Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Zelda, A biography

an attempt at ballet

at age 19

with her husband
We read Nancy Milford's Zelda, a biography this month.  Ms. Milford brought us Savage Beauty that was well appreciated by our book group and we had high hopes for this, her first novel.

Zelda is the biography of the charmed but troubled life for Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald.  She was in essence the first flapper and symbolized the roaring 20's for many.  The reality of it is that she was mentally ill, married to an alcoholic and was starving for a creative outlet of her own.  Writing was essentially denied because her husband claimed their (her) life story and experiences as his own creative domain.  Attempts on her part to fictionalize anything based upon her own thoughts and experiences were squelched or shunned.

Examining the life events of people who are iconic can be exhausting.  It is difficult to learn that they were not the happy, go lucky people that society wants them to be. It is (to me) frustrating to immerse into a world where unhappiness and abuse reins.   Zelda was a strong woman prone to whimsy and her life might have been different had she selected a life partner who was just that, a partner.  It was clear that Scott was the star and all things must support that.  When she did have minor successes Scott managed and facilitated it so he a) was seen as responsible for it and b) could control the impact on their world.  He negotiated her contracts, "co-authored" articles and because of his own debt basically eliminated any profit she may have seen.  She netted about $150 from her one mildly successful book because the remainder of the compensation was held to cover Scotts debt with the publisher. 

We were mixed on how many finished the book, but were unified in our opinion that while it was a noteworthy effort that Ms. Milford could have benefited from an editor.  She spent pages on examples of how Scott used letters and passages from Zelda's diaries in his books.  A couple of examples would have sufficed for the novel.  For her thesis, I understand why Milford would want to show that she found many many glaring examples of plagiarism, but when this part of the book came up I personally found myself skimming.

We were also of differencing opinions as to how sympathetic the author was to Scott.  Some of us felt that in spite of the detail of the alcoholism and his marked cruelty that she was portraying him as a reasonably loving husband.   Others felt that she showed him to be the insecure cad that he was.

Of the two Milford biographies Savage Beauty comes out on top, but this one was certainly worthy of the time.

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