Carefully annotated trove of correspondence between Jazz Age icons.
Scott Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre in the closing months of WWI, when he was stationed near Montgomery, Alabama. Mutually infatuated, the two soon married. Scott set out on an ambitious campaign to become “one of the greatest writers who ever lived”; not content merely to be a muse, Zelda studied to become a ballerina. All the while they traveled, cavorted, drank, made headlines, and wrote back and forth to each other. This fine collection of letters charts the course of their marriage, from storybook romance to eventual estrangement, the result of Scott’s alcoholism and Zelda’s descent into mental illness. Bryer and Barks (both Literature/Univ. of Maryland) provide useful headnotes and footnotes to the correspondence, which rivals the love letters of Abelard and Heloise in thoughtful billing and cooing while enumerating a range of betrayals and dissatisfactions. The editors suggest that the Fitzgeralds’ marriage was doomed from the outset, given their respective illnesses, but they conclude, taking issue with some biographers, “It is no more reasonable to say that Scott drove his wife mad than it is to say that Zelda drove her husband to drink.” Both spouses emerge from these letters as hardworking, intelligent, damaged people; readers may be surprised by the readiness of Zelda’s wit, even during her years of confinement in mental institutions. (Asking Scott to send books in 1931, for instance, she specifies “not [D. H.] Lawrence and not Virginia Woolf or anybody who writes by dipping the broken threads of their heads into the ink of literary history.”) Some of the letters have been published before; others have been paraphrased or briefly quoted in literary studies and biographies such as Nancy Milford’s now-standard Zelda (1970). To have them all so well presented in one volume is useful indeed.
A boon for general readers as well as literary scholars.