After reading Z: a Zelda Fitzgerald Novel, I was prompted to look for more information about the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have purchased a collection of her writings and a novel about Zelda’s stay first at Phipps Psychiatric Hospital in Baltimore in 1932, then in a nearby house with her family, and finally returning to Phipps and then a series of institutions even past Scott’s death in 1940. The story is told through the eyes of her nurse, Anna, and the book is Call Me Zelda. I haven’t quite decided what I think of it; I need it to sink in a bit and I also want to read some of Zelda’s own writings. Included in the collection I bought is Zelda’s novel, Save Me the Waltz, which from earlier readings I understand was edited by Scott with more than a little envy and bitterness as Zelda had only taken 6 weeks to write it and he had, at the time, spent more than a year working on his novel which was still unfinished. He apparently felt she was stealing his thunder and didn’t really want it to be published. Nonetheless, I’d like to read it for myself and see how it gels with personal letters and short stories she wrote.
I should have assumed that Call Me Zelda, being about her struggle with mental illness, would be a difficult read, baring open her tormented soul and exposing her schizophrenia, torn between her love for Scott and her inability to cope with being denied by him her various means of self-expression through writing, dancing, and painting. The short periods of stability and calm helped to create immense pathos for the Fitzgeralds during the longer periods of erratic and destructive behaviour.
One of the author’s main sources of research was the coffee table book, The Romantic Egoists: a pictorial autobiography from the scrapbooks of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, edited by an F. S. F. scholar, Matthew Bruccoli, Scottie Fitzgerald and Joan P. Kerr. Different from most coffee table books, this is a collection of several scrapbooks kept independently by the pair from the early days on and includes letters they both wrote, received, and kept over the years. It also gleans from scrapbooks they kept together after their marriage and items kept by their daughter, Scottie. The pictures, news articles, publicity pieces, and letters reveal a great deal about the pair as youths, as a couple, and as adults with independent tortured souls, dealing with their own demons.
At times, however, I felt the story in Call Me Zelda was more about the nurse than about Zelda; how the nurse was dealing with her own ghosts, a husband missing in action in the war, losing the child he never knew they had conceived to pneumonia at age 5, and learning to reach out to new relationships and leave the past behind. Both characters are presented with a tender understanding and appreciation for their sufferings and the role creativity plays in restoration, whether partial as in Zelda’s case or near complete as in the case of nurse Anna.
Call Me Zelda is presented in two acts, cleverly defying FSF’s assertion that “there are no second acts in American lives.” The first act is completed with Scott’s death; the second act is Anna’s attempt to restore some sanity and dignity to Zelda by retracing their steps and trying to find Zelda’s diaries which Scott had taken from her. It is a complicated task out of a complicated relationship. There is much sadness in the tale as well as much hope. This is an interesting read, full of surprises and many happy events as well as the sad ones which drain the reader as well as the characters in the story. This is Erika Robuck’s 2nd book and it was while writing her first book, Hemingway’s Girl, that her interest was first stirred to learn more about Zelda, resulting in this book. I may come back and say more about Call Me Zelda after I finish reading Save Me the Waltz and Tender is the Night, which I understand are autobiographical and two sides of the same coin — the first from Zelda’s perspective and the latter from Scott’s. Adding Hemingway’s Girl to my reading list; I have my work cut out for me.