Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise - Sally Cline My experience of reading F Scott Fitzgerald’s [b:Tender Is the Night|46164|Tender Is the Night|F. Scott Fitzgerald|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347573947s/46164.jpg|8272], my ongoing fascination with Lost Generation writers and my experience of reading Therese Anne Fowler’s [b:Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald|15994634|Z A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald|Therese Anne Fowler|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1360236506s/15994634.jpg|21763986] led me to this biography. Although I knew relatively little about Zelda Fitzgerald, prior to reading Fowler’s novel I wasn’t convinced by her portrayal in that work. The Zelda in Fowler’s novel was altogether too dreary, sedate and contemporary for a woman whose exploits made her an icon of the Jazz Age.

Cline’s biography has given me a much better insight into the life and times of Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s a very detailed and extensively researched work, covering Zelda’s family background, her childhood and teenage years in Montgomery Alabama, her meeting with F Scott Fitzgerald and their romance and subsequent marriage, which occurred five days after the publication of Scott’s first novel, [b:This Side of Paradise|46165|This Side of Paradise|F. Scott Fitzgerald|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348054635s/46165.jpg|2520849]. The bulk of the work deals with the gradual and irrevocable decline of their marriage, destroyed by Scott’s alcoholism and Zelda’s mental illness.

One of the saddest aspects of Zelda’s life was the almost certain misdiagnosis of her psychiatric condition as schizophrenia and the cruel side effects of the treatment to which she was subjected. Another was the characterisation of her creative impulses as evidence that she was an unnatural wife and mother who wanted to compete with her husband. Yet another was the manner in which her husband appropriated her work for his own uses. Cline discusses these and other aspects of Zelda’s life with insight and sensitivity.

According to the introduction, Cline had access to resources denied to previous biographers, including Zelda’s full medical records. She made excellent use of that material. The work is extensively footnoted and includes a lengthy bibliography. The medical information available to Cline includes the transcript of an interview between Zelda and Scott and her psychiatrist during which the pair trade recriminations and Zelda ultimately gives in to Scott’s demands. This is particularly poignant to read, as are the extracts from the couple’s letters.

Cline’s style is easy to read and engaging. She occasionally indulges in speculation of the “Zelda must have thought” variety, but not so often that the work loses credibility. And while Cline is firmly on the side of her subject, she’s not unfair to Scott Fitzgerald who, despite his frequently brutal treatment of Zelda, continued to support her financially and cared for her to the extent of his ability to do so.

Scott’s alcoholism and insecurity and Zelda’s mental illness and refusal to conform made their relationship toxic. Together they formed the ultimate tabloid celebrity couple – the rock stars of their day. But like many rock stars, they flew too close to the sun and it consumed them. Zelda’s story is extremely sad and Cline tells it very well.