Over the weekend, I picked up a copy of Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at my local library. And while I wouldn’t always call them “love” letters, exactly, the correspondence that makes up the greater part of the book is engaging, well-crafted, and endlessly surprising.
Zelda Fitzgerald initially rose to fame by setting the pace of the ’20s as the consummate Jazz Age socialite, but by the 1930s her talents and ambitions were overtaken by mental illness. Doctors diagnosed her psychiatric struggles as schizophrenia, and she spent years in and out of treatment facilities across France, Switzerland, and the States.
As friends of Hemingway, John Dos Passos, H. L. Mencken, and other celebrated literary figures of the era—and, of course, as writers themselves—the Fitzgeralds naturally expressed some intriguing opinions on their peers and competitors. I laughed out loud reading the following request from Zelda during the spring of 1931, sent to Scott from Prangins Clinic in Nyon, Switzerland:
I have been reading Joyce and find it a night-mare in my present condition, and since my head evaporates in a book-store it would be much easier if you would send something to me. Not in French, since I have enough difficulty with English for the moment and not Lawrence and not Virginia Wo[o]lf or anybody who writes by dipping the broken threads of their heads into the ink of literary history, please—
My takeaway from this solitary letter: Zelda Fitzgerald may have been much saner than we thought. Joyce, Lawrence, and (sometimes) Woolf still write the plot of my own literary nightmares, and I never had to meet any of them in person.