Save Me the Waltz was written during January and February 1932 in Montgomery and at Phipps Clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital; and it was sent to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s in March I932 (Zelda Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, c. 12 March 1932. Scribner’s files). The version that Perkins first saw had not been read by F. Scott Fitzgerald, for Zelda Fitzgerald was anxious to succeed without her husband’s help. The original manuscript and typescripts have disappeared; but the first draft appears to have been a much more personal document—that is, more transparently about the Fitzgeralds’ marriage—and, indeed, David Knight was originally named Amory Blaine after the hero of This Side of Paradise, who was an autobiographical character. When Fitzgerald did read the novel, he was disturbed on two counts: he felt it exposed too much of his private life; and he thought it drew upon material he had written for Tender is the Night, which was then in progress.
The story of the publication of Save Me the Waltz can be traced through Fitzgerald’s correspondence. On 16 March—some four days after Zelda Fitzgerald sent the novel to Perkins—Fitzgerald instructed him not to decide anything until it was revised (F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, 16 March 1932. Scribner’s files). Although he clearly wanted his wife to have a success and praised the novel to Perkins, Fitzgerald was concerned that the original version would injure both of them—but especially him:
Turning up in a novel signed by my wife as a somewhat anaemic portrait painter with a few ideas lifted from Clive Bell, Leger, etc. puts me in an absurd & Zelda in a ridiculous position. The mixture
of fact & fiction is calculated to ruin us both, or what is left of us, and I can’t let it stand. Using the name of a character I invented to put intimate facts in the hands of the friends and enemies we have accumulated en route — my God, my books made her a legend and her single intention in this somewhat thin portrait is to make me a non-entity (Quoted in Andrew Turnbull. Scott Fitzgerald (New York : Scribner’s, 1962), p. 207. This letter was presumably written to Zelda Fitzgerald’s psychiatrist).
He urged his wife to revise and no doubt helped her, but the extent of his labour is by no means clear in the absence of the working papers. It seems likely, though, that the assumption that he actually rewrote Save Me the Waltz is false. The available documents indicate that his work was advisory. On 25 March he wired Perkins that the novel would require only minor revisions and that it was a fine novel; but three days later he informed Perkins that the whole middle section needed to be rewritten (F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, 25 and 28 March, 1932. Scribner’s files). By 2 May he was able to report : "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 (5. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins. before 2 May 1932. Quoted in The Letters of Scott Fitzgerald. ed. Andrew Turnbull (New York: Scribner’s, 1963), pp. 226-7). The letter warns Perkins against exciting her with too-generous praise.
On or about 14 May Fitzgerald sent the revised novel, stating :
It is a good novel now, perhaps a very good novel—I am too close to tell... (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 galleys but I can’t ask her to do more now.)—But now praise will do her good, within reason (F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, c. 14 May 1932. Quoted in Letters, pp. 228-9. Curiously, this letter warns Perkins not to discuss the novel with Ernest Hemingway, who had Death in the Afternoon coming out that season and who would therefore regard Save Me the Waltz as competition.
Fitzgerald’s estimate of Save Me the Waltz was later revised downward. On 8 February 1956, he wrote Harold Ober: "Please don’t have anybody read Zelda ’s book because it is a bad book!" (Letters, p. 402).).
In the Fitzgerald Papers at the Princeton University Library are the typescript printer’s copy for Save Me the Waltz and five sets of galley proofs. The typescript is clean copy, almost certainly prepared by a typist, with only a few authorial corrections and printer’s or editor’s queries. The proof consists of two sets of very heavily revised—not just corrected—galleys, two duplicate sets, and one set of paged final galleys :
A. First galleys, author’s revised set. 2 gal I—2 gal 82.
B. Duplicate of A, revised at beginning only.
C. Second galleys, author’s revised set. 2 gal I—2 gal 77.
D. Duplicate of C, unmarked.
E. Paged final galleys, unmarked. Pp. 1-287.
In revising the first galleys, Zelda Fitzgerald completely rewrote the opening of Chapter 2, the account of the visit by Alabama’s parents to the Knights. Twenty-five pages of typed copy were substituted for the original thirty-three. At the same time ten pages of typescript revisions for part three of Chapter 2 were prepared.
The two sets of revised galleys are drastically worked over, but almost all the marks are in Zelda Fitzgerald’s hand. Fitzgerald did not systematically work on the surviving proofs: only eight of the words written on them are clearly in his hand.
Perhaps the wholesale revisions discouraged the proofreaders, or perhaps the author resisted editorial help—but whatever the reasons, apart from troublesome authorial idiosyncracies of style and usage, there are hundreds of appalling errors that almost certainly affected reader response (At least two reviews specifically complained about the proofreading—New York Times Book Review (16 October) and Bookman (November). These and three other reviews all commented on the unusual word usage — Boston Transcript (30 November), Saturday Review of Literature (22 October), and Forum (December).).
The size of the initial printing has not been determined, but it was probably a depression run of no more than 3,000 copies. Judging from the scarcity of copies, the run may have been considerably smaller. There is, by the way, no evidence to suggest that Fitzgerald provided a subvention for publication. Save Me the Waltz was never reprinted in America; but in 1953 Grey Walls Press published a new edition in England.
Copy-text for the present edition is the October 1932 Scribner’s first printing. The Grey Walls text has not been consulted. Some 550 emendations have been made in the copy-text; they are all listed in the hardbound edition of Save Me the Waltz published by the Southern Illinois University Press (I am indebted to Mr Alexander Clark, Curator of Manuscripts, Princeton University Library; Prof. Henry Dan Piper; and Beatrice R. Moore, editor extraordinary). An attempt has been made to verify problematical readings against the galleys—but the galleys are so densely revised that it is not always possible to determine what the author intended. In emending copy-text no attempt has been made to improve the author’s style or even to make more than the really necessary corrections. Baffling sentences have not been solved, and puzzling words have been left wherever they make any sense. Much of the unusual quality of Save Me the Waltz comes from its odd prose; no good purpose would be served by tampering with it. One might well be tempted to reproduce a completely uncorrected text in the hope of retaining the bouquet of the 1932 publication, were it not for the fact that both author and publisher intended to print a mechanically correct text.
The eyes of Madame—Alabama’s ballet teacher—are variously described as black, smoky, amber, yellow, brown, and black-and-white. These readings have not been emended.
Arienne’s last name is given as Jeannert, Jeanneret (twice), and Jeannerette (twice). The spelling has been regularized to Jeanneret.
The word stchay or schtay or schstay—presumably a Russian ballet term—has not been verified; it has not been regularized.
Of the two shows mentioned at 47.6-7, only Sally was at the New Amsterdam Theatre; Two Little Girls in Blue was at the George M. Cohan.
The word house—not houses, or blouses—at 102.40 appears in the TS. It was queried in proof and marked stet by the author. The reading remained house through final paged galleys; but it was changed to houses in the book when humming in the preceding sentence was emended to which hummed. Neither change appears to have been authorial, although the change to which hummed is a necessary correction. The editor has restored the authorial reading house—but he does not understand it.
Zelda Fitzgerald was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1900, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court Judge. She reacted to the conservative discipline of her parents by becoming a "roarer" of the pre-twenties. When she first met Scott Fitzgerald at a country-club dance, she was not quite eighteen and he was twenty-one. They were married in 1920 and began a decade of riotous travel and living in France and America—a period that saw the creation of Fitzgerald’s best works. A child, their daughter Scottie, was born.
Eager to match her husband’s celebrity, Zelda took up painting, wrote a little, then tried to become a dancer. The couple grew increasingly erratic; Scott’s drinking developed into alcoholism and Zelda became schizophrenic. During her first mental crisis in 1930 she produced three short stories and the libretto for a ballet. After a period of partial recovery she became seriously disturbed again in 1932 and wrote Save Me the Waltz in six weeks, to the envy of her husband, who had been working on Tender is the Night for more than five years.
Zelda’s last years were spent in various sanatoriums, and in 1947 she died in a fire.