Ernest Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald

Ernest Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald

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Ernest Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald


Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was born July 24th, 1900 to Anthony Sayre, a judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, and Minnie, a once aspiring actress. She was considered a sought-after Southern belle who had a collection of soldiers' insignia pins by the time she met Scott Fitzgerald at the age of twenty. However, Zelda refused marriage until 1920 when the publication of This Side of Paradise gave Scott the wealth and economic stability, which she demanded. The first few years of their marriage were characterized by extravagant spending, but shortly after the birth of their only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, the couple began frequent arguments usually triggered by alcohol (http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/biography.html). In 1924, when the Fitzgeralds went to France, Zelda became smitten with a French naval aviator named Jozan, who unlike Scott was tall and athletic. Although it is not known whether the two consummated their affair, many suspect that it was Scott who demanded that the two stop seeing each other that summer (Milford 110).

In Paris, Fitzgerald met Ernest Hemingway with whom he formed a friendship based largely on his admiration for Hemingway's personality and genius. The Fitzgeralds remained in France until the end of 1926, alternating between Paris and the Riviera. Although Scott and Ernest were very close at this time, they usually only included their wives, Zelda and Hadley, in social gatherings as "wives of writers" (Milford 116) rather than in their intellectual and literary discussions. Ernest became upset when Zelda said to Hadley at this time, "I notice in the Hemingway family you do what Ernest wants"(Milford 116). Thus, Ernest who always did things his way, was greatly disgusted over the amount of influence that Zelda had over her husband (Bruccoli 21).

Legend also has it that at Ernest and Zelda's first encounter in the summer of 1926, Hemingway took Fitzgerald aside saying that Zelda was crazy when she asked "Ernest, don't you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus"(Bruccoli 22). Zelda, on the other hand, thought Hemmingway was a "bogus," a "phony he-man," and a "pansy with hair on his chest". Scott was disappointed by their mutual dislike as he had hoped Zelda would admire Hemingway as much as he did.

Hemingway recounts his 1921-1926 Paris years in A Movable Feast. In "Hawks Do Not Share," he introduces Zelda at "a very bad lunch" in the Fitzgerald's "gloomy" apartment.

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He goes on to provide the following in-depth description of Zelda:

Zelda had hawk's eyes and a thin mouth and deep-south manners and
accent. Watching her face you could see her mind leave the table and go to the night's party and return with her eyes blank as a cat's and then pleased, and the pleasure would show along the thin line of her lips and then be gone. (The Legend of Zelda website, copyright 1997, was created by Jess Barron.)


One specific conversation between the Fitzgeralds, in response to Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, highlights their opposing views on Hemingway. When asked what the novel was about:

Zelda said "Bullfighting, bullslinging, and bullsh--"
"Zelda!" Scott cut her description short. "Don't say things like that."
"Why shouldn't I?..."
"Say anything you please," Scott growled, " but lay off Ernest."
"Try and make me!" she retorted. "He's a pain in the neck--talking about me and borrowing money from you while he does it. He's phony as a rubber check and you know it. (Milford 122).

Zelda was jealous of Hemingway especially of his relationship to her husband as their own marriage seemed to be weakening. In 1927 while dining out with Gerald and Sara Murphy, Zelda was so jealous that Scott was talking to Isadora Duncan that she threw herself down a flight of stairs. Although the two were only sharing professional advice, Zelda didn't hesitate to jump and cut herself up badly. As Zelda became more disturbed, similar incidents occurred. For instance, she threw her engagement present --a platinum and diamond wristwatch-- off a train because she was jealous of Lois Moran, a rising silent film actress who met Scott when she was 17. (www.askart.com /artist/F/zelda_sayre_fitzgerald.asp)

When examining the correspondence of Hemingway, it is apparent that he attempted to be civil when speaking to Scott about his wife as many of the early letters said "Best love to Zelda." However, in an October 1928 letter to Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway writes,

"Instead of thinking Zelda a possible good influence (what a phrase) for Scott, I think 90% of all the trouble he has comes from her...I often wonder if he would not have been the best writer we've ever had or likely to have if he hadn't been married to someone that would make him waste Everything."(Baker 289-90).

In 1929, Zelda began a strict ballet dancing regiment. Zelda's intense ballet work damaged her health and estranged the couple (http://www.sc.edu/ Fitzgerald/ biography.html). In April of 1930, Zelda had a breakdown in Paris, and by June, she was placed at Prangins Clinic near Geneva (Bruccoli intro). She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and released the following year, at which time Fitzgerald moved to America permanently. After Zelda's second breakdown in 1932, she was placed in the Phipps Clinic. Upon checking her in to the nurses, Scott did not mention his drinking but cited her reaction to his affair with Lois Moran and that he had been unjustly accused by Zelda of a homosexual attachment to Hemingway (Milford 211). At this time in 1932, instead of showing concern for Zelda's condition, Hemingway wrote to Maxwell Perkins,

"Poor old Scott. He should have swapped Zelda when she was at her craziest but still saleable back 5 or 6 years ago before she was diagnosed as nutty. He is the great tragedy of talent in our bloody generation"(Baker 364).

However, in 1932, Zelda began work on Save Me the Waltz. Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins at this time suggesting that Perkins not mention Zelda's novel to Hemingway, not because there was a "Conflict between the books; it was rather because of the conflict between Zelda and Hemingway-- which was in part a struggle for prominence"(Milford 225). Scribners did decide to publish the book and signed a contract for its publication in June of that year. Hemingway, of course, would later write to Perkins that he found Zelda's book to be "completely and absolutely unreadable"(Baker 376), and he used Zelda's writing as an excuse to say that Zelda was now jealous of Scott's writing success.

After the suicide of her brother Anthony in August 1933, the failed production of her play "Scandalabra," and the accidental fire at their house at La Paix, Zelda had her third mental breakdown in 1934. She painted and wrote from her room in Highland hospital in Asheville, N. C., but was unable to attend her husband's funeral in 1940. Zelda died in a fire that killed ten patients in that hospital on March 10, 1948. Even though Zelda's life was terminated, Hemingway's resentment towards her never died. In a 1950 letter to Arthur Mizener, Hemingway wrote:

"Did I write or tell you how Zelda really ruined Scott? ...she told him A: that he had never given her any sexual satisfaction. B: That it was because his sexual organ was too small...He told me this at lunch and I told him to come to the lavatory with me and would give him a reading on it. His sexual organs were perfectly normal."(Baker 690).

Works Cited

Artist's Biographies. www.askart.com/artist/F/zelda_sayre_fitzgerald.asp

Baker, Carlos ed. Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961. New York: Scribner, 1981.

Baron, Jess. The Legend of Zelda WEBSITE, 1997.

Bruccoli, Matthew. Scott and Ernest: The Authority of Failure and the Authority of Success. New York: Random House, 1978.

Bruccoli, Matthew. "A Brief Life of Fitzgerald." <http://www.sc.edu/Fitzgerald /biography.html>. 1994.

Milford, Nancy. Zelda: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
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