The King and Queen of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre.
A Princetonian from Minnesota, Scott left school during his senior year to join the army. That’s how he met the cheeky party girl from Alabama. He saw her dancing at a party one night, doing something called the “Dance of the Hours,” and asked around to see if anyone knew her. It didn’t matter that she was barely out of high school, he thought she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen and requested to be introduced to her.
They were both charming, stubborn, people who loved having a good time and ignoring things until after it is far too late for them to be taken care of.
Scott was not the normal type of guy Zelda was into. She loved the tall, strapping young men who could pick her up, but this sensitive, imaginative, indoor guy was something new for her. Zelda was very much like the last girl Scott was in love with. He was a romantic who kind of fell in and out of love and she always had many suitors she was never really happy with. But then Scott felt that spark that happened when that Soul Mate tether connected like one of those heart-shaped “Best Friends” necklace.
Things were lovely at first while they communicated via letters. Scott even sent her a secret chapter of his novel that had been turned down by a publisher. He visited her when he could, and they got a little wild together. But then he would talk about HIS future and how HE was going to be famous and amazing and be one of the “Cool Kids” (my words, not his) and leave events with girls who were not Zelda, filling her with jealousy.
Once he was discharged from the army, things were a little different. He went back to her but they fought constantly. Scott had always thought of himself as a Confirmed Bachelor, but Zelda totally changed his mind. He fell harder for her and they got involved in all sorts of shenanigans about town…and she was still going out with other guys. They both had ideas of themselves that made them more arrogant than they possibly need be. This arrogance, and his dreams had him wiring Zelda from New York after his discharge from the army: “Yo, Z. I know you love me, but I had to get to the Big Apple so that my Success Train can start moving. Hope you can get up here soon. Kisses, Scotty.”
(Ok, it didn’t say exactly that. But that’s the gist.)
They were really good at making one another jealous, whether it was on purpose or not. They were good at making each other smile, good at making each other miserable. They knew how to push one another’s buttons.
They cheated on one another constantly. Once, she was trying to send a letter and return a token to a suitor she met during college, and she “accidentally” sent it to Scott, who tells her to stop writing him but then changes his mind and hops on a train to propose. She says no. They break up. He’s inconsolable and life goes on for her. Pretty much.
Scott lost his girl, went home, quit his job, and went on a bender that lasted for three weeks, until Prohibition was enacted. Then he decided to do a rewrite of his first novel The Romantic Egotist, aka This Side of Paradise. In a letter to a friend, Scott wrote
I’ve tried to get married and then tried to drink myself to death but foiled, as have been so many good men, by the sex and the state I have returned to literature.
That was a really good idea. He sent his manuscript back to the publisher who’d originally rejected it and was immediately offered a contract for it. All he’d needed was just a little more life experience…that he threw into the mix of the words he’d written in college when he’d been in love with another girl. Also into the mix were some of Zelda’s actual words that she’d written to him.
Finally he could take no more. He wrote to her and asked if he could come see her. She missed him, so she said yes. They got re-engaged and decided to marry when the book was published. But she wrote to him and gave him an out. If he didn’t still feel the same about her, she would release him from the engagement immediately. But he was certain, confident, and happy. And in love.
Why can’t I write? I’d like to tell you how fine I think the book is and how miserably and and completely and—a little unexpectedly—I am thine.”
In another letter, probably written a few days later, she added:
I am very proud of you— I hate to say this, but I don’t think I had much confidence in you at first… It’s so nice to know that you really can do things—anything— And I love to feel that maybe I can help just a little— I want to so much— … I’m so damn glad I love you— I wouldn’t love any other man on earth— I believe if I had deliberately decided on a sweetheart, he’d have been you—
While Scott worked his fingers off in New York to make a name for himself, and enough money for a little nest egg, Zelda, who was inspired by Scott, starting writing herself , something that he eventually got a little mad about because he couldn’t plagiarize her. And he thought of it as a competition and he didn’t want any competition.
No personality as strong as Zelda’s could go without getting criticism… I’ve always known that, any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has ‘kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more,’ cannot be considered beyond reproach even if above it… I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self respect and its these things I’d believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all that she should be… I love her and that’s the beginning and end of everything. You’re still a catholic but Zelda’s the only God I have left now.
They were married April 3, 1920.
And that was just the beginning of the madness.
They married and lived ostentatiously, without reserve. Their friends and family never thought they’d last. They were a ticking time bomb.
And don’t think the flirting stopped after that ring was slipped on. There was plenty of that going on the whole damn time. The novelty of having his beautiful bird at his side wore off a little bit when he realized that she was pretty useless, an ornament. And that was during the honeymoon.
They were obnoxiously drunk most of the time and just obnoxious the rest of the time. There’s a lot of partying, but Scott worked a great deal, even using some of Zelda’s ideas for stories. With or without her consent, I am not sure.
Then they had a baby girl, but it didn’t seem Zelda was too suited to motherhood, so the child was in he care of a nanny. Three months later she found herself pregnant again, but they weren’t ready for another child so soon, so Zelda got an abortion.
That’s just the early years. This doesn’t even TOUCH the tip of the iceberg that is the life of the Fitzgeralds. Scott’s drinking gets worse. Scott may or may not have had a gay affair with another writer, which may or may not have been just one more block in the mind of Zelda that crumbled that plunged her into the madness in which she lived, until she died in a fire in a mental hospital in 1948, outliving Scott, who died in Hollywood in 1940.
From the outside, it was glamorous and romantic. On the inside were two people who were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.