Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Staff Pick: Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

It came as something of a surprise to me, having read quite a lot of 1920's fiction - including many of the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald - to discover that his wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald had, in fact, written a novel called Save Me the Waltz (1932).*

Zelda was born in Alabama in 1900, and 
married Fitzgerald in 1920. Shortly afterwards the couple moved to France, where Zelda would become - as Fitzgerald described her - the 'first American flapper'. Having undergone significant psychological strain during her marriage, Zelda returned to the U.S., where she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Her novel was written over 6 short weeks whilst undergoing treatment at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Zelda's novel is heavily autobiographical, drawing primarily on her experiences of life in France with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who was furious that Zelda had divulged so much information about their private life, forced her to revise the novel. However, some speculate that he was simply jealous of his wife's novel and the speed at which she wrote it, having spent years attempting to write a similar novel - Tender Is the Night. Tragically, Zelda Fitzgerald would later die in a hospital fire, but her novel continues to serve as an expression of her fascinating life, and fraught relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald's Save Me the Waltz
tells the story of Alabama Beggs who marries the artist David Knight (who are meant to be Zelda and Scott). Together they move to France, where their marriage begins to fall apart. David begins an affair with an actress and Alabama, determined to live beyond her marriage, throws herself into becoming a ballet dancer. Zelda's prose is frenetic and intimate, exposing her own personality and desire to make sense of her life.

I really loved reading this book because it was so fascinating to me to see another side of that idealized 'lost generation' - the voice of one of its more peripheral (but hugely influential) figures. It is interesting to read Zelda's novel in conjunction with Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, because although both are based on their lives together, they give very different perspectives on their marriage.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night:

"Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s, Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick's harrowing demise." - Discover

*Save Me the Waltz is currently out of print. Try Interlibrary Loan to get a copy.

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