She casts a spell on anyone willing to take the time to meet her. Zelda Fitzgerald is the most famous of all the 1920s flappers. She was wild, bold, and an artist living in the shadow of her husband’s success. Her story inspired the Eagle’s famous song, “Witchy Woman” and the name of the infamous Nintendo video game. She remains a woman that continues to fascinate generations after her passing.
Zelda’s story brings inspiration, because while being married to one of the most famous authors of her time, she fought to keep her personal identity in a time where women’s voices were seldom heard.
She was born in Montgomery, Alabama, to a wealthy family whose home was led by her father Anythony Sayre, a subdued and private Supreme Court Justice. Zelda was defiant of cultural norms even at a young age. She was formally trained as a classical ballerina, but she loved even more to use her dancing skills at parties. When Zelda wasn’t practicing ballet she was often out late with friends, drinking, and dancing with whomever was willing to take her hand. Late one night at a country club it was F. Scott Fitzgerald, the infamous author of “The Great Gatsby,” that finally captivated all of Zelda’s attention. Their lifestyle, romance, and parties were publicized and closely followed in the news and magazines.
Fitzgerald’s career exploded and the parties he and Zelda threw called people from all over the world. They partied with famous artists, authors, and musicians. Ernest Hemingway was a known party attendant and friend of Scott, but often the receiver of Zelda’s jealousy. Scott’s career climbed quickly as he wrote his novels and short stories. His muse was always Zelda. The infamous Daisy Buchanan, was modeled after Zelda. The heroine in his first novel “This Side of Paradise” was also a mirror of Zelda.
Zelda's and Scott’s lifestyle eventually cultivated madness and toxicity. Zelda grew vindictive at Scott for his success and for also using her personal journals for inspiration and writing material. As their life unraveled, Scott became an alcoholic and suffered severe financial instability due to their careless and excess behaviors. Zelda was passionate but distracted by her inability to express herself. She attempted suicide more than once, and would do anything to keep Scott’s attention.
Scott’s alcoholism, debt, and instability are what some historians believe were the catalyst for Zelda’s mental health deterioration. Zelda was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and spent the majority of her last years of life in and out of mental health facilities. During one of her stays at the hospital she wrote the novel, “Save Me the Waltz” and created several beautiful paintings. Her novel and art unfortunately did not do well and was left in the shadows while being constantly compared to Scott’s success.
Scott eventually died of what was believed to be a heart attack at the age of 44 in 1940. In 1948 Zelda would die from a fire breaking out in the hospital where she was about to receive electric shock therapy. Because the doors were locked for the procedure, Zelda was unable to escape and died in the fire. The story of Zelda disappeared and had little interest until the late 1970’s when a biography of her life was written by Nancy Milford. Zelda’s story began to inspire artists and fuel the feminist fires of the 70s. Women recognized that Zelda’s art, talent, and prowess was hidden and disregarded by a patriarchal society that failed to recognize her and blamed Scott’s failings on her.
I have watched documentaries on her, watched the amazing mini series “Z” on Amazon Prime, read her work, looked at her paintings, and have inhaled so many stories on Zelda. She has always been somewhat of an obsession for me. I have seen myself in her. Her toxic relationships, the neglect of her mental health, and the burning desire to share her art. Her knowledge of how the world worked and how patriarchal society did not accept her led to self doubt. Her story lives on because although she died in tragedy, her spirit lives on inside the narrative of women finding their rightful place in the world we live in today.
Check out the trailer for the incredible mini-series on amazon prime about Zelda Fitzgerald:
Written by: Jenifer Veloso