I’m not sure why, but a slew of books is being published right now about Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott. Here is an article/ book review from the March 22, 2013, Wall Street Journal that discusses several of the new (fictional) offerings.
I can’t find any notable anniversaries in Zelda’s life to explain all these books, a hook to hang them on, so to speak. Perhaps this surge of interest is tied in with the new Leonardo DiCaprio remake of The Great Gatsby, due for release on May 10. (Isn’t the poster, below, a beautiful Art Deco piece?)
Zelda Fitzgerald has fascinated me for years, ever since I read Nancy Milford’s 1970 biography, Zelda, as a teen. (That book had a gorgeous peacock-feather dust jacket I’ve never forgotten, and I was just now able to find the author, title, and publication date to share with you today thanks to nothing more than a quick Google search for “Zelda biography peacock.” I love the Internet 🙂 )
So here’s the thing that started me thinking. All these new books seem to present a very PC-revisionist view of Zelda as the poor, abused spouse of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a man who stole her work and presented it as his own.
Maybe. I don’t really know, and it’s doubtful that anyone can ever really know what happened inside that drama-filled marriage of two such troubled creative people. But in “Hawks Do Not Share,” a chapter in A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway paints a damning portrait of Zelda that I find both chilling and believable. Whether or not it’s true is almost beside the point.
Artists often struggle in their personal lives. As someone whose primary interest is studying creativity from an academic point of view, I’m always curious about the cause-and-effect relationships involved in the making of great art. Hemingway presents a sad picture of Fitzgerald trying to work and being sabotaged by Zelda. Not until Zelda was certifiably insane was Scott able to discount some of the damaging things she’d convinced him of and recover an ability to focus on the work again.
In creative fields, it’s all about the work. One of the first things we learned in graduate school, in fact, was: You’ve got to protect the work. You need to protect the time slot in your schedule during which creative work can happen. That’s hard. It means the work has to come first, get just about the highest priority, be placed at the very center of your existence, and everything else revolves around that.
Establishing a successful, long-term “creative” life requires that you sustain a boring, routine “real” life. It’s that maintenance that’s tricky; otherwise, the spark flares too brightly and burns itself out.
In the case of Zelda and Scott, each person seemed to amplify the decadent impulses of the other, resulting in an extravagantly excessive lifestyle that in some ways came to symbolize the 1920s. Ultimately it was the melodrama of their daily life that ruined the Fitzgeralds, creatively and otherwise.