Friday, June 06, 2008

The Ghost of Zelda

(another Leo, on the Cancer cusp: July 24)

This week I've been reading two biographies by Nancy Milford that I picked up months ago at the Strand: "Zelda" and the 2001 bio of Edna St. Vincent Millay. (I'd read the Zelda Fitzgerald bio for the first time probably 20 years ago.) Here's a quote in the Zelda book from husband Scott in the 1940s, long after he and his wife had found it impossible to live together:

Perhaps fifty percent of our friends and relations will tell you in good faith that it was my drinking that drove Zelda mad, and the other half would assure you that it was her madness that drove me to drink. Neither of these judgements means much of anything. These two groups of friends and relations would be unanimous in saying that each of us would have been much better off without the other. The irony is that we have never been more in love with each other in all our lives. She loves the alcohol on my lips. I cherish her most extravagant hallucinations. In the end, nothing really had much importance. We destroyed ourselves. But in all honesty, I never thought we destroyed each other.

And here's another incident from the book that struck me. In '46, 6 years after Scott's death and 2 years before her own, Zelda visited friends in the East. When it was time to go back to her home in Montgomery, Zelda and the family were all sitting on the porch waiting to leave. The family was getting anxious as the train's departure time neared and Zelda seemed in no hurry to go:

Zelda said we didn't need to worry, the train would not be on time anyway. We laughed and said, perhaps, but it was a risk we didn't intend to take. 'Oh, no,' she said, 'it will be all right. Scott has told me. Can't you see him sitting here beside me?' The Biggses were speechless, neither knowing what to say or do. At last Judge Biggs insisted that they leave. When we got to the station we had a half hour wait. The train was going to be late.

Many people seem to remember/want to remember only the glamorous early years of the Fitzgeralds, the years just after they'd met and had a brief, glorious time being feted in New York City. For instance, I just did a search online for a photo of Zelda as she looked in the '40s, after years of mental problems had worn her out, and couldn't find a thing. I did, though, come across numerous photos of modern-day couples with fluorescent teeth and blank eyes, too often posing pseudo-provocatively entwined on leather couches in LA, their photos bearing captions like, "The Modern-Day Scott and Zelda," with the following descriptions usually saying something along the lines of, "Jessica met Topher at the X Games, where she was doing publicity for his edgy band Snap982. They work hard and play hard!"

I wonder if any of those utterly generic and depressing people (or those writing blurbs about them) actually have any idea what it's like to feel deeply connected to someone, even after years of separation and sadness and pain... if they're capable of recognizing another's spirit (rather than their "big tits" or "big guns").

The Fitzgeralds, with their deep knowledge of each other and old-fashioned fealty, break my heart.

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
---Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Anonymous said...

Me too. Have always been fascinated by the Fitzgeralds.

Don't know if you're familiar with Jan Morris? She and her (now legal) partner are certainly a remarkable couple:

Jonathan, London

Beth Austin said...

Thanks so much, Jonathan.

That article made me cry. Just such a purity of feeling and spirit... And so much strength from that couple...

"In the wretchedness of his sexual uncertainty, Morris had, since childhood, felt himself in a 'remote and eerie capsule'.

But after meeting Elizabeth, he found himself enjoying 'one particular love of an intensity so different from all the rest, on a plane of experience so mysterious, and of a texture so rich, that it over-rode from the start all my sexual ambiguities, and acted like a key to the latch of my conundrum.'

James and Elizabeth were incredibly alike, 'so instantly, utterly, improbably and permanently attuned to one another that we might have been brother and sister . . . we even looked rather alike.

'We did things the same way and were sensitive to the same nuances. I would not say there were no secrets at all between us, for every human being, I think, has a right to a locked corner in the mind; but most of our thoughts were shared, and often we need not translate them into words. . .

'We loved each other's company so much that I often went with her to her office in Hampstead, just for the pleasure of the bus ride.'"