“Surrounded as I was by such ambitious, accomplished women, I couldn’t ignore the little voice in my head that said maybe I was supposed to shed halfway and do something significant. Contribute something. Accomplish something. Choose. Be… “My life was intended to mean something beyond daughter-wife-mother. Wasn’t it?
“Oh, just let it go, a different voice urged me. What difference could your puny achievements possibly make?
“All the difference, the other voice answered.
“Which of my many possible lives did I want to define me? Which one could I have?
“And the question that troubled me most: Was it even really up to me?”
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is a fictionalization of the onetime life of the party and wife of famed novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda, dubbed the First Flapper by her husband, was young and daring, eager to fulfill her role as debutante of the expatriate Jazz Age royalty.
Zelda had talents of her own, for ballet, painting and writing. She was witty and clever, and according to Fowler (though not all her biographers), the Muse that made Scott famous.
I found a kindred spirit of sorts in Zelda. She was by turns moody and exuberant, jealous and flirtatious, wild at parties and suffering the colitis attacks caused by jealousy and nervousness afterwards. She wanted Scott to succeed, but frequently interrupted his efforts. She was both a help and a hindrance to his career.
While the book portrays her sympathetically: striving to have her voice heard, her accomplishments noticed, her talent recognized; it ends with Scott’s death, as if to underscore the theme that she was, or rather was only allowed to be, nothing more than a housewife and mother, the two things for which she showed the least aptitude. A recurring line in the book is: He’s such an extraordinarily brilliant person that it would be terrible if he let himself do nothing in the end. The abusive, alcoholic, selfish Scott was the star of the show, even in a book meant to shine the spotlight on Zelda.
I was left wishing she had finished her second novel, Caesar’s Things, or painted a masterpiece after Scott’s death. Instead she spent her final years in a hospital. The answer to her question, “Was it even really up to me?” appears to have been a resounding, “No.” Yet if it had been “YES” — if polite society had been ready to accept her, if her husband had celebrated the Flapper he helped her become, if she had been brave enough to embrace the modernism she admired in other women and strike out on her own— she would have been great.
I’ll end with Zelda’s own words, a witty little offering from a short story, “Eulogy on The Flapper,” which she published in June, 1922:
The Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure … she was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart.