Msnowe's Blog

the (literary) legend of Zelda

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on May 9, 2009

(Where m.snowe tries a honest look at the myth of Zelda Fitzgerald, and criticizes Hem for hawing misogynist.)

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Their marriage was a perfect storm of eccentricites and competition. They were the original flappers, rampant alcoholics, and jealous types with addictive personalities and so many tragic flaws it verged on poetic. But somehow, people have latched onto Zelda, made value judgments, and fashioned her legend. One camp sets her as villain, the other victim, and while these opposing perspectives aren’t irreconcilable, they never present a rounded picture of the woman. She has served as the anti-muse, and the woman  who’s  talents were sacrificed by a hostile world. At once the medusa and the joan of arc.

One reading of the Zelda legend, which was treated pretty much as fact by many (until the Feminists got a hold of her story) was what m.snowe would like to call the Hemingway viewpoint–because she just read A Moveable Feast and Hemingway’s description of Zelda is one of the most referred-to sources of the Fitzgerald marriage.  Hemingway describes the troubled marriage with particular demonizing of Zelda.  m.snowe could break it down for you, but why not just get her money’s worth of the fair use doctrine, and list some quotes?:

“If he [Scott] could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one.I did not know Zelda yet, and so did not know the terrible odds that were against him”

Zelda smiles, and Hemingway comments: “I learned to know that smile very well. It mean she knew Scott would not be able to write.”

“But it [flirting with other men] amused her and it made Scott jealous and he had to go with her places. It destroyed his work, and she was more jealous of his work than anything.”

“‘Forget what Zelda said,…Zelda just wants to destroy you.'” (Hemingway to Scott).

The crudest part of Heminway’s tale, and what makes it identifiable as written by a ‘Great Male Narcissist,” (Thanks DFW!) is in the chapter “A Matter of Measurements” where Scott tells Hemingway that Zelda accuses Scott of having a small penis, and not pleasing her sexually. We are told immediately that Hemingway takes a look, and confirms with Scott that he is actually endowed well-enough, and if he didn’t believe it, he should compare himself to the statutes at the Louvre. Well, aside from cracking that those statutes always seemed a bit understated to m.snowe, this scene isn’t hard to over-analyze symbolically. Because Zelda allegedly complains about Scott’s “shortcomings,” he has been stunted, unable to perform as a man, and a writer. Must m.snowe remind you the connection between pens and penises? The pen as weapon, a sword for the intellectual–a force, but also a life-force, as the pen gives life to story. So clearly, Hemingway finds Zelda the worst kind of creature, who emasculates and simultaneously makes Scott’s writing abilities go limp–he fashions her as a beautiful and damned creature.

m.snowe doesn’t think that Hemingway made all of it up. But his perspective is tainted at the very least–despite his reservations about Scott, he was clearly a great and loyal friend during these early years at least(when he wasn’t wasted), and sides have been taken. Hemingway’s viewpoint was the prevailing notion of the Zelda myth until the feminists came on the scene, and took up the task of defending Zelda, and to their credit–there was a bit to defend.

Elizabeth Hardwick’s American Fictions contains a wonderfully written essay on Zelda, and serves to counteract the portrait of her dominated by The Moveable Feast. m.snowe encourages you all to read it. In it, Hardwick identifies many stories that Zelda had written on her own, and yet the pieces were usually signed by both Scott and Zelda, and in some cases, Scott would lift things from her journals and pawn them off as his own. Yet, when Zelda produced a novel herself (after being committed to a sanatorium), Scott forced her to remove sections of the book, saying they were too close to material he was going to use. Scott also actively discouraged Zelda, in ways that were crushing and only contributed to her mental defects, of which she had a few, but Scott helped exacerbate. But then, writers sometimes do have a mental defect or two, and it often “works in their favor.” Her “supernatural energy” was treated as an illness, while m.snowe can’t help but wonder–if she had been a man, would these sudden bursts of writing ability have been treated with more reverence, like a kind of divine inspiration, and unconscious spark of literary genius? Perhaps Hardwick makes the best observation in terms of Zelda’s discouragement to write, and the placement, by her husband in an institution: “It is sad that her wish to learn, to struggle up to a higher skill and seriousness only seemed a threat to others…If she had not been married to Fitzgerald her ‘ambition’ would not have presented itself as a ‘competition.'”

What m.snowe is trying to say is that neither a total defence nor a complete disavowal of her qualities as a person or a writer is acceptable. Because she is a mytholgized creature and myths only provide simple explanations–not facts. After the fire that ended her life, her body could only be identified by a single slipper. She seems so out of reach and tragically misunderstood.   m.snowe will have to go back to her works, and try and glean some clues from there. Because she’s certainly not going to rely on Hemingway’s.