In the beginning, they were the couple of their day; however, Zelda and Scott’s marriage quickly deteriorated, leaving both unhappy and unsatisfied. Zelda is often portrayed in Scott’s novels as someone who was turbulent and selfish, but this brilliant novel by Fowler reveals Zelda’s side of the story, one that is not often heard.
The novel begins with Zelda, a young, bright, 18-year-old girl in Southern Alabama. She is beautiful and restless, someone who wants something more than her small town of Montgomery can offer. She meets and falls in love with Scott at a ball when he is a young soldier, promising engagement only if he could take care of her financially. Fowler describes Zelda’s first years of marriage as nothing but happiness since Zelda and Scott are rich, famous newlyweds. However, problems quickly arise and Zelda’s sense of helplessness is extremely well portrayed by Fowler in these years of marriage, when attempting to help Scott manage their finances, she is brushed off as he tells her to go take care of their newly born child.
“The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzg” (Public Domain) by Hopkins Rare Books, Manuscripts, & Archives
Around this time, Zelda’s mental condition drastically worsens. She has fits of anger, moodiness, and often loses control of herself. Fowler describes how Scott convinces Zelda that she isn’t any good at anything, especially criticising her writing, due to jealousy, even though her works, especially Save The Waltz, have come to be extremely widely read and appreciated by many literary critics. By this time, Scott had also become an alcoholic, often drunk, incoherent, promising Zelda that it was necessary for him to drink if he was to ‘properly write’, or so Hemingway had convinced him.
This novel also brings to light the paranoia that Zelda often felt about Scott having an affair, she often thought Scott and Hemingway might be sleeping together. This paranoia might have stemmed from Zelda’s misdiagnosed schizophrenia and her subsequent gruelling treatment methods at a mental hospital, which worsened her condition. More recent discoveries have found that it is much more likely that she had bipolar disorder.
This novel does such an excellent job of portraying Zelda Fitzgerald, fighting to maintain her own strong sense of self, while still trying to keep her marriage with Scott afloat. She was one of the first feminists of her time, someone who tried to be her own person outside of her marriage and pursue her own interests even while being constantly put down by her husband. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was a truly remarkable yet tragic character, and this brilliant novel will leave readers enthralled and amazed by the woman who was so often dismissed as only F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife.