very happy,” she said to herself, as her mother would have said, “but we don’t seem to care very much whether we are or not. I suppose we expected something more dramatic.”
When the Knights at last escape New York for the Riviera there is a return to the images of physical description that Zelda had used at the beginning of the novel in connection with Judge Beggs and the South. There is the scent of fruit trees, but this time there is the hint of something threatening within the setting. The foliage is “black,” there are “keeps” and “battlements” and “ancient moats,” and the scene is “bound in tangled honeysuckle; fragile poppies bled the causeways; vineyards caught on the jagged rocks” (my italics).
The name of the villa they take is “Les Rossignols,” the Nightingales, and when Alabama describes it she says, “Pastel cupids frolicked amidst the morning-glories and roses in garlands swelled like goiters or some malignant disease.” Alabama wonders whether it is going to be as “nice as it seems.” David tells her they are now in Paradise “—as nearly as we’ll ever get.” Alabama asks him if he’s going to work all the time and David replies that he hopes to.” ’It’s a man’s world,’ Alabama sighed… ’This air has the most lascivious feel—’ “David’s reply,” ’Well, I can’t paint at night, you know. We shall have plenty of private life,’ “was cut from the published version. But somehow they do not have much private life; David works and Alabama is left very much to herself. She tries to occupy herself reading, but she resents being left alone while David works. “When she was a child and the days slipped lazily past in the same indolent fashion, she had not thought of life as furnishing up the slow uneventful sequence, but of the Judge as meting it out that way, curtailing the excitement she considered was her due. She began to blame David for the monotony.”
Alabama has met Jacques, a French aviator, whose surname Chevre-Feuille (honeysuckle) is a conscious attempt to link him to the setting. Chevre-Feuille is, as David was when Alabama fell in love with him, in military uniform and a lieutenant.
Eventually Jacques asks her to come to his apartment. She says,” ’Yes—I don’t know. Yes.’ “And David, although he does not know exactly what has passed between the two, tells Alabama she is “sick… insane” and threatens that if she sees Jacques any more he will go back to America without her. She tells Jacques that if she does not come to him he must not visit her any more. He asks what she will say to David.
“I’ll have to tell him.”
“It would be unwise,” said Jacques in alarm. “We must hang on to our benefits—”
Although it is never made explicit, what Jacques has seemed to say is that he wants Alabama, but not on a permanent basis. In other words, she is not to tell David and thereby threaten her marriage, or Jacques is clearly not prepared to offer Alabama anything more than an invitation to an affair. Up to this point they have done nothing more than kiss, and as it turns out (although they do meet once again in David’s company) Alabama does not go to his apartment. Jacques Chevre-Feuille gets himself transferred to “Indo-Chine” and leaves Alabama with a photograph of himself and a letter in French which she cannot read. She rips up the letter, and “Though it broke her heart, she tore the picture too… What was the use of keeping it? … There wasn’t a way to hold on to the summer… Whatever it was that she wanted from Jacques, Jacques took it with him to squander on the Chinese. You took what you wanted from life, if you could get it, and you did without the rest.” This is an almost exact repetition of Alabama’s earlier resolve, when the war began, “to take what she wanted when she could.” Except, of course, Alabama had not done so in this case. She had not taken Jacques Chevre-Feuille, whom she had apparently wanted; she had let him go, with regret perhaps, but she had not ventured very far. [Scott, however, took Save Me the Waltz as proof of Zelda’s love affair with Jozan. He wrote one of Zelda’s doctors: “As soon as she could feel I was safe at home she immediately betrayed me. She did it by her own confession. You only have to read her book. And I was doing the best work in my life.” (He was writing The Great Gatsby.)-N.M.]
Which brings us to the center of both the novel and the characterization of Alabama Beggs. Alabama has not fulfilled her promise to herself and she begins to see her life with David in terms of the sense of suffocation and eclipse she once felt with her family in the South. Once she had sought a definition of herself, but her marriage has brought her no answers to her quest. It is only when the Knights leave the Riviera for Paris (“a perfect breeding place for the germs of bitterness they brought with them”) that, caught up in the endless wave of parties, amid the debris of her marriage, she finds her answer. And in the manner Zelda has established earlier in the novel, her flower imagery gives the clue to her fiction. In Paris the flowers are artificial: “They made nasturtiums of leather and rubber and wax gardenias and ragged robins out of threads and wires. They manufactured hardy perennials to grow on the meagre soil of shoulder straps and bouquets with long stems for piercing the loamy shadows under the belt.”
In that Parisian world of parties, at which no one is French, but English and American—with a peppering of Russians from the ballet—Alabama feels “excluded by her lack of accomplishment.” She is not as elegant as the other women and feels “clumsy” when she compares herself to Gabrielle Gibbs, with whom David is obviously charmed. (The ten-page revision of Section III of this chapter cuts out some of the small talk of the parties and gives a sharper sense of Alabama’s growing removal and isolation and insecurity.)
After a dinner party at which David and Miss Gibbs flirt they all go to the theatre to see a Stravinsky ballet. The ballet seems to Alabama to offer her a chance for distinction. Her friends completely misunderstand her reasons for wanting to dance, but provide an interesting glimpse into what Zelda knew they thought of Alabama/Zelda: “’I think … that it would be the very thing for Alabama. I’ve always heard she was a little peculiar—I don’t mean actually batty—but a little difficult. An art would explain.’”
When Zelda was first at Phipps she had written Scott:
Life has become practicly intolerable. Everyday I develop a new neurosis until I can think of nothing to do but place myself in the Confederate Museum at Richmond. Now it’s money: we must have more money. To-morrow it will [be] something else again: that I ran when Mamma needed me to help her move, that my hips are fat and shaking with the vulgarities of middle-age, that you had to leave your novel … a horrible sickening fear that I shall never be able to free myself from the mediocrity of my conceptions. For many years I have lived under the disastrous pressure of a conviction of power and necessity to accomplish without the slightest ray of illumination. The only message I ever thought I had was four pirouettes and a feuete. It turned out to be about as cryptic a one as [a] Chinese laundry ticket, but the will to speak remains.
In Chapter 3 she wrote as fully as she was able of her consuming involvement with the ballet. This chapter moves at a higher pitch than the first two and the world of the young girls who dance at Madame’s studio behind the stage of the Olympia Music Hall comes vibrantly to life. The curiously female and narcissistic atmosphere of the dance is emphasized by the incessant quarreling of the girls as they maneuver for positions of excellence before their teacher’s eyes. Alabama pushes her body beyond the pain of the stretches, the “Miles and miles of pas de bourree,” toward excellence, but it is a punishing effort. In one of the sentences from the first galleys that were eliminated in the published version we are given a clue to Alabama’s development: “Of all things on earth she had never wanted anything quite so much as to possess herself, as it seemed to her, that she would if she could attain a perfected control.” Her consuming interest is in the perfection of her body. But, as she drives herself, David is left spending his time drinking with friends at the Ritz bar.
“Why will you never come out with me?” he said.
“Because I can’t work next day if I do.”
“Are you under the illusion that you’ll ever be any good at that stuff?”
“I suppose not; but there’s only one way to try.”
“We have no life at home any more.”
“You’re never there anyway—I’ve got to have something to do with myself.”
“Another female whine—I have to do my work.”
And this time when Zelda writes of flowers, they are a heady, lush, exotic contribution to the prose. They are flowers for the dance; flowers for Madame.
Yellow roses she bought with her money like Empire satin brocade, and white lilacs and pink tulips like moulded confectioner’s frosting, and deep-red roses like a Villon poem, black and velvety as an insect wing, cold blue hydrangeas clean as a newly calcimined wall, the crystalline drops of lily of the valley…. She bought lemon-yellow carnations perfumed with the taste of hard candy, and garden roses purple as rasp berry puddings, and every kind of white flower the florist knew how to grow. She gave Madame gardenias like white kid gloves and forget-me-nots from the Madeleine stalls, 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.
Alabama does have her work to do, but David makes a distinction between what she can hope to accomplish in hers and what he has done in his. “’You’re so thin,’ said David patronizingly. ’There’s no use killing yourself. I hope that you realize that the biggest difference in the world is between the amateur and the professional in the arts.’” /p<>
“You might mean yourself and me—’ she said thoughtfully.“Moments later Alabama reflects that “David’s success was his own— he had earned his right to be critical—Alabama felt she had nothing to give to the world and no way to dispose of what she took away.” David’s success had deeply impressed her and she badly wants her own. Zelda reveals in her fiction the story of her own frustrated desire for accomplishments that would match Scott’s. But the collapse of Alabama’s dreams is as total as Zelda’s had been. In Alabama’s case a physical accident, the infection of her foot, destroys any chance she has to become a ballerina, as in Zelda’s life her mental breakdown destroyed hers.
One of the levels on which Save Me the Waltz moved at its opening was that of the fairy tale—Alabama as princess to her Knight. Zelda seems to have dropped the implications of her fairy tale only to pick up the threads again in Chapter 4 when Alabama is in Italy without David and Bonnie. Bonnie, at David’s suggestion, comes to visit her, but the timing of her visit is unfortunate. Alabama is preparing to dance in Le Lac des Cygnes; she gets permission to miss a rehearsal and meets Bonnie and Mademoiselle at the train. When Alabama sees her daughter she notices: “The bones had begun to come up in her nose; her hands were forming. She was going to have those wide-ended fingers of a Spanish primitive like David. She was very like her father.” But Bonnie is disappointed to find out that her mother has none of the conveniences she is used to in her father’s company. There is no car, but “a flea-bitten horse-cab”; the boardinghouse in which Alabama has been living in Naples smells of “damp and urine.” Both Mademoiselle and Bonnie are clearly disappointed, and it seems to Alabama that her child has become a snob. Bonnie gets a rash from the food; Alabama plans a party for Bonnie at which the child is bitten by a monkey. To make her feel better Alabama takes her on her lap before the other children and begins to tell her a story; it is about Greek temples, but when Alabama finally gets everyone’s attention, she cannot think of a story to tell. Bonnie gets sick from the monkey bite, or maybe the climate, and Alabama goes back to her rehearsals. Bonnie and Mademoiselle leave Italy to return to David.
“We should have taken the train-de-luxe,” said Bonnie. “I am in rather a hurry to get to Paris.”
“This is the train-de-luxe, snob!”
Bonnie gazed at her mother in impassive skepticism.
“There are many things in the world you don’t know, Mummy.”
“It’s just barely possible.”
When Bonnie arrives in Switzerland (the reference to Paris above must be an error), David wants to know if she had a good time. As Bonnie looks about her she notices”Ladies in lace with parasols, ladies in linen with white shoes… “And as she turns to look at her father she sees that he is “Dressed in a catalogue of summer … his clothes were a little amazing, suggesting a studied sartorial selection. He was dressed in pearly gray and he looked as if he had stepped down inside his angora sweater and flannel pants with such precision that he had hardly deranged their independent decorative purpose.” He is handsome and Bonnie is proud of him. She tells him that Alabama “was dancing.” Then as they enter the hotel, Zelda makes her point:” ’The rooms, Prince,’ said the sad, suave hotel man… The valet carried their luggage to a white-and-gold encrusted suite… ’How would the royal visitor like her bath?’ said David.”
The separate worlds of David and Alabama Knight have changed. David has become, in his success and fame and handsomeness, a prince, and Bonnie a princess. Together, daughter and father move into the world of fairy tale without Alabama. And it seems to be a brighter, richer world than Alabama’s had ever been.
Riding home through the flickering night, the country passed in visions of twinkling villages and cottage gardens obstructing their passage with high sunflower stalks. The children, wrapped in the bright armor of Bonnie’s father’s car, dozed against the felt cushions. Safe in the glittering car they rode: the car-at-your-disposal, the mystery-car, the Rajah’s-car, the death-car, the first-prize, puffing the power of money out on the summer air like a seigneur distributing largesse. Where the night sky reflected the lake they rode like a rising bubble through the bowl of the mercurial, welded globe. They drove through the black impenetrable shadows clouding the road like fumes from an alchemist’s laboratory and sped across the gleam of the open mountain top.
At the end of the novel Alabama returns with David and Bonnie to the small Southern town of her girlhood for her father’s final illness and death. Alabama confronts her past in the person of her dying father. At each step of the way from the railway station to her father’s bedside she is overcome by remembering things that had formed her. She recalls the infallibility of her father and her own delight when something went wrong for him; it was a small reminder of his humanity, and thereby brought him closer to her. When at last she is alone with him her tenderness toward him overwhelms her. When she speaks to him it is again for guidance, for some measure of direction from him for her own life, and she disguises her feeling in abstract questions.
“Oh, my father, there are so many things I want to ask you.”
“Baby,” the old man patted her hand. His wrists were no bigger than a bird’s. How had he fed them all?
“I never thought you’d known till now.”
She smoothed the gray hair, even Confederate gray.
“I’ve got to go to sleep, baby.”
“Sleep,” she said, “sleep.”
She sat there a long time. She hated the way the nurse moved about the room as if her father were a child. Her father knew everything. Her heart was sobbing, and sobbing.
The old man opened his eyes proudly, as was his wont.
“Did you say you wanted to ask me something?”
“I thought you could tell me if our bodies are given to us as counter-irritants to the soul. I thought you’d know why when our bodies ought to bring surcease from our tortured minds, they fail and collapse; and why, when we are tormented in our bodies, does our soul desert us as a refuge?”
The old man lay silent.
“Why do we spend years using up our bodies to nurture our minds with experience and find our minds turning then to our exhausted bodies for solace? Why, Daddy?”
“Ask me something easy,” the old man answered very weak and far away.
In what is the first admission of the deep love she feels for her father, Alabama is nevertheless unable to the end to reach him, unable to elicit from him any answers to her questions about life itself. Zelda tries to parallel Alabama’s feelings toward the Judge with those of Alabama’s mother to her father, and of Bonnie toward David. It is as if generations of fathers passing before her imagination give some mute testament of life to their daughters, some comfort. “Her father!” she had written before Alabama left Europe for home.”Without her father the world would be without its last resource.
“‘But,’ she remembered with a sudden sobering shock, ’it will be me who is the last resource when my father is dead.’”
After her father’s death Alabama searches for some token of direction left behind by him, but she finds nothing. “’He must have forgot,’ Alabama said, ’to leave the message.’” She tries to remember things he has said, but can bring little to mind other than his last words that his illness was expensive. “Once he had said, ’If you want to choose, you must be a goddess.’ That was when she had wanted her own way about things.” She says that she is heir to “’many doubts.’”
As the Knights make ready to leave the South they give a farewell party, and the people attending the party compliment them and tell them they are lucky, that they “’have an easy time.’” Alabama says: “’We grew up founding our dreams on the infinite promise of American advertising. I still believe that one can learn to play the piano by mail and that mud will give you a perfect complexion.’” But no matter what her protests people insist that the Knights are “happy.” As the party guests leave “the pleasant place” Zelda undercuts the well wishing of their departures by repeated use of the words “death” and “dead” until it becomes death in the first person:
“We’ve talked you to death.”
“You must be dead with packing.”
“It’s death to a party to stay till digestion sets in.”
“I’m dead, my dear. It’s been wonderful.”
Alabama says they will come back to visit her family, and then, to herself, thinks, “Always … we will have to seek some perspective on ourselves, some link between ourselves and all the values more permanent than us of which we have felt the existence by placing ourselves in our father’s setting.” The party over, Alabama begins to empty ashtrays. She tells David it is “very expressive of myself. I just lump everything in a great heap which I have labelled ’the past,’ and, having thus emptied this deep reservoir that was once myself, I am ready to continue.’”
The Knights will continue as they have been, the novel points to no fresh departures for they believe in none, and it gives little hope of a brighter future for them. They sit together, staring at each other among the silver debris of glasses and trays of their last party and watch the twilight come in upon the living room and themselves.
O Darling! My poor dear—watching everything in your life destroyed one by one except your name. Your entire life will soon be accounted for by the toils we have so assiduously woven—your leisure is eaten up by habits of leisure, your money by habitual extravagance, your hope by cynicism and mine by frustration, your ambition by too much compromise.
—Zelda, in an undated letter to Scott
DURING ZELDA’S FIRST MONTH (February, 1932) at Phipps her conversations with the psychiatrists had been evasive and unproductive. They were no closer to understanding her than when she arrived, for she treated their calls on her as social visits. But after Save Me the Waltz was written the doctors changed their tactics; instead of only talking with her, they asked her to write out what she thought had happened to her. The result was a strangely distorted autobiographical sketch, studded with expressions of distrust and recrimination—a semi-fantasy of her life with Scott. It confirmed some of the things Scott had mentioned, and it gave her doctors Zelda’s perspective toward those things. Portions of this document are puzzling, for some of the biographical references are inaccessible, lost in the tangle of Zelda’s mind. But once again she demonstrated her uncanny ability to express the undercurrent drifts of her feelings. She began writing at the remove of the third-person narrator, as if this were a story, but as the intensity of her revelations gained momentum, the game of story writing fell away and she wrote as I.
The eyes of the psychiatrist moved back and forth under the heavy lashes, like the shuttle of a loom weaving a story from the dark heavy thread.
“So write the story with no embellishments,” said the voice. There was that excitement about the voice of waiting un-committed; the excitement of the inveterate gambler with many systems, who yet takes his money haphazard; the excitement of inveterate superstition.
“Very well,” began the sick one patiently, “but it is the story of a fathomless solitude, of a black detachment of nothing. A vacuum can only exist, I imagine, by the things which enclose it.”
A pretense that the invalid made sense fluttered over the fine face. The face had nothing to do with the psychiatry. She inspected it like an interloper she might have found in her room, returned to the patient and said, “Go on.”
“We lived in a big house by the river [Ellerslie in Wilmington]. The rooms were high and full of the immensity of beautiful proportions. The house was so perfect that the doors grew smaller at the top like the columns of a Greek temple. A circular stair-well plumbed its depth. There were trees outside the windows that rose like rockets and spread in sprays at their ultimate point across the wide panes. A gaunt barn with a burnt sienna roof and walls that had faded to a gangrenous sheet of bilious green, rested on thin posts like the niches of a cathedral. Violets grew in the abandoned traces of an ante-bellum garden and yellow roses like crumpled bits of tissue paper climbed the fence. Outside the stark luxuriance of the yard, cinders stretched for miles and miles, to a government buoy station whose red roofs lay like a canopy over the sandbars and to a boiler factory bound by a white rose hedge.[...]
“There were many things to brood about. There was Marie, a wonderful negro maid, high and gawky, who laughed and danced barefoot about the Christmas tree on the broken balls, and there was Phillipe, a Paris taxi-driver who wanted to run the house like a cab at night, who was stupid and insubordinate, and boxed with his master and worked too hard in his official capacity as butler. He had an air of being always startled, perhaps in his uncertainty of his present role. We called him from the kitchen with a French auto-horn attached to the dining room chair. There was Ella who sang spirituals in the kitchen and sat like a dark ejection of the storm in the candle-light of the dining room when thunder blew up the Maryland lightning belt at night and whipped and cracked over the river. And there was Mademoiselle, nervous and reeking of sachet, whose great brown eyes followed a person about like a mop and who cried and wept and grew hysterical about Phillipe…
“The first company came: a young actress like a breakfast food that many men identified with whatever they missed from life since she had no definite characteristics of her own save a slight ebullient hysteria about romance. She walked in the moon by the river. Her hair was tight about her head and she was lush and like a milkmaid. Carl [Van Vechten] came. Carl is divine; he spent six months in prison rather than pay his wife alimony. He is an experimentalist and a connoisseur. He brought suppressed nigger records and a cock-tail shaker and saved my letters and collects first editions in friends whom he vivisects with rapt interest. He’s a dramatist at heart. Our relations were very impersonal but Carl was a fine friend.[...]
”Teddy [Theodore Chanler] came. Teddy is an instrument of our lost republic. He could understand why an amusement park is the best place to be amorous—it’s something about the whitewashed trees and the smell of peanuts and the jogging of the infernal machines for riding…
“Dick [Richard Knight] came. I do not know why he is attractive. He flung a pot of mustard at the dining room door, his head is too big for his body, he is a lawyer. One lost afternoon in a black lace dress we drank cocktails in a New York apartment and sat afterwards a long time on the stairway, oblivious with a kind of happy desperation… We would have made scenes but there was trouble… I forgot him during rehersals for the Opera Ballet. I was too tired to care and too full of brooding except when something external drove me to him: the night Scott came home drunk from Princeton and smashed my nose about some conflict of his own and my sister left the house and never forgave him, poor man. I telephoned Dick. He has the most magnetic voice I’ve ever known. Dick had to go; … I don’t think though Scott had a world of his own which made no provision for our lives together except to kick about rehersals because once I got drunk in an Italian restaurant with some girls from the ballet after I’d finished a story in the Phila. library during the afternoon, and he was angry. He left me so much alone that I was very ashamed of wanting him once… He was thinking of the actress: he said so. I said I wanted to leave him but he wouldn’t let me go. We fought.[...]
”My dancing teacher was a protege of Nijinsky. I ate lunch with him at Rubens and went with him to his apartment. There was nothing in the commercial flat except the white spitz of his mistress and a beautiful collection of Leon Bakst. It was a cold afternoon. He asked me if I wanted him to kill me and said I would cry and [he?] left me there. I ran to my lesson through the cold streets. I always wore white…
“I do not know what Scott was doing during that year. He went to New York: I didn’t want to go. He worked a little, we lived in the cinders and the wind from the river and sometimes, rarely, we did things together.[...]
“On the boat he had friends and I was very unimaginative about a dark man who thought it was nice that he had a brown jacket and I had a blue one… They all came down and we drank champagne. I think I wanted him to see a new nightgown I had.
“In Genoa, Scott and I slept together.
“In Nice, I worked at a studio which I did not like, with Nevalskaya. Scott and I were happy in the bright, incisive sun, watching the frog swallower on the promenade and the awful comedies at the Casino. He was mad because I wouldn’t go to a French version of Broadway and liked me when I told him why the Place Gallieni was charming: about the faded Baroque painted houses and the one-dimensional quality of that sun-sterile stone. He hated the child’s nurse. We drank aperitifs at a blue cafe in front of the Jetee and I loved walking to the hotel from my dancing. The sapphire twilight was deep and mysterious and I hummed the songs that the old man played; mostly Strauss waltzes… The studio piano was out of tune. The hotel bedroom was red plush and the bed was brass and the rooms were on the sea and I loved him very much.
“We went to Paris. You have the history of the studio there in my book. It was like living in a dream. Scott drank almost always… I thought always of my dancing and of Egorova. I wanted to do something for her terribly. I was very tired and cried once for 2 hours when she asked me to work with a girl who did not dance as well as I. The girl came dressed in a new cerise ballet-dress which faded afterwards on the chair of the dressing room. I could not get it off, the stain, with eau-do-cologne.
“Scott went out with King Vidor and Andre Champson and hated the apartment and our dreary lunches. I was working and unattractive. We bought a black cat that had diarrhea and had to give him back… I didn’t think much about him [Scott] because I felt like a priest about my work. We went once to church. I hated taking his money for my lessons: I wanted my dancing to belong to me, so I wrote to pay for them.
“He came out with me to Egorova’s to dinner. He passed out. It was an awful meal. I adored her. She lived in poverty and seemed very poignant. Once we took her to a Russian cabaret and I filled her champagne glass with daisies. She was a great artist. I used to carry lemonade to the hot studio… She seemed to me like a gardenia, so I gave her gardenias and found some Oriental gardenia perfume for her. She was reticent and I don’t know what she thought. She was very good and kind and always gave me lessons, the famous dancers clamored for her hours.
“Scott and I went to Cannes. We quarrelled there that year: everybody did. It was a nightmare. I worked everyday in Nice, largely to escape…
“Scott had half a novel done. It was fine. He brought some friends home with him drunk, and I found it all over the floor the next morning. He was sick with tb and drank. I drank sherry and ginger-snaps—not much after swimming. I wrote a ballet called ’Evolution’ and made the scenery and costumes on the beach. I hardly saw my child because I hated the nurse she had, who snored and was mean to Scottie. Scott did not want to fire her. I was half-crazy and thought the people looked like embryos, and wanted to get back to Paris. Scott and I were completely alienated. He went some with his friends, exotic, interesting people who sat up all night. I couldn’t: I was working on grand pirouettes… He talked and talked and talked at table with the governess about French politics. I couldn’t stand much talking.
“We came back to Paris through the Cevennes. The trip was fun and we would have been closer but when the car swerved to the crest of a hill, it seemed to me it was going into oblivion beyond and I had to hold the sides of the car. I wrote a story about those mountains. I felt like Cardinal Ballou in the car and wanted to leave him at Tours, but I felt too sorry to think of his driving alone thru the rain—or maybe I did come home on the train: I can’t remember. Anyway, I was very sorry for Scott.
“In Paris I worked and wrote and went to Algiers. In Algiers I thought of my teacher always and wrote many letters from Biskra and Bou Saad and was miserable in the gorge of Constantine and unhappy at Tungaad and nervous in the big, tearing bus. There were apple trees in bloom on the bleak hills and velvet nights and wonderful smells and goat cheese and lamp-light along the way at dusk.
“On the boat coming home, I was sick. An English lady called out ’Cheerio’ with every rock of the boat, and I was utterly alone and thought the boat was sinking. Scott had found companions. He is a popular man. The stewards were sick; everybody was sick. We ate Brioche and marmalade on the pier, when we landed. I brought Egorova a bandana handkerchief filled with perfume and silk for a green dress and amber chips from Africa. The moon in Bou Saada had been white and hot and the Ouled-Nails had brown bodies to churn when they danced. Soft cries muffled the night; the Arabs ate nougat under the gas flares and the streets were baked and caked with dust… It was an awful trip, though there was a pleasant half-hour with Scott in Biskra. Somehow those dreadful passages have a way of assuming qualities that they did not possess at the time, in retrospect. It is one of the places I should like to go again. Algiers will always remain colored for me by my impatience and drive to get back, my jealousy of Scott’s ability to amuse himself, and an implacable sense of desperation that haunted me constantly like a person crossing a dangerous stream, not daring to look further ahead than the next stone…
“In Paris again, I saw a great deal of Nemtchinova after classes and my friend of the Opera. I worked constantly and was terribly superstitious and moody about my work, full of presentiments about the sun and the rain and the wind. I lived in a quiet ghostly, hypersensitized world of my own. Scott drank. One night he told me that he had spit up a cup of blood. 1 tried all night and next day he said it wasn’t true. He said he was sick and that he couldn’t work and we lived like strangers. He had other friends and so did I. I had grown to resent the people we knew who did not work, no matter how attractive they were and to feel contemptuous of them.
“We went to a party somewhere that ended at Maximes… All this time passed in A DAZE.
“…I was sick… All I cared about was my lessons. Every day I took flowers to the studio… Then at four o’clock one afternoon, after my lesson, Michael Arlen was at home drinking with Scott. He was very pleasant and told me to go to a clinic. I quarrelled with Scott violently because I felt that I needed him and he so obviously preferred being with Michael.
“I went to MalMaison and flirted outrageously with the Doctor.
„I came back and went to work. Egorova came to see me and gave me a present. I knew I could not dance again and I was utterly heartbroken when I told her goodby…“
She said that from the dance she had learned exaltation „and a feeling for the flights of the human soul divorced from the person.“ When she found that she could not understand something she had only to transpose it into choreographic terms and it became clear. At the end of what she called „this … fairy tale“ she left five blank lines for the psychiatrist to fill in with her opinions. Zelda had again disdainfully eluded those she called The Authorities. But had she? What was clear to them now was her refusal to confront her illness directly; she would neither admit nor accept their assistance.
At about the same time this document was written, Zelda wrote Scott in an entirely different mode:
Darling, Sweet D. O.—
… I have often told you that I am that little fish who swims about under a shark and, I believe, lives indelicately on its offal. Anyway, that is the way I am. Life moves over me in a vast black shadow and I swallow whatever it drops with relish, having learned in a very hard school that one cannot be both a parasite and enjoy self-nourishment without moving in worlds too fantastic for even my disordered imagination to people with meaning. Goofo—I adore you and worship you and I am very miserable that you be made even temporarily unhappy by those divergencies of direction in myself which I cannot satisfactorily explain and which leave me eternally alone except for you and baffled. You are absolutely all in the world that I have ever been able to think of as having any vital bearing on my relations with the evolution of the species… I love you and 1 would like us to be covered with the flake of dried sea water and sleeping to-gether on a hot afternoon. That would be very free and fine. Dear Heart!
I have got so fetid and constantly smell of the rubbery things about here— It’s ghastly, really. I do not know to what depths the human soul can sink in bondage, but after a certain point everything luckily dissolves in humor. I want to fly a kite and eat green apples and have a stomachache that I know the cause of and feel the mud between my toes in a reedy creek and tickle the lobe of your ear with the tip of my tongue. If Trouble still bites give him a good kick in the ass for me.
Darling, I love you so.
Zelda was far more upset by her second collapse than she revealed to the doctors or to Scott, and she tried to hide from all of them her fury toward Scott for holding up her novel. She was overheard 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.“
Scott arrived in Baltimore to hunt for a house, and until he found one he stayed at the Rennert Hotel in the center of town, a few minutes from Phipps. He spent a great deal of time trying to provide the psychiatrists with his own point of view on Zelda’s breakdown. In this effort, he had written a sketch about Mrs. Sayre pinpointing the significance of her relationship to Zelda, which he sent to Dr. Squires on April 4, 1932. He felt that their early attachment gave a clue to Zelda’s troubles.
“It all went back to Zelda whom she [Mrs. Sayre] suckled until, as Zelda afterwards remarked she could probably have chewed sticks. Zelda was a beauty—a wild, gallant child, precociously passionate because of the early cultivation that her mother had made of her nervous system, lazy and half contemptuous of her own talents and selfish up to a point where the other members of the family, Judge Sayre and Zelda’s sisters, refrained from a constant protest that would have amounted to echolalia, only because of the strange mystic power of her mother’s fixation upon her.“ He insisted that Zelda had learned very early to assert herself even when that assertiveness was inappropriate and without motivation. As an adolescent she had naturally begun to pull away from her mother, but rather than accept this, Mrs. Sayre had cultivated her position as confidante; she waited on Zelda, and tried to act as her conscience. „… it destroyed Zelda’s personal integrity (in later years she was never able quite to comprehend the meaning of the phrase) and it attached her by the silver cord forever.“ Zelda had learned to „beguile,“ Scott said, rather than stand on her own.
By mid-April Scott was able to visit Zelda daily at the clinic, but their meetings were spoiled by constant quarreling. The visits began to have a pattern. Scott behaved badly and grew insulting and angry when Zelda would refuse, for example, to show him a story she was writing. They would quarrel and Zelda would put up a good front at the time, then weep during the night. She was sleeping only four to six hours out of twenty-four.
Zelda gave no details of their quarrels to her doctors, whereas Scott was quite willing to discuss them. He struck the doctors as acting martyred, lacking in understanding, and uncertain of himself. After their quarrels they would write remorseful letters to each other. Scott would try patiently to explain to Zelda what was the matter with her:
Honey, when you come out into the world again I wish you would try to realize what I can only describe as the:
Nub (NUB) of Experience
The fact that in your efforts you have come up twice against insuperable facts 1st against L. ——— 2nd against me—both times against long desperate heart-destroying professional training beginning when we … were seven, probably.
There has never been any question as to your „value“ as a personality—there is however a question as to your ability to use your values to any practical purpose. To repeat the phrase that became an athema in my ears during the last months of our trying to make a go of it „expressing oneself“ 1 can only say there isn’t any such thing. It simply doesn’t exist. What one expresses in a work of art is the dark tragic destiny of being an instrument of something uncomprehended, incomprehensible, unknown—you came to the threshold of that discovery and then decided that in the face of all logic you would crash the gate. You succeeded merely in crashing yourself, almost me, and Scotty, if I hadn’t interposed.
Zelda would, equally patiently, try to tell Scott that she was not reacting against him, but an uncontrollable part of her illness objected to his advice and struck out against Doctor Fitzgerald. Writing to Scott to say that she would rather stay at Phipps for a while until she was better, she added: „We have been so close this last year and have so many pleasant memories of things we’ve done that I’d hate to spoil it in any way. I think we’re all agreed that your role is not to be that of a doctor and in my present condition you have to mother me and bear with a lot of unpleasantness which is not part of how I feel towards you at all but the result of my health, simply—“
As their correspondence continued Scott kept returning to the issue of her writing, and in an unpublished sketch, which he probably wrote at this time, he made the basis for his objections quite clear.
Supposing Nikitma was going to create La Chatte in London. Supposing she had for many years supported a younger sister, a neophyte of the ballet but much less experienced and probably less talented. The performance has been delayed and will indeed be still longer delayed from Nikitma’s necessity of taking care of her sister.
Suddenly she finds that the sister has been secretly rehearsing La Chatte with the idea of giving it in London.
“That’s out,” says Nikitma. “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. Nobody could beat that handicap.”
Sister: “But I want to express myself.”
Nikitma: “Nevertheless that’s out.”
Sister: “But 1 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: “You’re horrid. You have bad habits.”
Nikitma: “So would you if I didn’t watch you.”
Sister: [“]Besides 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: “I promise I won’t do it until you do.”
Nikitma: “Then why are you so eager to rehearse at once. No, no, little girl, I’ve been in this game too long.”
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 gave an interview to the Baltimore Sun in which he mentioned Zelda’s forthcoming novel. The headline for the article ran, „He Tells of Her Novel,“ with the subtitle, „Work Sent to Publisher Is Autobiographical at Suggestion of Her Husband.“ That must have been hard for Zelda to swallow. Actually, he said next to nothing about Save Me the Waltz and talked about the economic health of the nation. But he had covered himself.
Dr. Meyer continued to try to tell Zelda some of the things he felt she had to learn in order to exist successfully again in the outside world. And Zelda at Scott’s urging tried to be more open with Meyer. But communication between them always fell short of the trust that had to exist if she was to make significant progress under his care. Dr. Meyer wanted Zelda to face her sickness squarely, not passively in the fixed terms of dementia praecox and schizophrenia that she would prattle about as an evasive tactic. He wanted her to avoid the terrific strain she had felt when she was involved in the ballet and seek a middle course. That was not a line of argument congenial to Zelda’s temperament and she once told him flatly to stop insisting upon it. „I went into dancing because I was miserable in my personal life and I thought I could dance—that was a delusion.“ That was as far as they got. A colleague of Dr. Meyer’s who would one day work closely with Zelda at Phipps says: „It is easy to understand why Dr. Meyer never got close to her; he was too heavy and ponderous and germanic … none of the quick comeback and wit that appealed to Zelda. I don’t think Zelda’s responses to Dr. Meyer or me were of a psychotic nature. I think she would have turned away from both of us before she was ever ill.“
Dr. Forel had suggested that if Zelda did not seem to be improving at Phipps Scott should transfer her to a private and elegant nursing home in New York State, Craig House, under the direction of a friend of his, Dr. Slocum. Forel knew that there was a certain bias against such places by psychiatrists like Meyer (who had received his training at a state institution), but he felt certain that Zelda would profit by the environment that Craig House could offer. Phipps, in the center of Baltimore, could not provide the same air of gracious country living. But for the time being, although Scott investigated other clinics, Zelda remained at Phipps.
On the 20th of May, 1932, Scott found a house on the outskirts of Baltimore, in Towson. It was called La Paix, and Zelda described it as „a very feminine [house]—dowager grandmother,“ adding that she had always chosen „masculine houses with staring windows.“ Scott wrote Dr. Squires that he wanted Zelda to take the move very slowly. For the first week she should spend only the mornings at the house and return to Phipps at 1:30 to resume her routine, and „when she comes to the house for good, on, let us say, the 8th of June it will be with an absolutely air-tight schedule agreed upon for the summer.“ One reason Fitzgerald wanted these precautions was to avoid fatiguing Zelda; another was „the fact that since the whole burden of a mistake falls on me / should be able to dictate the conditions…“
By the beginning of June Zelda was able to spend half of her time at La Paix and the remainder at Phipps. Aside from a few outbursts of temper she was doing quite well. There was of course a certain strain in resuming her normal life with Scott.
Scott felt he had to have some authority over Zelda to use as leverage if she fell off stride; Zelda resented his exercising any authority over her whatsoever. Dr. Meyer urged Zelda to resist an all-or-nothing attitude toward her work, which created yet another strain between her and Scott. But she said she had to contribute something to life; if one didn’t one was „as useful as an appendix. My work is unproven. My work is not a strain. All I ask to do is to work.“ On the 26th of June Zelda was discharged from Phipps. Her condition was unimproved.
La Paix was what was once called a Victorian cottage. It had gables and porches, fifteen or sixteen rooms, and it was full of night sounds, dark, and rather down at the heels. But it was set on the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Bayard Turnbull, and the grounds surrounding it were handsome. Zelda described it in a letter to John Peale Bishop.
We live in a nice Mozartian hollow disciplined to elegance by imported shrubbery of the kind which looks very out of place anywhere. In this very polite Maryland atmosphere we write things. We have black-gums over the tennis court and pink dog-wood trees over the pond and the place looks as if it were constructed to hide bits of Italian marble from the public. Scott likes it better than France and I like it fine… We are more alone than ever before while the psychiatres patch up my nervous system.
This „they say“ is the way you really are—or no, was it the other way round?
Then 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, and the patient is glad to be rid of their award.
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.
The Turnbulls’ son Andrew, who was eleven then, remembered when Zelda first came to La Paix; he watched a taxi coming out from Phipps with a form in the back seat and someone said, „That’s Mrs. Fitzgerald; she’s sick.“ His impression was of someone for whom everything was organized. He remembered her sitting under the oak trees in high laced white shoes, biting her lips, picking at her face. There was something not wholesome about her,” he said. When she went swimming at the quarry she wore a two-piece maroon suit, but her figure seemed peculiar to him. “She was odd; she had to be explained.” Zelda would dance around the living-room table to the tune of her gramophone and her face twisted quirkily. She was a frail and somehow pathetic figure to the little boy. “When things were going well for them [the Fitzgeralds] you sensed it immediately; they possessed a sort of very clean fragrance, as though they were fresh from the bath, and then theirs was a bandbox freshness, a daintiness. She played a better game of tennis than Scott, but as might be expected, hers was an uneven game.”
She talked very little to anyone, and nothing stuck in the memory of Andrew or his mother. It was Scott who made the more vivid impression on the Turnbulls. Mrs. Turnbull found him a charming man: “He was the only man I’ve ever known who would ask a woman a direct question about herself… He did seem to care and he always told you plain truths about yourself.” She remembers him playing with their children and Scottie, the “marvelous quality of his voice when he recited poetry to the children. How magical that voice was, how it held one—he could have been an excellent actor.” ’ His drinking had bothered her, for the Turnbulls were teetotalers, but a respect for his literary genius eclipsed her memory of that. Mrs. Turnbull remembers, “He was terribly sensitive to criticism— perhaps he was a little guilty about Zelda … he talked a lot about Zelda; she was his invalid. But he only spoke of her charm, her appeal for men, and her brilliance.” She said that he often spoke of Zelda’s great fascination and magnetism—“a true admiration of her judgment.” He seemed sometimes to depend upon her approval. But Mrs. Turnbull could remember no evidence of Zelda’s revealing herself to her. “Oh, she spoke a great deal about trees and used the same words to describe them—repeated herself a good deal. But then we never really spoke to each other. She stayed very much to herself. I used to see her walking like a small shadow along the path by the flower garden. She often walked there, quietly and alone. I thought of her as an invalid. She struck one like a broken clock.”
A woman who worked as Fitzgerald’s secretary from the time they moved into La Paix until 1938, when she recalls herself “still trying to untangle their bills,” saw Scott and Zelda from a far less romantic point of view than the Turnbulls. When Scott hired her one of his requirements was that the person not be the sort of woman with whom he could possibly fall in love. And vice versa. Scott offered twelve dollars a week for the job and there were lines of women applying for it. This was in the middle of the Depression, and if twelve dollars wasn’t good, if it was steady it wasn’t bad. “It sounded really simple—I didn’t know there would be calls at midnight or four o’clock in the morning! I was a companion, I drove their car, bought canvases and paints for Zelda, played tennis, rode and swam with her.”
In July Zelda was kept busy correcting proofs of Save Me the Waltz. She was living at home all the time and seeing a psychiatrist at Phipps once a week. By the end of August she had trouble keeping to the schedule set up for her before she left Phipps. Her relationship with both Scott and Scottie grew ominously tense. Frequently she would flare at one of them and then run to her room, locking herself in; on such occasions Scott would try to talk her back downstairs, and if that failed he might slip a note such as this one beneath her door.
Dearest: I’m writing because I don’t want to start the day with an arguement—though I had thought that what has become controversial was settled before you left the clinic.
Darling when you shut yourself away for twenty four hours it is not only very bad for you but it casts a pall of gloom and disquiet over the people who love you. To spend any reasonable time in your room has been agreed apon as all right, but this shouldn’t be so exagerated that you can’t manage the social side any further than sitting at table. It would help everything if you could enter a little into Scotty’s life here on the place, and your reluctance to play tennis and swim is a rather reckless withdrawal; for whatever of the normal you subtract from your life will be filled up with brooding and fantasy. If I know that there is exercise scheduled for morning and afternoon and a medical bath in the afternoon & that you have half an hour for us after supper and you stop work at ten, my not very exigent list, insisted upon by Dr. Myers, is complete. When you throw it out of joint I can only sit and wait for the explosion that will follow—a situation not conducive to work or happiness. If this week has been loo much it is easy to return to the clinic for three days and it needn’t be done in a spirit of dispair any more than your many returns to Prangins.
I believe however you are not giving it, giving us, a fair trial here. If I didn’t love you so much your moods wouldn’t affect me so deeply and excitedly. We can’t afford scenes—the best protection is the schedule and then the schedule and again the schedule, and you’ll get strong without knowing it.
Scott was hospitalized for two weeks that summer. The doctors thought he was ill with typhoid fever; he was not, but he was run down and needed the rest. Maxwell Perkins visited him and described his impressions of their visit in a letter to Hemingway: “Scott and Zelda are living about forty minutes out from Baltimore in a house on a big place that is filled with wonderful old trees. I wanted to walk around and look at the trees, but Scott thought we ought to settle down to gin-rickeys… It was really a fine sort of melancholy place… Scott did not look so well, but he was in fine spirits, and talked a lot.” Scott was drinking hard and at the same time working on Tender Is the Night. He entered in the Ledger, “The novel now plotted and planned, never more to be permanently interrupted.”
Dr. Thomas Rennie had taken over Zelda’s case at Phipps and Zelda began to feel a far greater rapport with the handsome bachelor than she had with Meyer. The young doctor, who was intensely interested in literature and who had once wanted to become a playwright, was fascinated by both of the Fitzgeralds. He could not, however, help noticing that Zelda’s relations with Scott were growing increasingly difficult, and he tried to check the downward trend. Scott’s drinking and daily quarrels with Zelda had reduced their relationship to a constant wrangle. When Zelda was on schedule she wrote in the morning, played tennis before lunch, and painted in the afternoon. In the evening she tried not to have an outburst of temper, but if she did she retired to her own room. She began to plan a new novel, which would deal with madness. The main characters, a man and his wife, were being driven to an asylum by their heartless and selfish daughter. Zelda told Dr. Rennie she wanted to draw a picture of insanity that would be so near the normal that the reader would not discover until the novel’s end that the two characters were already in an asylum. It was a dangerous course she had set out on, because the central theme of Scott’s much revised novel dealt with psychiatry too, and the madness of Nicole Diver, the psychiatrist’s wife. Zelda knew this perfectly well and certainly she realized how distressed Scott had been about Save Me the Waltz, but she again ignored the similarity of their territory.
On August 29 the Fitzgeralds had a fierce row and Zelda called Rennie, demanding that she be sent to Sheppard-Pratt, a nearby clinic for the treatment of nervous diseases. Rennie explained to her that the goal of therapy was to keep her out of the hospital and help her to function on her own. Both of the Fitzgeralds came to the Phipps clinic late in the afternoon. Scott looked unkempt and clearly had been drinking. Apparently they had argued about Scottie. Rennie set up a rigid schedule for Zelda to follow; she was to try it for a week as a test and see what effects it had on their marriage. She seemed relieved that something definite was expected of her and followed the schedule to the letter—for a while.
Dr. Rennie saw the Fitzgeralds’ problem in three parts. The first was the struggle between them as creative artists, each jealous of the other. The second was the conflict caused within Zelda by trying to have a career as a writer while at the same time fulfilling the obligations of her home and marriage. The third was their sexual relation to each other. What Rennie had noticed was the growing discrepancy between the Fitzgeralds’ ideas of the roles of husband and wife and the part they were individually prepared (or able) to play. Neither of them was at this point fulfilling his role to the satisfaction of his partner. Scott told Rennie: “In the last analysis, she is a stronger person than I am. I have creative fire, but I am a weak individual. She knows this and really looks upon me as a woman. All our lives, since the days of our engagement, we have spent hunting for some man Zelda considers strong enough to lean upon. I am not. However, I am now so near the breaking point myself that she realizes she has me against the wall and that she can drive me no further. She is a little afraid of me at the present time.” Rennie hoped that the publication of Save Me the Waltz would settle the question of whether or not Zelda was a literary artist of major caliber, and that once that was resolved some of their other problems would fall into place. Events were to prove it a naive expectation.
Save Me the Waltz was published in October, 1932. Zelda had designed a jacket for the book, but Scribner’s received her work too late to use it. Nevertheless, she wrote Perkins:
We are delighted with the book. The two figures on the cover are rather reminiscent of some of my own drawings—It’s fine. I only hope it will be as satisfactory to you as it is to me. It certainly is tremendously thick if bulk bulges sales any.
Scott’s novel is nearing completion. He’s been working like a streak and people who have read it say its wonderful. We wait now till each other’s stuff is copy-righted since I try to more or less absorb his technique and the range of our experience might coincide.
The novel did not sell well. It is difficult to determine how many copies were printed, but for a first novel in the middle of the Depression the run was probably less than three thousand copies. Zelda wrote Perkins unhappily after publication: “Do you suppose a small add on the ’dance’ page of the Times or Tribune would help any? Naturally, I am distressed for your sake and mine that the response has been so slight. I had the idea that those special enthusiasts might be interested.”
Critical reaction to Save Me the Waltz was mixed. Zelda wrote to Perkins, asking him to send for her scrapbook any additional reviews that she might not have seen, and when she received them she thanked him, but said she was sorry she had asked.
Zelda liked a review written by William McFee for the New York Sun the best; she told Perkins it was “the only intelligible (to me) criticism of the book that I’ve seen so far.” McFee wrote that the novel was obviously autobiographical; he hoped that it would not be denied an audience because the public no longer wanted to be reminded of that era—the period of postwar hoopla among American expatriates on the Riviera and in Paris. He continued:
… here is a peculiar talent, and connoisseurs of style will have a wonderful time with “Save Me the Waltz.” In this book, with all its crudity of conception, its ruthless purloinings of technical tricks and its pathetic striving after philosophic profundity, there is the promise of a new and vigorous personality in fiction.
McFee felt that the best scenes were those that dealt with the world of ballet, but that “Alabama’s personality is not sufficiently distinct to sustain interest.”
In the desperate attempt to be contrary and enigmatic she resembles an insane child. But one has to go on and on to discover what happens to this essentially American marriage. The author occasionally has only the vaguest notion of the meanings of many words she uses, but the effect of the accumulated fantastic metaphors is fascination for all that. Veteran word-mongers will read [it], with envy and a kind of dizzy delight… Passages [like one he had just quoted] give the book an almost alcoholic vitality. Mrs. Fitzgerald’s next novel will be an interesting event.
Not surprisingly many reviewers noticed that although Zelda covered much of the same ground as Scott she wrote in an entirely different tone. Her work was highly stylized, and the main negative criticism of the novel was its overwriting and lack of careful editing and proofreading. In the book section of the New York Times the reviewer wrote:
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.
Another reviewer wrote:
There is a warm, intelligent, undisciplined mind behind Save Me the Waltz. Mrs. Fitzgerald should have had the help she needed to save her book from becoming a laughingstock. ?
This was the most strongly expressed criticism of that aspect of the novel, but it came to grips with one of its essential defects. Critics complained of Zelda’s “miasma of a glittering surface smartness” and her reduction of various scenes potentially tragic to a “harlequinade.”
At about the same time her book was published she was interviewed in Baltimore by a reporter. Zelda told the woman, “’Lives aren’t as hard as professions’” (which was a line from Save Me the Waltz). Of the peace-denoting name of La Paix she quipped that she had not named it: “’I’d have called it Calvin Coolidge, Jr… because it’s so pleasantly mute.’” She said that a woman must be a goddess to direct her own life (a sentiment she had put in Judge Beggs“mouth in her novel) and a goddess is one who manages to keep her purposes aloof from a woman’s ordinary lot:” ’In working hard for a goal … a woman pushes out her own horizons.“” The article continued, quoting Zelda:
Security, Mrs. Fitzgerald defines as something rather like money in the bank.
“And whether you make it or some one else does, represents the two kinds of peace in this world—to me, of course. But I don’t mean that happiness or the glorious sense of using what abilities we have has any financial side to it… When I was nineteen … 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.
“And for me, it’s easier to take than give, since the sense of my own needs has become stronger for me than my sense of other people.”
Save Me the Waltz sold 1,392 copies. Its poor sales plus the high cost of Zelda’s revisions in both galley and page proofs made the clause about $5,000 from her royalties being used to pay off Scott’s indebtedness to Scribner’s meaningless. Zelda earned $120.73 from her novel and Max Perkins sent her a check for the full amount on August 2, 1933. Perkins told her:
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. The result won’t be encouraging to you, and I have not liked to ask you whether you were writing any more because of that fact, but I do think the last part of that 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. But as it was, nothing got any show unless it were by some writer already noted for earlier successes, or had some very special salience.
Malcolm Cowley, too, had read Save Me the Waltz, and thought well enough of it to write Fitzgerald:
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, even when they are getting drunk at the Select. Zelda has a different story to tell.
Throughout the fall Zelda worked on her new novel, the one that dealt with psychiatric material and her own hospitalization. Scott was beside himself with anger and in a long forceful letter to Dr. Rennie said he thought they had all agreed that he was to finish his novel before Zelda took up any extended piece of fiction, and she was violating that promise. “But in her subconscious there is a deathly terror that I may make something very fine in the use of this material of ’ours,’ that I may preclude her making something very fine.”
Her hopes collapsed with the failure of Save Me the Waltz, and, her small reserve of balance imperiled by her arguments with Scott, Zelda began to storm at Scottie. On the surface her complaint was that she thought Scottie was thoroughly spoiled, but shot through it all was Zelda’s fear that Scottie was growing away from her before she had ever known her, that she no longer had any voice in her daughter’s life. “I can’t help her at all,” she told Rennie. “I’m like a stranger in the house.” But recognizing her unfairness to Scottie didn’t seem to help her control herself. She told Rennie: “Instantly I lose my temper when I get up. It’s awfully unfair to my husband and child. It’s destructive to her… Our relationship has been very bad. In order not to think of her, I say I don’t care about her. That’s silly. Of course I care about her. But I give her nothing—have not for three years. It’s torture to her. My child is gone from the present—out of my life. It isn’t fair and I make terrible kicks against it.” Zelda’s position was made even more unbearable by her own knowledge of what she was doing. “If I approach her and her hair smells bad and I get nauseated—I just have to go away from her. I know her hair doesn’t smell bad, but it makes me sick anyway.”
What she concealed from Dr. Rennie was the difficulty she was having keeping herself in hand at all times, and not only in connection with Scottie. When she sat down to dinner in the presence of guests, she found herself thinking about their feet or wondering if the women were pregnant. On the tennis courts she could no longer control her game, and would move drowsily, doing each of the actions as if something were curiously wrong, walking to the wrong court, thinking it was her own serve instead of Scott’s. Scott was impressed enough by the regularity of her wrongness to make a note of it to himself.
When I like men I want to be like them— I want to lose the outer qualities that give me my individuality and be like them. I don’t want the man; I want to absorb into myself all the qualities that make him attractive and leave him out. I cling to my own innards. When I like women I want to own them, to dominate them, to have them admire me.
—F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, Notebooks, K
THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER AND FALL of 1932 Zelda had worked on a farce that she called Scandalabra. When she could not proceed on her new novel, either because of Scott’s objections or her own instability, she turned to her play for relief. In a rush of energy she completed it late in October and sent it off to Harold Ober, with a note suggesting who might produce it. She also wrote Perkins, saying that she’d “read every play ever written with the hope that some dramatic sense would seep into my nonsense.” The play made the rounds of producers for a few months, but no one in New York was interested in putting it on.
Scott, harassed by his troubles with Zelda, drinking more than was good for him, also began to suffer from the tension of trying to pull his novel into shape. He fretted over every phrase of his manuscript-in-progress, for he staked his entire future on its success. Sitting at his table in an old bathrobe, toying with a pencil, the smells of gin and cigarette smoke filling the study, he worked. His secretary remembered those days of anxious writing. “He just wasn’t a stationary man—even when he wrote he kept moving around, walking back and forth… Zelda kept out of the way while he wrote. I’ll never forget him wandering around that spooky house, talking all the time to himself.
“I think I typed Tender Is the Night completely three times— and sections of it many more times than that. I can quote whole passages… Zelda’s memory was good and he would go up to her room and ask advice about things they had done together, conversations they had… He couldn’t write about anything he didn’t know. Some of those stories were terrible that he turned out during that time—we all knew it. He was convinced he was dead and buried.”
In an article written during this period and published in the Saturday Evening Post, called “One Hundred False Starts,” he tried to pinpoint his problems as a writer; he said that he was thirty-six now and “For eighteen years, save for a short space during the war, writing has been my chief interest in life, and I am in every sense a professional.
“Yet even now when … I sit down facing my sharpened pencils and block of legal-sized paper, I have a feeling of utter helplessness.” He said that writers repeat themselves, and that much as he tried to grapple with fresh plots, new material, or old notes jotted down to be resuscitated in bright settings, it was no good.
We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.
Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories—each time in a new disguise—maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen… Whether it’s something that happened twenty years ago or only yesterday, I must start out with an emotion—one that’s close to me and that I can understand… What you aim at is to get in a good race or two when the crowd is in the stand.
But the crowd no longer seemed to him to be in the stands; his in-come had dropped in 1932 to $15,823, less than half of what it had been in 1931.
His mother would sometimes visit from Washington, where she lived after the death of her husband. She brought Scott little bags of candy that she thought he’d like, in the hope that sweets would make him drink less. But it never worked and he was infuriated by her simple ploy. Zelda was kind to her and took her side in disputes, but that only irritated Scott more. First he blamed his mother, then Zelda; he would draw his secretary aside, telling her, “I am as I am because of my wife.”
But there were still good times together. His secretary remembered them talking to each other—“that seemed at the heart of the matter; they talked and talked and talked. One of them would remember something that had happened and off they’d go laughing and chatting.” It was just that the good times seemed brief in comparison to their states of siege. Their help learned to gauge what was going to happen by listening to their sounds as they retired for the night. They slept in the same room and Scott, who frequently had trouble falling asleep, would begin to pace the floor, talking. Their help could tell as soon as they entered the door in the morning if things had gone sour the night before. “It depended upon what kind of discussion they had had. You just sensed that they upset each other. She [Zelda] took a lot from him, it seemed to me, and I never remember her criticizing him. Of course, she had no say.” Scott felt that Zelda had to be protected from everything; she could not drink, for if she did she lost control completely, and she saw guests only on those occasions when it seemed unlikely that their presence would set her off.
In December, 1932, Dr. Meyer wrote Dr. Forel in Switzerland, telling him of the progress of Zelda’s case. He felt that she was beginning to improve, but that Scott was headed downhill. His situation was, in the doctor’s opinion, worse than Zelda’s; he was drinking a lot and had begun treatment at Phipps with one of Meyer’s colleagues. The strain of trying to be a nurse to Zelda and a shield to Scottie, of maintaining a semblance of balance in the household as well as working to complete his final draft of Tender Is the Night, ? had taken its toll. He was also, as he told Dr. Rennie, possessed by the frightening knowledge that he could cause Zelda to become psychotic within fifteen minutes of “well-planned conversation … I would only need to intimate that I was interested in some other woman and bring on her insanity again.”
As the erosion of their marriage continued Scott had to unburden himself to someone, anyone, and when he drank too much he would keep the cook or the nurse up all night telling her about himself and Zelda. His secretary says: “The next day they’d be gone. He’d said too much… He’d talked about her all the time. I told him, ’No woman could live with you!’ He’d laugh and look mischievously at me.” When he was sober, “he was charming and polite and as attractive as any man I’ve ever met.”
Zelda seemed to her a much more private person. “We had a formal relationship… Zelda was a very, very polite person; terribly kind and generous.” She was still athletic, and it was part of her regimen to swim and ride or play tennis for a period each day. She enjoyed high dives that terrified the secretary. When they went horseback riding and took a jump, it suddenly became clear that Zelda hadn’t the slightest notion how to sit properly for jumping. Zelda wrote Maxwell Perkins: “I have taken, somewhat eccentricly at my age, to horseback riding which I do as non-committally as possible so as not to annoy the horse. Also very apologeticly since we’ve had so much of communism lately that I’m not sure it’s not the horse who should be riding me.”
She was not pretty any more, but there was something fresh and clean about her looks still. Scott’s secretary remembers her as “skinny, and her skirts were never straight—shirttail-out type. She moved fast… She looked like a harassed woman when I knew her.” She spent long periods in her room at the top of the house, dancing by herself, or writing or painting. She loved to take long walks within the grounds of La Paix, stopping by the flower garden to gather a bouquet.
In the spring of 1933 the Fitzgerald marriage incurred another lesion which would leave them both permanently scarred. Scott once ? wrote: “Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.” Fitzgerald was at the end of his tether and felt he had been driven there by Zelda. Together they were visiting Phipps once a week for conferences with Dr. Meyer and Dr. Rennie. This had been going on for about six months and the effectiveness of these meetings was, in Scott’s opinion, negligible. Scott was drinking heavily and taking Luminal. Meyer kept trying to persuade him to get along without alcohol, and he told Fitzgerald flatly, “It would mean much for the ease of Mrs. Fitzgerald.” But Scott was at the point where he could not stand to see Zelda at the dinner table. “I’ve never forgotten the novel. Its terrible resentment.” Unless he kept persistently at Zelda, she broke her schedule, and he had come to hate the constant nagging. “Four days ago I told her I was trading my health for her sanity, and I was through. She could go to bed if she liked.”
A few days after he made that remark, Scott wrote Dr. Meyer a long letter in which he said he could no longer stand up under the strain of living with Zelda. He said that when their “conversations” at Phipps had begun they worked beautifully “because she [Zelda] was still close to the threat of force and more acutely under the spell of your personality… And I know also that you were trying to consider as a whole the millieu in which she was immersed, including my contributions to it…” He had brooded about her case for years, “arriving at the gate of such questions as to whether Zelda isn’t more worth saving than I am. I compromised on the purely utilitarian standpoint that I was the wage-earner, that I took care of wife and child, financially and practically, and beyond that that I was integrated—integrated in spite of everything, in spite of the fact that I might have two counts against me to her one.” He realized that Zelda was talented, that she somehow presented a “much more sympathetic and, superficially, more solid [picture of herself] than the vision of me making myself iller with drink as I finish up the work of four years.” He was, he knew, compromising himself in the eyes of the psychiatrists by his demonstrations of lack of self-control. “I will probably be carried off eventually 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.”
Scott felt that he needed some strongly enforced authority over Zelda, for there was no longer “a mutual bond between equals.” He wanted to be able to order her “to pack her bag and spend a week under people who can take care of her,” at Phipps. He wrote that if Dr. Meyer doubted his ability to judge when such a course of action was necessary, “then hasn’t the case reached such a point of confusion psychologically that I had better resort to legal means to save myself, my child and the three of us in toto” (Fitzgerald’s italics). He recognized two phases in Zelda’s illness. The first was one of intense self-expression when she indulged in an exaggeration of her physical and mental powers; the second was a period of “Conservatism, almost Victorianism, dread of any extremes or excess…”
“One of her reasons for gravitating toward the first state is that her work is perhaps at its best in the passage from the conservative to the self-expressive phase, just before and just after it crosses the line—which, of course, could be the equivalent of the period of creative excitement in an integrated person.” But she was not able to keep herself within those bounds, except when she was hospitalized and submitted to the imposed discipline of the clinic. “With much pushing and prodding she lived well, wrote well and painted well.” (He is referring to August and September of the previous year.) “Possibly she would have been a genius if we had never met. In actuality she is now hurting me and through me hurting all of us.” Zelda, Scott wrote, had again begun to believe “that her work’s success will give her some sort of divine irresponsibility backed by unlimited gold. It is still the idea of an Iowa high-school girl who would like to be an author with an author’s beautiful carefree life.” She used Scott’s sheltering (he called it “a greenhouse which is my money and my name and my love”) but at the same time felt no responsibility to him. He said it was her idea “that because some of us in our generation with the effort and courage of youth battered a notch in an old wall, she can make the same kind of crashing approach to the literary life with the frail equipment of a sick mind and a berserk determination.” He wanted Dr. Meyer to let Zelda feel the sting “of being alone, of having exhausted everyone’s patience” (Fitzgerald’s italics), and to know that Meyer was not just benevolently neutral, but would stand behind Scott’s exercise of authority. “Otherwise the Fitzgerald’s seem to be going out in the storm, each one for himself, and I’m afraid Scotty and I will weather it better than she.”
Dr. Meyer answered Fitzgerald the next week. He too had sensed the futility of their joint conversations, but he felt that what was involved was not simply a question of Zelda’s case; it was Scott’s life as well. Zelda, of course, was his patient, but Meyer saw Scott as someone who, though unwilling, also needed help. He didn’t want Scott to function as a sort of boss to Zelda, nor as a psychiatrist-nurse. He wanted a closer understanding of both of the Fitzgeralds, but he was certain that could be achieved only if Scott gave up alcohol.
Scott thought that they were working together, bringing a collaboration of perspectives to bear on Zelda’s illness. “I felt that from the difference between my instinctive-emotional knowledge of Zelda, extending over 15 years, and your objective-clinical knowledge of her, and also from the difference between the Zelda that everyone who lives a hundred consecutive hours in this house sees and the Zelda who, as a consumate actress, shows herself to you—from these differences we might see where the true center of her should lie, around what point it’s rallying ground should be.”
But Meyer had hit a nerve, and Scott had no intention of undergoing whatever kind of psychological care Meyer cautiously suggested. He also felt unable to relinquish liquor. He was ruffled by the suggestion that his abuse of alcohol might impede Zelda’s recovery, or in some way diminish his ability to handle her. He said: “I can only think of Lincoln’s remark about a greater man and heavier drinker than I have ever been—that he wished he knew what sort of liquor Grant drank so he could send a barrel to all his other generals.” He added that if Meyer considered him on the same level as a schizophrenic, he was rather alarmed about his role in the whole business.
On May 28, 1933, Zelda and Scott sat down at La Paix, with a stenographer, and Dr. Rennie as moderator, to discuss their troubles, or at least to air them again. The 114-page transcription of their talk provides another key to those “splits in the skin” of their marriage at this juncture. It was 2:30 on Sunday when they began and the afternoon sunlight fell short of the interior of the darkening room in which they sat. Scott began by saying he was being destroyed by the present situation of his marriage.”It is all unfair. It is all unfair… I am paid those enormous prices, and not for nothing. I am paid for a continual fight and struggle that I can carry on… the whole equipment of my life is to be a novelist. And that is attained with tremendous struggle; that is attained with a tremendous nervous struggle; that is attained with a tremendous sacrifice which you make to lead any profession. It was done because I was equipped for it. I was equipped for it as a little boy. I began at ten, when I wrote my first story. My whole life is a professional move towards that.
“Now the difference between the professional and the amateur is something that is awfully hard to analyze, it is awfully intangible. It just simply means the keen equipment; it means a scent, a smell of the future in one line.”
Zelda, Scott said, had written some “nice, little sketches”; she had a satiric point of view toward her friends, and she had certain experiences to report, “but she has nothing essentially to say. To have something to say is a question of sleepless nights and worry and endless motivation of a subject, and the endless trying to dig out the essential truth, the essential justice.”
As they talked one aspect of the problem became clear: Scott had not published a novel for eight years (in the transcript he said “seven years—six years”) and he blamed it on Zelda. “Three of those years were directly because of a sickness of hers, and two years before that indirectly, for which she was partly responsible, in that she wanted to be a ballet dancer; I backed her in that.”
Finally Zelda interrupted him: “You mean you were drinking constantly… Well, that is the truth … it is just one of the reasons why I wanted to be a ballet dancer, because I had nothing else.”
Several pages later in the transcript Scott turned to Zelda and told her outright what he thought of her talents: “It is a perfectly lonely struggle that I am making against other writers who are finely gifted and talented. You are a third rate writer and a third rate ballet dancer.”
“You have told me that before.”[...]
“I am a professional writer, with a huge following. I am the highest paid short story writer in the world. I have at various times dominated …”
Zelda again broke in: “It seems to me you are making a rather violent attack on a third rate talent then.”
Repeatedly throughout the afternoon, they came back to this point: Scott was the professional writer and he was supporting Zelda; therefore, the entire fabric of their life was his material, none of it was Zelda’s. He spelled it out: “Everything we have done is my … I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. That is all my material. None of it is your material.” Zelda told him he was “absolutely neurotic on the subject of your own work anyway. You are so full of self-reproach about not having written anything for that long period of time that you stoop to the device of accusing me.”
“One thousand dollars a month in Switzerland.”
“You did not do it for seven years.”
“Yes, seven years. Three years I took care of you. Three years I pulled up after The Great Gatsby, and two years we tried to be swell and live in a great mansion in Delaware.”
Scott had very fixed ideas of what a woman’s place should be in a marriage: “I would like you to think of my interests. That is your primary concern, because I am the one to steer the course, the pilot.”
“I tell you, my life has been so miserable that I would rather be in an asylum. Does that mean a thing to you?”
“It does not mean a blessed thing.”
What, then, Zelda asked him, did he want her to do.
“I want you to stop writing fiction.”
The novel that Zelda was working on, the one about psychiatry, touched too closely on Scott’s material for Tender Is the Night; he could not tolerate another encroachment, such as Save Me the Waltz had been, on his literary territory. Zelda had put a double lock on the door to the room where she wrote, because Scott said he would destroy her book. He said to her now, “I told you if I came in and found you writing on it, I would crumple it up.”
“I do not want you to tear it up. You know that some of it is awfully good prose; and you know it would break my heart to tear it up.”
“You know I would not do it.”
Zelda insisted that she did not want to be dependent on Scott. Dr. Rennie asked her if she meant financially dependent, and Zelda said: “Every way. I want to be, 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 bad damned lie!’ and have something to back it up, that I can say it.”
Scott said, “Now, we have found rock bottom.”
Dr. Rennie said he thought they had.
“And I think it is better to shut yourself up in an institution than to live this way,” said Zelda.
Scott wanted her to be what he called a “complementary intelligence.” That was not at all what she wanted to be.
Finally, Dr. Rennie asked Zelda if being an outstanding woman writer would compensate for a life without Scott. Would being a creative artist mean enough to her if she were alone? “Would that mean enough to you when you were sixty?”
After a lapse of about a minute, during which no one spoke, Zelda replied: “Well, Dr. Rennie, I think perhaps that is sort of a silly question… How can I tell what it would mean?” Even at this point in their lives, in the face of Scott’s denunciations, Zelda would not directly say that she could live without him. A few moments later she turned to him and asked: “What is our marriage anyway? It has been nothing but a long battle ever since I can remember.”
“I don’t know about that. We were about the most envied couple in about 1921 in America.”
“I guess so. We were awfully good showmen.”
“We were awfully happy,” Scott said.
The argument kept returning to the question of Zelda’s writing. Finally, Scott gave her an ultimatum; she had to stop writing fiction. She asked, “Of any kind?”
“If you write a play, it cannot be a play about psychiatry, and it cannot be a play laid on the Riviera, and it cannot be a play laid in Switzerland, and whatever the idea is, it will have to be submitted to me.”
Zelda said she was sick of being beaten down, of being bullied into accepting Scott’s ideas of everything. She would not stand it any longer; she would rather be in an institution. Their talk ended with nothing settled and a great deal of salt rubbed in their wounds. Scott for the first time seriously considered divorcing Zelda, and consulted a lawyer about the possible conditions under which he could be free of her. He found that in the state of Nevada with only six weeks’ residence he would have no trouble whatsoever accomplishing that end. He chose not to. They continued living together under the conditions of strain and distrust that the transcript makes painfully clear.
Scott felt cornered, as indeed he had been for some time, and when he talked about his equipment as a novelist, it was without fully realizing that it was just that equipment, his very real sensitivity to people, his ability to throw himself completely into the mood of a moment and charge it with himself, that made so hazardous his current relationship with Zelda. In a few more years, by 1936, he would understand it more clearly and write: “… what can you do for meddling with a human heart? A writer’s temperament is continually making him do things he can never repair.” The Fitzgeralds were no longer dazzling youngsters, charmingly self-promoting, with a cache of youth and stamina to rescue them. What Zelda needed was peace, calm, and reassurance of herself at every point of uncertainty. Scott could not give what he did not have. But it was asked of him again and again. He was asked to be—as the remarkably dedicated Leonard Woolf seems to have been so perfectly for his wife, Virginia—Zelda’s bulwark, her ballast. Scott Fitzgerald was simply not equipped to play that sort of role for anyone; his courage was in trying so very hard against considerable odds to offer that kind of assistance to Zelda. In 1933 he was dangerously close to the end of his resources and he knew it. Always before this he had been able to recoup his losses, but his reserves were low. The Fitzgeralds were, in every sense, in the midst of a depression. Railing at Zelda would not help; it would in fact imperil the one thing Scott had believed in as a constant. But he seemed helpless against the potent tides of her illness: dragged into the quagmire of her puzzled existence, he fought for his very survival. If he fought dirty sometimes that does not diminish the fact that he refused to give up.
The spring before this one, sixty young students from the Baltimore area had formed a group called the Vagabond Junior Players. They were an offshoot of the Vagabonds, which was a smart and active little-theatre group in Baltimore. The Junior Vags, as they were soon called, planned to produce three plays in the summer of 1933. Each play would run six nights. For their second play they chose Zelda’s Scandalabra. which would run from June 26 through July 1. She designed and executed the sets and screens for the production. A young man who starred in the production, Zack Maccubbin, remembered his unusual introduction to the author early in the spring of 1933. He was walking down a lane toward the gates of the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt sanitarium. On his left was La Paix.
“Ahead of me, near the gate, was a woman going in the same direction that I was. However, I soon caught up with her and we said ’Hello.’ … She was a tall, slender blonde with a classic profile and other than a slight impediment in her speech, was obviously a ’Southern Lady.’ As we approached the top of the hill she told me that she was from the Victorian house near the gate that I had so admired.” As they began to talk he found out that Zelda was having treatments at Sheppard-Pratt, and without much prodding he told her he was an actor. Zelda was delighted with her discovery and told the young man she had a play she wanted him to read and perhaps act in. “Now we were at the top of the hill. The original buildings of the hospital were to our left. Great red brick Victorian buildings with towers, turrets and a look of having been there for years on end… As we stood there the lady asked me to dinner the following Sunday at La Paix. She charmed me. I accepted with great pleasure… She walked slowly away to her appointment.”
The next Sunday Mr. Maccubbin came promptly at the right time and after several martinis dinner began, but it was interrupted when Scott learned that although the young man had gone to military school he had not learned to box. Scott decided “to give me a lesson right then and there. Zelda tried to stop us, but he paid no attention. I did think it damn peculiar, but went along with it. You know he taught Scottie to box, too. I remember a circle of green lawn between the driveway and the front entrance of the house. It was just a little larger than a ring. He’d have Scottie put her fists up and they’d circle around each other.” When the boxing lesson was over, they returned to dinner. Afterward Maccubbin was left alone to read Scandalabra, and when he was finished he read several scenes from it aloud to Zelda. It was, he remembers, “equally as strange as its title implies. However, I was too new in the theatre to be much of a critic and, at that time, a leading role impressed me more than the subject matter of the play. As I remember, it had dozens of scenes from the Riviera to New York City and back again… Scott had never read the play and saw no rehearsals. Zelda had wanted this to be her own project … with no help from Scott or anyone else.”
The rehearsals began in June in a building that was a converted carriage house on Read Street. “I don’t think we ever got through the whole play in any one day prior to dress rehearsal. Mrs. Penniman [the director] … [was] a slow talker. Zelda’s impediment that I had noticed that first day turned out to be the result of having bitten the inside of her lower lip during the first illness in Europe, so that she had gotten in the habit of extending her lower lip even though it was now healed.” Her speech sounded rhythmic and she hit the s’s. Mrs. Penniman tried to cut the play, but Zelda would not yield; she would insist, “’Mrs. Penniman, that is a very important part of the play. It is cleared up completely in the third scene of the second act!’” They would then go into a huddle together and usually Zelda won her point and they stuck close to the original script.
Zelda and Scott had a whole train load of guests down from New York City. There were personal friends, agents and the usual people interested in a play by a ’name’ that was being tried out prior to a possible Broadway production. I remember the weather was that particular summer heat that Washington and Baltimore have of which there is nothing anywhere else to compare it to. Scott in a sack-suit, but ? with a Turkish towel looped over his belt to wipe off the perspiration, would walk up and down Read Street with a friend declaiming in a loud voice that he understood this was a great play, or that he heard it was very funny. Then he would go to the box office and buy two or three tickets, walk away and do the whole bit over again in hopes of impressing the passersby. As far as I remember we went up on time at 8:15, but the final curtain didn’t come down until after one A.M.! It set a record for length if not for quality. By the time Zelda came backstage she had realized from her friends, if not from Scott that something had to be done. She now turned to Scott for help and he was right there and ready.
The cast gathered with the Fitzgeralds in the theatre’s Green Room. Scott took a thronelike chair with the rest of us in a circle around him. He was only drinking beer at that point, but there were several cases to his right. The rest of us had been told to order whatever we particularly liked and the first session got under way. He decided that he would read a speech and if the actor, whose line it was, or someone else, could not give a good reason for it being a part of the script, he would red pencil it within a given period of time. Under these conditions many lines tumbled! Even so by four A.M. we had only scratched the surface of Act One. So it came to pass that each night that week we continued cutting where we left off the night before and each night we gave a different performance! … by the end of the week we had a play that at least ran within the normal bounds of modern drama.
If Scandalabra ran within the time limits of normal drama, it did not run within its guidelines. Granted that it was a farce, a “farce-fantasy” at that, it was still woefully bad. The plot dealt with a nice young man from the farm (Andrew Messogony, played by Zack Maccubbin) suddenly willed millions if he will promise to live a life of utter dissipation and wickedness. It was like a funhouse mirror’s reflection of the plot of The Beautiful and Damned. In that novel Anthony Patch’s grandfather (of whom Patch is the namesake, as in Scandalabra Andrew Messogony is his uncle’s), who is enormously wealthy, a teetotaler guarded by a manservant, refuses to will his millions to the Patches because of the extravagance of their lives. When Gloria and Anthony finally do win the old man’s millions their marriage has been destroyed, Anthony is half-mad and Gloria is but a shadow of her former radiant self. In Scandalabra young Messogony (and here Zelda must be playing heavy-handedly on both misogamy and misogyny as sources for his name) marries a showgirl, for a start, only to find that she loves him truly. In a panic of ridiculous situations they try unsuccessfully to live up (or down) to the terms of the will. Finally, the young man renounces all of the tomfoolery, grabs his showgirl by the hand and announces that the estate can keep its money; he for one has had enough of debauchery; it’s back to the out-of-doors. In what is one of the least clever turnabouts in the history of farce, it becomes clear that this outcome is what his uncle had intended. The young man was supposed to put his foot down against evil influences after he had tasted them. The characters’ names and a sampling of a few lines are enough to convey an accurate idea of the play: Flower, the showgirl turned wifely; Anaconda Consequential (which is Zelda at her zany best, sort of Restoration-Depression drama), the wife of a young man to whom Flower pretends to be attached; a manservant called Baffles or Bounds, apparently at the whim of the person addressing him; and a leprechaun.
From the Prologue:
Baffles: The young people don’t seem to know how to misbehave anymore—except by accident.
Uncle: We must all have some possibilities for evil, if we can just look on the wrong side of things.
Baffles: Don’t you think, sir, that life will correct the good in Mr. Andrew?
Act I, page 4:
Baffles: I don’t want to criticize, Mr. Andrew, but don’t you think Miss Flower’s looking rather—well—well lately?
Act III, page 4:
Baffles: The trouble with birds is they imitate the vaudeville acts, and the vaudeville acts imitate the birds till we can’t tell a real conception from a misconception any longer.
After a few hours of this banter the reviewers reeled out of the unbearably hot little theatre, staggered to their typewriters, and wrote comments such as these: “There is probably nothing more embarrassing to any normally intelligent observer in the theater than to witness a fantasy that has gone haywire… But ’gone hay-wire’ is surely the only way of describing the progress, in a prologue and two acts, of Mrs. Fitzgerald’s play… Occasionally an observer with a sound memory will be reminded of a warped and mangled Oscar Wilde endlessly spouting epigrams that just won’t click.” The night Scandalabra closed another reviewer who had gone back to give it the benefit of his considerable doubts said that “there is no question of its being a fantasy,” adding that it was “mere persiflage.” Even Scott’s revisions couldn’t salvage it.
In the middle of July Zelda received word from Mrs. Sayre that Zelda’s brother, Anthony, had become ill in the South. He was suffering from what is called by that ominous euphemism “nervous prostration.” Anthony was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, for a rest on the coast, but he did not improve, and it was recommended that he see a nerve specialist in Asheville. There the doctors said he needed absolute quiet and no visitors. On August 6 Anthony was taken by the Sayres’ family doctor in Montgomery to another nerve specialist in Mobile; he asked to be taken to Johns Hopkins, where Zelda was, but his family wouldn’t hear of it. They could not afford it and turned to Mrs. Sayre for help. In Mobile the doctors tried to eliminate what they called “toxic poisoning,” due to a recurring case of malaria. Mrs. Sayre warned the Fitzgeralds that this was what happened when her children kept something from her. The doctor said she was stronger than any of her children; Mrs. Sayre said she should have taken Anthony in hand from the first.
Shortly after Anthony’s hospitalization in Mobile he committed suicide by leaping from the window of his room. He had been depressed about the loss of his job and his inability to meet his expenses. Mrs. Sayre had helped him frequently in the past, and he had begun to have terrible dreams that he would kill her. He told his doctor that he knew he should destroy himself instead. All but the most superficial details of his suicide were concealed from the Fitzgeralds.
… I play the radio and moon about … and dream of Utopias where its always July the 24th 1935, in the middle of summer forever.
—ZELDA, in an undated letter to Scott
THE TENSIONS WITHIN THE Fitzgerald household mounted until they became nearly palpable. Scott tinkered cautiously with his final revisions for Tender Is the Night (which at this late date was still called Doctor Diver’s Holiday) and began preparing it for serialization in Scribner’s Magazine which would begin in January, 1934. Zelda spent most of her time in her studio painting. The Fitzgeralds seemed never to just sit down and relax, together or apart. When Malcolm Cowley came down to visit them he noticed Zelda’s paintings and later wrote that they were “better than I had expected; they had freshness, imagination, rhythm, and a rather grotesque vigor, but they were flawed, exactly as her writing had been, by the lack of proportion and craftsmanship. Zelda herself dismayed me… Her face was emaciated and twitched as she talked. Her mouth, with deep lines above it, fell into unhappy shapes. Her skin in the lamplight looked brown and weather-beaten…” Later in the evening Scott stood in front of Cowley and told him: “’That girl had everything… She was the belle of Montgomery, the daughter of the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court… Everybody in Alabama and Georgia knew about her, everybody that counted. She had beauty, talent, family, she could do anything she wanted to, and she’s thrown it all away.’”
’That sounds like something from one of your own stories,’ “Cowley said.”
’Sometimes I don’t know whether Zelda isn’t a character that I created myself. And you know, she’s cuckoo, she’s crazy as a loon. I’m madly in love with her.’
“Madly in love with her or not, Scott was fuming about the direction Zelda’s relationship to Dr. Rennie seemed to be taking. Both of the Fitzgeralds were drawn to the doctor by his warmth and youth, but Zelda had been, according to Scott, duping him. Scott wrote Rennie saying she was selling the naive young psychiatrist (as Scott liked to think of him)
the small accumulation of personal charm that she ought to be selling in the house… Can’t you imagine that every single judgment upon my drinking that could be made has been made, every struggle tried, won or lost, in detail and the fight continues and will continue? … Maybe I’m ruined and could never again pose as a cinema hero or a social success, but these have not recently figured among my ambitions. My line is to do a certain amount of straight thinking and observation, embody them in as perfect a technique as I can master.
Rennie, it seemed to Scott, was making judgments about his drinking as well as about Zelda.
conditioned on the charm of a very shrewd and canny woman, whose motives, both healthy and pathological, can stand a good examination… You have indicated, merely from your interest, that you realize the importance of the factors with which you are dealing. Which, then, is more important? Responding to the mood of a psychopath or aiding someone to bring off what promises to be a work of art? (I hate like hell to make such a guess!) I couldn’t think that there should be much choice on your part… I am fighting my way through an old American tendency toward puritanism, not during the frequent insomnia involved wondering whether I will get through to the end, I worry sometimes whether you, Tom Rennie, or all your generation will laugh yourselves out of existence before you have begun to think. I think you think— but, I’m not absolutely convinced, because you, I am speaking of you personally, can be distracted by stray bits of color… This lecture is worth a thousand dollars, but I don’t regret it because you have sent in no bills. Why don’t you? … I think we should split up…
In closing Scott added that he had “no more to be ashamed of than the average human being.”
Neither of the Fitzgeralds could bear living at La Paix any longer, for the house had taken on for them the shapes and shadows of their troubles. In June Zelda had tried to burn some old clothes in an unused fireplace upstairs, inadvertently starting a fire, ruining several of the rooms on the upper floor, and leaving a permanent haze of sepulchral gloom over the rest of the house. The newspapers covered the fire and said it was due to defective wiring. Scott asked the Turn-bulls to postpone having repairs made, for he was deep in his manuscript and did not want to be interrupted. But by November living at La Paix made them both jittery and they moved to a smaller place in town at 1307 Park Avenue, which was also less expensive. At the end of the month, at the suggestion of Dr. Meyer, who insisted that a respite was necessary, the Fitzgeralds took a brief trip to Bermuda. Unfortunately, constant rain spoiled their holiday and after a week they returned unrested, with Scott suffering from pleurisy.
Scott had toyed for some time with the idea of exhibiting a selection of Zelda’s paintings in New York. He would hire a gallery and test her work in a professional milieu. A friend of theirs, Cary Ross, talked Scott out of renting space for the show, for he felt that Zelda’s work was good enough to interest a gallery without Scott’s having to pay for the showing. Eventually Ross exhibited the paintings at his own gallery on East Eighty-sixth Street. At first Zelda was thrilled by the prospect of such an exhibition, but as the details of the arrangement were being worked out by Scott and the art dealer, she became irritated and refused to discuss anything with either of them. She said something about her paintings being too personal to her and went to bed. No one was quite certain what precipitated her relapse, but after this scene with Scott and Ross she was sent back to Phipps. She re-entered on February 12, 1934, exactly two years after her first entry. Zelda told her doctor, “I don’t think I could paint myself anyway if it weren’t for— it’s my way of communicating with someone.” The doctors realized that her relapse was a serious one, and Zelda was put under constant observation as a precaution against suicide, required to stay absolutely at rest in bed, and given sedatives each day. On her re-entry she was fifteen pounds underweight. This time she did not make the slightest effort to cooperate with the doctors or the other patients. The only exception to her generally hostile behavior was that in a dancing and exercise class she was later able to attend she would walk over to those patients in the group who were most ill and try to help them.
The serial version of Tender Is the Night was running in Scribner’s Magazine throughout January, February, March, and April, 1934. On Zelda’s re-entry to Phipps she had probably read at least the first half of the novel, and it affected her profoundly. In a sense this was her most thorough confrontation with the Doctor Diver material Scott had been working on since 1932, for although she had seen and heard portions of the various drafts this was perhaps the first time she had seen it in its entirety.
Although the Divers were at the simplest level a composite of the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds, and the lyric opening of the novel drew on the spell the Murphys cast, Scott moved from that blending of sources until he was drawing deeply upon Zelda’s and his life together. He mercilessly exposed Zelda in his characterization of Nicole Diver. He drew upon Zelda’s most terrible and private letters to him, written in the anguish of the early months of her illness in Switzerland, snipped and pieced them together in Book II with very little regard for Zelda’s reaction or for the precarious balance of her sanity. Tender Is the Night would not, of course, be recalled from Scribner’s as Save Me the Waltz had been because of Scott’s fictional exploitation of Zelda’s mental illness in the novel. There was no one to act in Zelda’s behalf, as Scott had once acted in his own. The letters written from Nicole to “Mon Capitaine” and “Captain Diver” were not simply echoes from Zelda’s letters to Scott; there were whole phrases used exactly as he had received them. Among many examples are the following.
In Tender Is the Night Scott wrote:
Last year or whenever it was in Chicago when I got so I couldn’t speak to servants or walk in the street I kept waiting for someone to tell me. It was the duty of someone who understood. The blind must be led. Only no one would tell me everything—they would just tell me half * and I was already too muddled to put two and two together. One man was nice—he was a French officer and he understood. He gave me a flower and said it was “plus petite et moins entendue.” We were friends. Then he took it away. 1 grew sicker and there was no one to explain to me.
In one of Zelda’s letters from Prangins she had written Scott:
I could not walk in the streets unless I had been to my lesson. I could not manage the apartment because I could not speak to the servants … and still I did not understand what I was doing… You have given me a flower and said it was “plus petit et moins entendue.” We were friends. Then you took it away and I grew sicker and there was nobody to teach me.
And there was this on the following page of the novel:
I write to you because there is no one else to whom I can turn and it seems to me if this farcicle situation is apparent to one as sick as me it should be apparent to you.
Compare with Zelda’s letter, which read:
I would always be more than glad to see you, and will always be devoted to you—but the farcicle element of this situation is too apparent for even a person as hopeless and debilitated as I am.
The next sentence in the novel was lifted from another of Zelda’s letters.
The mental trouble is all over and besides that I am completely broken and humiliated, if that was what they wanted.
Zelda had written Scott:
At any rate one thing has been achieved: I am thoroughly and completely humiliated and broken if that was what you wanted.
I would gladly welcome any alienist you might suggest.
And Zelda had written him:
I will more than gladly welcome any alienist you may suggest.
Fitzgerald even quoted directly in Tender Is the Night from Bleuler’s diagnosis of Zelda’s case.
Three days after Zelda went back to Phipps she admitted that she was”a little upset about it [Tender]… But a person has a right to interpret—But it really doesn’t matter. What made me mad was that 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.
“It was a chronological distortion and I suppose one has a right to do that in an artistic creation. But on the whole I don’t think it’s true—I don’t think it’s really what happened.”
Suddenly she began to cry uncontrollably. “I can’t get on with my husband and I can’t live away from him—materially impossible —so I think the only thing to do is to get my mind on something… I’m so tired of compromises. Shaving off one part of oneself after another until there is nothing left…”
Now Zelda did not show any signs of improvement. She began smiling to herself, she avoided answering questions put to her, and she laughed suddenly for no reason at all. In a coherent moment the sadness of her position in relation to Scottie came out. “She [Scottie] is about as far away from me as anyone can be. She doesn’t like any of the things I like although I’ve tried to interest her in them. She’s just like her father, she’s a cerebral type. She’s crazy about history, French and English—and I don’t know any so she rather looks down on me. Scott said he wanted to take her education in his hands so I’ve never interfered. I’ve kept out of it carefully because I realized that eventually Scott and I would have to separate and she is his child, she’s so like him and he adores her. It would just be the undoing of him to take her away from him.”
Each day her condition grew worse; she was preoccupied, moody, and irritable. She began to insist that she be allowed to leave Phipps. (Zelda was never confined, in a legal sense, to any hospital. She went of her own volition and was not therefore “committed”; if she asked to leave persistently enough, she had to be released.) She said she couldn’t work in the clinic; she was restless and antagonistic toward the doctors. She began to write a study of Aristotle, which rambled on peculiarly about abstract emotions; she was grasping at straws, anything that would compensate for the breakdown in her relationship with Scott.
Meanwhile, Scott worked on the final revision of galley proof for Tender Is the Night. (Because the book was going to be published in April it had to be set from the magazine galleys. In February Scott was still reworking the last serial installment; at some points because of the time pressure he was probably, as Matthew Bruccoli suggests in his textual study of the novel, working on magazine and book galleys at the same time.) It was cold, painstaking labor and he wrote Perkins:
After all, Max, I am a plodder. One time I had a talk with Ernest Hemingway, and I told him, against all the logic that was then current, that I was the tortoise and he was the hare, and that’s the truth of the matter, that everything that I have ever attained has been through long and persistent struggle while it is Ernest who has a touch of genius which enables him to bring off extraordinary things with facility. I have no facility. I have a facility for being cheap, if I wanted to indulge that … but when I decided to be a serious man, I tried to struggle over every point until I have made myself into a slow-moving behemoth (if that is the correct spelling), and so there I am for the rest of my life.
That Scott managed to pull the galleys into shape at all under the circumstances is astonishing. At the close of the same letter he told Perkins that Tender Is the Night was “a woman’s book” and that he had
lived so long within the circle of this book and with these characters that often it seems to me that the real world does not exist but that only these characters exist, and, however pretentious that remark sounds (and my God, that I should have to be pretentious about my work), it is an absolute fact—so much so that their glees and woes are just exactly as important to me as what happens in life. Zelda is better.
But she was not. There were days when Zelda refused to get out of bed in the morning, and once she ran to her nurse and said she had to call Scott. She needed two hundred dollars immediately in order to leave for Europe; she decided that she absolutely had to leave Phipps.
At just about this point Zelda must have been reading the March issue of Scribner’s Magazine, for she wrote Scott:
Dear, Monsieur, D.O.;
The third installment is fine. I like immensely that retrospective part through Nicole’s eyes—which I didn’t like at first because of your distrust of polyphonic prose. It’s a swell book… I wish I could write stories. I wish 1 could write something sort of like the book of revelations: you know, about how everything would have come out if we’d only been able to supply the 3-letter word for the Egyptian god of dithry-ambics. Something all full of threats preferably and then a very gentle confession at the end admitting that I have enfeebled myself too much by my own vehemence to ever become very frightened again…
You don’t love me— But I am counting on Pavloff’s dogs to make that kind of thing all right—and, in the mean-time, under the added emotional stress of the breek-up of our state, perhaps the old conventions will assume an added poignancy— … Besides, anything personal was never the objective of our generation—we were to have thought of ourselves heroicly; we agreed in the Plaza Grill the pact was confirmed by the shaking of Connie Bennets head and the sonority of Ludlow’s premature gastritis—
A few days later, on March 8, 1934, after three and one-half weeks at Phipps, Zelda left. She was no better. In desperation Scott remembered Forel’s recommendation of Craig House in Beacon, New York. From a descriptive letter sent to Scott in 1932, when he first investigated Craig House, it sounded like a very handsome establishment for the wealthier of the mentally ill. Located on 350 acres on the Hudson River, about two hours above New York City, it had cottages and private nurses for each patient. The treatment aimed (and all the brochures of mental hospitals seemed to stress this, probably to relieve the minds of the relatives of the patients) to provide as much freedom and personal liberty as was possible; there were no locks and keys. There were indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a golf course with its own clubhouse and golf pro, tennis courts, a masseuse and a hostess who organized bridge, backgammon, and pingpong tournaments. The minimum rate without laundry or the use of the swimming pool was $175 a week. Scott took Zelda there quickly.
After he had left her she wrote to him.
It was so sad to see your train pull out through the gold sheen of the winter afternoon. It is sad that you should have so many things to worry you and make you unhappy when your book is so good and ought to bring you so much satisfaction. I hope the house won’t seem desolate and purposeless… This is a beautiful place; there is everything on earth available and I have a little room to paint in with a window higher than my head the way I like windows to be. When they are that way, you can look out on the sky and feel like Faust in his den, or an alchemist or anybody you like who must have looked out of windows like that. And my own room is the nicest room I’ve ever had, any place —which is very unjust, considering the burden you are already struggling under.
Dear—I will see you soon. Why not bring Scottie up for Easter? … And I promise you absolutely that by then I will he much better—and as well as I can.
PLEASE remember that you owe it to the fine things inside you to get the most out of them.
Work, and don’t drink, and the accomplished effort will perhaps open unexpected sources of happiness, or contentment, or whatever it is you are looking for—certainly a sense of security— If I were you’d, I’d dramatize your book [Scott was considering giving it to a young man he knew in Baltimore to do] yourself… a character play hinging on the two elements within the man [Dick Diver]: his worldly proclivities and his desire to be a distinguished person. I wish I could do it.
She said she played tennis almost every day and took long walks, but that she was homesick for La Paix
—and even for those lonesome bicycle rides when 1 would come in to find “the Baron” behind his rhodedendrons and his diamond-leaded windows. [Scott’s study at La Paix had a leaded-glass bow window.] You were so sad all year and I wanted so desperately for you to be happy. 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; to see you choose which shirt to please the day and hear you fuss about the fancy handkerchiefs.
The initial opinion at Beacon about Zelda’s condition was that she was suffering from fatigue. She was described as mildly confused and mentally retarded—with a degree of emotional instability.
Thirteen of Zelda’s paintings and fifteen drawings were exhibited from March 29 through April 30 at Cary Ross’s studio. (There was a much smaller supplementary exhibit in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel.) At the top of the red, white, and blue brochure for the show was a swan with a banner bearing the legend “Parfois la Folie est la Sagesse.” Zelda came down from Beacon for her exhibition accompanied by a nurse; she visited her show, saw an exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, and then attended a luncheon with Scott, Maxwell Perkins, and a few others from Scribner’s before returning to Craig House. On the train journeying back to Beacon she became hysterical and was given medication to quiet her.
Gerald Murphy, who went to her exhibit, and who had painted himself, felt that Zelda’s work was formed from a visual distortion. He talked about an oil painting he and Mrs. Murphy bought for $200 called “Chinese Theater.” “Those monstrous, hideous men, all red with swollen intertwining legs. They were obscene—I don’t mean sexually … and everyone who saw them recognized that quality of repellent human life; they were figures out of a nightmare, monstrous and morbid.”
Later when Zelda learned of the Murphys’ purchase, she wrote Scott:
Cary wrote that Ernest was back in N.Y.; that he had been to see my pictures. Why don’t you ask him down? … He also said the Murphys bought the acrobats. I am going to paint a picture for the Murphy’s and they can choose as those acrobats seem, somehow, singularly inappropriate to them and I would like them to have one they liked. Maybe they aren’t like I think they are but 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… And don’t pay any attention to that initialled moth-hole in the Times. [Earlier in this letter she had referred to a review of Tender by J.A.D., which she thought obtuse.]
Apparently the Tribune man still believes that movie stars got there via the gutters of Les Miserables— But we can’t buy him a ticket to Hollywood, and, on the whole, it was an intelligent and favorable review—and the liked the book even if he didn’t know what it was about psychologicly. He will like it better when he reads it again.
I hope Ernest liked it…
Several of Zelda’s drawings were sold, but not one to persons whom the Fitzgeralds did not know personally. Dorothy Parker bought one of the portraits of Scott called “The Cornet Player.” She remembered that the drawings “were pitifully inexpensive. There was the portrait of Scott wearing this piercing crown of thorns. They dug in; it did look like him; she had talent. I also bought something called ’Arabesque’ which showed a dancer working out at the bar—it was a little vague, but with 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.”
John Biggs came up for the showing and remembered seeing the portrait of Fitzgerald. “Yes, it was good. The eyelashes were feathers; it was astounding really—looked like him, and then those mad, lovely, long feathery eyelashes.” Zelda had also caught perfectly the color of Scott’s eyes, and Biggs said they were “very cold blue eyes—almost green—they were as cold as the Irish Sea someone said. I can’t remember if it was Gerald Murphy or Bunny Wilson—but … it was quite true.”
The New York Post ran an article on April 3 (ironically the Fitzgeralds’ fourteenth anniversary) entitled “Jazz Age Priestess Brings Forth Paintings.” They said Zelda had “confounded” them with her paintings and noted that they were not exactly “jazzy,” as indeed they were not.
When Time magazine covered her show they invoked Zelda’s link to an era that had disappeared: “There was a time,” the article began, “when Mrs. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was a more fabulous character than her novel-writing husband. That was when she was Zelda Sayre…”
To Zelda’s disappointment very little space was given in the press to the paintings themselves. Most, like The New Yorker, gave the exhibit a puff with a cutting edge: “Paintings by the almost mythical Zelda Fitzgerald; with whatever emotional overtones or associations may remain from the so-called Jazz Age.” Time magazine did at least mention the paintings.
Last week … Zelda Fitzgerald showed her pictures, made her latest bid for fame. The work of a brilliant introvert, they were vividly painted, intensely rhythmic. A pinkish reminiscence of her ballet days showed figures with enlarged legs and feet—a trick she may have learned from Picasso. An impression of a Dartmouth football game made the stadium look like portals of a theatre, the players like dancers. Chinese Theatre was a gnarled mass of acrobats with an indicated audience for background. There were two impressionistic portraits of her husband, a verdant Spring in the Country geometrically laced with telephone wires.
From the sanatorium last week which she temporarily left against doctors’ orders to see a show of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art, Zelda Fitzgerald was hoping her pictures would gratify her great ambition—to earn her own living.
The article read like an obituary.
Scott stayed on at the Algonquin after Zelda returned to Beacon because he wanted to be in New York for the publication of Tender Is the Night on April 12.
Another writer spotted him ordering a drink at Tony’s on Fifty-second Street at ten o’clock one night. “The collar of his topcoat was turned up rakishly on one side and his hat, which he kept on, was pulled down jauntily over one eye. It was an almost studied effect, but it was oddly contradicted by Fitzgerald’s curious air of self-disapproval.” The writer observing Scott was James Thurber, and although they had never met before, the two men were to spend the next several hours together. Thurber remembered: “He was … witty, forlorn, pathetic, romantic, worried, hopeful, and despondent, but the Scott Fitzgerald I met was quiet and pleasant, too, and not difficult. When two big guys, not unlike the Killers in Hemingway’s story, walked past our table and, as luck would have it, one of them said something disparaging about Ernest, my companion rose dramatically to his feet and said to them, ’I am Scott Fitzgerald.’ Before he could ask them to apologize, they muttered something and walked away.” That was as close to trouble as they came that night. Mostly they just talked. Thurber told Scott how much he admired The Great Gatsby, but Scott didn’t want to hear about it. What he wanted to talk about was the book he called “my Testament of Faith”—Tender Is the Night.
As Scott talked he kept drawing from his pockets brochures for Zelda’s show. He had dozens of them about his person and by midnight so did Thurber. At three o’clock in the morning he asked Thurber if he knew any good girl he could call on. Somewhat apprehensively Thurber went off to the telephone to see whom he could round up at that hour. Finally, an actress he knew said they could come by, but to give her half an hour. Punctually the two tight flowers of American prose entered her apartment. Thurber went into another room, because, as he said, it was Scott who wanted to talk to a good girl and not he. But he noticed that as Scott and the girl sat next to each other talking until daybreak, Scott would occasionally, absent-mindedly, pass some of Zelda’s catalogs to the girl until she too was inundated with them.
Throughout the period of Zelda’s stay at Craig House she corresponded regularly with Dr. Rennie. Her letters were written in ink on large sheets of gray drawing paper. Also on the face of the letters were drawings in pencil. The effect of these letter drawings was eerie, with the written text dripping and winding through curling, swelling shapes that were anatomical and weirdly potent. None of ? the eight letters were dated. In one Zelda seemed to be writing to Rennie while she was listening to music. She said she was drawing him the flowers on her table. There were violets drawn to Strauss’s Salome and roses drawn to Schubert. The interior parts of the flowers were carefully shaded, the stamens and pistils taking on shapes more phallic than floral, while the petals curled and ruptured like the breaking of eggs. The stems of the flowers were spiny, skeletal almost, and frondlike, as if the buds of the flowers were held to vertebral columns. The buds themselves were often shaped like fetuses. ? Macabrely, the flowers seemed to move as if in repulsion from their own interior parts.
After Zelda’s trip to New York she wrote Dr. Rennie:
My pictures looked very nice the way Cary had them hung… I will send you the white flowers when the exhibit closes; they are the best and very like some way I’ve wanted to be, sometime—only, of course, being like that would necessitate being a stainless victim of some mighty and revolutionary circumstance. (Excuse my pompous comment.)
I went to see Georgia O’Keefe’s pictures. They are so lonely and magnificent and heart-breaking, and they inspire a desire to communicate which is perhaps the highest function of anything creative.
Gradually her letters to Dr. Rennie became more disconnected and incoherent; her handwriting was uneven and cramped and the content of the letters became grand and increasingly abstract: “I wish I could write a beautiful book to break those hearts that are soon to cease to exist: a book of faith and small neat worlds and of people who live by the philosophies of popular songs…”
When she wrote to Scott she nearly always asked him about Tender Is the Night: could he send her copies of the reviews; why had he neglected to send her the book itself; how were the sales going? But mostly she simply praised the novel. “I have now got to the Rosemary-Rome episode. It makes me very sad—largely because of the beautiful, beautiful writing. Recapitulation of casual youth in the tenderer terms one learns to cling to later is always moving. You know I love your prose style: it is so fine and balanced and you know how to achieve the emphasis you want so poignantly and economicly. It’s a fine book…” Later in the same letter she tells him what she is doing: hammering away, as she puts it, at golf balls. “You know my psychological attitude toward golf: it was just the sort of thing they would have brought into England during the reign of Chas. II. The French probably played it in high-heels with stomachs full of wine and cheated a little.”
In another letter she described her bridge game:
You know how I play: I sit and wait for Divine Guidance to show me the difference between a finesse and a (insert any technical term you know here). Then when I’ve made the mistake I pretend I was thinking of something else and utter as convincing lamentations as I can at my absent-mindedness.
It’s so pretty here… I suppose you wouldn’t like to rest, but I wish you could for a while in the cool apple-green of my room… Of cource, you can walk to where young men in bear-cat roadsters are speeding to whatever Geneva Mitchells dominate the day—but mostly we walk the other way… Please send the book.
Scott did send her a batch of the first reviews of Tender Is the Night and she immediately wrote, telling him: “You have the satisfaction of having written a tragic and poetic personal drama against the background of an excellent presentation of the times we matured in. You know that I have always felt that the chief function of the artist was to inspire feeling and certainly ’Tender’ did that.” Another time she wrote, “Those people are helpless before themselves and the prose is beautiful…” She said she was reading Book I again.
Scott cautioned her about projecting too much of themselves into the book, and she replied:
You seem afraid that it will make me recapitulate the past: remember, that at that time, I was immersed in something else—and I guess most of life is a re-hashing of the tragedies and happinesses of which it consisted in days before we started to promulgate reasons for their being so. Of cource, it is a haunting book… Scott: this place is most probably hideously expensive. / do not want you to struggle through another burden like the one in Switzerland for my sake. You write too well. Also, you know that I live much within myself and would feel less strongly now than under normal circumstances about whatever you wanted to do. You have not got the right, for Scottie’s sake, and for the sake of letters to make a drudge of yourself for me.
Scott continued to insist that she not have “too much traffic with my book, which is a melancholy work and seems to have haunted most of the reviewers. I feel very strongly about your re-reading it. It represents certain phases of life that are over now.” He told her they were both on the upgrade now, and even if they did not know where it would take them, he did not want her to feel gloomy about their future:
… the only sadness is the living without you, without hearing the notes of your voice with its particular intimacies of inflection.
You and I have been happy; we haven’t been happy just once, we’ve been happy a thousand times. The chances that the spring, that’s for everyone, like in the popular songs, may belong to us too—the chances are pretty bright at this time because as usual, I can carry most of contemporary literary opinion, liquidated, in the hollow of my hand—and when I do, I see the swan floating on it and—I find it to be you and you only. But, Swan, float lightly because you are a swan, because by the exquisite curve of your neck the gods gave you some special favor, and even though you fractured it running against some man-made bridge, it healed and you sailed onward. Forget the past—what you can of it, and turn about and swim back home to me, to your haven for ever and ever—even though it may seem a dark cave at times and lit with torches of fury; it is the best refuge for you—turn gently in the waters through which you move and sail back.
This sounds allegorical but is very real, I want you here. The sadness of the past is with me always. The things that we have done together and the awful splits that have broken us into war survivals in the past stay like a sort of atmosphere around any house that I inhabit. The good things and the first years together, and the good months that we had two years ago in Montgomery will stay with me forever. I love you my darling, darling.
At the beginning of this letter Scott had apologized to Zelda for dictating it; he said she would understand if she could see the clutter of unanswered mail on his desk. But, as authentic as the emotion of the letter was for Scott, there is something distasteful about his having dictated it.
Zelda wanted to begin another novel. What, she asked, would Scott’s attitude be toward her plans? She wanted to know before she began, for after all, she told him, Tender Is the Night was now published and she was free to make another stab at longer fiction. Actually, her doctors were against any such attempt, and so was Scott. Zelda seemed completely unaware of why they objected. Patiently she tried to explain to Scott: “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 … though, of cource, the will-to-power may have played a part in the very beginning. However, five years have passed since then, and one matures.” Short fiction, she said, was “a form demanding too concentrated an effort for me at present and I might try a play, if you are willing and don’t approve of the novel… Please say what you want done, as I really do not know. As you know, my work is mostly a pleasure for me, but if it is better for me to take up something quite foreign to my temperament, I will— Though I can’t see what good it does to knit bags when you want to paint pansies, maybe it is necessary at times to do what you don’t like.” Petulantly as a crossed child Zelda saw nothing disturbing in this latest flash of ambition and energy, and she pressed on. She wrote “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number ———” and perhaps began “Auction—Model 1934.” It is doubtful that she had time to begin the new novel, for on May 19, 1934, only nine weeks after she had entered Craig House, she was transferred to the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital just outside Baltimore in (as Scott noted in his Ledger) a “catatonic state”—although there remains a real question as to whether or not she was catatonic. She was to remain there for the better part of the next two years. Just before this terrible relapse she had written Scott that Beacon was extremely expensive and
I do not feel as you do about state institutions. Dr. Meyer and, I suppose, 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 Hemingway, Save Yourself. That is what I want you to do… I am so glad your book is on the list of best sellers. Maybe now you will have some measure of that ease and security you have so long deserved. Anyway, I hope it sells and sells.
For the first two weeks of Zelda’s hospitalization Scott was asked not to visit her. She was apathetic and remote, and wrote him dispiritedly:
Darling—I feel very disoriented and lonely. I love you, dearheart. Please try to love me some in spite of these stultifying years of sickness— and I will compensate you some way for your love and faithfullness.
I’m sorry Scottie has had poison ivy. The other day 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… I want so to see you. Maybe sometimes 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-gether. And I will be getting better.
Fitzgerald accepted the doctors’ decision, but reminded them that he had seen Zelda only twice during the previous two months, and that sometimes his effect on her was to raise her spirits. He also told them that he had been “dogmatic” in the past about insisting that she not write serious fiction, and that he had perhaps been wrong. “For it there is to be said that she grew better in the three months at Hopkins where it was allowed…” It was his thinking along these lines, as well as his awareness of Zelda’s listlessness, that prompted him to suggest to her that she bring together a collection of her short stories and articles for possible publication. And it must have been in yet another effort to stir her from apathy that he wrote to her the end of May that perhaps they could go to Europe together in late summer, “even if only for six weeks…”
During the last week of May Zelda seemed to be slipping into complete confusion. Her face was without expression. While talking to a doctor she would suddenly stop and ask him if he heard anything; he would assure her that he did not. But it was quite clear that Zelda was listening to hallucinated voices. Once she admitted that she was and said that she had heard them at Prangins too. Then they were her family’s cries for help. Now it was Scott’s voice she heard; it came to her out of walls, up from drain pipes, it seemed both near and far away. She said that she realized the voices were within herself, and hearing them alarmed her but was also a pleasant sensation. She said she was terrified of Scott; she said that he interpreted life for her. Sometimes his voice called her name over and over again, or repeated what she was saying, or said: “Please, please, don’t be in an insane asylum.” “O, I have killed her!” “I have lost the woman I put into my book.”
In a dream she saw herself asleep in the top room of a large, bright insane asylum, which was situated out in a broad field. It seemed to be a pleasant sort of place. But Scott was on the roof of the hospital and he was hunting for her, calling for her. In the dream she woke up and thought she recognized some nurses from the Phipps Clinic. The guards had left and all the patients of the asylum were together in a confused mob indulging in a sort of orgy. She watched but did not take part; she was amused and frightened. Zelda admitted to not being certain whether this was a dream or a hallucination. She said that she sometimes saw things—objects, her own face, distorted and discolored—or double images of things. Abruptly she said she was not thinking of killing herself, but that death was the only way out.
Deeply moved by Zelda’s feelings of helplessness, Scott was trying to find a refuge for her in work. His own morale had flagged, for Tender Is the Night was not doing as well as he had hoped; it was on the best-seller lists for several weeks, but its sales fell short of fourteen thousand copies. It was not only that he was disappointed by the failure of his novel to find a larger public, but that failure severely damaged his already wobbly self-esteem. Scott could understand Zelda’s collapse of spirit—it was kindred to his own—but he fought against her resignation with plans that would stimulate her. About the collection of her short pieces, he wrote her, “I want to do this if only for the salutary effect on you of keeping your hand in during this period of inaction.”
Fitzgerald outlined the form her book could take. He would write a five-hundred-word introduction to be followed by her stories. The book would be divided into three parts, the first to be called “Eight Women”; this would include the sketches and stories Zelda had written between 1927 and 1932, primarily her College Humor pieces. Part II was to include three unpublished fables, and Part III, called “Recapitulation,” would be composed of Zelda’s autobiographical articles for Esquire that Scott had helped her with earlier in the spring. (Those were “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number-,” published in May, 1934, and “Auction—Model 1934,” scheduled for July publication.) In Scott’s opinion this sort of collection would nicely “compete with such personal collections of miscellany as Dorothy Parker’s etc. The very fact that the material is deeply personal rather than detached and professional make it expedient that it be presented in some way as this.” He did not think Scribner’s should take it on, as a collection of his own stories, Taps at Reveille, was in the works for the same season, but he thought Perkins might suggest another publisher who would be interested.
Zelda responded with something of the zest Scott had counted on reviving in her; she was excited by the prospect of such a collection, and made plans to design the jacket. In good spirits she wrote him immediately:
1) The Myers have gone to Amibes with the Murphys—
2) Malcolm Cowley arrested for rioting in N.Y.
3) I drink milk, one glass of which I consider equal to six banannas under water or two sword-swallowings— … We have a great many activities of the kind one remembers pleasantly afterwards but which seem rather vague at the time like pea-shelling and singing.
She was afraid the title “Eight Women” was “too big a steal from Dreiser—I like, ironicly, ’My Friends’ or ’Girl Friends’ better.”
The “Recapitulation” articles are worth looking at more closely, for they were both in a vein that Scott himself would mine deeply within the next eighteen months in his Crack-Up articles. He edited the first one, “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number ———”, but there are few markings on “Auction—Model 1934,” and those are in Zelda’s hand.
Together the pieces reviewed the Fitzgeralds’ life from their marriage to 1934. “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number ——” moves through the years 1920 to 1933 by reciting the hotel rooms the Fitzgeralds occupied in the various places where they lived and visited. In it there is a general air of nothing going right: there are fleas at the Grand Hotel in Rome; and in London, at Claridge’s, there are strawberries in a golden dish, but the room is an inside room, and the weather is gloomy, as is their waiter. In a squib about the authors (the pieces were published under both Fitzgeralds’ names) in “Backstage with Esquire” the reader is invited to think of the Fitzgeralds in their familiar slick magazine role: classy models of American marrieds, with smart-alecky copy to back the role up: “Anything you don’t know about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, after reading this month’s intimate addition to their joint journal, is certainly none of your business.” All that was missing was the sepia photograph from the twenties. But the tone was completely out of place. Zelda’s entry for 1929 in “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number—-” was more to the point. “The night of the stock-market crash we stayed at the Beau Rivage in St. Raphael in the room Ring Lardner had occupied another year. We got out as soon as we could because we had been there so many times before—it is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.”
Still, the tone of the past she evokes seems to contradict the content of the article; on the surface it is a rather flip and impersonal enumerating of the years. No one who is mentioned in the course of the article comes to life, the places the Fitzgeralds visited do not take on the glow of remembering, and the reader is not left with a sense that the author wishes to return to any of the scenes described. The motions of the Fitzgeralds’ lives have been nicely recorded, dates are in their rightful places and so are the Fitzgeralds, but we are not permitted to enter into their lives. It is a cardboard telling. We sense great spaces of their lives left unmentioned, an urge toward revealing unfulfilled. It is only if we pay attention to the small words, the adjectives, that we sense the reality Zelda skirted. Cafes have a “desperate swashbuckling air,” the moon falls over sand in a “dead white glow,” fidelities are “savage,” the pink of Arabian nougat and cakes is “poisonous.” There is an interior meaning to the piece which lies in the slant of its style.
Scott’s editing of the article was to Zelda’s advantage, for he tightened and sharpened it. In a passage that is frequently quoted one can see how effectively he pared her prose into more striking shape. Her typescript read:
We walked at night towards a cafe blooming with Japanese lanterns and I followed your white shoes gleaming like radium in the damp darkness. Rising off the water, lights flickered an unimperative invitation far enough away to be interpreted as we liked; to shimmer glamourously behind the silhouette of retrospective good times when we still believed in summer hotels and the philosophies of popular songs. Another night, we learned to Wiener waltz, and once we regimented our dreams to the imperative commands of a nostalgic orchestra floating down the formal paths of the garden of a better hotel.
In Scott’s revision:
We walked at night towards a cafe blooming with Japanese lanterns, white shoes gleaming like radium in the damp darkness. It was like the good gone times when we still believed in summer hotels and the philosophies of popular songs. Another night we danced a Wiener waltz and just simply swep’ around.
But also he cut from it Zelda’s use of I, which weakened the article by further depersonalizing it.
In the second essay, “Auction—Model 1934,” Zelda again reviews their shared past. This time her tone is more ironic. The Fitzgeralds are moving and the move gives her a chance to sort out their possessions. From them she will select only those objects worth keeping; the rest will be sold at auction. Among the souvenirs of their pasts were “Twelve scrap books, telling us what wonderful or horrible or mediocre people we were.” The objects that she finds as she makes ready to pack them are used to refresh her memory and provide her with an opportunity to comment upon the circumstances in which they were acquired. Presumably it is through these objects that the reader is intended to be led into a rapport with the Fitzgeralds. But the tone of the piece is chill and mocking. In the second packing case are fifty photographs and drawings of the Fitzgeralds. “In some of the pictures we are golfing and swimming and posing with other people’s animals, or tilting borrowed surf-boards against the spray of younger summers. There are also many impressive photographs of old and very dear friends whose names we have forgotten.” Living always in houses that are rented and usually furnished, they have accumulated few permanent possessions; their china is broken, there are tops to jars, but no longer the jars themselves. Their treasures are chipped, worn, or moth-eaten, all flawed and unusable. In the end we realize that the article is not straight; it is a tease with the objects as bait. The narrator has no intention of selling anything. If their possessions are useless, they are nevertheless as good an example of their lives, as valuable, Zelda writes, “as the Polish and Peruvian bonds of our thriftier friends.” They will keep them all, “the tangible remnant of the four hundred thousand we made from hard words and spent with easy ones these fifteen years.”
Scott had early in his career consciously created an aura of legend about himself and Zelda. Articles like “Echoes of the Jazz Age,” published in November, 1931, and “My Lost City,” which was sent to Harold Ober in July, 1932, were efforts he made to come to terms with the heady glamour of his past. Emotions of loss, of time and feeling unrecapturable, infused his writing, as they did not Zelda’s. Her lucid self-revelation was matchless in her private letters to Scott, but it was Scott who could, so to speak, use himself publicly. For the Christmas issue of Esquire he would write an essay about his own insomnia, called “Sleeping and Waking,” and it was yet another exercise in self-analysis and revelation touched by confession. Toward its end the essay comes close to the tone he will use effectively in The Crack-Up. He tries to put himself to sleep with his own dreams of glory, but he has used his dreams and they are as depleted as he is. When at last they work they
are of young and lovely people doing young, lovely things, the girls I knew once, with big brown eyes, real yellow hair.
In the fall of ’16 in the cool of the afternoon
I met Caroline under a white moon
There was an orchestra—Bingo-Bango
Playing for us to dance the tango
And the people all clapped as we arose
For her sweet face and my new clothes—
Life was like that, after all…
Neither of Zelda’s articles has this sting of emotion, of nostalgia held close, as if the act of remembering were a restorative. It may have been that Zelda’s dreams were never as potent as Scott’s, but it is more likely that her gift of communicating feeling was simply less than his.
By the end of the summer it was clear to all concerned that Zelda’s condition had taken another downward turn. As early as July the doctors were finding it futile to get her to discuss her illness, and her behavior fluctuated wildly between violence and seclusiveness. She would have nothing to do with the other patients. There was no longer, even on Scott’s part, any pretense about her ability to pull together a collection of her writings. In August he spent an hour and a half with her. “She seemed in every way exactly like the girl I used to know. But, perhaps for that reason, it seemed to both of us very sad and she cried in my arms and we felt that the summer slipping by was typical of the way life is slipping by for both of us.” He wanted to believe that Zelda could be back with him on any basis for at least part of the time, and he was willing to have her living with him taking rest cures or visiting clinics when it was necessary to do so, rather “than have her remain for long years of our lives in hospitals on the faint chance that when she came out she would suddenly become completely social.”
Scott visited Sheppard-Pratt frequently, and Dr. William Elgin, Zelda’s doctor, says it is Scott whom he remembers more clearly; he felt that it was really Scott whom he treated. While Fitzgerald said he came to discuss the cost of Zelda’s treatment, he talked about himself. Eventually, he talked about everything. Zelda, on the other hand, was completely uncooperative and inaccessible. She left the impression of being colorless, a “blob,” with everything about her slowed down. Her face was expressionless. “Once she condescended to tell me something about a painting. Usually her paintings were blobs—lines and squares. This one was simple—a streak of brown at the bottom, a blue streak in the middle and a little brown object up in the corner. I asked her what it was about. She said, ’Oh, that’s a table in Spain.’ I must have looked puzzled, for she then said, ’Seen from the coast of the United States.’” Dr. Elgin laughs. When asked if Zelda was perhaps putting him on or inviting his own response, he says that in those days he wouldn’t have thought of that.
As usual Zelda spent Christmas with Scott and Scottie, but it was a sad reunion in the small row house in Baltimore, for they shared the knowledge that she must return to the hospital. Nineteen-thirty-five began with no reprieves for Zelda, no brighter future for the Fitzgeralds. Always now there was the pungent aroma of gin about Scott. The entries in his Ledger grew more despairing: “… work and worry … Zelda seems less well… Debts terrible … Zelda very bad on return. Terrible worry … Zelda in hell.”
Zelda’s letters to Scott were talismans of their past, lucid and touching. If her mind was broken, the spell it cast was not. Her life was now truly that of an invalid, and her mood was locked in elegy, confined to remembering. Her letters became her refuge, shared with Scott alone. “Wouldn’t you like to smell the pine woods of Alabama again? Remember there were 3 pines on one side and 4 on the other the night you gave me my birthday party and you were a young lieutenant and I was a fragrant phantom, wasn’t I? And it was a radiant night, a night of soft conspiracy and the trees agreed that it was all going to be for the best. Remember the faded gray romance.”
She read magazines and books to fill her time, and even people in advertisements looked enviable to her, for they were “so young and soignees in the pictures.” Her letters were filled with wishing.
It seems rather Proustian to be rambling these deep shades again so close to La Paix. It makes me sad… And I think of your book and it haunts me. So beautiful a book.
I wish we could spend July by the sea, browning ourselves and feeling water-weighted hair flow behind us from a dive. I wish our gravest troubles were the summer gnats. I wish we were hungry for hot-dogs and dopes and it would be nice to smell the starch of summer linens and the faint odor of talc in blistering bath-houses… We could lie in long citroneuse beams of the five o’clock sun on the plage at Juan-les-Pins and hear the sound of the drum and piano being scooped out to sea by the waves.
Once when Scott came to visit her and she was desperate about the hopelessness of her condition, she ran from him toward railroad tracks that separated the grounds of Sheppard-Pratt from La Paix. Scott raced after her and caught her by the wrist moments before she would have thrown herself beneath the rushing train. It was not the only instance of attempted suicide.
Summer, another summer has gone—faded and wilted—and why can’t we spend the fall to-gether? After all, we might as well be taking care of each other.
She signed this
For I am yours forever—whether you still want me or not—
and I love you
Finally she admitted to one of her doctors that she thought her condition was hopeless; she intended to take her life. He tried to tell her that as an agent of society he could not allow her to do so. Furious, Zelda asked how he justified taking such an attitude when he knew the pain of her existence. Throughout June, July, and August she persisted in whatever ways were open to her to try to harm herself. She refused to talk about herself to anyone on the staff—her letters to Scott were her only release.
It is summer time and past time—and I am very young when I didn’t care… I wish I had been what I thought I was; and so debonnaire; and so debonnaire.
I think of boat houses in Atlanta with scaffolding and big dead moons and a drink behind the boats. I thought I was happy, or, at least, there was some pleasurable sense of things being in the world to conquer… You have been so good to me. My Do-Do. I wish I had not caused so much disaster. But I know you will be happy someday.
Over and over, endlessly repeating those tokens from a time irretrievable, Zelda tried to apologize for the destruction of their life together. She clung to the remnants of that life with what little hope she had to spare. Sometimes it ran out.
My dearest Sweetheart:
There is no way to ask you to forgive me for the misery and pain which I have caused you. I can only ask you to believe that I have done the best I could and that since we first met I have loved you with whatever I had to love you with. You are always my darling. I want you to be happy again with Scottie—someplace where it is bright and happy and you can have some of the things you have worked so hard for— always all your life faithfully. You are my dream; the only pleasant thing in my life.
Do-Do my darling! Please get well and love Scottie and find something to fill up your life—My love,
My love My love
In February and again in May, 1935, Scott had taken trips to North Carolina for his health and for his peace of mind. He wanted to be alone and he wanted to sleep. He spent part of the spring in Tryon and Hendersonville, and on May 11 back in Baltimore he wrote Perkins, “Zelda is in very bad condition and my own mood always somehow reflects it.” He drank heavily in spurts and then laid off for a few weeks; he had always said that he drank to help him write, to stimulate himself, but he no longer even pretended that those were his reasons. That May an x-ray showed a spot of tuberculosis on one of his lungs and he returned to North Carolina to rest. What he suffered from was as much a collapse of his belief in himself as it was tuberculosis.
Zelda was not coherent during most of this period of Scott’s absence, but once when she surfaced for a few days she wrote him: “What is my business is that, under the circumstances, 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. You must realize that to one as ill as I am, one place is not very different from another and that I would appreciate your making whatever adjustments would rend your life less difficult.”
Scott must have understood that his life would be less difficult if he could detach himself somewhat from Zelda. He was no longer faithful to her, but his few affairs thus far had been desultory and even rather dull. Clearly the women did not interest him much or for long, and one suspects that he enjoyed the excitement of the game, the chase, more than the possession of the women themselves. As he once admitted to a friend, “With a woman, I have to be emotionally in it up to the eyebrows, or it’s nothing. With me it isn’t an affair—it must be the real thing… Silly, isn’t it? Look at all the fun we miss!” During the summer of 1935 he met Mrs. Laura Guthrie Hearne in Asheville. Mrs. Hearne was making her living telling fortunes at the elegant Grove Park Inn where Scott was staying. She remembers being dressed in a red gypsy costume with spangles across her forehead when they met: “He was incognito and didn’t mix with the other guests. He called himself, if I can remember correctly, Mr. Johnston, and had just taken the cure at Tryon. I didn’t know who he was and simply remember taking the hand of a shaky young man. Oh, there was such weakness in that hand of his. It was blotched and trembling.” She did such a convincing job of telling Fitzgerald’s fortune that he revealed who he was. Writers and artists fascinated her and she told him that she was keeping a diary that she would like to show to him for his opinion. They became friends and when he could not find a secretary he hired Mrs. Hearne.
She remembers his bouts with insomnia vividly. “Scott never wanted to sleep. He would think up any pretext to keep me with him.” He had begun to drink a lot again, first beer and later hard liquor. “Thirty cans of beer a day; Scott smoked all the time, Sanos, I think. He said he drank to heighten his sensibilities… He never wanted to be alone.
“He talked a lot about Zelda. She was his invalid. And he always asked himself if he had caused her breakdown. He was haunted—he could not sleep and he could not eat. All he would take was mashed potatoes or a little rice with gravy. He’d fall asleep suddenly, right at dinner or while he was talking to you. It was the strangest, most pitiful thing to see.
“He spoke of his tragedy; he made a fetish of their love and called it the mating of the age. She was the golden beauty of the South and he the brilliant success of the North.”
Mrs. Hearne was certain that he used his attachment to Zelda “to protect himself from permanent arrangements with other women.” She says: “Scott Fitzgerald was beautiful; sober he was charming, but he was not faithful to Zelda. There would be this glint in his eye and he would tell me long lists of women he’d taken, but of course I never knew what to believe. He used to say to me, ’Zelda can’t understand that I’m a great writer.’”
Staying at the inn at the same time was a pretty young Southern married woman who recognized Fitzgerald and pursued him. Soon they were involved. His emotional stamina was exhausted, and the last thing he wanted was to become embroiled in an ardent and lengthy affair. He made this quite clear to the girl. Mrs. Hearne, privy to their affair, made copious notes on the romance. “At first he didn’t love her and then when the affair was no longer possible, her husband returned, he decided he did. They had unbelievable scenes together. She adored him and he tried to get rid of her.” Finally, somewhat callously, he apparently used a letter from Zelda to break off the affair. He enclosed it in a letter he had written to the young woman. “The tough part of the letter is to send you this enclosure—which you should read now [a loving, dependent letter from Zelda]… 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… You once said, ’Zelda is your love!’ (only you said ’lu-uv’). And I gave her all the youth and freshness that was in me. And it’s a sort of investment that is as tangible as my talent, my child, my money. That you had the same sort of appeal to me, deep down in the gut, doesn’t change the other.”
Back in Baltimore in September he wrote Mrs. Hearne that he had seen plenty of people hurt when they were thrown over, “but I never saw a girl who had so much take it all so hard. She knew from the beginning there would be nothing more, so it could scarcely be classed even as a disappointment—merely one of those semi-tragic facts that must be faced.” To another friend he would admit quite candidly, “… it’s done now and tied up in cellophane and—and maybe someday I’ll get a chapter out of it.”
By the end of October he was able to see Zelda once or twice a week. He wrote Mrs. Hearne that she was better. “What she has been through troubles me—compared to her troubles mine seem like so much froth, except in so far as I have shared her suffering.” Slowly Zelda had given up trying to kill herself and as winter came and passed she retreated deeply into herself. She spoke to no one; she no longer wrote to Scott. In the spring of 1936 she began to say that she wanted to leave the hospital. She believed that she was under the control of God and was working with Him to teach mankind certain things He had ordained to her. The end of the world was coming and she wanted to leave to preach this doctrine. The doctors had, she told them, destroyed her soul.
A member of her family came to visit her. Zelda was found dressed entirely in white, weighing less than a hundred pounds; she looked like a desperate angel. She had dropped to her knees by the side of her bed in prayer. When she noticed her visitor, she stood and faced her expressionlessly. Very quietly, in a singsong voice, she asked her visitor for two things. Would this person look after Scottie, and could she have a candy bar?
Clearly Zelda was not getting better. And therefore Scott, who had decided to make Asheville his home base and who wanted her near him, asked that she be released. Zelda left Sheppard-Pratt on April 7, 1936. Scott took her to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, the following day. He wrote in his Ledger, “Me caring about no one and nothing.” He had written the Murphys about his decision the week before.
… Zelda now claims to be in direct contact with Christ, William the Conqueror, Mary Stuart, Apollo and all the stock paraphernalia of insane asylum jokes. Of course it isn’t a bit funny but after the awful strangulation episode of last spring I sometimes take refuge in an unsmiling irony about the present exterior phases of her illness. For what she has really suffered, there is never a sober night that 1 do not pay a stark tribute of an hour to in the darkness. In an odd way, perhaps incredible to you, she was always my child (it was not reciprocal as it often is in marriages), my child in a sense that Scottie isn’t, because I’ve brought Scottie up hard as nails (perhaps that’s fatuous, but I think 1 have)… I was her great reality, often the only liason agent who could make the world tangible to her—
SCOTT PUT ZELDA IN THE CARE OF Dr. Robert S. Carroll, stayed in Asheville less than two weeks and returned to Baltimore, apparently at the suggestion of Dr. Carroll, who later explained to him, “You are her [Zelda’s] ideal; you are her emotional disorganizer. I recognize that while here your desire was to give her every possible assistance. We did not, however, organize her treatment until after you left.”
Highland Hospital, which was taken over by Duke University in 1945, is located just outside Asheville and is ringed by the splendid mountain ranges of the Blue Ridge, Smokies, and Balsams. Dr. Carroll, the founder of the hospital, had chosen Asheville because of its temperate climate. Part of his routine in the curing of the mentally ill was exercise, and a five-mile daily hike was at the center of his program. Carroll believed that mental illness, or “nervous disease” as it was called then, could be cured, or at any rate kept within the patient’s control, by the help of strict diet as well as rigorous physical exercise. He took only sixty-five patients at a time and when he could he recruited staff members from the ranks of those who were cured. His staff was therefore unique: they were compassionate and highly aware of the needs of the unbalanced; they were also extraordinarily devoted to Dr. Carroll. There was no question that Carroll was something of an original in American psychiatry, and was rather unorthodox. He had written a number of popular books on the treatment of “nervousness” and a novel in 1922 called The Grille Gate (which appears to be a thinly disguised autobiography concerning the maturing of a devoted young doctor). In 1941 he would publish a book on alcoholics, with a preface by Dr. Adolf Meyer. In it Dr. Meyer said that Carroll had “proved his hospital one of the most effective systematic agencies in the treatment of victims of alcohol, along lines that are also his methods and principles in the treatment of the rank and file of mental disorders as he sees them in the axiom: mens sana in corpore sano—a healthy person in and through a healthy body.”
An example of Carroll’s system was his belief in the benefits of an exercise he had devised which involved climbing a hill. The patient was to climb a particular distance, up and down the hill, so many times each day. Each individual had a certain level of achievement, determined for him by the doctor. This was not hiking, nor was it supposed to be a particularly enjoyable exercise; it was to teach the disturbed to overcome obstacles by learning perseverance. A nurse who was at the hospital at that time said that the exercise “was to accustom the patient to the reality of endeavor, endless and routine. The monotonous plodding along of everyday life might be a sound analogy.”
Carroll permitted no tobacco, drugs, alcohol, or rare meats, and he insisted on a minimum of sweets, plenty of milk, eggs, starch, natural juices, and vegetables. He forbade his female patients the use of mirrors, for he felt that primping in front of them, as well as the use of rouge and lipstick, were false modes of concentration on the self. Patients were expected to be up, breakfasted and out of doors by eight o’clock. There were calisthenics, medicine ball, and volleyball in the mornings and at 10:30 they took nourishment such as milk and whole-wheat bread with peanut butter. The hours from eleven to one were devoted to gardening. After lunch there was a rest period, followed by various treatments specially chosen according to the individual patient’s needs and progress. On Sunday afternoons there were vespers led by Dr. Carroll, who as the son and brother of ministers was zealous in his preaching. There were also guest lecturers and specially planned activities such as square dances and travel slides.
In July, 1936, Scott gave up his house in Baltimore and moved to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. Scottie was sent to camp and Scott wrote her there that he had seen Zelda twice: “Your mother looks five years younger and prettier and has stopped that silly praying in public and all that. Maybe she will still come all the way back.” He and Zelda made plans to meet for lunch at Grove Park Inn for her thirty-sixth birthday, but Scott was forced to cancel the date when he fractured his shoulder diving (he had been showing off his prowess to a young woman at the inn). As a result of his injury, for the rest of the summer he was in an enormous plaster cast that ran from his navel out to the tip of his right hand.
Zelda and Scott did not see much of each other that summer.—Scott told Perkins, “I have been within a mile and half of my wife all summer and have seen her about half dozen times.” When they did meet it was usually at the inn. Grove Park Inn was a fashionable resort hotel surrounded by garden walks and clay tennis courts with the view of the mountains always in the distance. It looked like a stone fortress, for the central part of the inn was built of massive gray boulders and thick wooden beams, and the fireplace was as tall as two men and deep enough for a small automobile to park inside. There were spacious verandas where dance bands played in the evening while the guests dined at their leisure.
When the Fitzgeralds met it was usually for lunch. They would sit in the dining room far away from the other guests. Scott did not introduce Zelda to anyone and frequently they would sit through an entire meal in silence. After lunch they walked down the terraced gardens into meadows rimmed with pines and sat on white wicker settees overlooking the mountains, Scott smoking constantly, Zelda lost in silence. A woman who worked at the inn remembered the Fitzgeralds: “They never never spoke to anybody. They would come for luncheon and, my, the way she looked. Long old clothes, long skirts and a face like a little girl’s. She always liked cucumbers in sour cream. Sometimes she’d eat just that… She was offish and refined; he was so elegant.”
The staff of Grove Park liked Scott; he tipped handsomely and was generally gracious to them. (But when he was drinking he had a habit of calling all Southerners “farmers” and that didn’t sit well.) A telephone operator remembers his long conversations with the Flynns in Tryon. He had met them when he first came to North Carolina in the spring of 1935. Nora Flynn was a vivacious, merry woman, who went to considerable lengths to rekindle the vitality Scott had once had. When he was dejected he would call her. “He would cry over the phone, then call back and say he was all right, it was just that things were in such a damn mess, and start crying all over again. The other party would say, ’Scott, now you stay right there and we’ll come over and pick you up,’ and he’d say, ’No, that’s all right, I’m fine now,’ and begin bawling all over again.” Even Nora Flynn could no longer brighten his life.
When his shoulder mended Scott bought an old Packard for $80 and roamed the back roads of the mountains. He was a bad driver and insisted on driving more slowly than the speed limit required. He was not interested in the landscape and he said he didn’t understand why people raved about it. A snapshot of him from this time shows him in an old but spruce checked sports jacket with plain trousers, collegiate saddle shoes with red rubber soles and a knit tie. He was a little thicker around the waist. The secretary he hired that summer remembered that when indoors he always wore a worn gray flannel robe. When he was feeling tops he would suddenly crouch into a boxer’s pose, circling, feinting, and jabbing for a few seconds, telling her he had been pretty good once. He might dictate to her for a while only to break off and ask if she was cold; he always seemed to be, she said. Solicitous of her comfort, even if she protested, he would drape blankets about her shoulders. He was drinking very heavily during this period, and he assured his secretary that his problem with alcohol grew out of Zelda’s illness and his own inability to write, and that he had always before been able to keep his drinking in hand.
In October Zelda showed the first signs of improvement and slowly she entered into the routine of hospital life. She still had grand plans about her spiritual mission to mankind, but she was not permitted to talk about them. Dr. Carroll wrote Dr. Rennie in Baltimore that Zelda was now able to go everywhere on the grounds of Highland.
At a New Year’s costume ball Zelda danced a fragment from a ballet she had made up and seemed to the doctor “the happiest thing in North Carolina.” She was an angel, Carroll said, “wings a bit singed, otherwise a joy.” At the beginning of 1937 he was able to say that Zelda was at her “veribist” and “quite charming.”
A woman who worked closely with Dr. Carroll and Zelda at that time says: “We were careful with Zelda; we never stirred her up. She could be helped, but we never gave her deep psychotherapy. One doesn’t do that with patients if they are too schizophrenic. We tried to get Zelda to see reality; tried to get her to distinguish between her fantasies, illusion and reality. That is not easy for a schizophrenic. The psychotherapy was very superficial. We let her talk out things which bothered her. Discussed her reading and what things meant to her. Explained the ’why’ of her orders and routine. She often rebelled against the authority, the discipline… She didn’t like discipline, but she would fall into it.”
Badly in debt now and ill, Scott was in worse straits than he had ever been before. Zelda’s expenses were staggering, and that fall he sent Scottie to Ethel Walker, a boarding school in Connecticut, which was costly. Once in a while he thought of changing his style of life. He wrote Perkins about “Such stray ideas as sending my daughter to a public school, putting my wife in a public insane asylum … but it would break something in me that would shatter the very delicate pencil-end of a point of view. I have got myself completely on the spot and what the next step is I don’t know… My God, debt is an awful thing!” He had been considering writing an autobiographical book, but his The Crack-Up articles for Esquire seemed to have done him more harm professionally than good, and he felt that further work in that vein would damage his literary reputation, although he never truly understood how clearly he had revealed himself in those essays concerning his alcoholism. He wrote Perkins that he had a novel in mind, but neither the time, money, nor energy to write it. Finding a job in Hollywood was of course one solution and a contract with a major studio would set him up again, but the studios were wary of him. Ober wangled one offer, but Scott had to turn it down because it was made during the time his shoulder was injured. It was not until June of 1937 that Ober’s dickering brought Fitzgerald a solid offer of $1,000 a week from M-G-M. It was for six months, renewable if they liked his work. It was an economic reprieve and he took it.
Scott was in New York when he was hired, and it was probably during this trip that Carl Van Vechten took the famous photographs that adorn the jacket of The Far Side of Paradise, appear in Scott Fitzgerald, and form the frontispiece of his collected Letters. Van Vechten remembered the scene clearly. “I hadn’t planned to meet Scott; I was to have lunch with Edmund Wilson, I think. We were to meet at the Algonquin. As I came into the room my eyes had to readjust to the darkness and I noticed a man with Wilson. I didn’t recognize him and went forward to be introduced. It was a terrible moment; Scott was completely changed. He looked pale and haggard. I was awfully embarrassed. You see, I had known Scott for years. Well, he was shaken and we all tried to laugh it off. Wilson attempted to smooth things over, but we just sat there stunned. Afterwards I asked Scott outside for a few quick shots. I used to go * everywhere with my camera. He posed for two or three and that was the last time I saw him.” Scott stood in his checked sports jacket in a white button-down-collared shirt with a collegiate striped knit tie blown apart, his fingertips touching nervously. His smile was wan and uncertain in the harsh sunshine. The fatigue, the disappointment, the sensitivity all showed.
Zelda, meanwhile, grew stronger. The athletic director of Highland, Landon Ray, remembers her standing in a brown tailored suit she liked, walking with her head thrown back, her hair no longer in a short bob, but almost to her shoulders and worn with bangs. “She was rather reserved, but could warm up to you if she was interested. She was a good conversationalist about things which she enjoyed.” Zelda was, of course, still precariously subject to shifts of mood. If she was talking with Ray and the conversation turned to something that threatened her, he remembers, her eyes suddenly narrowed and became cold and cruel. It was then one knew there was something out of kilter beneath the pleasant exterior and felt the wrongness strike out. She could change for the slightest of reasons; if someone else came up and broke into their talk she would walk off and sulk. “She felt the other person had intruded and that threatened her. Then she would change. She would darken.”
When Zelda learned that Scott would be leaving for Hollywood she wrote to him: “Have fun—I envy you and everybody all over the world going and going—on no matter what nefarious errands.”
The first week Scott was in Hollywood he met Sheilah Graham, an attractive young Englishwoman who was writing a syndicated movie column. It was no more than a fleeting glance, but it took. Miss Graham has written movingly of their love for each other in her book Beloved Infidel: how, when she met Fitzgerald a second time, handsome but tired looking, as if he needed “light and air and warmth,” he had observed her for some time and then leaned forward toward her and said simply, “I like you”; how attentively he had taken her in as she spoke and as they danced together, how cherished he had made her feel. She remembers: “… it seemed to me that dancing with him was like being with the American college boys I had seen in films—you know, either cheek to cheek, or held far out.”
Piece by piece she learned from others on the West Coast who had known Fitzgerald in the past about his extraordinary career and marriage, as well as something about Zelda’s tragic insanity. But Fitzgerald, at this time, spoke very little about himself and said nothing about Zelda to her. Some who had known Zelda found a remarkable physical resemblance between the two women, but Sheilah Graham was more disciplined than Zelda had ever been, and more down to earth. In part it was her resemblance to Zelda, of which Scott was well aware (he stressed it in the manuscript of The Last Tycoon), as well as Miss Graham’s vitality, her enthusiasm for life, her real spunk that attracted him. When Scottie visited her father in Hollywood that summer of 1937, Sheilah Graham saw another side of Fitzgerald: the fretful father, middle-aged and anxious, scolding his daughter unfairly at the slightest provocation. Although it astonished her, she fell even more deeply in love with him than before.
Although Scott was working very hard, he managed to visit Zelda in September and again during the Christmas holidays. She looked forward to these breaks from hospital life with a desperate nostalgia. “I wish we were astride the tops of New York taxis and a little hilarious in pares and public places, and younger than young people.” Scott’s reaction to their first trip together was one of disappointment. “Zelda is no better … she 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.”
A letter to Scottie written after his return from his meeting with Zelda at Christmastime was not much more enthusiastic. “Your mother was better than ever I expected and our trip would have been fun except that I was tired. We went to Miami and Palm Beach, flew to Montgomery, all of which sounds very gay and glamorous but wasn’t particularly.”
By this time Scott’s involvement with Sheilah Graham must have affected his attitude toward Zelda, but it is remarkable how little it did when one realizes how deeply he cared for Miss Graham and what a renewed claim on life she was giving him, with very few counter demands of her own for a permanent attachment. There were suggestions in letters between Scott and Dr. Carroll that Fitzgerald hoped he might one day be freed from Zelda. But his commitments were to Scottie, to Zelda, to himself, and then to Sheilah, in that order. For, much as Scott loved Sheilah Graham, there was precious little of him left to love with; his energies were low, his faith in himself just beginning to heal. There was always a puritanical streak in Fitzgerald, and there is no doubt that something of it came into play in his relationship to her. One learns from Miss Graham’s book how nastily he treated her when he was drinking. He struck her; he reminded her of her origins (about which she was deeply sensitive, as Scott was well aware); he gave her a silver-fox jacket only to take it back after a quarrel and send it to his daughter; he flung the word “paramour” at her as an epithet—although it was somewhat quaint for the late thirties.
For her part Zelda was maintaining what the doctors called the most comfortable level physically and nervously that she had achieved during the last few years. After she returned from her trip with Scott she joined in a masquerade ball at Highland Hospital to celebrate the beginning of 1938. The theme of the ball was Mother Goose and Zelda those to be “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” According to a member of the staff she had little difficulty in fulfilling the role.
In March, Scott suggested to Dr. Carroll that he and Zelda take a trip to Virginia Beach; he planned to take Scottie along and make it a family reunion of sorts. But he had no more illusions about his relationship with Zelda.
I have, of course, my eternal hope that a miracle will happen to Zelda, that in this new incarnation events may tend to stabilize her even more than you hope. With my shadow removed, perhaps she will find something in life to care for… Certainly the outworn pretense that we can ever come together again is better for being shed. There is simply too much of the past between us. When that mist falls—at a dinner table, or between two pillows—no knight errant can traverse its immense distance. The mainsprings are gone.
At the end of this letter he tipped his hand ever so slightly and one realizes how much the lifeline Sheilah Graham was giving him meant:
And if the aforesaid miracle should take place, I might again try to find a life of my own, as opposed to this casual existence of many rooms and many doors that are not mine. So long as she is helpless, I’d never leave her or ever let her have a sense that she was deserted… I know scarcely a beautiful woman of Zelda’s generation who has come up to 1938 unscathed.
For myself, I work hard and take care of myself… If it ever comes to a point when a divorce should be in the picture, I think I would rather have you [than himself or members of Zelda’s family] watch over Zelda’s interests.
Zelda was allowed to join her family at Virginia Beach, but the trip from husband’s and daughter’s points of view was not a success. Zelda was irritable with both the golf and tennis pros from whom she took lessons, and was patronizing with Scottie, to whom she constantly gave advice coated with a very thin and entirely forced sweetness. When Scottie chafed in reaction, Zelda grew red-faced with anger and reported her to Scott. Scott took about as much of this as he could stand and then got drunk. Zelda thereupon told everyone in the hotel that he was a dangerous man and had to be watched. The episode had its comic side, but not to those directly involved. Scott reported to Carroll that in their corridor of the hotel only himself and Scottie believed that he was not a lunatic: “All this isn’t pretty on my part, but if I had been left alone, [it] would have amounted to a two day bat…” In a huff he told Car-roll that Zelda “imagines herself as a sort of Red Scourge in golden heels, flitting East and West, back and forth across the ocean, munificently bicycling with Scottie through Provence… My part is to stay here and pay for this grandiose expedition with no control over it.” He insisted that his usefulness in Zelda’s case was over. When he had lived like a vegetable in Tryon they had gotten along well enough, but now their relationship had dissolved, “for I am unable to feel any of the pity which usually ameliorated whatever she did.”
Returning to Hollywood from this Easter trip he called Sheilah Graham from the airport and told her that they were going to be married. He was still drunk. When she saw Scott and heard the story of his dreadful trip, she begged him to stop drinking. She had no idea what she asked of him. Later in her life Miss Graham said that she did everything she could, always, to avoid having him become upset or strained, because it resulted in his drinking. She could not tell at first when he was drinking and would try to sniff his breath (which, she says, infuriated him), or count bottles.
Shortly after his return Fitzgerald put himself in the care of a doctor, and after three days of sweating it out and being fed intravenously got himself back into shape. He would never again, he swore to his daughter, stand “any repetition of this Easter trip.”
From his previously quoted letter to Dr. Carroll, written that April, to the end of May eight letters were exchanged by the two men in an attempt to come to an agreement over the terms of Zelda’s treatment. Carroll’s reaction to Scott’s initial letter about the Virginia Beach fiasco was to assure him that Zelda’s point of view had to be disregarded. Someone other than she had to manage her future, if she was to have one. He suggested that every three months she could have a two-week vacation or excursion in the company of a companion or the Carrolls. That would assure her of a break in her routine which she would look forward to. But he made no mention of Zelda’s being able to be permanently out of the hospital. He suggested giving her $50 a month allowance in addition to the approximately $6,000 yearly expenses of the hospitalization itself.
Scott wrote a note at the top of his copy of Carroll’s letter saying that it was the first he had received which showed they completely disagreed. Scott answered the doctor that his recommendations lacked only two things, “provision for hope and for sex.” He said that he now knew there was, in a sense, no hope for Zelda, but everyone needed at least “the illusion of hope to survive.” He remembered another time at Sheppard-Pratt when Zelda was in better shape than she had been for an entire year. Her morale suddenly plunged and she became deeply melancholy. She tried to strangle herself. The action came, Scott told Carroll, utterly without warning, when her “existence seemed to have settled into an appalling monotony.” He never again wanted her to feel that she was sinking into total invalidism. “Hope meant a lot in the best part of our lives, the first eight years we lived together … but I think in our case it was even exaggerated, because as a restless and ambitious man, I was never disposed to accept the present but always striving to change it, better it, or even sometimes destroy it.” He was certain that Zelda would come to realize how limited she was and not be able to bear it.
He told Carroll that although he could not sleep with Zelda any more—“I cannot live in the ghost town which Zelda has become”—he nevertheless thought that Zelda needed someone. Someone who would be attracted to her and to whom she would feel attraction—“and that by some miracle, such a relation might lead to something, some man whose personality might be a rock on which she might steady herself more permanently.” He could not betray her, that “old bond of justice that existed between us,” by just giving up hope: “… this may seem strange from one who has no desire ever again to personally undertake her supervision. That period has gone, and each time that I see her something happens to me that makes me the worst person for her rather than the best, but a part of me will always pity her with a sort of deep ache that is never absent from my mind for more than a few hours: an ache for the beautiful child that I loved and with whom I was happy as I shall never be again.”
Scott insisted that Dr. Carroll at least allow her the illusion of larger horizons, and suggested that Carroll give her more freedom, two weeks out of every two months, or one month in three. That would give her the benefit of the hospital as the core of her existence, and yet permit her a life outside. Fitzgerald wanted to be freed from Zelda’s complete dependence on him, but he also felt required to give her every chance. “Supposing Zelda at best would be a lifelong eccentric, supposing that in two or three years there is certain to be a sinking, I am still haunted by the fact that if it were me, and Zelda were passing judgment, I would want her to give me a chance. .. .”
In an ordinary black looseleaf notebook Zelda began carefully to ? enter her ideas, written sketches, and drawings, as well as outlines for paintings and dances. During part of the period that she kept this notebook she was going through another spell of thinking of herself as a vehicle for God’s pronouncements. Her handwriting was almost cautious in its clarity. She seemed to write down thoughts as they came to her, and the innocent surfaces of her prose were bulwarked by strange metaphors as they had been in Save Me the Waltz: “I love the casual gallantry of a gray March day ominous of spring.”
When she was working out an idea for a painting—and her paintings at this time seemed always to be pale abstractions of ideas —she wrote about it. She equated color with emotional qualities. For instance, aspiration might be pale orchid, “anchored,” she wrote, “with passion (vermilion).” She made up a ballet about Scott and one about herself, and she adorned the pages of her choreography with ballet terms and drawings of lighting effects and movements, punctuated by triangles and arcs of soft watercolor. She described “men in oyster-white tulle dresses” and “women in hyacinth with pointed capes like the sails of Greek boats.”
There were few personal notes, and when there were they were usually linked to a concept of beauty, God, gallantry, hope, or prayer: “My lillies died; they just plain died and so I can only maybe paint the memory of white desirability of so much beauty. So perfect. I used to gather them in Alabama under the pines and from the ooze of a dried lake bed and they were always so spiritually splendid.” She pressed leaves between the lined pages and let them dry. She tried for a while to keep a calendar of the months and she saw them distinguished from each other in terms of flowers and heat: “September a browner month…” “White violets like souls in flight.”
Of course this was a private notebook and Zelda did not bother to (or could not) make herself clear. These were the notes of a lonely woman who found loneliness around her in everything she saw. “I take a sun bath and listen to the hours, formulating, and disintigrating under the pines, and smell the resin-y hardi-hood of the high noon hours. The world is lost in a blue haze of distances, and the immediate sleeps in a thin and finite sun.”
Scott had gone through a period in 1935-1936 when he made lists of everything he could think of in an effort to give his life a semblance of order—lists of popular songs, of girls he had known, of the kings of England and of France. In Zelda’s notebook it seemed as if she were trying to catalog all that she felt or had felt, was afraid of, thought and dreamed. Sometimes the notebook was filled with extravagant gestures of religious belief, undercut for the reader by the incoherence of it all: “We are grateful to God for the infinite beauty of the patterns of God’s concept in which we are being evolved and which is the realm of human consciousness and which is the soul in accordance with our capacity to acknowledge.” And then among the mental meanderings a phrase would strike clear: “Nothing is more indicatible of civilizations than the solaces that people seek.”
As Scott and Dr. Carroll were trying to reach an agreement on the necessary extent and degree of Zelda’s hospitalization, Mrs. Sayre entered into the dispute. Zelda had visited her mother briefly that spring. She had followed the hospital routine to the letter, walking her five miles a day in the tropical heat, eating no meat, and shunning alcohol—although her mother would not have had any in the house. It was on the basis of Zelda’s performance during that visit, as well as Mrs. Sayre’s own deep concern for her daughter’s complete recovery, that Mrs. Sayre renewed her efforts to have Zelda released. She sincerely believed that she could make a home for Zelda and that they could live in peace together. She realized that the climate was not good for Zelda and was willing to move elsewhere if it was for her daughter’s benefit. She was not trying to combat the doctors’ orders; she was trying to provide protection for Zelda, by having her in contact with her own family. At least they should try the arrangement. Mrs. Sayre planned to spend two months of the coming summer near Asheville in Saluda (where the Sayres had spent their summers when Zelda was a child) and see Zelda as often as the hospital permitted. If Zelda could return to Montgomery in the fall that would be perfect. She felt, as did other members of the family, that Zelda was well enough to be released to her care. Neither Dr. Carroll nor Scott, who were both in a better position to judge, agreed with her. But it was an unhappy situation. Her family wrote to Zelda, urging her to push for her release, assuring her that she was well enough to come home, and thereby forced the doctor’s hand. Scott tried to inform Zelda’s family, by sending them the correspondence between himself and Carroll, of Zelda’s position as well as his own. But communication between them was too charged with accusation and mutual distrust to be fruitful. They wanted Zelda to be returned to them with an allowance from Scott. He was to let the Sayres manage as best they could. They were convinced that Scott had destroyed Zelda.
Finally Dr. Carroll wrote Mrs. Sayre. He told her that Zelda was fine physically, but mentally her condition was precarious. Certainly she did not need confusion of counsel. Zelda was being placed in the unfortunate position of receiving advice from all sides, and in reaction swung from one idea to another, each time in hope of a larger freedom for herself. Dr. Carroll put it plainly to Mrs. Sayre: Zelda was not prepared to live with any of the members of her family, and if they cared to do the best for her, they would treat her as they would someone with tuberculosis. She was permanently damaged mentally. Any letters to her about such plans as her eventual release should be directed to Dr. Carroll, not to Zelda, if her family cared to preserve her peace of mind; this pressuring for Zelda’s release was terribly unfair to her, for it gave her a false and premature notion that she would be able to leave.
Scottie was graduating from boarding school in Connecticut in June and Zelda wanted to go to her commencement. Dr. Carroll said it would be feasible and Scott arranged for her to go with Rosalind, who was then living in New York. She would be accompanied as far as New York by a nurse. He wrote Scottie: “Do try to make your mother happy for two days—excuse her enthusiasm. In her youth, she didn’t know such schools existed.” It was a casual remark, but it underlined the complicity that had come to exist between father and daughter; theirs was “a sense of partnership,” Scott wrote Scottie, “that sprang out of [Zelda’s] illness.” But it was just that aspect of their relationship that must have hurt Zelda most, for it undermined what little closeness she had with Scottie. Nevertheless, her trip North was a success. She looked smart for Scottie’s commencement at Ethel Walker, and was very proud of Scottie, who was voted the most popular girl in her class. It seemed to Zelda that Scottie and she might become closer, or at least there was the promise of a relationship they could enjoy and cultivate. Zelda wrote Scott: “Scot-tie is the prettiest girl… She wore white gardenias and white flannel and white hopes and the freedom and grace of the best and we are very proud and devoted… Meanwhile—life is so nice, when one can have some… Scottie is a very good thing to have. I’m so glad we’ve got her.”
After the graduation exercises and Zelda’s return to Asheville, Scottie, who was studying for college boards at Ethel Walker, went off campus without permission and was asked to leave the school. Fitzgerald wrote her in cold fury:
When I was your age I lived with a great dream. The dream grew and I learned how to speak of it and make people listen. Then the dream divided one day when I decided to marry your mother after all, even though I knew she was spoiled and meant no good to me. 1 was sorry immediately I had married her but, being patient in those days, made the best of it and got to love her in another way. You came along and for a long time we made quite a lot of happiness out of our lives. But I was a man divided—she wanted me to work too much for her and not enough for my dream. She realized too late that work was dignity, and the only dignity, and tried to atone for it by working herself, but it was too late and she broke and is broken forever… The mistake I made was in marrying her. We belonged to different worlds— she might have been happy with a kind simple man in a southern garden. She didn’t have the strength for the big stage—sometimes she pretended, and pretended beautifully, but she didn’t have it. She was soft when she should have been hard, and hard when she should have been yielding. She never knew how to use her energy—she’s passed that failing on to you.
For a long time I hated her mother for giving her nothing in the line of good habit—nothing but “getting by” and conceit. I never wanted to see again in this world women who were brought up as idlers.
Scott’s bitterness toward Zelda was not only for what he felt she had forced him to do for her during the early years of their marriage, it was also stimulated by his feeling that Zelda had failed him, had used him financially. His letter to Scottie implied that she might do the same. The air was cleared considerably when Scott learned that Scottie did well on her boards and was accepted by Vassar for the coming fall. But the vehemence of his rancor toward Zelda was clear. It was she who had ruined him; she who had made him exhaust his talents. This was of course only one facet of his attitude toward Zelda, but it was definitely there in reserve to be drawn upon. He had been cheated of his dream by Zelda.
Scott had promised Scottie a trip to Europe that summer, and with things back on an even keel she left. Fitzgerald wrote her: “… quite possibly these are the last few years in which you will be able to see Europe as it was.” He wanted Scottie to have that opportunity. She sent him a postcard from the Brasserie Lipp in Paris, and later, after visiting a fortuneteller, she wrote him that the woman “told me some amazing things—that my mother was sick and was going to get a little better but not completely well, and my father was ’willful and nervous’ (ha!) and we were going to have a few fights but always make up, and I was going to have an unstable career with hunks of money here and there.” When she returned in September Zelda was in New York to meet her boat.
Just being in New York buoyed Zelda’s spirits. The city was for her “bliss, again.” And Scottie was “prettier than ever; Scottie is on the brink of being ravishing …” The only thing that was missing was Scott. “I wish you had been able to come East— It would be fun to meet you here again.” She saw the Murphys for the first time in eight years and her reflections on them were tinged with resentment. She wrote Scott that they looked “very engaging; age and the ages leaves them untroubled and, perhaps, as impervious as possible. That was, indeed, a remunerative relationship— If they knew how much of other peoples orientations that they had influenced, they would less resent any challenge to their own.”
Talking with Scottie about Europe tripped open Zelda’s memories. “It fill[s] me with dread to witness the passage of so much time: another summer is half gone, and maybe there’ll never be anymore sun-burns and high hot moons. Do you suppose they still cook automobiles at Antibes, and still sip the twilight at Kaux, and I wonder if Paris is pink in the late sun and latent with happiness already had.”
She stayed with her nurse at the Hotel Irving on Gramercy Park, where Rosalind and her husband were living. Mrs. Sayre, who had gone to Saluda to be near Zelda, came North with her, and to both of them New York was magical. With Clothilde (who lived in Larchmont, New York), Rosalind, and Zelda in New York it was a family reunion. Zelda roamed New York, window shopping, remembering other times shared with Scott; she tried to see some shows but nothing good was on, she said. They ate at outdoor restaurants and drove along the new Henry Hudson Parkway. They also saw Scott’s film Three Comrades; she wrote him, “.. . maybe we’ll get some more money and more prestige and more liberties and all sorts of other desirable attributes. And meanwhile Mamma is here; and lovely and eager as ever, but a year older than she was last year which makes me sad—” Being with her sisters and mother reminded Zelda of how much she was missing in the circumscribed life she led at the hospital. She asked Scott for permission to go to Montgomery for Thanksgiving, Christmas, “and soon for ever?”
“I am so sick of the moralistic tone and repressive atmosphere of that hospital that I dont know how to endure. At my most desirable of attainments, they would have classified me at best as suspect…”
The longer Zelda stayed at Highland the more rigorously she protested against its discipline. She felt imprisoned. Even if Dr. Carroll considered her ability to make decisions reduced to the level of that of a bright child, she did not and resented being treated as one. She pressed for release in her letters to Scott: “Dear, I would be so deeply grateful if you would let me try existing outside a hospital. 1 don’t want to nag you… I have been for years, and years, and years tidying up my room and not making noise in the halls.” She missed Scott, who was her link with the life she had lived before her illness, her one contact out of the morass of illness, and whom she saw so infrequently. She would plead to him: “D.O. Won’t you let me go home? Whats the use of wasting what short space of life remains in a routine … or anything else save a living death… I wonder if you will ever be East again?—You must be quite a different fellow than when I.
“D.O. I’m so sorry about the hard luck that pursues us so relentlessly—”
Sometimes she asked Scott for small presents; she called them her necessities. Her taste, always whimsical, now ran to the colorful. She wanted a cowboy belt studded with bright stones and brass nails, size 28 (although her waist she carefully told him was 27) and a pair of beaded leather moccasins, size 5, and a vial of perfume. On the back of her list she added, “Don’t give up anything to get these, but I’ll be mighty happy when they come.” Scott dutifully made notes at the bottom of the letter indicating which Hollywood drugstore carried the perfume, and the address of a Western costume store for the belt and moccasins.
By the fall it was clear that Dr. Carroll thought of Zelda’s improvement in terms of a very limited ability to cope with reality. He wrote to Scott telling him that her life had to be arranged for her on simple terms, and on that reduced level she could maintain her equilibrium with ease. From Dr. Carroll’s point of view it was unfortunate that Scott and Zelda’s family considered her current style of living unsatisfactory. Was it, he wondered, due to their imagining themselves having to live within it?
The letters that continued to pass between Dr. Carroll and Scott were about preserving this balance. Arrangements were made for Zelda’s brief trips—to Florida, a few days with Scottie, a holiday at home in Montgomery with her mother—but always with the members of Zelda’s family pushing for more: for her to be able to travel without a companion or nurse, for her to be released from the hospital. Christmas, 1938, she spent in Montgomery at home—but with a nurse who stayed at a nearby hotel. Zelda spent two hours with her each morning; they walked together and discussed the coming day; then she was free until the following morning. The nurse was a necessary ballast even if Zelda’s family did not think she was. The family constantly urged that Zelda be released to them. Their urging made Scott furious, and Dr. Carroll tried to assure them that what he was doing was in Zelda’s best interests. Zelda could not live alone. Scott wrote Rosalind: “Imagine Zelda running amuk in Montgomery! … The next time Zelda runs off the track God knows what form it will take… I keep up a continual pressure to get Zelda more liberty. Cure her I cannot and simply saying she’s cured must make the Gods laugh.”
After Zelda’s Christmas at home Scott tried to write Mrs. Sayre a letter about Zelda that she could understand and accept. It must have cost him dear to keep remembering and trying to plan for Zelda, to maintain even the simplest level of hope on her behalf. Rosalind, he wrote Mrs. Sayre, “seems to feel that establishing Zelda in the world is a simple matter—like the issuing of a pass—not at all the problem that the best people in the profession have been working at for ten years… There is no favorable prognosis for dementia praecox. In certain diseases the body builds new cells, drawing on its own inner vitality. When there has been destruction in the patterns of the mind only the very thinest shell can be formed over them—so to speak—so that Zelda is always living in a house of thinly spun glass.”
In February, 1939, Zelda was off to Sarasota, Florida, for an entire month with the Carrolls. She took her first formal art courses in life drawing and costume design in the Ringling School of Art, and she baked on the beaches of Miami and Key West. Almost as soon as she returned to Asheville Scottie visited her there briefly. Scott was pleased with their visit: “You made a great impression on your mother. How different from a year ago at Virginia Beach when you seemed as far apart as the poles, during those dreary tennis games and golf lessons! Of course, the fact that she is so much better accounts for a good deal of it … write your mother, because I’ve been putting off a visit to her and may possibly have to be here three weeks longer on this damned picture and she probably feels that I’m never coming.”
Prior to Zelda’s trip to Florida Dr. Carroll had asked Scott if Zelda might travel to Cuba with a group from Highland. Scott agreed, but too late for arrangements to be made for Zelda’s going. She wrote Scott: “Havannah is probably a substantial sort of place and may be will stay there till next time. Anyway, its all very expensive, and we are so well adapted to spending money to-gether. When you come East there will be that much more justification for buying things. I am as grateful to you as if I were on board.” At the end of the letter she added a plea: “Come on! Let me see you fly East! We can go to Cuba ourselves, as far as that goes.”
Somewhat surprisingly that was exactly what Scott did. According to Sheilah Graham’s account in Beloved Infidel, Scott left for Asheville after a fierce quarrel with her. He had been drinking straight gin for several weeks and in a desperate effort to stop him Miss Graham, herself hysterical after a violent fight over a revolver he kept in his dresser, slapped him and swore she’d never see him again. The following morning, still drunk, he flew to North Carolina. He picked up Zelda and together they flew to Cuba. The trip was a disaster from beginning to end, and the end was in New York at the Algonquin, where Scott, who had been badly beaten in Cuba for trying to stop a cockfight, was so drunk and exhausted that he required hospitalization. Zelda tried to cope with him, but was in no condition herself to handle the situation. Finally she called her sister and brother-in-law in Larchmont for help and returned to Asheville alone. Scott was put in Doctors Hospital, where he remained under treatment for nearly two weeks. Zelda, afraid she had somehow provoked the situation and antagonized Scott, wrote to him just before she left.
It seems useless to wait any more; 1 know that you are better; and being taken care of; and I am of no assistance; so I’ll go back to the hospital on the 2:30 train… Why don’t you come to Tryon? … we could keep a little house on the lake and let you get better. We might have a very happy summer in such circumstance— You like it there, and I am very clever at serving bird-song and summer clouds for breakfast.
Scottina could visit us; and we could find a better meaning to so many things…
Please believe that I stayed over solely to the purpose of helping you if I could. I know from experience what a difference it makes in life where somebody cares about your troubles… I know that I have written you all this before but, as you know my letters are censored from the Hospital and I wont have another chance to communicate until we meet again.
To the Hospital, this version: We had a most enviable trip. And everything was according to the rules. This last refers to cigarettes and wine concerning which I will follow our agreement as to any irregularity of arrival. Your lungs are bad, and required attention, and I am capable of travelling alone so there wasnt any use in your adding another tiring journey to what you had before you.
D.O. please take care of yourself. So you will be well again and happier than these last times. There are so few people of our era who have made original contributions to the life about us, and not many who can be so charming, and almost not any with a greater capacity for enjoyment.
There are still a great many things which could give us pleasure
And there are such a lot of people fond of you…
Back at Highland Zelda stuck to her story, although the staff was quite aware of the pattern most of the Fitzgeralds’ trips together took. “We were all afraid when she went off with him of what would happen—and it always did,” one staff member recalls. “They simply could not be in each other’s company for more than a few days at a time. Dr. Carroll would allow them to go together for a week or so, but they always came back a few days early and usually something terrible had occurred. It was awful, it really was, because you could see that he still loved her very much and did not want to abandon her. But they couldn’t be together for any prolonged length of time.”
Zelda wrote Scott soon after her return.”Don’t feel bad. You were so sweet in the station. I wish things had been so that we were going on to-gether, somewhere. There are lots of happy places: it says so in the time tables, and before long we’ll surely find one…
“Meantime: You know I’ll be there waiting on that green hillside: and expecting you.”
Back in Hollywood after his stint in the hospital, Scott wrote her at once:
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 and with a consideration that I never understood that you had before… 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. Everything that I said and that we talked about during that time stands—
Unknown to either of them, this was the last time they would see each other.
As devastating as their vacation together had been, the contact between them renewed Zelda’s feelings for Scott; to some measure it must also have rekindled Scott’s toward her, for in May he was seriously considering bringing Zelda to Hollywood for a month. He had not yet made up with Sheilah, but when he did Zelda remained in North Carolina. Scottie had an attack of appendicitis during her spring term at Vassar and her doctor recommended that she have an appendectomy. Scott decided that this would provide a perfect opportunity for Zelda and Scottie to come together. He arranged for Scottie to have her operation in Asheville and recuperate during the month of July in Zelda’s company.
When Scottie came Zelda said she’d “never seen her so pretty before…” Their round-faced little girl had become a lively slim blond. Scottie recovered quickly and spent most of the month swimming and taking long walks with her mother; she was also working on a novel she had just begun.
Scott, who was undergoing financial and health troubles on the West Coast, wrote Scottie that she was welcome to come and visit him for the rest of the summer, but he warned her that she might find him “depressing, over-nervous about small things, and dogmatic…” Above all he wanted to avoid any situations of excitement. Somewhat gruffly he told her that he’d rather not see her at all, “than see you without loving you.” He felt it was imperative for her to realize that her home now was Vassar.
Scottie let her mother read this letter, and Zelda tried to explain to Scott what a burden he put on Scottie, who was, after all, not yet eighteen.
Dearest: I trust that you will not resent this… [Scottie] bears the best morale a child could possibly have considerring the fact of that absence of the moral support that a conventionally established family conveys, and I think it’s rather a needlessly painful punishment to remind her of the absence of material attributes which to a person of twenty-one every child has a right to the 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 concerning the necessity to make a living…
I do not criticize your letter: but I believe that the only right of a parent to share his tragedies with children under age is of a most factual nature—how much money there is and the technical name of his illness it about the only fallibilites that debutantes are equipped to encompass … and it doesn’t do any good to let them know that one is harassed. Nobody is better aware than I am, and, I believe, so is Scottie, of your generosity, and the seriousness of your constant struggle to provide the best for us. I am most deeply grateful to you for the sustained and tragic effort that you have made to keep us going… I wasn’t critical, only trying to remind you of the devastating ravages that a sense of insecurity usually manages to establish when theres nothing to do about it.
During Scottie’s period of recovery with her mother she decided Zelda was well enough to live with Mrs. Sayre and no longer needed to remain in the hospital. After all Scott had been through on this score he impatiently wrote Dr. Suitt, who assisted Dr. Carroll with Zelda at Highland Hospital, and suggested that he have a talk with Scottie. He wanted the doctor to mention to Scottie how adversely the menopause could affect Zelda’s mental balance; he warned that Scottie’s attitude toward Zelda could affect “my whole future relation with my daughter.” He did not want her to swing over to the Sayres’ side. It was one of the reasons he hesitated to have her come out to California. “She is a dominant little girl in a polite way and to have her appear here now as a sort of ambassador of what I call the Montgomery point of view—’throw Zelda on her own immediately’ —would be much more than upsetting.”
Although Scottie and Zelda got on well enough that summer, the visit was really only a qualified success. For one thing Scottie was still too young to realize how deeply Zelda resented any advice from her, no matter how harmless it appeared to be on the surface. Zelda concealed her reactions from Scottie, but not from her doctors. For her part Zelda tried very hard, too hard, to quickly re-establish with Scottie a relationship which was largely nonexistent, and which between any mother and seventeen-year-old daughter would have been difficult. Scottie was not, and had probably never been, dependent upon her mother for either direction or emotional sustenance. During Scottie’s visit Zelda wanted to share, as well as oversee, Scottie’s attentions from young men, and when Scottie left Asheville Zelda began referring to herself as “the glamorous Mrs. Fitzgerald.”
But to Scott she confided her aloneness: “My tennis progresses— by which I mean that I can play about half as well as I can play— Its almost demoralizing to have attained the age where all ones attributes are visibly retrogressing: speed, volume … Ashville regales itself on 3 days of folk dance… I wish I had a beau but I haven’t got any beaux…”
By late summer Zelda’s letters to Scott were marked by a forlorn sadness. She wrote about the only things that happened to her, her walks, five miles each day, through fields of phlox and marguerites in the mountains. “Roads lace the mountains to earth, far below and leading home and nowhere, and the people are tan and brown and wreathed in lonliness.” But it was her own loneliness that pierced these letters to Scott.
Writing to Scottie she tried to remind her of times they had shared in the past and of her dreams for her: “Be brown and happy… Buy yourself a white dress with a long and lovely sash, an ashes of roses sash or a sash as pale and chrystalline as a Greek ocean—and buy yourself a leghorn hat—and you will be as picturesque as a summer path over the meadows.” Zelda was saying—be me, my daughter, as I was.
Time passed slowly for Zelda and she grew more and more aware of its passing, not in any anxious way, but aware of it as a pastoral stream, with seasons changing, flowers to be watched and painted, flowers marking the changes of season, breaking time into rhythms. Scott once wrote Scottie, “Think of the enormous pleasure amounting, almost, to the consolation for the tragedy of life that flowers have been to your mother and your grandmother.”
Again and again Zelda would appeal to him and let him know how much she missed him. “If you flew East I’d be glad—and if I flew West so would I.” She wanted to meet him again, to try for something they had had which she remembered, but which they had lost. Perhaps she was trying to win him back, but only the disadvantages were on her side. She was truly alone now.
When you come won’t you bring me another pair of mocassins because I’m a very good little Indian girl, sometimes, and I deserve them.
And don’t let yourself get drowned in the perfect California climate —We got sunshine here—And springtime too, and weather that’s mostly a raison d’etre—
May I go to France and Greece and Italy? At once, next week—
Devotedly, Dear. I wish that I could see you—
She also began, cautiously at first but with increasing fervor, to prod ’ Scott on every occasion with what she considered to be constructive suggestions for leaving Highland. To a certain degree she was echoing her family’s advice to her, but undoubtedly she shared their opinions: “If Alabama should prove an unfortunate venture I can always come back; which I assure you I would do most gratefully rather than run the risk of any further debacles. Having accepted the concept of me as a precarious and dangerous experiment at best, am I to be relegate, at considerable inconvenience to both yourself and myself to invalidism for the rest of my life?”
Dr. Carroll had not heard from Scott for nearly two months. On September 27, 1939, he did. Scott had been ill and was without money. Harold Ober, who had always generously lent him whatever he needed, no longer felt that he could. Consequently, Fitzgerald broke with him, insisting that Ober no longer believed in him. Scott asked Dr. Carroll to trust him for another month and not have Zelda deprived of anything she needed. “As you know I tried to give Zelda every luxury permissible when I could afford it (the trip to Florida, etc.) but it is simply impossible to pay anything, even on installments when one drives in a mortgaged Ford and tries to get over the habit of looking into a handkerchief for blood when talking to a producer.” Grimly he added that the hospital could reimburse itself out of his life insurance if things continued downhill.
October was worse than September and he wrote Zelda: “I am almost penniless—I’ve done stories for Esquire because I’ve had no time for anything else with $100.00 bank balances.” Friends of theirs had helped him send Scottie back to Vassar.
After her, you are my next consideration; I was properly moved by your mother’s attempt to send for you—but not enough to go overboard… I ask only this of you—leave me in peace with my hemorrhages and my hopes, and what eventually will fight through as the right to save you, the permission to give you a chance.
Your life has been a disappointment, as mine has been too. But we haven’t gone through this sweat for nothing. Scottie has got to survive and this is the most important year of her life.
In the following letter, which is undated, Zelda answered Scott.
Needless to say, your letter somewhat hurt me. Very possibly you do not give thought to the fact that this hospital regimentation, while most excellent for whipping into shape, is very gruelling over long periods of time… I am now well able to make a social in the bigger sense effort: Mamma would be happy to have me: if any trouble arose I could and would return here—and short of your possible paranoiacal self-defensive reflex 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 to date 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 together 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.…
It was in October, 1939, under enormous duress, that Scott began in earnest to write his novel The Last Tycoon. It would be about Hollywood, which he would view with a basilisk eye. He wrote Scottie:
Look! I have begun to write something that is maybe great, and I’m going to be absorbed in it four or six months. It may not make us a cent but it will pay expences and it is the first labor of love I’ve undertaken since the first part of Infidelity [a movie starring Joan Crawford]… Anyhow I am alive again … with all its strains and necessities and humiliations and struggles. I don’t drink. I am not a great man, but sometimes I think the impersonal and objective quality of my talent and the sacrifices of it, in pieces, to preserve its essential value has some sort of epic grandeur.
Dr. Carroll had answered Scott’s plea by trusting him and waiting. He assured Fitzgerald that he would not let the Sayres talk him into releasing Zelda to their care. Scott thanked him and wrote explaining that his first allegiance (and therefore what little money he had or could raise) was to Scottie; he could not back down on her education. “For better or worse Scottie and I form a structure… For me, life goes on without very much cheer, except my novel, but I think if there is any way to stop this continual nagging through Zelda it will be a help.” Scott sent Collier’s magazine the first section of The Lust Tycoon and a synopsis; if they liked it they might back him. (As it turned out they wanted to see more before they paid him.) He also sent it to Scribner’s, and as soon as Perkins read the first part of the manuscript he committed himself: he told Scott it was wonderful writing, and he sent him $250 out of his own pocket. Although Scott’s finances were still tight, under these improved circumstances some of his old feeling for Zelda crept back into his next letter to Dr. Carroll. “She doesn’t complain … in fact her last letter is awfully sweet, and not restless and demanding, which I know indicates that you have talked with her and which I hope indicates that the Sayres have found some other mischief with which to occupy * their idle hands. My God, how I detest ’good people.’ I mean people that are good and think it is quite sufficient as a career.” Zelda wrote him: “I’m sorry about our present estate. So many years ago when we were first married and making Holiday about the Biltmore corridors, money was one of the things one simply stated the necessity for, went through the requisite ritual and waited.”
She truly had very little idea how difficult life was for Scott; she lived in isolation, insulated by her illness. But she let him know that she tried to understand, that she was not fighting against him. “Dearest: I am always grateful for all the loyalties you gave me, and I am always loyal to the concepts that held us together so long: the belief that life is tragic, that a mans spiritual reward is the keeping of his faith: that we shouldn’t hurt each other. And I love, always your fine writing talent, your tolerance and generosity; and all your happy endowments. Nothing could have survived our life.”
Late in November Mrs. Laura Guthrie Hearne at last met Zelda, about whom she had heard so much from Scott during the summer she was his secretary. There was a tea party in Asheville to which they were both invited. In her diary she described her impressions of Zelda.
Zelda does not wear a bit of make up, which she needs. Her eyes have a sad and haunted look. She wears a straight bang and the rest of her dark hair falls just to her shoulders where it ends in a little curl. She wore a very simple black thin suit and white blouse with a black felt hat turned up all around. She had no overcoat though the rest of us wore our fur coats and did not feel too warm. Zelda began to talk brilliantly when I got her started on her greatest love, the ballet, and told how she studied with the Russians in Paris long ago. She has a brilliant mind and as we ate we all listened to her and watched her use her graceful arms and hands to illustrate what she was saying. She believes that all is rhythm, and that the ballet is the best exponent of life, also that we only need four hours of sleep a night, which is all they [dancers] get. The rest of the time we should work or practise and get more and more tense—or rather, full of the vibration of living.
The other women listened respectfully, but, privately they considered Zelda’s opinions somewhat bizarre.
At Highland she was considered well enough now to go into Asheville alone shopping or visiting; and she was also asked to assist in directing the morning gym classes. This reduced her expenses and made her feel that she was contributing something of value. Staff members remember Zelda at her best as an appealing person who could exercise considerable influence on other patients. It was amazing how well and patiently she worked with those patients who were mentally retarded or extremely ill, but she was not so good with those less ill than herself.
That winter Dr. Carroll asked Zelda to paint large floral screens for the windows of the new assembly building at Highland. He would furnish the necessary materials and pay her something for her work. Zelda was extremely pleased, the more so when she learned that Duke University would eventually take over Highland Hospital and thereby ensure her work a larger audience. But she was edgy about being taken advantage of. She wrote Scott: “I sent word that I ultimately would not subscribe to the commandeering of a professional talent. The fact that an artist is temporarily incapacitated 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 on such a major project that will make it difficult to get away, should such opportunity arise.” Still, the idea intrigued as well as flattered her, and she began preliminary sketches for the design. Within a few weeks she found out that the screens would not be used in the assembly building, but instead in the patients’ bedrooms. She protested bitterly 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.”
Of course she was still to be paid for her work, but even that irritated her, for what “the authorities” promised to pay her would be applied to her bill. Frustrated and hurt by what she considered to be the real motive behind asking for her work, to contribute to payment of hospital fees, she told Scott: “I feel that this is your obligation, as I myself have vent every resource towards getting out of here and have, to my most honest estimate been well able to leave for a year. I don’t want to pay these bills, because I do not need what they buy.” But what could she do? she asked him; she was afraid that if she flatly refused to paint the screens her refusal might “come under one of their heads of psychosis.”
That Christmas of 1939 Zelda was well enough to travel alone to Montgomery for the first time since her hospitalization. When she returned she renewed to Scott her pleas for release. “There isn’t forever left to either of us; and now, for the immediate instance I have a home to turn to while I organize an existence—which will not always be the case … I now have no resources left; can’t go to the movies because there isn’t any money. Under such circumstances, wouldn’t it be wiser and more economical that I should be at home… 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: … Meantime; it’s good to be able to receive uncensored mail—I do believe I’m growing up.”
Fitzgerald tried to soothe her, tried to suggest that she make friends within the hospital. But she wrote him: “… a person could, as long as they followed the hospitals somewhat bigoted stipulations —I want to leave there. It’s a hospital for those who want to be absorbed into Dr. Carrolls, feudal, picturesque, and most restrictive formulas. Not that I am not grateful for all that he’s done for me:
“because I am most deeply grateful of even the possibility of entering the world again—”
Once after Scott had called her she told him: “Darling, you were sweet to ’phone me. I am learning a speech to say when telephoned to. It is to be very formal and will include many invitations to parties which will never be given and balls that are long since over. And the response will be yes, yes, yes—”
On Valentine’s Day she sent Scott a plain card, neglecting to sign it. A week later she sent him another, perhaps having forgotten about the first one, underlining a line in the text that read, “Here is my heart.” Beside it Zelda wrote, “The last thing you said to me before you left for the port of embarkation—”
At Highland she and Dr. Carroll reached a compromise over the screens; they were to be in tempera and decorative only, “which is a less distressing entertainment than having to think of my best and most exacting talents being buried within the confines of psychotic morass.” She told Scott she had a hunch Carroll was going to let her out soon.
On March 4, 1940, Dr. Carroll tentatively suggested to Scott that Zelda might be ready to fend for herself; he said she had spent a week on her own in Montgomery at Christmas and had held to her routine admirably. Mrs. Sayre wrote the doctor that Zelda might be able to find a part-time job in Montgomery if she continued to improve, adding as always that Zelda could live with her if everyone concerned was amenable. Dr. Carroll wondered what Scott’s attitude toward this arrangement might be—if a letter was sent to Mrs. Sayre outlining the danger signals of an approaching breakdown, so that it could be recognized and avoided.
Scott replied, “Your letter was a complete surprise, but of course I am delighted… The news that she had been home alone in December was a complete surprise to me though as you know I would have been in agreement if you had ever thought before that a journey without a nurse was desirable.” Inevitably he worried about Zelda’s ability to maintain her present level of sanity, “but since I am utterly unprepared to take on the job again I suppose it is lucky that there is any sort of home where she will at least be loved and cherished. The possibility of dissipation frightens me more than anything else—which I suppose is poetic justice.”
Scott wired Zelda immediately about Carroll’s recommendation. Zelda’s reaction was that of a prisoner who has been punished and is now relieved beyond belief at her pardon. “I will be very, very happy to escape the spiritual confines of medical jurisdiction. Also, I will be very meticulous in my social conduct and promise not to cause any trouble: I will be able to have vacation with Scottie, maybe and do all sorts of half-forgotten pleasant things from such a long time ago… This has been an awful time for you; and maybe, at last, we begin to emerge.”
She then began to make plans for her life outside the hospital. It took no little courage to form these plans, for she was not completely unaware of the obstacles she would have to face. “As soon as I have renewed associations and found all the trees where I used to make play-house again, I will try to find a job. Needless to say I am conversant with the difficulties which will probably confront me: Middle aged, untrained, graduate of half-a-dozen mental Institutes. However, there may be something blow[n] in on a box-car or one of those things like that.”
Four years and one week after Zelda’s admission to Highland Hospital she was released. Dr. Carroll wrote the letter concerning her case that he had mentioned to Scott. One copy was sent to Mrs. Sayre in Montgomery and another to Scott for safekeeping. The final paragraph stated the precariousness of Zelda’s mental condition: her history showed a tendency to repeat itself in cycles. She could be irresponsible and suicidal. Zelda might well be unable to face what was ahead of her in Montgomery. At present she was gentle and reasonable; her capacity for making mature judgments was, however, permanently reduced.
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