In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Vampire to VictimNina Auerbach

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise 
by Sally Cline.
Murray, 492 pp., £25, September 2003, 0 7195 5466 7
Show More
Show More

Zelda Fitzgerald would probably call herself a post-feminist today, but when she was alive, she made herself a flapper. In 1926, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s charmingly wild wife told an interviewer that she hoped her daughter’s generation would be even ‘jazzier’ than her own: ‘I think a woman gets more happiness out of being gay, light-hearted, unconventional, mistress of her own fate, than out of a career that calls for hard work, intellectual pessimism and loneliness. I don’t want Pat to be a genius, I want her to be a flapper, because flappers are brave and gay and beautiful.’

Did Zelda really say all this? So many creeds have been thrust on her by adoring Pygmalions, from Scott Fitzgerald himself to Sally Cline in this passionately partisan biography, that the real Zelda long ago drowned in images, including her own. Still, if she did not shower these particular scintillating adjectives on her flapper-self, her life proclaimed them.

A flapper in the 1920s, like a post-feminist today, hovers between defiance and compliance. She embraces the subordination the previous generation fled, but calls it ‘brave and gay and beautiful’, not self-sacrificial or boring. Because Zelda thought work was depressing as well as desirable, she is not my favourite biographical subject: she reminds me too much of my younger colleagues, who find it grim to buck the systems of profession and family it was so elating in the 1970s to defy. Unlike my own female heroes, Zelda never defined herself; she just flailed about under the aegis of her brilliant husband. As a girl, she did everything she was supposed to do: she was a Southern belle who married a dapper genius once he became rich enough to keep her. Until money and energy ran out, they lived the media-starred life of Beautiful People in New York and Paris, drowning domesticity (and, almost, their stoical daughter) in servants, fun and champagne.

Belatedly, Zelda saw that she was patronised as a tart-tongued appendage to glittering Scott. Jealous of his fame, she snatched at a career, but not in the frumpy way ‘that calls for hard work, intellectual pessimism and loneliness’. She flung herself into three arts simultaneously – ballet, painting and writing – with such ferocity that she plummeted into the madness that consumed her last 18 years, most of which were spent in mental hospitals and, finally, under the suffocating surveillance of the Alabama family from which Scott had been her escape.

Zelda lived to please, but nobody much liked her. Ernest Hemingway, who detested women writers, saw her as an insane harpy who destroyed Scott’s work. Though Cline insists, often on flimsy evidence, that Zelda was an authentic artist, she is fair-minded enough to surround her with women who really did make their careers on their own: Rebecca West, Dorothy Parker, Natalie Barney and Zelda’s Montgomery classmate and friend Sara Haardt, who fled belle-dom to write fiction; the serious and tubercular Sara eventually married H.L. Mencken and died shortly afterwards. These women were more or less kind to Zelda (Dorothy Parker bought two of her drawings in 1934, though she found them too tortured to hang), but she was not their peer. She may have been too angry for Hemingway, but she was too wifely for professional writers.

Yet in 1970 Zelda’s life, not the careers of her successful contemporaries, became, potentially, our own. Nancy Milford’s extraordinary biography gripped and chilled young literary women in America. I still recall the shock of her book, though as a Scott Fitzgerald fan I had thought I knew the story: the fame, the fun, the crash, the crack-up, the hospitals, the drain of money and love, and the ignominious trapped deaths – for him in the waste of Hollywood in 1940, for her in an asylum fire eight years later. Smart, stylish, funny, unmoored, Zelda had always seemed the figurehead of a lost generation, but in 1970 she became the symbol of lost women.

It had never occurred to me that Zelda Fitzgerald had a life outside her husband’s lyrical prose. Of course women writers had lives, but did wives? Did they need them? Milford’s revelation, which shouldn’t have been a shock, was that Zelda had lived outside Scott’s metaphors. In fact, his images of a shimmering golden girl, who in the great novels Gatsby and Tender Is the Night becomes something like a vampire, entangled Zelda in his fantasies; so did the role of wife itself. Pillaging her letters, her journals, her language (it was supposedly Zelda who said, at her daughter’s birth: ‘I hope it’s beautiful and a fool – a beautiful little fool,’ a blessing/curse with which Scott would pinion Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby), Scott did not glorify Zelda, but, according to Milford, drained her incipient identity.

Scott Fitzgerald was most women’s favourite Modernist, as Keats was our favourite Romantic, especially compared to myopic, preening Wordsworth. Compared to his sometime friend, the posturing bully Hemingway, Fitzgerald seemed gentle, almost girlish, breathlessly embracing his charmed fictional world. But Milford showed us another Fitzgerald face, one that appeared when his wife began to write.

In the traditional reading of her life, Zelda’s belated lunge at art (she was 27 when she threw herself into dancing) was a symptom of insanity. In hospital, she wrote, in an astonishing three weeks, her autobiographical novel Save Me the Waltz. Scott, labouring for years over Tender Is the Night and transcribing his wife’s symptoms into its mad heroine, exploded when he read Zelda’s first draft. He claimed that she had stolen his material (her own life) and made him look like a weak fool (in the first draft, Zelda named the ineffectual husband Amory Blaine, the glamorous hero of Scott’s bestseller This Side of Paradise).

Save Me the Waltz is in fact vividly different from Scott’s work. For Zelda, marriage is a shadowy affair: the novel springs to life in ballet school, a female world of muscles, sweat, competition and community. Unlike Scott, intoxicated by hazy images, Zelda lives in bodies and smells. ‘Do you still smell of pencils and sometimes of tweed?’ she wrote longingly to Scott from hospital. Perhaps because he thought his wife was stealing his material, or perhaps because she had access to a tactile world beyond his, Scott did his hysterical best to enlist Zelda’s psychiatrists in suppressing not only her novel, but all her artistic aspirations. His collusion with her doctors in a ghastly attempt to ‘re-educate’ Zelda into wifehood was, for me, the shocking centre of Milford’s book. Mad Zelda went from vampire to victim, lovable Scott from victim to oppressor. Like the wife in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ which was reprinted around the same time Milford’s biography appeared, Zelda Fitzgerald was broken by an alliance among those quintessential good men, husbands and doctors.

Milford’s biography is saved from polemic by its grace and tact. Her own commentary is spare; most of the story is told in irresistible letters, by the principals and the many writers in their circle, so that the dynamic of a wife’s wreck becomes irrefutable, not imposed. Milford never denies that Zelda was ill as well as insulted. Scott is allowed his agony, romantic, creative and financial. Zelda’s story remains the one we knew, but told from a viewpoint that restores the life she experienced.

After Milford’s achievement, does Zelda Fitzgerald need another biography? I don’t think so, though Sally Cline’s account is lush and readable, with some telling new material. Cline, whose last book was a biography of Radclyffe Hall, gives full and fascinating accounts of the Fitzgeralds’ fraught relations with the homosexual community in bohemian Paris. We knew of the paranoid obsession with ‘fairies’ that terrorised Hemingway, Zelda and Scott himself (for Fitzgerald, some evil homosexual abstraction, not competitive tension, killed his friendship with Hemingway: ‘I really loved him, but of course it wore out like a love affair. The fairies have spoiled all that’). But Zelda’s undefined association with the lesbian community of Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney and Djuna Barnes, her insistence during her first breakdown that she was in love with Barney, and also with her ballet teacher Lubov Egorova, are new to me. The obsessed Fitzgeralds, flayed with a terror of desires that were beyond the pale, present a touching picture of American innocents abroad, and also of the tortured artistic generation that came of age after Oscar Wilde’s trials in 1895. Adultery, of course, remained not sick but sophisticated: Scott had a series of affairs. She also itemises his alcoholic binges, whose details more reverent biographers want to forget. Cline places her characters in a tougher, less glamorous world than we are used to.

Still, her advocacy of Zelda is overwrought. Cline has written the sort of adoring biography Zelda herself might have conceived. Its subtitle, ‘Her Voice in Paradise’, has a double meaning. On the surface, of course, it echoes ironically the title of Scott’s famous first novel, This Side of Paradise, but there is a Spiritualist dimension as well, evoking a glorified Zelda dictating from the afterlife. Cline’s Zelda is so brilliant, so conspired against, ultimately so triumphant, that her life loses its contours.

For one thing, the quotations from the Fitzgeralds’ letters and journals that Cline uses are so truncated – no doubt because many others have already published this material – that she seems to be forcing a story rather than letting one unfold. From the harrowing series of letters that follow Zelda’s early hospitalisations, in which Scott rages about her stealing his material and she tries to mollify him, Cline quotes the following snippets:

Scott could not contain himself. ‘So you are taking my material, is that right?’

‘Is that your material?’ Zelda asked. The asylums? The madness? The terrors? Were they yours? Funny, she hadn’t noticed.

It takes a sharp reader to notice that the final five accusatory sentences are Cline’s, not Zelda’s, as if Cline were now the medium through which her subject vindicates herself.

Cline’s Scott is an unmitigated villain. She insinuates vast conspiracies, not typical sexist ignorance, in Scott’s and the doctors’ assumption that Zelda’s ambition and her sexuality were symptoms of insanity. She is equally conspiratorial about Zelda’s misdiagnosis as a schizophrenic. Scott did not invent his times: until quite recently, ‘schizophrenic’ was indeed a catch-all category for mental illness; throughout most of the 20th century, it was a commonplace that ambitious, sexually driven women were, by definition, mad.

Today, Zelda would no doubt be diagnosed as a manic depressive (hence her frenzied bouts of creative fever, followed by weeks of silence and withdrawal); she would probably have responded to lithium, a drug that was not used until the 1970s. Scott was no more responsible for medical ignorance than H.L. Mencken was responsible for Sara Haardt’s early death from tuberculosis. In fact, out of the welter of Scott’s laments and accusations comes some prophetic sense: ‘I can’t help clinging to the idea that some essential physical things like salt or iron or semen or some unguessed at holy water is either missing or is present in too great quantity.’ Psychopharmacology has discovered the truth in Scott’s wild guess, but Zelda is not the only hectored patient who might have been cured had she been born later.

Cline accuses Fitzgerald of out-and-out plagiarism in his literary use of Zelda’s material. This is a shaky charge: before our own litigious days, writers were licensed sponges. Moreover, we would lose voices like Dickens’s, Sylvia Plath’s and Philip Roth’s if their pillaged intimates had the right of censorship. Scott did publish some of Zelda’s stories under his own name, as Milford showed, but they might not otherwise have been published at all. Zelda’s achievement as a writer is not brilliant. Save Me the Waltz, her one published novel, is often violently alive, but it is also patchy and disconnected. When it appeared, it sold almost no copies. Her unfinished novel, Caesar’s Things, and her long play, Scandalabra, sound barely coherent. Cline puts an angry caption under a photograph of Sara Haardt: ‘Sara always received more encouragement from her husband H.L. Mencken than Zelda did from Scott.’ But Haardt was a professional writer long before she met Mencken. Finally, writers write their own careers. Encouragers are incidental.

For all his overbearing accusations, Scott seems to have helped as much as he impeded. In the early days, Zelda was glad enough to use Scott Fitzgerald’s name to promote her stories; his editor Max Perkins handled a slightly cut version of Save Me the Waltz; Scott tried tirelessly to edit the welter of Scandalabra into a presentable shape. His friends loyally attended Zelda’s art shows and bought her paintings; after his death, she exhibited in Montgomery, where, thanks to Scott, she was something of a local celebrity. But even before her illnesses, she made few attempts to strike out on her own.

Zelda was always on the verge of an independent identity she never embraced. In 1929, a ballet company in Naples invited her to join it as a soloist: she turned down the job and shortly afterwards became a professional invalid. In a vivid section of Save Me the Waltz, the heroine does go to Naples, not just as a soloist, but as the prima ballerina in Swan Lake. She is lonely and adrift. When her snooty daughter visits, she is embarrassed by her relative poverty. Naples sickens the child; both the girl and the dancing mother are relieved when she returns to her father. Shortly thereafter, as if in punishment, an infected foot ensures that the heroine will never dance again. Instead of living out this dark dream, even finding within it a possible happy ending, Zelda cracked up.

The Naples invitation makes nonsense of the condescending assumption that Zelda’s dancing was a pathetic symptom, not a vocation, but her refusal to follow through was, I think, the turning point of her life. Cline does her best to blame Scott for this failure of nerve with the vague suggestion that he somehow hypnotised his wife: Zelda’s ‘strange passivity at this critical moment implies an emotional fatigue from many months of professional subservience’. But if Zelda had wanted to go to Naples, her husband could have stopped her only by locking her in the closet. By that time, I suspect, he would have been relieved – and freer to work – had Zelda begun to make a career on her own. But she shrank from an opportunity she associated with ‘hard work, intellectual pessimism and loneliness’. One can blame something amorphous, such as ‘the backlash’ or ‘the times’ or whatever else might brainwash young women into associating careers with deprivation rather than challenge and power and fun, but it’s unreasonable to blame Fitzgerald for depriving his wife of a chance she refused to take.

I hope it isn’t reverting to the old ‘angelic Scott, demonic Zelda’ stereotype to grant Zelda Fitzgerald the power of all women to create her own failures as well as to endure them. Moreover, Cline seems to see no failures in Zelda’s three truncated careers. Not only does she enthusiastically insist on her talent at all three – about which she is surely right – but she also makes grandiose claims I find ridiculous. She solemnly compares Zelda’s prose to Faulkner’s (as well as Scott’s), her paintings to those of Picasso, O’Keeffe and Van Gogh. Is Zelda really on a par with them, or is she flailing around for a style of her own? Since Cline reproduces only a handful of her paintings, referring the reader to others (her mother destroyed most of them after her death), we must take her achievement on faith. Cline does reproduce Zelda’s unused jacket design for The Beautiful and Damned, in which a naked Zelda looks pertly out of a glass of champagne. It’s cute, but it looks less like a book jacket than an invitation to a party. The late flower paintings, which Brendan Gill provocatively called ‘the expression of a violent, undischarged rage’ and thus ‘radically unsuited to the New Yorker’, sound intriguing, but they might be better read about than seen.

One of Scott Fitzgerald’s cruellest remarks is also one of his truest: ‘Now the difference between the professional and the amateur is something that is awfully hard to analyse, it is awfully intangible. It just means the keen equipment; it means a scent, a smell of the future in one line.’ Zelda could smell bodies, but she did not have the scent of the professional. In Victorian England, her trio of talents would have been cooed over as ‘accomplishments’; in all times, women are loved for remaining amateurs. It was Zelda’s tragic flaw, not the fault of any man, that she would not take the leap into professionalism.

Instead, she became a professional patient, and thereby lost both husband and career. Cline tries to decorate these losses with Wagnerian triumphal strains: while Milford titled the section depicting Zelda’s first hospitalisations ‘Breakdown’, Cline calls it ‘Creative Voices’. Milford designated Zelda’s last drifting years as Scott’s widow, spent largely in her mother’s custody, ‘Going Home’; Cline calls it ‘In Her Own Voice’. We all would like Zelda Fitzgerald to have ended in feminist triumph, but Milford’s sad, simple words seem to be more appropriate to her lost life. Cline’s rhetorical elation makes me nervous about our own times. In thirty years Zelda Fitzgerald has gone from case history to cult figure. The life of this wrecked if gallant woman has become, not the cautionary tale it was in 1970, but an achievement to applaud.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.