Mozart's Rondo in C major K 373 arranged for flute is playing. Rain has finished falling outside, providing much relief from the relentless heat here in Texas. There's an old folk song about the Devil asking the Lord for a bit of land so God gave him Texas. The Devil gave it back saying the place was hotter than you-know-where. If you have ever visited in the summer, which I don't recommend, you will appreciate the Devil's lack of gratitude.
I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago before the hurricane. My prayers to those in South Texas. Fortunately, we up here in NE Texas are safe.
|Giant Oak outside my dining room window.|
Zelda by Nancy Milford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Some biographies can trudge along but this one bubbled and flowed as Zelda would probably say based on her writings and her penchant for using loads of metaphors for absolutely every concept she was trying to express.
Nancy Milford spent years producing exhaustive research and it shows.
She starts with Zelda's parents and Zelda's birth in Montgomery Alabama. We get an idea of the sort of family Zelda was born into and it gives us a better idea why she developed into the sort of woman she ultimately became.
While Zelda's father, Judge Sayre, was strict, formidable and emotionally detached from his family, her mother Minnie, doted on her and let her do whatever she wanted.
Zelda's natural inclination was to be strong-willed and she thrived on attention. Reading about her social life exhausted me. She must have dated every single young man in Montgomery. Every weekend was filled with dances.
And she was rather daring for the age (this was the 19-teens). She wore a nude colored bathing suit, not just at the beach or pool but around town. She was flirtatious, bold, and addicted to attention.
She met F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was stationed in Montgomery for the war (WWI). Fitzgerald, according to his own temperament, fell for her with all the neurotic passion that forever colored his life.
Through a lot of rolling hills of conflict between themselves, between her family, they finally married in 1920. Zelda was twenty years old and Fitzgerald was twenty-four.
Zelda left her small, warm Southern community for the Big Apple. This might have intimidated some small town girls who had spent all their life in a certain culture but not Zelda. For her New York meant everything she adored on a larger scale: parties, drinking, and being the center of attention.
Neither Fitzgerald nor Zelda had temperate personalities and everything was done in excess. They spent more than they had, they drank more than they could handle. Friends began to dread their parties. A stint in Paris was no different except that Fitzgerald's fascination with the Manic Pixie Girl he had married was beginning slightly to wane. He needed to write and their lifestyle was interfering with that.
At first Zelda seemed to spur his writing, after all, all of his stories are centered around her. Reading about their life together I can safely say most of his books are autobiographical. The heroine is Zelda over and over.
Some have criticized Fitzgerald saying he "stole" her writings or her ideas. That is nonsense. Milford includes scads of Zelda's writings to allow the reader to make an informed comparison. While Zelda is certainly intelligent and at times bordering on brilliant, her writing is no match for Fitzgerald's. After one gets past the glitzy gloss of her descriptive phraseology, one finds very little and much of it is incoherent.
My only criticism of Fitzgerald's writing is that he simplified her. The real Zelda was more complex as Milford's biography shows.
She did try to write and get published and some of her work did get published but I doubt anyone would have looked twice if she had not been Fitzgerald's wife.
She also became obsessed in her late twenties, while they were living in Paris, in becoming a classic dancer. She practiced hours and hours each day with a Russian teacher. There is no coherent reason why she wanted to become a professional ballet dancer. Perhaps to find an identity seperate from her husband, but those who knew her saw strangeness from the get go.
I think without her life with Scott she probably would have become insane anyway, but the excessive drinking and night life probably accelerated her decline.
Frankly I don't know who was worse, Zelda, who ended up in an insane asylum or Fitzgerald, who drank and smoke himself to death at forty with a sudden heart attack.
It's a fascinating study in people who are desperately trying to find meaning in their lives through outside stimulation to the point it pushes them over the edge. Maybe they were terrified of what they might have seen if they stopped and stayed still for a few moments. Their frantic rushing off the cliff was a continual running away from what was inside of them.
Eventually Fitzgerald resorted to writing Hollywood scripts in order to pay debts, including Zelda's stay at a good hospital and their daughter, Scottie's, education.
Very little is mentioned about Scottie. One can only wonder how the effect of two narcissistic and unstable parents affected her. She's seems to have turned out OK and married outside the glamorous world of her parents.
While Fitzgerald stayed in Hollywood, Zelda had returned to Montgomery and lived with her mother, a rather invisible life it seems, after the legendary one. Her illness finally deteriorated where she had to return to the mental hospital. Her last words to her mother was, "It's OK. I'm not afraid of dying." and she ran off. Was this prophetic? She was to die in the hospital as it burned to the ground.
She still outlived Fitzgerald by eight years.
I suppose there will be endless fascination over this infamous couple and this is a good biography, but I don't know if it is necessary because after reading it, I realize that Fitzgerald faithfully recorded their lives in all of his stories.
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