So I am sorry to report no baking this week- school has kind of hit me over the head with a few things and I just haven’t had the time. But next week I will be sure to carve out time for it! Let me know if you guys have any recommendations; I plan to write about Slade House by David Mitchelle but I am wary of trying British desserts after last week.
Anywho! This week I read Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and I was overall pleased with the novel. I thought that it created a strong voice for a woman who wasn’t necessarily allowed to have one, even if this novel is a work a fiction. Fowler gives Zelda a personality and voice that is rarely seen or heard and I think that she executes it well.
The novel begins in Montgomery, Alabama where Zelda Sayre was born and raised. She is the daughter of a well-to-do Judge and is the source of mischief and energy in her otherwise sleepy southern town. She is beautiful and social, engaging with her many friends and activities that range from painting to ballet, at which she is quite proficient. They are unknowingly at the tail end of the Great War and influenza is sweeping the nation when Zelda’s world is changed forever at a Ballet recital as there in the front row sits F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Stationed in Montgomery while training to be sent off to war, Scott enchants Zelda with his good looks and way with words. By the time he is ready for deployment they are both hopelessly in love and it’s kind of gross how into each other they are. But, to be fair, Zelda was a babe and I probably would have fallen in love with her too.
(Picture courtesy of her Wikipedia page)
Anyway, the rest of the novel follows their whirlwind life together from the good days to the terrible ones. One thing that was really hard for me to grasp at times was how a woman like Zelda, with the Zelda that Fowler presents at least, could have put up with half of Scott’s shit. Like, I understand that we are dealing with a totally different time period in terms of women’s rights and gender norms and expectations, but this was a time that was actively working past those issues as well. While I know that Fowler had to keep the major points of her novel historically accurate, so she couldn’t have Zelda leave Scott considering how public the nature of their marriage was and how we would have known about that, but still. The Zelda that she gives us is strong and independent and doesn’t put up with anyone’s nonsense, and it was just incredibly sad to watch that get drained out of her the longer she was married to Fitzgerald in this novel. Sadder still to watch her have to give up parts of herself due to his demands and moods, all for the sake of her daughter and the life she had become accustomed to living.
Another thing that did not sit well with me but not in a bad way because that was the point, was the way that Zelda’s mental health was dealt with in this novel. Fowler addresses the fact that women’s mental health was not taken seriously whatsoever during this period, and in her telling of Zelda’s time in the mental hospital it became very reminiscent of Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. They took everything that she loved away from her, telling her that her writing, painting, and dance were what drove her to her illness and how it was because her subconscious wanted her to sit at home and be a hausfrau that she got sick. This is the opposite of true, seeing as how the more Scott pushed her to do what he wanted and the less he allowed her to pursue her own interests are what drove her into her nervous breakdown. That coupled with the fact that she developed Schizophrenia, which they also tried to tell her was because she was not a good enough wife or mother because she enjoyed to paint and dance. Just listening to the things that her doctor and Scott were saying to her made me sick, and I was just reminded that while there are still a lot of things that could be better, women are so much better off now.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I loved the way that Fowler presented Zelda, and I loved the way that she put us right into the middle of the 1920’s and showed us all there was to see of the high life there. My heart goes out to Zelda Fitzgerald, if even half of this is true, and I am impressed with what Fowler has created here. Well, I guess that’s it from me for now, thanks for reading!