As I finished reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, I felt sadness for this intriguing woman who never reached her full potential – not as a woman, nor as an artist, dancer, or writer. Written by Therese Anne Fowler, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is a fictionalized account of the real life of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama on July 24, 1900, Zelda Sayre was the child of a prominent southern family. She enjoyed dance and ballet lessons, and as Zelda grew older, she coveted attention and led an active social life.
Zelda met F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance when he was in the army and stationed at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery. At the time, Zelda was being courted by several men, and Scott jumped into the competition for Zelda’s attention.
In February 1919, Scott was discharged from the army and moved to New York. When Scott’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published, Zelda agreed to marry him. They were engaged in March 1920 even though her family disapproved of his excessive drinking and his being Catholic. The Sayres were Episcopalian. Zelda and Scott were married in New York City on April 3, 1920.
The Fitgeralds became celebrities of New York due to the success of his novel and their extravagant lifestyle. They were icons of the Jazz Age, and Scott referred to Zelda as “the first American Flapper”.
On October 26, 1921, Zelda gave birth to a daughter, Frances ‘Scottie’ Fitzgerald. Through most of her young life, Scottie was under the care of nannies and other household help. Hence, Zelda’s relationship with her daughter was never close.
Shortly thereafter, Zelda was asked to write a review of Scott’s work and before long began writing short stories and articles for magazines. Scott, whose own prose was suffering at the time, resented Zelda’s accomplishments.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald along with Scottie moved to Paris in April 1924. From there, they moved to the French Riviera where Zelda began painting. In April 1925, they met Ernest Hemingway who became close friends with Scott. Zelda and Ernest, however, had a mutual dislike for one another.
At 27 years old, Zelda became obsessed with ballet and practiced up to eight hours a day hoping to become a professional ballerina. In September 1929, she was invited to join an Italian dance company, but declined when Scott objected. Zelda’s demanding practice contributed to her physical and mental exhaustion which most likely played a part in her admission to a sanatorium in 1930.
The author, Therese Anne Fowler, pulled me into the story of the independent and spirited woman who, I believe, was living in the wrong era. Zelda was an artist – writer, painter, and ballerina – whose creativity was smothered by her husband’s ego. As was common in the early 1900s, women were expected to dote on their husbands and weren’t allowed to pursue their own dreams and aspirations. There are many different views on the Fitzgerald’s relationship, and many also question who ruined who. Through Fowler’s portrayal of Zelda and Scott, I sensed the intensity of their relationship and wondered how life might have been different for Zelda had she not fallen in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Studying letters exchanged between Scott and Zelda and between Scott, and his friends, agent, editor, and Ernest Hemingway, Fowler probed into the Fitzgerald’s relationship and presents the reader with an eloquent image of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.
“My respect and affection for both Scott and Zelda inspired this book, which, again, is not a biography but a novelist’s attempt to imagine what it was like to be Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald” – Therese Anne Fowler