“Have you read Z: A novel?”
This from my friend who had just read and loved it. I told her that no I hadn’t read it and actually didn’t plan on reading it because I just don’t like reading books set in the 1920s and don’t have the same romantic view of the Lost Generation. Really, if I read one more book about the wife of someone famous where she’s just this worshipping appendage, I will scream.
My friend ignored all of this and forced her copy of the book into my hands.
Because I am a peculiar kind of creature who is unable to return the munificence of a leant-book unread, I read it.
And I loved it.
I’d always felt sorry for Zelda Fitzgerald, thought she was a bit of a pathetic figure. Therese Anne Fowler showed me Zelda in a completely different way and now I’m kind of a fan.
Zelda Sayre was born in Montgomery, Alabama, the youngest child in a well-known family. Her father was a judge and the expectation was that Zelda would marry well and be the kind of young lady her family would be proud of.
Zelda had other plans. She relished being born at a time when women were starting to be able to do things for themselves, she wanted to run around town with shorter hemlines, leaving her corset at home. When she meets Scott Fitzgerald, it changes her whole life.
The story of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald has been the fodder for stories for nearly 100 years. What I appreciated about this version was that Zelda was her own, complete person. She is trying to figure out where she fits into this life that Scott has created. She suffers from health problems that make it impossible for her to have more children after their daughter, Scottie, and her husband gets angry with her that she’s not giving him sons.
As Scott gets more famous and struggles with his own identity, with his desire to make a mark on the literary world, crippled with a desire to be a part of the class of people that has more money than they know what to do with, Zelda is left to pick up the pieces. But she refuses to just be a good little wife after a while. After she tires of the constant parties, after the drinking wreaks havoc on her system, she looks to find other ways of spending her time.
She writes and paints and dances but is never taken seriously as a writer, artist or dancer by her husband. She, who has followed Scott across continents and oceans based on what’s best for his career, is relegated to the role of wife and mother in his eyes. It’s no wonder Zelda ended up hospitalized – Scott was enough to drive anyone to mental exhaustion.
Oh yes, I loved this book. I loved the meditation on marriage and womanhood that Zelda offers in a time when women are just starting to be allowed to think of themselves as people. I loved Zelda’s unwillingness to settle for the kind of life her parents saw for her. Mostly I appreciated this new perspective on a woman I’ve long thought of as the patron saint of pathetic literary wives.
I am firmly Team Zelda.