Zelda Fitzgerald and Overlooked Women

It’s probable that most readers will have heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald, American author and chronicler of the Jazz Age. Many will have read his seminal novel, The Great Gatsby, which both lavishly presents and derides the materialistic consumption of the wealthy in 1920s America. Of two of its central characters, the narrator states:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Gatsby himself feels he can only attempt to reclaim his lost love if he gains huge wealth himself, which he does, by bootlegging and shady deals.

Fitzgerald was famous not only for his writing, but for living the kind of fashionable life that he encapsulated and satirised in his stories. He and his wife Zelda, glamorous and wealthy, were at the heart of flapper fame.

But Zelda was also a writer and had a significant influence on her husband’s writing. Some of the key one-liners in The Great Gatsby were originally uttered by Zelda, remembered and reused by Scott. He may have used other material from her too. When Scott’s The Beautiful and Damned was published, Zelda was asked to write a newspaper review. In the review, she wrote:

It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and, also, scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr Fitzgerald (I believe that is how he spells his name) seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.

Clearly the tone is satirical and facetious, but she did allow Scott to read her diaries and there is clearly at least a grain of truth in the claim. And it is certainly the case that some of her stories where sold for publication to The Saturday Evening Post for $4000 after she was initially offered $500 – if they were published as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, rather than acknowledging Zelda Fitzgerald as the author. Scott did admit that ‘I really felt a little guilty about dropping Zelda’s name from that story’.

Zelda wrote only one novel, Save Me the Waltz, but it is interesting to note that if you search F. Scott Fitzgerald as author on Amazon, you get over 3000 results. Do another search for Zelda and you get 36.

Zelda Fitzgerald is of course not the only woman whose work has been cast into shadow by the work of a man. I wrote about Dorothy Wordsworth just over a year ago. There are even more striking cases, though. There is a much more malign version in Henri Gauthier-Villars, husband of the French novelist know as Colette. While she said that she would never have become a writer if it were not for her husband, few would sanction a man locking his wife in a room to make her write the required number of pages, then publishing the books under his own name. Even after their divorce, he retained the copyright so that she earned no money from her very successful Claudine novels.

Read more about the Fitzgeralds here.