“Z” – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler
My Rating: 4 out of 5 ‘s
Was Zelda A Suppressed Creative Artist Driven to Madness?
Rarely does history portray Zelda Fitzgerald in a favorable light. When we think of Zelda what typically comes to mind is an image of a dancing, drinking, social butterfly clothed in cutting edge fashion who participates in out all night escapades. She was the quintessential flapper of the 1920’s. Her behavior for the era was still so new and unconventional that people had not quite adjusted to the edgy way in which Zelda and other flappers behaved. Her husband Scott Fitzgerald, the well respected American author of The Great Gatsby (click the link to purchase) and other famous works, was often thought of as honorable for putting up with his risqué wife even though he was known to have flaws of his own, such as rumors of infidelity and alcoholism. Fowler takes the unique perspective that Zelda was a feminist struggling to find her voice in a world that put men before women. If her representation is true then it changes the story of the Fitzgeralds. It alters it from being a tale about a man who supports his wife as she struggles with mental illness, to a story of a feminist who is intolerant of the disparities between men and women– and having married a man who would not comprehend or accept her views and seeing as his were in alignment with the world around them– gave her little hope for change, ultimately leading her to succumb to a life of depression and hospitalizations.
The Love Story
Fowler begins “Z” A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (click the link to purchase) by telling the captivating story of how Zelda and Scott fell in love. She bases her interpretation of their connection from letters they exchanged and from extensive research into their past. According to Fowler, while volatile at times, the root of their relationship was clearly based in infatuation and a desire to be together almost immediately after the first moment they laid eyes on one other. The combination of their two eccentric spirits and intoxicating personalities made for a– sweep you off your feet– yet sometimes reckless, passionate, kind of love.
Zelda Was A Writer But Was Hardly Recognized Or Respected As One
Fowler reveals to readers that Zelda was just as passionate about writing as Scott. In fact, from the beginning of their relationship he was sending Zelda manuscripts, and seeking out her approval and advice. Zelda was well known for keeping a journal and for writing in it regularly, and even though she had a reputation for going out and dating many suitors, she came from a well educated family where the women held or aspired to hold positions typically reserved for men in that time period. With that in mind, Fowler seems to infer that Zelda had higher aspirations for herself than a typical woman living in that era might have. Fowler reveals many instances where it is speculated that Scott pulled inspiration from Zelda’s writing and called it his own, even going so far as to put his name on her articles and short stories that were eventually published– asserting that she wouldn’t be able to publish them without him, emphasizing her dependency on him. Therefore the only novel she received credit for is one she went behind his back to publish— Save Me The Waltz (click the link to purchase). Ultimately it was published but not until after she was forced to remove the bulk of it as it would impact the way his upcoming novel would have been received, and unfortunately, to her detriment, it was never highly thought of.
The Voice of Zelda Through Fowler…
“Women are formed for love, yes, but also for purpose, and the highest state for a woman– for all humans, in fact– comes when one discovers and then achieves one’s ultimate purpose.”
Fowler explains the love Zelda had for being on stage and the thrill she experienced from pushing her dancer’s body to its limit. She also points out how Scott often blocked her from pursuing her dreams of having a permanent career in dancing. Zelda pushed back against this and it resulted in her becoming overly obsessed with ballet, and ultimately drove her to a point where she hardly did anything other than dance and sleep. As a consequence, Scott had Zelda hospitalized, claiming it was due to a nervous breakdown. After the initial hospitalization, she spent the rest of her life in and out of hospitals where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Scott visited her regularly and they exchanged letters but their relationship was never the same.
Fowler reveals the ups and downs of Zelda’s hospitalizations. While hospitalized Zelda continued to live a creative life. She began painting and completed several works of art that have recently been made available to the public. You can purchase artwork by Zelda Fitzgerald here. Fowler transports her readers to the inner walls of those hospitals. She tells the story of her diagnosis and gives a more candid look at the dialogue between Zelda and her doctors, while revealing the control Scott had over her treatment.
Zelda’s Voice as Imagined Through Fowler…
“Single women could work all they wanted; married women locked themselves into a gilded cage. All of that had seemed natural before. Now, it made me angry. Now, I saw how a woman might sometimes want to steer her own course rather than trail her husband like a favored dog.”
There are a few reasons why this book might receive backlash. It is risky for any author to attempt to get inside someone’s head, much more so when said individual is no longer alive. Even though Fowler does claim to have researched extensively for this book, it does still require a great deal of inferring about their private experiences. It is widely know that Scott and Zelda’s daughter, Scottie (now deceased), and their grandchildren have criticized anyone who has attempted to understand the nature of Scott and Zelda’s life and relationship.
With each setback Zelda experiences Fowler paints a picture of a bright young woman who was never truly able to poke out from behind the shadow of her husband. This book will likely make you question everything you know about the Fitzgeralds, and although it is difficult to determine how much is based in fact and how much in fiction, I think you will find it a worthwhile read, especially if you have an interest in Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Z: The Beginning of Everything, an Amazon Original Series Based on the Book
- Amazon: Z: The Beginning of Everything
“Z: The Beginning of Everything” tells the story of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, the brilliant, beautiful Southern Belle who became the original flapper and icon of the wild, flamboyant Jazz Age.
*note– you will need Amazon Prime to watch the series for free, you can download Prime here.
Excerpt From Behind The Novel, Fowler Writes:
“In late fall of 2012, I visited the cemetery where Zelda and Scott, and their daughter Scottie, are buried alongside other Fitzgerald kin. It’s a small, oak-sheltered churchyard bordered by busy roads and a commuter train track. No one else was there on that cool, damp morning, and I was glad, because tears were streaming down my cheeks.
I lingered a while despite the cold and drizzle, my mind filled with images of the Fitzgeralds’ lives. When I finally turned to leave, I felt a hand on my left shoulder, and heard Zelda’s voice in my ear.
Was it Zelda? The skeptic in me scoffs. But I do enjoy the idea that it may have been.”
Have you read Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald? If not, do you plan to? What do you think about my review? Do you like it? Dislike it? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! I look forward to hearing from you.
You can purchase Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald through my Amazon Affiliate link below.
The Pilot for the Amazon series based on the book is below!
Other related reading material if you’re as obsessed with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald as I am! My favorite was Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
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Zelda’s only published novel Save Me The Waltz.