Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise

Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise

by Sally Cline

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According to legend, Zelda Fitzgerald was the mythical American Dream Girl of the Roaring Twenties. She was the archetypal Southern belle who became the "first American flapper," in the words of her husband, the quintessential novelist of the period, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Their romance coincided with the glamour and spectacle of the Jazz Age, and legend has it that


According to legend, Zelda Fitzgerald was the mythical American Dream Girl of the Roaring Twenties. She was the archetypal Southern belle who became the "first American flapper," in the words of her husband, the quintessential novelist of the period, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Their romance coincided with the glamour and spectacle of the Jazz Age, and legend has it that when Zelda cracked up, not long after the stock market crash of 1929, Scott remained loyal to her despite her frequent later breakdowns and final madness.
Six years in the making, this powerful biography is the first on Zelda in more than thirty years. In it, Sally Cline presents a far more complex and controversial portrait, and an analysis of the Fitzgeralds' marriage very different from what we have been told so far. The Zelda Cline reveals was a serious artist: a painter of extraordinary and disturbing vision, a talented dancer, and a witty and dazzlingly original writer whose words and work Scott used in his own novels-often verbatim but never acknowledged. When she moved into what Scott felt was his literary territory, he tried to stifle her voice.
Sally Cline brings us that authentic voice through Zelda's own highly autobiographical writings and through hundreds of letters she wrote to friends and family, publishers and others. Hitherto untapped sources, including medical evidence and interviews with Zelda's last psychiatrist, suggest that her "insanity" may have been less a specific clinical condition than the product of her treatment for schizophrenia and her husband's behavior toward her. Cline shows how Scott's alcoholism, too, was as destructive of Zelda and their marriage as it was of him.
Cline's exhaustive research and incisive analysis animate a profoundly moving portrait of Zelda and provide a convincing context to her tragedy.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Although much of the material on Scott is damning, Cline does not try to deify Zelda, and acknowledges the long history of mental instability in her family. Still, Cline ponders the severity of Zelda's illness, and wonders if she wasn't ultimately a victim of her treatment. An interesting insight comes from an interview with Dr. Irving Pine, who was Zelda's last psychiatrist. Pine suggests Zelda may have been misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic, and believes in hindsight it was more likely that she suffered from severe depression. At the time, however, she was subjected to a variety of gruesome cures. — Susan Coll
Publishers Weekly
More than half a century after her death in a sanatorium fire in North Carolina, Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948) remains a controversial figure. Was she the Golden Girl and Jazz Age icon, the mad Southern belle who drove her husband to drink and destroyed his genius, or the doomed victim of Fitzgerald's ego? She was some of these and none, according to Cline's exhaustively researched biography. Cline was permitted for the first time to draw upon Zelda's medical records to document the range of treatments her physicians subjected her to in an effort to conform her to appropriately feminine behavior. Previous biographers have come down heavily in favor of one or the other of the doomed Fitzgerald pair. Cline, a Cambridge scholar and biographer of Radclyffe Hall, appears to agree with the psychiatrist who viewed the relationship as a folie deux, in which Scott viewed Zelda's desperate attempts to find an identity through writing, dance and painting as frontal attacks on his masculinity and genius, and Zelda, for her part, clung to an exhausting emotional dependence on Scott, never quite breaking free. If there is a villain here, it is Ernest Hemingway, who first launched the notion of Zelda's madness and remained her implacable enemy. Cline claims that Zelda was more successful as a writer, dancer and painter than is commonly supposed, though her argument would have been strengthened had more of Zelda's paintings been reproduced. 16 pages of b&w photos. 35,000 first printing. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This rather controversial biography reveals Zelda Fitzgerald's life as a complexity of "voices," from Southern belle who married F. Scott Fitzgerald and was taken to New York where suddenly she was living in the shadow of a famous and egotistical husband, to life in Paris, return to New York, and hospitalization for mental illness. Quoting directly from Zelda's autobiographical writings, scholar Cline (Couples: Scenes from the Inside) reveals that the Fitzgerald "romantic" marriage was actually troubled and Zelda's continued hospitalization medically unnecessary and fueled by Scott's fear that she would distract him from his writing. Zelda herself was a deeply creative person, talented as a painter, a dancer, and a writer but inhibited by her marriage and her own insecurities. More critical of the Fitzgerald marriage than Nancy Milford's Zelda: A Biography and more concerned with the stifling of a creative artist, this book is an excellent companion to Zelda: An Illustrated Life, edited by Eleanor Lanahan, which reproduces much of Zelda's art. Highly recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries.-Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Wrapped up in a thorough biography, a strong case for why the unfortunate Zelda Fitzgerald should be remembered as an artist foremost, not merely as a victim of mental illness. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s life story is fairly well known, at least in broad outline, to students of American literature, if largely as a tale of star-crossed love. An Alabama debutante, she met Scott Fitzgerald at the end of WWI, was duly infatuated, married him--in a ceremony, notes British writer Cline (Women’s Studies/Univ. of Cambridge; Couples, 1999, etc.), that her parents refused to attend--and went on to become a bon-vivant fixture of the Jazz Age, only to go mad and, eventually, to die in a fire in the asylum where she was confined. Cline revisits these events while threading in useful notes on Zelda Fitzgerald’s artistic accomplishments (and not-so-useful remarks that smack of currently fashionable lit-crit, talking as they do of "invisibilized" art and whether Ernest Hemingway was gay). That Zelda’s life was tragic almost goes without saying, but Cline carefully assembles evidence to show that she surely had more than her share of sorrows: at the end of her life, Zelda narrowed them down to a list of her four most traumatic experiences, of which the breakdown of her marriage to Scott (mostly owing to his alcoholism, but also to her advancing mental illness) was but one. Cline does an equally careful job of establishing and maintaining an argument that Zelda was an accomplished artist in several media, especially painting and dance. Though contemporaries such as Malcolm Cowley were less than wowed by her work (Cowley complained that Zelda’s paintings were "flawed . . . by lack of proportion andcraftsmanship"), Cline suggests that it was good enough on its own terms to fuel Scott Fitzgerald’s abundant insecurities, one more cause for the disintegration of their marriage. Though less fluent than Nancy Milford’s now-standard, 33-year-old Zelda, Cline’s account should find considerable following among students of women’s literature and art. First printing of 35,000. Agent: Barbara Levy

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Arcade Publishing
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5.75(w) x 8.87(h) x 1.37(d)

Meet the Author

Sally Cline teaches at the University of Cambridge and is the author of Couples: Scenes from the Inside and an acclaimed biography of Radclyffe Hall, among other works. She lives in England.

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