Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold. – Zelda

Zelda Fitzgerald. Born Zelda Sayre in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1900. We know her more as the other half of that quintessential Jazz Age couple with F. Scott Fitzgerald.

She was a writer, painter, and dancer but all that was drowned out by her famous writer husband.

In those Roaring Twenties, she was an American Dream Girl. Scott said she was “the first American flapper.”  He used her for inspiration for a good number of his female characters, including Daisy in The Great Gatsby.

Were they in love? Absolutely. For a time, they were in love. And then they weren’t in love.

Scott wrote a famous piece about cracking up. He seemed to get past it. But Zelda had a breakdown in 1930 and went in and out of hospitals the rest of her life. She was diagnosed as having schizophrenia.

I couldn’t find anything she wrote about cracking up. Maybe she didn’t want to use her life or their life as material. She once said that Scott used it all because he believed that “plagiarism starts at home” but later she did the same thing.

While Zelda was away, Scott, crack up and all, went on with his life. He was an alcoholic and he drank away a lot of his talent. In 1940, he was with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham in Hollywood. On December 20, Scott and Graham attended a movie premiere and when they left Fitzgerald was dizzy and had trouble walking. He told Graham, “They think I am drunk, don’t they?”

The next day he was making notes when Graham saw him jump from his armchair, grab the mantelpiece, gasp, and fall to the floor. He was dead of a heart attack at the age of 44.

Four years later on March 10, Zelda was at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. A fire started in the hospital kitchen. Zelda was locked in a room awaiting electric shock therapy. There was no escape for her.

She was buried next to Scott in the family plot in Rockville, Maryland. Their shared tombstone has inscribed on it the last line from The Great Gatsby:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I only recently read some of her own writing. In 1932, while hospitalized Zelda had a creative burst and in six weeks she wrote her only novel, Save Me the Waltz.

Before it could be published, Scott was enraged by it, saying that she used material from their lives that he wanted to use for Tender Is the Night. He made her cut material before it could be published. She did. It was a failure and he made sure she knew it.

I wanted to love her writing because I wanted her to be loved.

I don’t know if Zelda would be pleased that Don Henley says he wrote “Witchy Woman” when he was in The Eagles about her (I hear nothing in the lyrics that says Zelda to me)  or that the videogame The Legend of Zelda is named for her (again, nothing of Zelda in it).

I’m not even sure that Zelda would be pleased that she is buried next to Scott, but at least it leads more people to visit the gravesite.


About Zelda

The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald

A gouache entitled Fifth Avenue by Zelda Fitzgerald
Fifth Avenue – by Zelda Fitzgerald – Google Images, Public Domain, Link

Published by

Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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