Zelda Fitzgerald, the “First American Flapper”

8 Nov

Zelda Fitzgerald

Flappers were a “new breed” of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms. Flappers had their origins in the liberal period of the Roaring Twenties, the social, political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of World War I, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.  (Wikipedia)

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

The empress of the Jazz Age, Zelda Fitzgerald  inspired fashion in much the same way she inspired her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing: firmly and fiercely. The two married in 1920, and soon after Scott achieved literary success with This Side of Paradise. Feisty, talented and a prodigious social butterfly, Zelda quickly made a name for herself as his charismatic muse. Dubbed the “first American flapper” by her husband, Zelda epitomized the Roaring Twenties with her bobbed hair, short skirts and unapologetic drinking as she made her way through the most exclusive social circles in New York and, later, Paris. She wore a flesh-colored bathing suit to fuel rumors that she swam nude–she liked the attention. However, in reality, life wasn’t quite so enchanting — the Fitzgeralds’ marriage was often turbulent. Zelda spent much time in and out of institutions being treated for mental illness. She was staying in an institution in North Carolina in 1948 when she died after a fire broke out. However, despite the personal hardships, Zelda had embodied everything that fabled era promised: defiance, recklessness and, above all, glamour.

Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda & Scott FitzgeraldZelda & Scott Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda & Scott FitzgeraldZelda & Scott Fitzgerald
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When Dorothy Parker first caught a glimpse of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, in the early twenties, they were sitting atop a taxi. “They did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking,” she said. “Everyone wanted to meet him.”

And her as well. Zelda Fitzgerald, the iconic flapper, whose glory and despair have come to define the Jazz Age, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 24 1900, as Zelda Sayre. “Youth doesn’t need friends—it only needs crowds,” she once wrote, but she was wrong. She loved the limelight, at least initially, but she certainly needed her friends—married to Scott, and the star and heroine of his bestsellers, she was, like all celebrities, like all It girls, trapped in the image she had come to represent, even when she was a willing co-conspirator in authoring the myth. The pressure of living up to—or down to—that myth, it has been argued, is what literally drove her mad, and was responsible for her tragic spiral.

Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda & Scott FitzgeraldZelda, Scott & Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald

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The clever, charismatic Mrs. Fitzgerald bristled at her wife-of-the-artist role—in her own right she was a serious ballet dancer and a talented author. In 1932 she published a novel, which infuriated Scott, though he had borrowed liberally from her diaries and letters for his own work. She was in the end far more complicated, deeply more interesting, than the champagne-guzzling-fountain-jumping-goddess-bad-girl the public thought they knew.

Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda and Francis Scott Fitzgerald in 1926Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald
Zelda & Scott FitzgeraldZelda, Scott & Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald
zelda-and-scott-fitzgerald-mylusciouslife-com-zelda-fitzgerald1Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald
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But, by 1925, Zelda wrote, ”The flapper! She is growing old. She has come to none of the predicted ‘bad ends,’ but has gone at last, where all good flappers go — into the young married set, into boredom and gathering conventions and the pleasure of having children, having lent a while a splendor and courageousness and brightness to life, as all good flappers should.”

Zelda Fitzgerald

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Zelda Wasn’t ‘Crazy’

According to Zelda biographer, Theresa Ann Fowler: “Zelda did suffer some mental health crises — depression, primarily — and was an uninhibited, uncensored woman who didn’t always think before she acted, but she wasn’t crazy. Unwise? Sometimes. Insane? No.”

Zelda Fitzgerald

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Book

Book Cover

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel―and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera―where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.

Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous―sometimes infamous―husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

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2 Responses to “Zelda Fitzgerald, the “First American Flapper””

  1. Soul Safari 8 November 2015 at 17:56 #

    You forgot to mention ‘smoking opium and snorting cocaine’
    when you write “Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms”.

    I certainly will look at for the book. Thanks for an inspiring post.

  2. Virginia Taylor 18 May 2017 at 20:43 #

    Loved the book and identified with Zelda. A Woman born before her time! We’re still evolving!

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