BlueStocking, a feminist online journal from Oxford that aims to "investigate the intellectual and artistic achievements of women," has an essay in their current issue making a case for the artistic importance of Zelda Fitzgerald. Mostly Zelda is thought of as F. Scott's wife, and writer Lindsey Meyers says Zelda was really "far more complex: she was also a ballerina, a painter and a writer who creatively explored her subjectivity through art." I've read a few of Zelda's essays, and while I found them to be mediocre at best, I see where one could argue for her artistic merit. Where I disagree with Meyers is in the implication that the "trap posed by the feminine ideal perhaps fueled Zelda's later madness." Zelda was not crazy because her world was sexist. Zelda was actually crazy. According to biographer Marion Meade who wrote about Zelda, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edna Ferber in Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, Zelda was a diagnosed schizophrenic who at one point ate her own feces. When Zelda entered a Swiss mental hospital, Meade reports, the doctors said:
She was a patient likely to improve but never be cured...[she was initially] diagnosed as schizophrenic, and [years later her doctor] would describe her as a 'constitutional, emotionally unbalanced psychopath...in Zelda's case the onset of the illness could have come several years before she was ever hospitalized. Scott, in the fall of 1928, had made a cryptic entry in his ledger: 'Dirt eating in hotel.' (The psychiatric term is 'stool smearing' or 'stool eating.')...presumably no one knew of it but Scott. Whatever he saw was so disturbing that he tried to block it from his mind.
See? Actually crazy. Not just oppressed. BlueStocking also implies that Zelda and Scott's marriage was fucked because he married "his objectified image" of Zelda, and not the real woman. Again, not a cause of schizophrenia, and southern belle Zelda objectified the erudite Yankee artist image of Scott just as much as he objectified her girliness.
Feminist revisionist literary scholars have resurrected a lot of great writers — Charlotte Perkins Gilman of the The Yellow Wallpaper, Kate Chopin and her Awakening — and I think their time would be better spent unearthing other fantastic female writers from the prior centuries. Zelda's life was interesting and dramatic for sure, but continuing to argue for her artistic prominence is losing battle.
The Art of Being Zelda [BlueStocking — Click on "Current Issue" to find article]
Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties