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Zelda: A Biography (1970)

by Nancy Milford

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3592013,899 (3.91)54
Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

"Profound, overwhelmingly moving . . . a richly complex love story." ‚?? New York Times

Acclaimed biographer Nancy Milford brings to life the tormented, elusive personality of Zelda Sayre and clarifies as never before Zelda's relationship with her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald‚??tracing the inner disintegration of a gifted, despairing woman, torn by the clash between her husband's career and her own talent.

Zelda Sayre's stormy life spanned from notoriety as a spirited Southern beauty to success as a gifted novelist and international celebrity at the side of her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda and Fitzgerald were one of the most visible couples of the Jazz Age, inhabiting and creating around them a world of excitement, romance, art, and promise. Yet their tumultuous relationship precipitated a descent into depression and mental instability for Zelda, leaving her to spend the final twenty years of her life in hospital care, until a fire at a sanitarium claimed her life.

Incorporating years of exhaustive research and interviews, Milford illuminates Zelda's nuanced and elusive personality, giving character to both her artistic vibrancy and to her catastrophic collapse… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
The is the life of the enigmatic Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a picture of the Jazz age, the original flapper. That is who we think she was and that is the way history portrays her. We see her in our minds zipping through Paris with her charming husband, Scott, and hobnobbing with the literary elite of the time, and she was all that, but so much less.

Before reading this, I was aware that Zelda had serious mental, nervous conditions and was institutionalized, but I did not grasp how much of her life was spent in that way, how little was spent in the other, carefree years of youth, and how much of her time was spent in complete exile from her husband. They do not paint and charming picture, they paint a troubled one. He is an alcoholic, she is a schizophrenic and both are romantics. Imagine what Gatsby would have learned if he had actually attained possession of Daisy...well, Scott Fitzgerald got his Daisy to keep and it was not pretty.

In the beginning of this account, I did not like Scott very much and I thought he contributed to Zelda's lack of center with his treatment of her. He lifted large sections of her letters and converted them word for word almost into his novels, he portrayed her mercilessly in his prose and bridled at the attempts she made to express herself and become a writer as well. He was afraid of her and contemptuous of her and yet he loved her in that way that we love things we cannot possess but cannot let go of. She answered his obsession with her own and they ate each other alive.

By the end, it is mostly Scott I feel for. His egoism and self-confidence have mostly flown and he has turned to his past so much that he has mined it of all its resources. He never deserted Zelda. He paid for her treatments and wrote her weekly letters and single-handedly raised their child. As exasperating as it must have been, he never filed for divorce or deserted her.

I never felt as if I knew Zelda. Perhaps she is a person one cannot really know. There is just too much about her that is not the norm, which is what makes her fascinating and also what makes her sad.

She was a misplaced Southern girl. That I could relate to. "down in Alabama all the good people ate biscuits for breakfast, which made them very beautiful and pleasant and happy, while up in Connecticut all the people at bacon and eggs and toast, which made them very cross and bored and miserable--especially if they happened to have been brought up on biscuits."

She felt herself falling apart, which must be much worse than falling apart without having any recognition: "You were going crazy and calling it genius--I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand."

And, finally, she lost all control of her own life. A person who had been such a free-spirit and so artistic, to find themselves categorized and controlled and forced to be so 'normal' and ordinary must have been a thing of great pain. "It seems to me a kind of castration, but since I am powerless I suppose I will have to submit, though I am neithr young enough nor credulous enough to think that you can manufacture out of nothing something to replace the song that I had."

They were two very sad people, but at least they had the song at one time. Some people never do.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
I thought this book was interesting, but way too long. I also wonder what a modern biography would make on the feminist implications of Zelda's mental illness. Perhaps if Zelda had been born 80 years later, she would have had a satisfying and fulfilling professional life and not have had so many issues dealing with a sexist world and husband. Her life was certainly a version of "the problem that has no name."

Specific issue with the ebook version of this book: it was published in 2013, back when publishers would just OCR a book and publish it as an ebook with zero additional editing. There are so many typos (in the regular text, not the quotes), bad formatting, and randomly italicized words that this book becomes hard to read at times. ( )
  lemontwist | Jul 30, 2022 |
It's disturbing to me that even after the publication of this exhaustively researched book, people still prefer Scotty's version over Zelda's. What I understand is that F. Scott Fitzgerald was jealous of his more talented wife, stole from her diaries and published her words as his own, simultaneously having her committed to various mental institutions and making it worth the psychiatrists' while to keep her there. He tells her that her memories actually belong to him and she has no right to them, since he's the famous writer (and how much of that fame is based on her talent?) I hope the Me-Too movement wakes people up to this sort of abuse that was regularly perpetrated against women at least up into the 1960s. ( )
  dcvance | May 4, 2021 |
Poor Zelda!!oh my. I never would have trudged thru this entire book if not for the introduction that implied Patti Smith read/finished this book. The part about Save me the Waltz became so excruciating long with an entire synopsis of the book I skipped the entire 2nd part of the chapter.

I'd like to visit their graves in Maryland.

Such a sad story about a brilliant woman. I suppose it is inevitable that Zelda's story can not be told without Scott's story and vice versa. But so much Scott and even though he took care of her he was the major cause of her mental illness or exacerbated it.

What would he have become without her? Maybe nothing but a hack alcoholic writer. And as he mused, she may have married a boring hometown boy and led a hometown boring life.

I suppose the world should be glad their paths crossed that fateful evening at the Montgomery country club. ( )
  Alphawoman | Mar 9, 2018 |
All the dirt on one of the most tumultuous relationships in literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda had one of those love/hate relationships that we all recognize as being ultimately doomed. Takes us back to the jazz age, throws in a bunch of alcohol, and then stirs things up. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nancy Milfordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baruch, GertrudTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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F√ľr Kenneth - in Dankbarkeit und Liebe
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If there was a confederate establishment in the Deep South, Zelda Sayre came from the heart of it.
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Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

"Profound, overwhelmingly moving . . . a richly complex love story." ‚?? New York Times

Acclaimed biographer Nancy Milford brings to life the tormented, elusive personality of Zelda Sayre and clarifies as never before Zelda's relationship with her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald‚??tracing the inner disintegration of a gifted, despairing woman, torn by the clash between her husband's career and her own talent.

Zelda Sayre's stormy life spanned from notoriety as a spirited Southern beauty to success as a gifted novelist and international celebrity at the side of her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda and Fitzgerald were one of the most visible couples of the Jazz Age, inhabiting and creating around them a world of excitement, romance, art, and promise. Yet their tumultuous relationship precipitated a descent into depression and mental instability for Zelda, leaving her to spend the final twenty years of her life in hospital care, until a fire at a sanitarium claimed her life.

Incorporating years of exhaustive research and interviews, Milford illuminates Zelda's nuanced and elusive personality, giving character to both her artistic vibrancy and to her catastrophic collapse

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