“I don’t want to live, I want to love first and live incidentally.”
― Zelda Fitzgerald
I’ve always loved reading about 1920’s America: the music, architecture, dancing, fashion and films. It seemed so exciting and vibrant. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favourite novels and so, when I saw this book, ‘Z – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald’ by Therese Anne Fowler, I was eager to learn more about the famous couple and their life in 1920’s America. This however is a novel of fiction and at first I was disappointed that it didn’t revolve around more solid facts. I wanted to hear Zelda’s own words so I could view this era through her eyes. However, on finishing the book I realised this was as close as anyone could get.
What I’ve learnt is that the Fitzgerald’s life or what we know of it, was based in fiction itself. Half truths. Gossip. There have been many differing accounts of what really went on. The whisperings at the time have evolved and grown into fantastical stories that alter from source to source. Their success in the social scene had it’s foundations in gossip and scandal. Here were these young, beautiful people, determined to be rich and famous, making sure they were at every party, meeting every important person they could, drinking to excess, spending money they didn’t have and by doing so, creating a reputation for themselves that everyone wanted to know and talk about.
Scott was passionate about writing and was clearly good at it, but at the same time seemed almost more obsessed with the idea of being a success and the life that would bring. He was trying to live the life of someone who had succeeded and already made their millions but he wasn’t anywhere near reaching that kind of achievement. Whatever money he did make, he was spending straight away. He was severely in debt and a lot his money went on alcohol and in turn the alcohol became more of a focus that the writing.
Zelda followed him wherever he went, dutifully fulfilling the fictional personality he had created for her. She was his muse but at the same time a sort of puppet. He told her what to wear, how to act, what to say and in turn enjoyed this ridiculously extravagant social life with her, thriving on the attention from strangers and playing up to the act he had created for them both. Women at this time were generally seen to be the pretty things by their husband’s side but understandably, after having had her fun, Zelda grew bored of having no achievements of her own.
“Nothing could have survived our life.”
― Zelda Fitzgerald,
This particular story follows Zelda and her desperation to do something more with her life, other than being a wife. It shows a couple living at such heady heights that you knew they had to crash in a tremendous fashion at some point. It’s incredibly heartbreaking and although you have to keep reminding yourself that it is a work of fiction, you get the feeling the truth can’t have been too different. The letters sent between Zelda, Scott, their family and friends as well as their journals are the basis for this and many other novels written about them. Some say Zelda ruined Scott’s life where as others believe Scott ruined Zelda’s. What I find quite tragically beautiful though is their love for each other. It’s not pretty and it’s not healthy but it’s there. Even in moments where it seems to have gone it’s just hiding under the surface. They may have ruined each others lives but at the same time they couldn’t seem to function without each other in some form.
We will never truly know the truth but maybe the young Scott and Zelda, the couple who loved the excitement and gossip surrounding them, would have loved it that way.