It was 67 years ago today that Zelda Fitzgerald died tragically in a hospital fire. Since 1936 she spent various periods as a patient in Highland Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina being treated for mental illness. On the night of March 10, 1948, Zelda was locked in her room awaiting electroshock treatment when a fire broke out in the hospital’s kitchen. The fire swept rapidly through the hospital. Zelda was one of nine patients who died in the fire.
I suppose most of us think of Zelda, if indeed we do, only in association with her famous husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. To know Zelda only as “the first American Flapper,” as she was nicknamed by Scott, is to know only an image and not the whole person. She was much more than half of a twosome known for their hard drinking and exhaustive partying, the living embodiment of what is remembered as the Jazz Age. The very term “Jazz Age” was coined by Scott. But she was more than just Scott’s wife. She was a talented artist and author.
As a writer, she published only one novel, Save Me the Waltz (1932), a semi autographical novel written while being treated for schizophrenia in a Maryland clinic. The novel was not well received by the critics. Rather than being proud of her and offering her encouragement, Scott was angry. Apparently jealous, he called her a “third-rate writer.” She began writing a second novel, Caesar’s Things, but died before finishing it.
Zelda also wrote articles and short stories for magazines. “The Iceberg,” a short story Zelda wrote when only seventeen or eighteen was discovered recently and published in The New Yorker in December, 2013 (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-iceberg-a-story-by-zelda-fitzgerald). The story won the then high school student a prize and was published in in the Sidney Lanier High School Literary Journal.
Zelda was a gifted artist as well as writer. She drew sketches and painted throughout her life until her tragic death. It would be much too difficult for one such as me to even attempt to describe her artwork. For a suitable discussion of Zelda’s art I refer the reader to “The Art of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Anne Margaret Daniel (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-margaret-daniel/the-art-of-zelda-fitzgera_b_6185126.html).
In remembering Zelda Fitzgerald, I can only wonder if what is known today about mental illness and its treatment were available to those who tried to treat her illness during the 1930s and 1940s how different her life might have been.
- “By the time a person has achieved years adequate for choosing a direction, the die is cast and the moment has long since passed which determined the future.”
– Zelda Fitzgerald
Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.