Zelda Fitzgerald


Picture of Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald (née Sayre; July 24, 1900 – March 10, 1948) was an American novelist, painter, playwright, and socialite. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, to a wealthy Southern family, she became locally famous for her beauty and high spirits. In 1920, she married writer F. Scott Fitzgerald after the popular success of his debut novel, This Side of Paradise. The novel catapulted the young couple into the public eye, and she became known in the national press as the first American flapper. Due to their wild antics and incessant partying, she and her husband became regarded in the newspapers as the enfants terribles of the Jazz Age. Alleged infidelity and bitter recriminations soon undermined their marriage. After traveling abroad to Europe, Zelda's mental health deteriorated, and she had suicidal and homicidal tendencies which required psychiatric care. Her doctors diagnosed Zelda with schizophrenia, although later posthumous diagnoses posit bipolar disorder.While institutionalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, she authored the 1932 novel Save Me the Waltz, a semi-autobiographical account of her early life in the American South during the Jim Crow era and her marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Upon its publication by Scribner's, the novel garnered mostly negative reviews and experienced poor sales. The critical and commercial failure of Save Me the Waltz disappointed Zelda and led her to pursue her other interests as a playwright and a painter. In Fall 1932, she completed a stage play titled Scandalabra, but Broadway producers unanimously declined to produce the play. Disheartened, Zelda next attempted to paint watercolors but, when her husband arranged their exhibition in 1934, the critical response proved equally disappointing.While the two lived apart, Scott died of occlusive coronary arteriosclerosis in December 1940. After her husband's death, she attempted to write a second novel Caesar's Things, but her recurrent voluntary institutionalization for mental illness interrupted her writing, and she failed to complete the work. By this time, she had endured over ten years of electroshock therapy and insulin shock treatments, and she suffered from severe memory loss. In March 1948, while sedated and locked in a room on the fifth floor of Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, she died in a fire. Her body was identified by her dental records and one of her slippers. A follow-up investigation raised the possibility that the fire had been a work of arson by a disgruntled or mentally disturbed hospital employee.A 1970 biography by Nancy Milford was a finalist for the National Book Award. After the success of Milford's biography, scholars viewed Zelda's artistic output in a new light. Her novel Save Me the Waltz became the focus of literary studies exploring different facets of the work: how her novel contrasted with Scott's depiction of their marriage in Tender Is the Night, and how 1920s consumer culture placed mental stress on modern women. Concurrently, renewed interest began in Zelda's artwork, and her paintings were posthumously exhibited in the United States and Europe. In 1992, she was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame.

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