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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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 ScottCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved