How did Zelda affect F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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F. Scott Fitzgerald is the one who coined the now-famous term "Jazz Age," an idea that conjures up images of flappers, music, alcohol, and every kind of excess. There is arguably no couple who better exemplifies this time than Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. 

Fitzgerald was born in Minnesota; four years later, Zelda Sayre was born in Alabama. He was the son of a rather unsuccessful father and a mother who did not particularly encourage his literary endeavors. She came from a prominent family, was the daughter of a judge, and quite popular. The two met when Zelda was only eighteen, and the thing they seemed to have most in common was their desire for fame, wealth, and spectacular success. 

Her parents did not believe that Fitzgerald was stable enough to marry their daughter, and they were probably right; nevertheless, Zelda agreed to marry him if he would earn success as a writer in New York, someplace she desperately wanted to live. Though he had been interested in writing before, it is Zelda's rather selfish and immature desire which spurs Fitzgerald to take writing much more seriously. To that extent, then, Zelda was a positive influence on his writing. 

Though he had some success as a writer, Zelda got tired of waiting for him to get rich as a writer and broke off their engagement. Fitzgerald takes the next months to write the first novel he will get published, and Zelda changes her mind. Again, Zelda can be given indirect credit for prompting Fitzgerald to write This Side of Paradise

The couple's marriage marks the beginning of one of the most turbulent relationships of the day. Both of the Fitzgerald wallowed in every imaginable excess, and no matter how much Fitzgerald managed to write during those years, the proceeds were never quite enough for the couple to live on because of their lavish and expensive habits. They became famous socialites, a striking couple who lived the life others only dreamed of living. Zelda said of herself:

I did not have a single feeling of inferiority, or shyness, or doubt, and no moral principles.

Unfortunately, Zelda began to resent her husband's success and fame because she was constantly living in his shadow. She wrote a novel of her own and pursued all kinds of interests in an effort to attain satisfaction, but all it did was cause her bad habits to escalate. She also began to suffer from mental illness. To maintain their lavish style, Fitzgerald wrote two more novels which were not as well received. It can be said, then, that Zelda contributed to her husband's desperation for success by matching his lavish, unsustainable, and deadly lifestyle.

In 1925, Fitzgerald published his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, amid the continued drama and excess of his life, both here and abroad, with Zelda. Because it is an account, more or less of their lives, it can be said that Zelda contributed to this novel. In 1930, Zelda was hospitalized in a mental institution for the first of many times, and both of the Fitzgeralds descend into despair and desperation. 

Clearly Fitzgerald fought his own demons as he pursued his writing career. Zelda may have been a catalyst of a sort to push him into writing, though writing is something he wanted to pursue before he ever met her; however, she accompanied him on his downward spiral--and was sometimes the cause of that descent. While she wanted him to write, her motivation was money; when he achieved fame, she was not happy. It was his money, not his writing, that moved her. 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is also worthy of note that Zelda Fitzgerald coerced her husband to move to the East so that she could "rub shoulders" with the New England socialites. While living there Fitzgerald was most discontent, finding the Easterners autocratic, supercilious, and extremely class-conscious. Thus, the character of Daisy is not unlike his wife; Tom Buchanan resembles in attitude the Easterner of Fitzgerald's experience as do the hypocritical Jordan Baker and the Sloanes of Chapter Six who pretend that they want Gatsby to join them on their horseback ride. This distinction of attitude is noted in many of Fitzgerald's works. For example, in "Rich Boy," he writes,

'Let me tell you about the very rich; they are different from you and me....They think they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.'

Certainly, there are parallels between the real-life couple, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and Daisy and Gatsby. Like Daisy, Zelda broke from Fitzgerald when he did not become rich; however, after his success with his first novel. This Side of Paradise, Zelda agreed to marry Fitzgerald. Perhaps, her voice, too, "Sound[ed] like money."

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