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Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: An American Woman's Life

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1403934031
ISBN-10: 1403934037
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Prolific literary biographer Wagner-Martin (Sylvia Plath, etc.) utilizes newly available files at Princeton for this fresh reassessment of F. Scott Fitzgerald's flamboyant, creative, troubled wife, stressing that Zelda's personality and character were shaped by her Southern upbringing and her relationship with her parents. Using documents pertaining to Zelda's psychiatric history and the works of contemporary psychologists to interpret the behavior that institutionalized Zelda (1900–1948) for the last half of her short life, Wagner-Martin concludes that it was Scott who drove Zelda into breakdown, with his compulsive drinking, cruel and abusive behavior, and scathing criticism of Zelda as a "third rate" writer and dancer. While Wagner-Martin sometimes uses such constructions as "it could be" to assess Zelda's state of mind and speculate about what was apparently the misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, she cogently argues that Zelda's breakdown was basically caused by her feelings of inferiority to Scott, her desire to alleviate their financial insolvency and, above all, the need to express herself creatively. Each attempt, she shows, was jealously blocked by Scott. Wagner-Martin's sturdy analysis does much to dispel the myth that the necessity of coping with Zelda's mental problems was Scott's tragic nemesis, effectively suggesting instead that "Zelda's crack-up gave him both alibi and cover" and that his alcoholism and "mean, inhuman" behavior toward Zelda were responsible for the destruction of two lives. 11 b&w illus.
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From Booklist

Wagner-Martin perceptively portrays Zelda not as an appendage to her famous husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, but rather as a creative woman in her own right and as part of the heritage of southern women from which she sprang. Wagner-Martin, herself a southerner, hauntingly presents a fully three-dimensional biography of Zelda that goes beyond Nancy Milford's groundbreaking 1970 portrayal thanks to her access to newly available Princeton archives. Wagner-Martin begins with Zelda's birth, not the fateful day she met Minnesotan Fitzgerald in his impeccable lieutenant's uniform, and places her squarely in the milieu of Montgomery, Alabama. Here headstrong and flamboyant Zelda is no mere flapper, but rather a belle with the requisite family name and social class, a product of the turn-of-the-century Deep South, a southern lady caught up in Fitzgerald's obsessions and the impersonal urbanity of his northern and European jazzy and literary world, a relationship and a realm that undermined creativity but underestimated Zelda's confidence with disastrous results. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 251 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (November 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403934037
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403934031
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,205,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I was very surprised to see just one review on Amazon of this wonderful biography. This is the first review I have written here. I always check out what readers have to say about books I have read or intend to read. So I was really looking forward to a lot of stimulating feedback. That being said, I guess I will put in my two cents. This truly is the story of an American woman. And that is why I think it is so relevant to every woman living in American society today. Wagner-Martin does an exemplary job of illustrating how the genius and talent of woman can become neutralized through the weight and burden of early conditioning. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was a creature screaming and yearning to differentiate herself from the overpowering presence of her talented and lauded husband. The awful tragedy is that this intense passion to become her own person was so grossly misconstrued as mental illness. It is tough reading. My heart so went out to Zelda. Yet I can't help but recognize that woman today still has an uphill battle in a society that has yet to relinquish it's paternalistic tendencies and endemic misogny. I can't recommend enough this amazing study of a woman so ahead of her time, yet so crushed under the force of circumstance. The one hopeful note I can offer is that from it women readers can feel galvanized to act as individuals independent of convention and impulse and need and rise beyond the circumscribed roles imposed upon us. If only Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, as well as that tragic icon, Marilyn Monroe, could have lived long enough to see how far we have come in the battle for the rights of woman. But we have these beautiful women to look back upon to recognize the distance travelled. I guess that is something to be thankful for.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Zelda Fitzgerald will always be known as the `wife of' F. Scott Fitzgerald and not, as her husband was, a writer, despite the best attempts of any biographer.

I found author Linda Wagner-Martin's biography less an indictment of F. Scott and more one of a Southern belle system that trivialized, sexualized and indoctrinated women in a life that emphasized their desirability and motherhood at the expense of any other gifts or talents. Wagner-Martin has the right argument but reaches the wrong conclusions and so I rated this interesting work three stars.

Wagner-Martin shows how Zelda willingly played into these roles in her young life, seeing it was a way out of her parents' house (although she returns there time and again), only to later realize that they had firmly entrapped her as a married adult. Neither she nor Scott could break that dynamic largely at her expense. Even their daughter Scottie described her mother as a willing victim, a perspective that was conveniently left out of this work.

At the same time Zelda was obsessing over her marginal status to the brink of mental instability, women like Zora Neale Hurston and Agatha Christie were overcoming fierce financial odds and social/sexist obstacles to accomplish their artistic visions.

At the end of the day all that really matters is the work one leaves behind. That `body' of work can take on greater meaning and relevance than what remains of its creator. Frankly, focusing on Zelda's personality only serves to further marginalize her and what little work she did produce.
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Format: Hardcover
I had to do some research on Zelda for an art exhibit and really knew nothing about her except that she was the "wife of FSF". However, after reading this book, I have added her to my "ultimate dinner party guest list"! She seemed like a fascinating person (no matter what ones opinion of her might be). From what little I knew of her, I had associated her with NYC so I truly enjoyed learning about her Southern belle heritage, and although I am middle aged, from what I know about my grandmother's (and mother's) life as Southern women, I could totally relate to her youth. And what woman hasn't fantasized about the glory days of the flapper era and the jazz age? So that was quite interesting as well. And as someone who had dreamt forever of traveling to Europe (and have fortunately finally been), I loved reading about their bi-continent lives. This book definitely whet my appetite to learn more about such an interesting person who, in my opinion, seemed to be ahead of her time.
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