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One From the Archive: ‘Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda’, edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Barks *****

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda is one of the books which I have most looked forward to reading – ever, I think. I spotted it quite by chance in Cambridge Central Library whilst I was browsing the biography section, and may have given a tiny squeal of joy before snapping it up. To add to my excitement, it is also the favourite book of one of my absolute favourite musicians, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. 9780747566014

The letters in Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda have never before been published in the same volume. The informative preface which the editors of the book, Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Bates have penned, states the way in which they have chosen to adopt a chronological approach to present the correspondence of the husband and wife. This is certainly my preferred form for letter collections and works of non-fiction, and it has been used to great effect here.

Elements of biography can be found before each letter, and it is clear that Bryer and Bates have greatly respected the material which they have presented in the volume. So much thought has been put into how the letters are presented, and each section has a nicely written introduction, which sets out the point at which the lives of the Fitzgeralds were in each particular period. Eleanor Lanahan, the granddaughter of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, has written the introduction to Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda, and its inclusion feels so very fitting for a number of reasons. Her words are touching, and it is pleasing that she sets such stock by the work of her grandparents.

Throughout, I felt privileged to be able to read the correspondence of Scott and Zelda. Their letters to one another, even in the more troubled years of their marriage, are just darling. The prose is beautiful, the similes and metaphors gorgeous, and the spontaneity in each and every letter is marvellous. What characters both Scott and Zelda were, and how lucky we are as readers to be able to read their most private of works. I admire the way in which the editors have kept the original spellings and punctuation in the letters. The photographs and facsimiles of letters are a lovely addition to the text too.

The story of Scott and Zelda is often very sad, with Zelda being hospitalised for mental illness during the later years of her life, and Scott’s alcoholism, but their love is always there, no matter which situations they may find themselves in. Love is the enduring factor here, in all of its many forms.

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda is a fascinating collection of correspondence, which continually exemplifies the depths of Scott and Zelda’s love for one another. Many of the letters here were penned by Zelda, and she writes beautifully. Some of the sentences which she crafts are breathtaking and heartfelt, such as this, written in November 1931:

“… if you will come back I will make the jasmine bloom and all the trees come out in flower and we will eat clouds for des[s]ert[,] bathe in the foam of the rain – and I will let you play with my pistol and you can win every golf game and I will make you a new suit from a blue hydrangea bush and shoes from pecan-shells and I’ll sew you a belt from leaves like maps of the world and you can always be the one that’s perfect.”

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda comes highly recommended, and it is certainly a book which I will be purchasing my own copy of in future, so that I can read it all over again.

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American Literature Month: ‘Save Me the Waltz’ by Zelda Fitzgerald **** (Classics Club #56)

I have wanted to read Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz for years now, and truly have no reason as to why I have only just got around to it.  However, my lapse seems to have worked out nicely; as well as being an entry upon my Classics Club list, it is also a perfect choice for my American Literature Month.

First published in 1932, Save Me the Waltz is a highly autobiographical novel, written by the fascinating wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The pair ‘grew increasingly erratic’ after the 1920s, and Zelda ‘became schizophrenic’; rather, her schizophrenia was recognised and defined.  During her first ‘mental crisis’ in 1930, she produced three short stories, as well as a libretto for a ballet.  After a period of partial recovery, she became seriously disturbed once more, and wrote Save Me the Waltz, her only novel, in just six weeks.  This was much to the envy of her husband, who had been working on the novel’s parallel, Tender is the Night, for over five years.  Of Save Me the Waltz, F. Scott said, ‘It is a good novel now; perhaps a very good novel – I am too close to tell’.

Southern Belle Alabama Beggs, the protagonist of the piece, is based upon Zelda, and her husband, a ‘promising artist’ named David Knight, finds his origins within F. Scott.  The history of the Beggs family is set out immediately, and is incredibly thorough: ‘”Those girls,” people said, “think they can do anything and get away with it”.  This was because of the sense of security they felt in their father.  He was a living fortress…  Inadequately equipped by his own father, Austin Beggs worked night and day in his cerebral laboratory to better provide for those who were his…  Austin loved Millie’s children with that detached tenderness and introspection peculiar to important men when confronting some relief of their youth, some memory of the days before they elected to be the instruments of their experience and not its result…  Austin might have borne a closer relation to his family had he not lost his boy in infancy’.

A lot of the situations which manifest themselves within the novel – Alabama’s belated efforts to succeed as a ballet dancer, for instance – have truth within the history of the real-life couple.  The introduction of the Penguin Modern Classics edition which I read states that: ‘Zelda Fitzgerald’s book emerges as much more than a document of spite.  It is a forceful, truthful picture of legendary marriage in a fabulous age: one of the most shattering self-portraits of a woman ever committed to paper’.  In F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait, Henry Dan Piper echoes this sentiment; he believes that writing this book was a ‘desperate and moving attempt to give order to her confused memories.  It was also a bitter attack on Fitzgerald, who was thinly disguised in her manuscript as “Amory Blaine” [the Fitzgerald-like hero of This Side of Paradise]’.

Whilst Save Me the Waltz was criticised on its initial publication in the United States, British reviewers in 1953 ‘greeted it with enthusiasm’.  In terms of viewing it as a complementary volume of sorts to Tender is the Night, the introduction says: ‘Readers of both books will notice parallels between points of fiction, especially in the Riviera scenes; and it is of absorbing interest to note the differences between the husband’s and the wife’s version of what was happening’.

Zelda’s writing is stunning, particularly with regard to her descriptions: ‘… insects swarm to the golden holocaust of the hall light.  Shadows brush the Southern night like heavy, impregnated maps soaking its oblivion back to the black heat whence it evolved’.  Gorgeous observations are made about her characters: ‘He verified himself in the mirror – pale hair like eighteenth-century moonlight and eyes like grottoes, the blue grotto, the green grotto, stalactites and malachites hanging about the dark pupil – as if he had taken an inventory of himself before leaving and was pleased to find himself complete’.  Our first glimpse of Alabama, too, is striking: ‘The girl had been filled with no interpretation of herself, having been born so late in the life of parents that humanity had already disassociated itself from their intimate consciousness and childhood became more of a concept than the child…  It was much later that the child, Alabama, came to realise that the bones of her father could indicate only her limitations’.

The way in which Zelda builds the relationship between Alabama and David is wonderful, and the entire novel is beautifully constructed.  There are some lovely, thought-provoking scenes and comments within it, and the whole is just as memorable as any of her husband’s more famous works.  Save Me the Waltz is poignant and sensual, as well as sensitively and understandingly wrought, and it is all the more fascinating when one keeps Tender is the Night in mind.

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2

‘Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’, edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Bates *****

I am a touch obsessed with the Fitzgeralds at present.  Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda is one of the books which I have most looked forward to reading – ever, I think.  I spotted it quite by chance in Cambridge Central Library whilst I was browsing the biography section, and may have given a tiny squeal of joy before snapping it up.  To add to my excitement, it is also the favourite book of one of my absolute favourite musicians, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie.

‘Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda’ (Bloomsbury)

The letters in Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda have never before been published in the same volume.  The informative preface which the editors of the book, Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Bates have penned, states the way in which they have chosen to adopt a chronological approach to present the correspondence of the husband and wife.  This is certainly my preferred form for letter collections and works of non-fiction, and it has been used to great effect here.

Elements of biography can be found before each letter, and it is clear that Bryer and Bates have greatly respected the material which they have presented in the volume.  So much thought has been put into how the letters are presented, and each section has a nicely written introduction, which sets out the point at which the lives of the Fitzgeralds were in each particular period.  Eleanor Lanahan, the granddaughter of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, has written the introduction to Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda, and its inclusion feels so very fitting for a number of reasons.  Her words are touching, and it is pleasing that she sets such stock by the work of her grandparents.

Throughout, I felt privileged to be able to read the correspondence of Scott and Zelda.  Their letters to one another, even in the more troubled years of their marriage, are just darling.  The prose is beautiful, the similes and metaphors gorgeous, and the spontaneity in each and every letter is marvellous.  What characters both Scott and Zelda were, and how lucky we are as readers to be able to read their most private of works.  I admire the way in which the editors have kept the original spellings and punctuation in the letters.  The photographs and facsimiles of letters are a lovely addition to the text too.

The story of Scott and Zelda is often very sad, with Zelda being hospitalised for mental illness during the later years of her life, and Scott’s alcoholism, but their love is always there, no matter which situations they may find themselves in.  Love is the enduring factor here, in all of its many forms.

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda is a fascinating collection of correspondence, which continually exemplifies the depths of Scott and Zelda’s love for one another.  Many of the letters here were penned by Zelda, and she writes beautifully.  Some of the sentences which she crafts are breathtaking and heartfelt, such as this, written in November 1931:

“… if you will come back I will make the jasmine bloom and all the trees come out in flower and we will eat clouds for des[s]ert[,] bathe in the foam of the rain – and I will let you play with my pistol and you can win every golf game and I will make you a new suit from a blue hydrangea bush and shoes from pecan-shells and I’ll sew you a belt from leaves like maps of the world and you can always be the one that’s perfect.”

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda comes highly recommended, and it is certainly a book which I will be purchasing my own copy of in future, so that I can read it all over again.

Purchase from The Book Depository

2

Women of The Jazz Age

I have a slight obsession with inter-war novels and the lives of those people who culturally helped shape the Jazz Age. There are some amazing women who played public and literary roles whose stories I have enjoyed greatly and in honor of International Women’s day in March I thought I would list some of my forever favorite bios.

Zelda by Nancy Milford

If there was ever a muse to an author, it was surely Zelda to Scott. She was the idealized flapper to the pubic and for a while they were the enchanted couple. Hadley Hemingway once said that to watch Scott and Zelda dance the Charleston in Paris was to see it done to perfection and not to be forgotten. From the early years to the glory years and the decline of her mental health, this book has her story wonderfully compiled, and is the most complete of anything I’ve read yet on Zelda.

Rating: 5 stars

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Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s critical approval was years long in coming, despite her first piece’s success. To say she lived life on her own terms doesn’t even apply. She was a terrific and wild force. Her exploits sexually are legendary, but her relationships with her mother and anyone strong enough to get close to her, are complicated to extremes.  This is a must read for Jazz Age enthusiasts.

Rating: 5 stars

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‘Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin’ by Marion Meade

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade

Not technically biography, but more a chronicle of the lives of four pillars of the Jazz Age woman. Dorothy Parker, Edna Thurber, Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay are followed yearly from 1920 through 1929. This is a mixture of social history, biography, gossip and overview of their lives. I did like how it was done one year at a time. It was a nice way to show parallels in their lives and careers. A fun addition to full biographies, it is less formal and is a quick read.

Rating: 4 stars

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