R.O.W.E. Week 2: Zelda

Photo courtesy Andrew Gingerich Photo courtesy Andrew Gingerich

I’m Brianna Kratz, a Chicago poet and reader. For 2016 I am reading only women authors for my Read Only Women Experiment (R.O.W.E.). For weekly updates on challenges, conversations, and monthly round-ups on books I’ve read during a given month, keep up with me via Goodreads or Twitter.

When I say "Zelda Fitzgerald," you probably think, ”Oh, F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife!" You are not alone.

This week I read Save Me the Waltz written by Zelda Fitzgerald. From my understanding, Zelda wrote the novel as part of her treatment during her time in a psychiatric institution for schizophrenia.

In Save Me the Waltz, Zelda provides a semi-fictionalized account of her marriage with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who serves as the inspiration for David Knight, the minimally supportive husband of Alabama. During the course of the novel, David ignores Alabama while he works on his frescoes and flirts with an actress. Alabama dallies with a pilot and takes up ballet, working herself so hard she has little time for anything else, including her daughter.

Save Me the Waltz is significant because it’s the untold side of a story that is usually only represented through F. Scott. Fitzgerald’s fiction which famously drew on his relationship with Zelda. She even inspired Daisy Buchannan from The Great Gatsby. After Zelda wrote the book, she sent it to her husband's publisher and her husband read it for the first time. It infuriated him and he had her revise it until it satisfied him. There are supposed to be parallels between Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott's Tender Is the Night, but I wouldn’t know that because I’ve never read Tender Is the Night, and I can’t until 2017 (I’m not bitter, I promise).

Zelda Gif 2 Allison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Gif provided by Giphy.

As a piece of literature, Save Me the Waltz has some inconsistencies and the plot bounces around. Considering there were very few copies published and the book only made $120, it was pretty much a failure. Critics didn’t like it and said that it needed some serious proofreading, and I would agree. With some reorganization and restructuring, I think that Save Me the Waltz could stand on its own outside the context of Zelda’s husband’s success. As it is, the book serves as a suitable companion to the more well known works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

That being said, the book provides compelling insight into the mind of a person struggling through mental illness and trying to put her thoughts, feelings, and experiences in order. In the end, Alabama explains that dumping out ash trays is “…very expressive of myself. I just lump everything in a great heap which I have labeled ‘the past,’ and, having thus emptied this deep reservoir that was once myself, I am ready to continue” (212). It seems to me that the writing of this book serves as that emptying Zelda needed in order to move forward. As a recovery exercise, I wonder if it ever needed to be published in the first place. It obviously furthered tension in the Fitzgerald marriage, so I wonder if Zelda sent her book to the publisher because she believed that that’s what one does with a book, following her husband’s example.

We allow F. Scott Fitzgerald to define this relationship even though we have another perspective that can be taken into account. If “a relationship is a two way street,” why do we only stay on one side of this relationship street? Is it because F. Scott Fitzgerald is more famous and arguably a better writer? Is it because Zelda’s book didn’t receive the same critical acclaim?

This year, I’m doing the opposite by getting the woman’s perspective and seeing how that all works. I, for one, think that F. Scott mistreated Zelda, although she wasn’t exactly perfect either. Save Me the Waltz is the result of Scott’s “help” in revising the original manuscript, so we have no way of knowing what Zelda originally intended this book to be, which turns out to be a perfect example of men’s influence on women’s stories.

Though I don’t think that Save Me the Waltz is a groundbreaking piece of literature, it did give me some insight into the Fitzgeralds’ personal and artistic relationships and the story of a woman who is often shrouded in mystery. A story that, for her and so many women like her, is often created, defined, and manipulated by the men involved.

Check back at the end of the month for the full list of books I've read this January, or keep up with me via Goodreads or Twitter.

Currently reading: Geek Love by: Katherine Dunn

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Brianna Kratz

Brianna Kratz has a B.A. in English Writing from Illinois Wesleyan University where she learned the importance of "the poetic turn," the difference between thee and you, and how to read Middle English. She lives on the Internet where you can find her on Twitter and Lens & Ink.