In her prologue, Milford writes of her own early fascination with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, whom she admired for their “special flair” and even for their doomed love and early deaths. Later, after finishing her research for this book, she came to see Zelda less romantically, as “the American girl living the American dream,” a dream that drove her to madness. Although Zelda was written for adult readers, it would be of particular interest to young adults, especially to young women. In the search for their own identities, they must decide to what extent they will permit themselves to be limited by the men they love.
While Milford admires much about F. Scott Fitzgerald, such as his sense of responsibility toward his wife and their daughter, she also sees the weaknesses in him that exacerbated Zelda’s problems. While it is clear that Zelda was spoiled by her parents and by a society that rewarded the kind of brainless, flirtatious frivolity that she exhibited as a teenager, it is also clear that she was deeply damaged after her marriage, when she was expected to suppress her own individuality in order to meet her husband’s needs. Milford shows no sympathy for Scott when he discourages Zelda from writing, sneering at her as a mere amateur, or when he forbids her to use incidents of their life together in her works, insisting that the material belongs to him. Milford also points out the injustice in Scott’s cutting whatever he wished from Zelda’s works, while he freely quoted her letters written to him from the...
(The entire section is 634 words.)
In her “Notes and Sources,” Milford acknowledges her indebtedness to two famous biographies of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Arthur Mizener’s The Far Side of Paradise (1951) and Andrew Turnbull’s Scott Fitzgerald (1962). In looking at the intertwined lives of the Fitzgeralds from Zelda’s vantage point, instead of from Scott’s, Milford’s book provided a badly needed balance. During the two decades after it was published, however, Zelda became even more significant. Realizing that, in many cases, women writers had been overlooked or devalued simply because of their gender, feminist critics became interested in Zelda Fitzgerald’s only published novel, the highly autobiographical Save Me the Waltz (1932), as well as in Milford’s account of Zelda’s life. It is notable that Milford quotes her subject as saying that the theme of Save Me the Waltz is the heroine’s search for identity. In emphasizing not only Fitzgerald’s confusion as to her identity and her role in marriage but also the problems faced by creative women in a male-dominated society, Milford seems to have been at least a decade ahead of her time.
By the time that they finish high school, most young Americans have encountered at least one novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, most often The Great Gatsby (1925), an account of Gatsby’s attempt to create his own identity based on his faith in the American Dream. Zelda complements Fitzgerald’s novels by dealing with the same themes from a woman’s viewpoint. Young adults will find the book interesting because it captures the spirit of a past historical period while at the same time provoking thought about contemporary society.