F. Scott Fitzgerald first saw his future wife from across a crowded room at a country club dance in Montgomery, Ala., where he was in basic training and she was waiting to be discovered by the world. They wed in 1920, and the two went on to have a famously turbulent marriage — tarnished by personal and professional jealousy, alcohol abuse and mental illness — which they both immortalized in their writing.
Zelda Fitzgerald, née Sayre, has made a resurgence in pop culture over the past few years, thanks to works like The Paris Wife and the upcoming movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby. This month, a fictionalized account of her life hits the shelves: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald chronicles Zelda’s life from her Alabama upbringing to the death of her husband in 1940. Author Therese Anne Fowler joins NPR’s Scott Simon to discuss the novel.
On the popular misrepresentation of Zelda
“I went looking for some preliminary information, and very quickly was struck by the way the surface-level knowledge about Zelda doesn’t begin to describe the person that she really is. You know, I had come to the project with the idea that she was just F. Scott Fitzgerald’s crazy, disruptive wife. I didn’t really know anything about her. And very quickly I recognized that she was very, you know, badly misrepresented in popular culture. So the more I learned, the more compelled I was to set the record straight — it became kind of a mission.”
On Zelda’s relationship with Ernest Hemingway
“You know, initially [Hemingway] did like Zelda. And that was what was so interesting, is Hemingway’s letters to Scott during that time are actually filled with a lot of warmth in regards to Zelda. And then there comes this point in time when suddenly the warmth is gone. You know, Zelda always was a little bit skeptical about his talents, but I think she was OK with him as a person, initially, until some event occurred. And I think, you know, through deductive reasoning, the possibilities are small, and I had to make an executive decision about how to represent that.”
On Hemingway’s jealousy of Zelda’s closeness with F. Scott
“I think that Zelda’s relationship with Scott was unusual for married women at that time. They had this, some people might even call it a kind of codependency between them, and Hemingway wasn’t accustomed to that kind of, you know, marital relationship. His friendships with men tended to be friendships with men. And the Fitzgeralds were very much a pair.”
On F. Scott’s recognition of Zelda’s talent as a writer
“He had a very interesting duality when it came to Zelda and her writing. He was proud of Zelda’s abilities, but possibly because … as it came easily to her, it was becoming increasingly difficult for him, he couldn’t help but feel competitive.”
On whether Zelda should have found somebody else
“People like to ask that question. Would she have been better off without him? They were two sides of one coin. So it’s very difficult to imagine that we would be talking about either one of them had they not been a pair.”