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Zelda: A Biography Paperback – November 29, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 154 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Zelda Sayre started out as a Southern beauty, became an international wonder, and died by fire in a madhouse. With her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, she moved in a golden aura of excitement, romance, and promise. The epitome of the Jazz Age, they rode the crest of the era to its collapse and their own.

As a result of years of exhaustive research, Nancy Milford brings alive the tormented, elusive personality of Zelda and clarifies as never before her relationship with Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda traces the inner disintegration of a gifted, despairing woman, torn by the clash between her husband’s career and her own talent.

About the Author

Nancy Milford holds both an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University where Zelda was her dissertation. She has held a Guggenheim Fellowship in Biography, and has served on the boards of the Authors Guild, the Society of American Historians, and the Writers Room, of which she is a founder. Her most recent book is Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. She lives in Manhattan.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reissue edition (November 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062089390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062089397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Many of the other reviews of this biography by Nancy Milford give a misleading picture of it. First, there seems to be such a need or desire to see Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald as a feminist heroine that this biography is misread. There is, to be sure, some evidence that Zelda had some literary talent of her own: she actively contributed to her husband's best work, she wrote some stories that were published under his name and he suggested in a letter that if she hadn't met him, she would have grown into a genius. Yet it's clear Milford, when writing this book, had a more circumscribed view. She read all or near all of Zelda's surviving fiction and found much of it shallow or incoherent.

Second, the other reviews don't, in my view, really convey the depth of tragedy here. If Ford Madox Ford had a time-traveling library and could have read this book, he would not have begun The Good Soldier with, "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." Instead, he would have sad, "This is the second saddest story I have ever heard." Zelda and F. Scott became an incredibly famous and glamorous couple in the early 1920s, but within a decade, their lives were complete misery. F. Scott was a raging alcoholic and his inept responses to what in hindsight were early signs of his wife's mental illness would likely be considered abusive today. And Zelda for her part wasn't particularly loveable. The sheer gratuitousness and abruptness of Zelda's death only underscores the sadness of it all.

The book has two phases. The first reads like a documentary version of The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald's novel of an imploding society couple. In fact, Milford quotes a letter by F.
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Format: Paperback
I absolutely adored this book. It is extremely depressing at times to read considering the life of the woman the book is based upon, but other than that, it was fascinating. Milford' writing style is unique as well as informative and quite objective. The details about Zelda's life could only come from an author who has done her research. I would definetly recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback
I re-read this as a sometime writer myself, and first read it when I was about fourteen. Now it appears to me that Zelda created original images in her writing -- as well as emotional connections -- that hadn't been put together quite that way before. Her letters, as quoted by the author, teem with improvisational phrases, original images, and sometimes deep insight, although her use of the self-important elegiac tone is typically, generally, in our culture only granted to certain male writers.
Fitgerald was eager -- obsessed -- to make a name for himself, and her talent (which came through even in her madness) became his plagarized muse. Both of them fell victim to these circumstances and mindset.
After reading this bio I would bet dollars to donuts that the image that kicks off "Tender is the Night," "the tan prayer-rug of a beach," was thought up by Zelda. This bio makes clear, to my mind at least, that Scott, acutely aware of the demands of the literary craft, recognized and basically stole her strikingly visual phrases, to sprinkle through his own writing; as well as making her life the subject of several of his stories and novels.
The drawback to this book and what makes it progressively harder to read is that, in the latter half, the author Milford often uses narrative structure to drain both any sympathy for Zelda's condition and any empathy which admiration for Zelda's talent might cause. Often after a typically striking example of Zelda's prose, Milford will follow it with, "She was truly alone now," or "Her face looked haggard as she..." Milford seems to focus on such not-really-telling "details" of Zelda's life to hide her own (Milford's) basic lack of empathy.
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Format: Paperback
Given this book's formidable reputation as a landmark of female biography, I found it a surprising disappointment. Although I tried and tried to get close to Zelda - who was at best a very elusive character - Ms Milford simply would not let me anywhere near her.
The author's writing has a cold, dispassionate quality. She has an irritating habit of mentioning obscure details (names of people, for example), and either explaining them much later or not explaining them at all (her more recent book on Edna St Millay shares this technique). The effect is curiously distancing; as if the author knows far more than she lets on and does not care to explain it all to mere mortals like us.
Given the importance of ballet in Zelda's later life, for example, why is a picture of her as a young teenager in a ballet dress included without any comment whatsoever? Did she learn ballet as a girl? Was she any good at it? Was there anything to indicate that it would later become an obsession? These are important and enlightening details that we never learn. Nor do we hear of anything beyond Zelda's death, which rather abruptly ends the book, offering little insight into her later legacy and reputation. It's as if we're constantly trying to spot the subject in the middle distance, only to find Milford's head in the way every time.
Factually, the book is faultless, which only makes this distance even more frustrating. I wanted to find Zelda; to know this fascinating person and to form my own conclusions about her, but she remained completely elusive amongst the cold, clinical facts.
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