Two graves marked with one simple headstone held a dignity: Francis-Scott Key Fitzgerald and His Wife Zelda. Both, only in their forties when they died, living a continent apart from each other, forever loved. Zelda, spending most of her time in expensive sanatoriums, wrote Scott:
‘Dearest and always Dearest Scott, … All I can say is that there was always that deeper current running through my heart; my life, you. … I love you anyway – even if there isn’t any me or any life – I love you.’
Theirs was ‘the romance of the century’. Together they became the couple who epitomised the era known as ‘The Jazz Age’.
Scott, born 1896 in Minnesota, went to Princeton University but never graduated and in 1917 joined the army where he commenced writing his first novel, ‘The Romantic Egotist’ which was later revised and called ‘This Side of Paradise’. Zelda, was the daughter of a judge and grew up in the old Confederated South and enjoyed a life of leisure and elegance, however she was not a traditionalist when it came to being a southern women. They met 1918 and were immediately attracted. He was 22 and she was 18.
Scott’s initial proposal to Zelda was rejected because she felt he could not support her in the lifestyle she was accustomed to even though he had achieved some acclaim for his writings. So, Scott left Alabama to go to New York to find his fortune and win his Zelda back. Experiencing rejection after rejection, Scott finally hit the mark with a revised version of his novel, ‘This Side of Paradise’, with Scribner’s Publishers in New York and overnight he became a success and his future as a writer was assured. He married Zelda 1920.
Money was plenty. Zelda and he lived a wild lifestyle, staying in the most expensive hotels and partying every night. It was the age of jazz, flappers, spirited youth and bathtub gin, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived and breathed it. Lillian Gish, a famous actress of 1920s, said on meeting the Fitzgeralds: ‘They were both so beautiful, so blond, so clean and clear – and drinking straight whiskey out of tall tumblers.’
Scott and Zelda were physically alike and emotionally dependent on each other. When Zelda gave birth to their daughter in 1921 Scott said if she was to died in childbirth he would kill himself. Some may claim this was a love of addiction and maybe so, but the intensity of their feelings for each other were real and finally their undoing as addiction escalated in all areas of their life.
Zelda was extremely extravagant placing huge demand on the finances and Scott’s drinking habits meant that life was now spiralling down and debt followed them. Amongst their neighbours at Great Neck, Long Island, they quickly developed a reputation for eccentricity. Scott driving his Rolls Royce into a duck pond for fun and Zelda calling the fire brigade to put out the flame in her heart. Through all this Scott still managed to write ‘The Beautiful and Damned’ which was a huge success in 1922 but unfortunately not enough to keep paying for their lifestyle, thus Scott continues to write short stories for magazines. 1924 the Fitzgeralds moved away from Long Island to Europe where Scott writes his third novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’, based on the millionaires lives at Long Island.
At the height of his career, jealously of other men’s attentions on his wife, Zelda, deepened and the cracks in their marriage were now apparent. They travelled endlessly, Scott drank more and took out his frustrations on Zelda who was slowly retreating into a world of fantasy.
The collapse of the Wall Street Stock Exchange in 1929 signalled and end to an era, ‘The Jazz Age’ and an end to his life as a successful writer. Zelda suffered her first mental breaKdown 1930 and Scott plunged further into alcoholism.