Shelved Dolls: Zelda Fitzgerald – Just A Total Mess Or What?

zelda fitzgerald

If you are a certain kind of woman- the kind of woman who has ever been told that she is crazy by an ex-boyfriend – then you are probably already familiar with Zelda Fitzgerald. And if you are that kind of woman – if you’ve ever screamed, or thrown things, and as a result decided your own neurosis will make you eternally unlovable - then her name radiates hope like the green light at the end of someone’s pier.

Because common wisdom is that Zelda is crazier than you will ever be, and it was great! It made her husband love her and be totally obsessed with her, and her sense of drama! It inspired him! If you’re a Zelda Fitzgerald type the worst thing that will happen is that your husband’s best friend will end up hating you, but his best friend will be a Hemingway type, who will hate a lot of women, including Dorothy Parker (that is a different story, but an interesting one. We cannot even talk about how Hemingway figures into this situation, because it would be another ten pages).

This outlook on Zelda’s role is reinforced in scenes like the one in Midnight in Paris where she’s seen trying to throw herself in a river because she’s jealous of “Scott and that beautiful Countess” and she’s assured by someone from the future that “Scott only loves you.” Then she calms down and goes back to be a delightful Southern belle. Who is bored. Sometimes.

Or in Suburban Girl – which I’ve seen mostly because it was based off of stories in A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing (which is delightful like a bored Southern belle, you’d like it) – there is a scene where the protagonist gets drunk at a snooty society lady’s party, hits on a waiter, and yells at her older boyfriend – and the society lady turns to the protagonist’s boyfriend awestruck and exclaims “Marry her! She’s Zelda Fitzgerald!”

That is to say, Zelda is generally perceived as someone given to passing episodes of mania because she was so passionate and had so many feelings and it was inspiring! And great! It livened up stuffy society! And we should all jump in a fountain! BECAUSE IT’S THE JAZZ AGE!

Look: this is a false notion. Zelda was a schizophrenic (or possibly a manic depressive) who died horribly in a fire while awaiting electroshock treatment. Her husband was very good to her in some ways, and a complete shit in others. Her life wasn’t all fun and fountain jumping as it’s often made out to be. And while parts of her life do seem like a ton of fun, you really don’t want to be in her position.


But that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t magnificent.

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    • lucygoosey74

      Oh Zelda, you poor lost soul, I feel your pain. I’m bipolar and it is anything but glamourous. I can’t imagine being in the public eye during one of my episodes.

    • Sarah!

      I love this series so much! Thanks!!

    • kjon

      Wow, I am very much loving these series! Those ballerina paintings at the end are very, very interesting and her death was so disturbing. That’s some great story telling, Jen!

      Excuse the subject change, but please send positive thoughts and/or prayers to my home state of Colorado for the horrible fires! My childhood/parent’s home – as well as thousands of others’ homes – are in serious danger from the Waldo Canyon fire but there are many others’ homes in danger around my state and some have even already lost their homes.

    • Eileen

      This is really only tangentially related, but it’s a fun story.

      There was this guy I was into once. After some ill-fated hookups, he explained to me that he was avoiding dating because he tended to put women on a pedestal. I made an F. Scott Fitzgerald/Great Gatsby comment. He didn’t get it, which should have been my first clue (“You graduated high school in the United States without reading Gatsby???”)

      I explained that Scott loved Zelda, put her on a pedestal, and then proceeded to “sell out” so that he could spend more and more money on her psychological treatments, eventually becoming very unhappy and drinking himself to death. He said, “Wow. I need to find someone who’ll do that for me.”

      That was my second clue, and it kicked me in the ass. That is not the moral of the story.

    • Laura

      I love this series so much!

      Zelda fascinates me, even though I’ve never taken to throwing things. Her moxie is amazing. And she’s from my home state, yeah!

      Another amazing shelved doll? Tallulah Bankhead. I can’t wait to read more of these, great writing, great articles!

    • Adrienne

      I am also loving this series! Please keep this series going.

      Very much looking forward to reading about the next “doll”.


      • Jennifer Wright

        I’m thinking next week might be Dorothy Parker. She’s another one of my favorites. Also, any suggestions on people you love?

      • Nancy

        I love this series, too, and you are a great writer Jennifer! I LOVE Dorothy Parker, I can’t wait to read your next one!

        My favorite poem by her:
        “He sickens of the calm, who knew the storm”

        Tru dat. <–why I'm not a writer

      • Fabel

        Dorothy Parker, yes, yes!!

      • Elizabeth

        Mabel Normand.

    • Allison

      Jennifer, this was excellent! I stopped reading midway to order “the beautiful and damned.” I’ve read Tender is the Night and the Great Gatsby, but nothing else.

      This was beautifully written. I didn’t really know much about Zelda before, and I plan on going through those links you have at the end.

    • Juli

      Thanks again for a truly juicy read, you bring these women back to life for the rest of us

    • Danielle

      Clearly, you loved writing this piece, which is part of why it was such a joy to read.

      I vote Joan Crawford next; like Zelda history cast her as the crazy bitch, but she was incredibly smart and knew how to manipulate and persuade journalists. Her old interviews in Photoplay are kind of fascinating.

      • Jennifer Wright


        Okay, there was this documentary about her where one of the men speaking mentioned that, when he was young, he was working on one of her movies. He went into her dressing room, and she leapt out at him, naked. “It was absolutely shocking! I was just shocked!” he said on the documentary, and then he paused for a second and said “so then I slept with her, and I was married at the time, and, you know, that probably wasn’t a good idea.”

        Because it was Joan Crawford. Of course he slept with her. Because she was Joan Crawford. Joan Crawford is the only person who can just totally pull that off.

    • Lori

      Thank you for this piece. I have been Zelda obsessed since my early teens and have read her book, several biographies and most of F. S. Fitzgerald’s work. I love the Jazz Age and can’t get enough of articles like this one!

      I would also cast a vote for Dorothy Parker as a subject. Louise Brooks would be another interesting choice. She lived a vivid/tragic life and the world was also not quite ready for her sensuality and intellect.

    • Janine

      I read your article following a link my friend posted on Twitter, & really I am glad to have read this. Truly throughout reading your article I could tell you feel really passionate about Zelda’s life, & wanting to share & make her story known to people like me that have read The Great Gatsby but were unaware of the fact she inspired the character of Daisy. I read that book in school of course, & enjoyed it. I am also looking forward to the film. Now I am wishing to read The Beautiful & Damned. Thank you for writing such a lovely article.

    • Elizabeth

      I am loving this series. {Also, the Beautiful and the Damned is my favorite, too.}

    • Kj

      FUCK YEAH ballerina at age 27. Nothing pisses me off than “older” dancers just being written off. Argh. Good on you, Zelda.

    • H.

      “But that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t magnificent.”

      Nor does it mean that people who have their wits about them are not magnificent themselves.

    • Melanie the Constant Reader

      We had a couch named after Zelda Fitzgerald in my college dorm. It was old and wide and long and every time I went through the lobby I wanted to catch her napping on it in her pointe shoes.