by Heidi Simmons

“Write about what you know” has long been a fundamental directive for authors. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and Damned (1922), The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender is the Night (1934) successfully incorporated his own interests, lifestyle and culture. His stories also included his wife Zelda, not just as a character reference, but her words, work and world.

Out now are several newly published books about the complicated life of Zelda Fitzgerald. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (St. Martin’s Press, 384 pages) by Therese Anne Fowler, Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Overlook Hardcover, 368 pages) by R. Clifton Spargo, and Call Me Zelda (Penguin Group, 352 pages) by Erika Robuck. All are fictional interpretations based on Zelda’s actual life.

Why the sudden burst of productivity around Mrs. Fitzgerald? One reason is the newly released Gatsby film starring Leo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire, which is now in theatres. The timeliness of the movie certainly helps promote these literary works. There have also been a slew of popular novels about woman and their famous partners. But mainly, Zelda’s influence in shaping her husband’s work is substantially more significant than just being the woman behind the man or his muse. In fact, Zelda accused Scott of plagiarizing her writing.


Zelda Fitzgerald has been a topic of interest to writers, literary scholars and feminists for decades. Born in 1900 to a prominent, well-to-do Southern family, she met Scott at a country club ball while he was stationed at a near by military base. She was a creative spirit and the out-going, out-spoken, spoiled socialite was unimpressed with him. Although he attended an Ivy League school and his family was well connected, he did not have the wealth, the prominence or charisma to woo her. But Scott persisted, unwilling to give up — sound familiar? After he was published and paid for his first book, Zelda joined him in New York and they were married. They lived an extravagant life in the United States and abroad enjoying parties and fame. They were friends with Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and many of the famous expatriate community of the era.

But all was not copasetic for this Jazz Age couple. Zelda was witty, poetic and loved to converse. She was good writer. To help finance their lavish lifestyle, and likely to get equal attention as a creative force, Zelda wrote magazine articles and short stories. She helped Scott write a play. However, they were not equals, they were rivals. She resented that Scott used her words and took her ideas. He didn’t like that she wrote and fictionalized their lives, not because it was personal, but because it was his territory and he had first dibs. Zelda kept diaries and Scott used them in his work often quoting verbatim.

Both Scott and Zelda partied hard and instead of finding a way to enhance their creativity together, they became self-destructive. The two remained married but went their own ways. Scott went to Hollywood to write screenplays and Zelda went to a sanitarium. Maybe depressed, maybe bi-polar or simply oppressed and frustrated with life, it was in this setting that Zelda wrote her only novel, Save Me the Waltz (1932). Scott followed with Tender is the Night (1934). Both novels are on the same subject and a close reflection of their actual lives. Still competing.

Author Fowler’s Z, covers Zelda’s entire life and struggles in a first person narrative. In Beautiful Fools, Spargo crafts a portrait of the couple at their best and worst on a trip to Cuba. Robuck’s Call Me Zelda, a nurse befriends Zelda during her stay in the sanitarium and comes to believe Zelda may be the real creative force in the Fitzgerald household.

All three novels color an interesting and plausible portrait of Zelda and her love for and life with Scott. These fictional accounts allow the reader a fresh look at the Fritzgeralds and their valued contributions to American literature and culture.