Zelda Fitzgerald's Writing Career Is Controversial


While Zelda Fitzgerald is a name people recognize on its own, her celebrity has almost always been intertwined with that of her husband, author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yet, Zelda was a writer too as Z: The Beginning Of Everything will show. F. Scott is known for his novels like The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night, but did Zelda ever publish a book? The tortured woman who inspired so many of F. Scott's characters actually did write a novel of her own.

The Amazon series Z: The Beginning of Everything, which is available for streaming on Jan. 27, starts with a young Zelda Sayre meeting F. Scott at a party in Alabama in 1918. Because it begins when this great couple first meets, Season 1 of Z: The Beginning of Everything will not delve into the novel Zelda wrote. Yet, the series does plant the seeds of her wanting to be a writer. The pilot episode shows that while Zelda was a fan of partying, she was also big into reading. And the trailer for Season 1 shows F. Scott using some of her words from a letter she wrote for his own work, which she does not look pleased about.

Zelda did eventually write her own novel, entitled Save Me the Waltz, in 1932. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Zelda completed the novel while she was in Johns Hopkins University's Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore, Maryland, for her mental health. The now defunct Gazette from Johns Hopkins wrote that Zelda was being treated for schizophrenia at this time. Yet, it should be noted that the author of the book that Z: The Beginning of Everything is based on — Therese Anne Fowler — wrote in Britain's The Telegraph that Zelda's schizophrenia diagnosis wasn't necessarily accurate.

Fowler wrote:

"The trouble lies in the diagnosis she was given in 1930: 'schizophrenia.' While today we know it to mean severe mental illness requiring delicate and often lifelong treatment with medications, therapies, and sometimes institutionalization, in Zelda's time it was a catch-all label for a range of emotional difficulties."

Regardless of the potentially inaccurate diagnosis, Zelda was evidently very creative during this period of time at the Phipps Clinic. The Gazette wrote that not only did she complete her novel while there, but she also painted and wrote a play called Scandalabra.

As for her only novel, it was semiautobiographical since it was about Alabama Beggs, a young Southern woman, marrying David Knight, an artist. Comparisons to the real-life marriage of Zelda and F. Scott beg to be made if you read Save Me the Waltz and it was apparently a point of contention in the couple's already troubled marriage. In 2013, the year the inspiration for the show — Fowler's book Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald — was published (along with a few other books about Zelda), the Wall Street Journal wrote about the marital struggles that these two creative forces faced based on Zelda writing Save Me the Waltz and called it a "full-blown artistic rivalry."

The Wall Street Journal wrote that Zelda completed her novel in just a few weeks while she was institutionalized and then sent the manuscript to her husband's editor at Scribner without telling F. Scott. He was working on his own book at the time, Tender Is the Night, and was reportedly outraged at the overlap in their books' subject matter since Tender Is the Night is based on Zelda's mental health struggles. He allegedly demanded parts of Save Me the Waltz be removed if they were too similar to his work.

Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice In Paradise author Sally Cline told the Wall Street Journal for its 2013 article:

"He was furious that somebody else would use their joint experience for literature ... What's left of Save Me the Waltz is a jagged, unfinished book. We don't know what it could have been."

To be fair to the famous author, Cline has been criticized for portraying F. Scott as a villain in Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise. Yet, Jonathon Keats also wrote that Save Me the Waltz was abridged by F. Scott — particularly the character based on him — in Salon back in 2001, which was before Cline's book was released. The Wall Street Journal also referred to Zelda's medical files that included a 114-page transcript from 1933 of a fight between Zelda and F. Scott about her writing.

Whether or not her husband stopped Zelda from being a great writer is a topic that Fitzgerald scholars debate about and it's not likely to ever be solved, the Wall Street Journal noted. Yet, what we do know is that there is a novel in Zelda's own words that you can read. So, instead of picking up The Great Gatsby for the umpteenth time next time you need a book to read, maybe you should give Zelda's Save Me the Waltz a try. While the story of the Fitzgeralds may feel familiar — especially after watching Z: The Beginning of Everything — the beauty of literature is that, almost 70 years after her death, Zelda's artistic interpretation of their story is still intact and available to read.