INVENTED LIVES: The Marriage of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald by James R. Mellow

INVENTED LIVES: The Marriage of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

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Gracefully framed and tactfully presented, this psycho-social study of F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda covers--with rather more finesse--much the same ground as Scott Donaldson's Fool for Love (1983). Like Donaldson, Mellow (Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company, Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times) is best at capturing the domestic turmoil of the Fitzgerald household: Zelda's descent into her first bout of madness is written in an effectively mimetic, staccato, implicitly empathic style; a terrible Scott/Zelda recrimination session in 1933 (transcribed by a psychiatrist) is presented in a shrewdly understated way. And, like Donaldson, Mellow begins with a plausible, familiar view of Fitzgerald's central problems of insecurity and obsessive social-climbing. (Donaldson suggested that this fixation led to a ""histrionic,"" role-playing sort of self-destructive behavior; Mellow emphasizes, similarly, Fitzgerald's appropriation of other people's social status, ideas, and phrasings.) But, though Mellow's harsh, skeptical view of Fitzgerald--the most unsympathetic since Arthur Mizener's biography--is occasionally revealing (as in a lengthy exploration of Fitzgerald's complex admiration for his pre-Princeton mentor Father Fay), it often seems merely hostile and a little distorted: without real psychological depth, Mellow places heavy emphasis on Fitzgerald as a psychosexual case-history (his discomfort with homosexuality, his fear of being thought homosexual, his own dammed-up sexuality); and, as in the informative but elephantine Nathaniel Hawthorne study, social detail abounds--frequently, it seems here, so that Mellow can catch out Fitzgerald over discrepancies in dates or reported incidents. Most importantly, however, Mellow--again like Donaldson--fails to find convincing links between the gossipy, clinical life-history and the Fitzgerald fiction, offering only the most superficial, sometimes fatuous, critical analyses. (""The problem with Tender Is the Night is that Fitzgerald tried to solve the problems he could not resolve in private life."") Anyone with a serious interest in Fitzgerald, then, will continue to do best with Andre Le Vot's 1983 Fitzgerald biography--which is more academic, less polished, but infinitely more acute. Zelda-watchers will probably want to stick with Nancy Milford's popular, more sympathetic treatment, recently re-issued in trade-paperback. But, for readers somewhere in between, Mellow's socio-sexual approach (despite its excesses) may prove modestly absorbing, with more stylish gloss than the Donaldson book.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin