by Nancy Milford

Hardcover, 1970

Call number




Harper & Row (1970), 424 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML: "Profound, overwhelmingly moving . . . a richly complex love story." � New York Times Acclaimed biographer Nancy Milford brings to life the tormented, elusive personality of Zelda Sayre and clarifies as never before Zelda's relationship with her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald�tracing the inner disintegration of a gifted, despairing woman, torn by the clash between her husband's career and her own talent. Zelda Sayre's stormy life spanned from notoriety as a spirited Southern beauty to success as a gifted novelist and international celebrity at the side of her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda and Fitzgerald were one of the most visible couples of the Jazz Age, inhabiting and creating around them a world of excitement, romance, art, and promise. Yet their tumultuous relationship precipitated a descent into depression and mental instability for Zelda, leaving her to spend the final twenty years of her life in hospital care, until a fire at a sanitarium claimed her life. Incorporating years of exhaustive research and interviews, Milford illuminates Zelda's nuanced and elusive personality, giving character to both her artistic vibrancy and to her catastrophic collapse..… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member karinnekarinne
It's hard to review "Zelda" without tying in my feelings about Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and their crazy, codependent relationship. But I can't find any fault in Nancy Milford's work, and for such a long biography to hold my interest all the way through is sort of amazing, so I'm giving it five
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I first learned about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald a few years ago when I tried to read a couple of Scott Fitzgerald's books. I couldn't STAND the main characters in any of the books, and reading that they were semi-based on the Fitzgeralds in real life made me think these must be some of the most horrid people ever. I read asides about how rocky their relationship was but didn't know too much, but was a little interested in how the characters in the fictional worlds Scott created contrasted with the real people a lot of people compared them to. It wasn't really enough of an interest to do any footwork until I read Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" and read about his encounters with the Fitzgeralds. They sounded interesting and it spurred me to read "Zelda," which had been sitting on my bookshelf for about a year.

So I guess I should get to the actual review, sorry. Milford writes about Zelda's childhood briefly, but most of the book focuses on her life after she meets Scott, which has a lot to do with the fact that the latter part of her life is better documented, I'm sure. Milford is a skillful biographer and has a knack as far as keeping the reader interested in the story she's telling. This is not quite a biography of Scott, but it is hard not to tell his story while telling Zelda's, so you learn quite a bit about Scott along the way.

Zelda's story is so sad, at least I thought it was. She is not a sympathetic character all of the time -- sometimes she is downright unlikeable -- but I couldn't help but feel sorry for her as her husband stole pieces wholesale from her life to use in his writing, including writing from her journals and letters, and blamed her for almost everything bad that happened to him, professionally and sometimes personally. It seemed at times that he even blamed her for her own mental illness. Reading about Zelda's ups-and-downs and visits to mental health facilities was as sad as reading about her plaintive letters to Scott after their relationship fizzled for the last time, and her problems connecting with her daughter, Scottie.

"Zelda" is just a SAD book, so I can see why it wouldn't be for everybody. It does give great insight into the life of the couple behind the books I read, though (and surprise! I think I would dislike them as much in real life, in their heyday, as I did the characters in the books), and it gives a little window into how mental illness was handled seventy years ago or so. It's a fascinating look into a complicated life, if you can get past the melancholy inevitable end.

[BONUS! I have now learned I am crap at reviewing biographies. Yay?]
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LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
F. Scott Fitzgerald is rightly heralded as the voice of his generation and his 'The Great Gatsby' is an essential entry on high school and college reading lists. In addition to his place a man of American letters, he was friends with just about everyone else knowing from his time, from Ernest
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Hemingway to John dos Passos to Dorothy Parker to Edmund Wilson to Edna St. Vincent Millay and everyone in between. Part of his fascination is as a flame which burned too bright and was extinguished too early. To that extent, his legend is inextricably I linked with his wife, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. Many observers have been divided into two camps: Some, like Hemingway, insisting that Zelda's psychological instability kept Scott from living up to his literary promise and leading to his early demise. Others fall squarely into the Zelda camp, alleging Scott's alcoholism and insecurities fed into Zelda's illness and kept her from realizing her own considerable talent.

Milford's 1970 biography of Zelda manages to straddle the two camps. Their lives and their psyches were so intertwined that any biography of one seems perforce to be an analysis of the other. Milford handles both with sensitivity and clarity. Scholarship has taken us much further in the thirty plus years since this biography was published. Yet everything since owes a debt to Milford's work and original research. It is especially notable for the number of first hand interviews conducted with friends, family and contemporaries. I was amazed at her apparent complete access to Zelda's medical records - astonishing at least to eyes accustomed to this age of HIPAA and patient privacy. For these resources alone we would be indebted. For Milford's careful and incisive handling of these resources biographers ever since have been grateful.

There are more superficial handling of Zelda's story and more up-to-date treatises. Nevertheless, this is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand Zelda Fitzgerald's artistry and role in her times.
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LibraryThing member SandSing7
It sounds cliche, but this book was absolutely fascinating, even to a person who's not a big fan of non-fiction. Zelda was inspiring and tragic all at once. It also showed a completely different side of Fitzgerald, and made me think of The Great Gatsby in a completely different light. I could not
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believe Zelda actually muttered that famous "I hope she'll be a fool" line after the birth of her daughter, Scottie! And for some reason, I kept wondering if Tom could be a representation of Fitzgerald himself? The extent to which Fitzgerald went to secure "ownership" of their life for his own fictional use was astounding. I can't wait to go back and read his novels again with a more complete understanding of the biographical information behind it.
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LibraryThing member lanaing
Amazing. Milford did an excellent job of portraying the Fitzgerald couple. However, her writing was not the main attraction of this book, it was Zelda's. Her letter's to Scott were steeped in metaphors and beautiful in their conveyance of so many emotions.
Here is one that she wrote to describe the
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rainy sky:
"filled with copper clouds like the after-math of cannon-fire, pre-war, civil-war clouds and I feel all empty and bored and very much in love with you, my dear one, my own. I wish you were here so we could stretch our legs down beside one another and feel all warm and hidden in the bed, like seeds beaten into the earth. Why is there happiness and comfort and excitement where you are and no where else in the world, and why is there a sleepy tremulo in the air when you are near that's promising and living like a vibrating fecundity?"

4 1/2 stars for a biography on the tragic lives of two who personified the Jazz Age
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald were international sensations during the Jazz age of the 20s. They traveled the world on a wave of excitement and romance. But beneath their carefree public personas lurked alcoholism, madness and tragedy.

Nancy Milford has done her homework. She draws from Zelda's
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scrapbooks and love letters; mines information from old friends; and even delves into both the Fitzgerald's writings, which were autobiographical stories masquerading as fiction.

The book is dark and brooding at times, and difficult to read as Zelda's life spirals out of control. Morose and intense, I found myself having to take frequent breaks to take a breath and recover. Milford portrays Scott Fizgerald as a man consumed by his writing, drinking to excess, and using his wife's words (from her diary and letters) as fodder for his novels. Disturbingly, many of Zelda's work was published under Scott's name. As a writer myself, I found this unforgivable.

In the end, I was overwhelmed with sympathy for Zelda. She was a highly intelligent, gifted woman who could not overcome the demons of schizophrenia which haunted her. Milford leaves the reader feeling exhausted by the tragedy of Zelda's life and death. The book is worth reading for the breadth and depth of the information provided; but it is hardly a "light" or enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member Craig_Pratt7052
Important person who was the "poster child" for the American 1920's
LibraryThing member Chris_V
One of my favourite biographies, a fine example of how to write the life of a difficult subject.

Zelda Sayre was the spoiled daughter of a Southern family when she met F. Scott Fitzgerald while he was a soldier posted close to her town. After marrying, they soon became Jazz Age darlings with
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Fitzgerald's success as an author. But the glittering life proved too much for them and led to Fitzgerald's alcoholism and Zelda's mental disintegration.

Thanks to Nancy Milford's excellent writing, a difficult subject is brought to life with tact and sympathy.
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LibraryThing member edenkal
I just finished this book and it was a lengthy read (it took me a week to finish) but it was well worth it. Nancy Milford did an excellent job of getting every last detail and putting it in an order that flows nicely. What a tragic life and love Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald had. I think it was an
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important story to tell and the author makes you feel like you were right there with them. Im was amazed to find out how two people could love each other so much and ruin each other at the same time. Anybody with an interest in the writers of the 1920's should definitely read this book.
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LibraryThing member carterchristian1
A very painful book to read. The large sections of Zelda's work is quoted verbatim including paragraphs which her husband lifted directly for his fiction. It is an absorbing tale of decent into mental illness and explains in detail how a woman like Zelda would be treated in hospital in Europe and
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then in 3 American hospitals over a long period of time. While she is often hospitalized the medical treatment enabled her to have short periods at home over the years and especially in North Carolina a regime of physical exercise and routine appears very effective.

Well written, the research seems sound.Since Fitzgerald is taught in American high schools this is an important contribution to American literature. The couple's relationship with the American publishing business also shows how certain author's become popular even though Fitzgerald only published 4 full length novels in his lifetime.
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LibraryThing member aliform
A well-researched factual account of the life of one of the most influential 20th century American women. Zelda's life and work has already been long overshadowed by that of her husband, unjustly so.
LibraryThing member Tinamonster
"Zelda necking with young men because she liked the shapes of their noses or the cut of their dinner jackets"

That was the only time I understood her...just a little.

I wasn't in love with Zelda from the start but her story is a fascinating one. It makes for good reading even if the lead doesn't
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LibraryThing member Sheila1957
The biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This book gives us a look at a literary couple during the 20's and 30's. I found it interesting but it bogged down at times with the exchange of letters between the couple. Zelda's letters at times were hard to follow. I also thought
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that Scott became the lead character at times. She led a tragic life because of her illness. F. Scott was less than wonderful.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
All the dirt on one of the most tumultuous relationships in literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda had one of those love/hate relationships that we all recognize as being ultimately doomed. Takes us back to the jazz age, throws in a bunch of alcohol, and then stirs things up.


National Book Award (Finalist — Arts and Letters — 1971)




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