Zelda

I just finished the book “Zelda” by Nancy Milford.  Its actually about forty years old, and I read it about forty years ago, although it means a lot more to me now that I’m older.  Zelda wasthe wife of the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.  They evidently were quite a pair in their day–always hitting the headlines for something outrageous.  She was the Brittney Spears or Madonna of her day, although she was not an entertainer. 

Zelda was raised as the much spoiled baby of the family.  Her father rarely paid any attention to her.  Her mother doted on her, thought everything she did was charming, paid much attention to the daring, or sassy things her daughter did as though they indicated genius.  Zelda was a young woman with no sense of purpose in her life other than to attract attention and to do things for effect.  It helped that she was very beautiful and intelligent.  She married F. Scott Fitzgerald when she was still a teenager, and his fame and wealth came too early for either of them to handle.  The marriage was almost doomed from the start.  Scott Fitzgerald was wrapped up in his writing and his friends.  Zelda was expected to fend for herself when Scott was writing, which really went against her grain.  She was always the center of attention in her family and hometown.  She had never learned to make real friends, but instead saw people as an audience to be worked.  She had a child while quite young, and because of their wealth was able to have nannys for her daughter, hence never really developing a significant mother-daughter attachment.  She had an affair of sorts during one particularly busy summer of writing for Scott, and that was a turning point for the worse in their marriage. 

Scott, for his part, was so wrapped up in his writing and his friendships he failed to see Zelda as having needs.  She was supposed to be available to him, but not need him too much.  As time went on, partying and alcohol became more and more of the fabric of their lives, and their lives became emptier.  Zelda was very jealous of Scott and began to try to have something in which she excelled so that he wouldn’t in any way be superior to her.  She tried and exhausted herself trying to be a ballerina, when she hadn’t the talent for it.  She tried writing, and indeed she and Scott became enemies, fighting over who owned the history of their lives which they were both using as their writing material.  Eventually they were destroying each other.

The authors premise was that Zelda was suffering from a “boredom of the soul”.  She never seemed to have a purpose other than her own promotion and her own pleasure.  She always said she was an eternal flapper.  To her a flapper was someone who always did whatever she wanted and took risks to get whatever she wanted.  Ultimately the utter selfishness, along with heavy drinking, slowly became her undoing.  The authors premise was that a person who draws so far into themselves that their communication becomes understood only to themselves goes mad.  Zelda did.

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