I read The Great Gatsby when I was at school but I didn’t know anything about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, so when I was browsing in the library and I came across this book which was written by his wife, I was drawn by the blurb to borrow it: One of the great literary curios of the twentieth century, Save Me the Waltz is the only novel by the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the years when Fitzgerald was working on Tender is the Night, which many critics consider to be his masterpiece, Zelda Fitzgerald was preparing her own story, which strangely parallels the narrative of her husband, throwing a fascinating light on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and work.
This book did not get good reviews when it was published and Zelda wrote no more books, mind you she might not have had anything else to write about because this is really an account of her life with Fitzgerald, completely autobiographical, which must have come in handy for any Fitzgerald scholars, it’ll have thrown some light onto their movements.
Zelda was a glamorous flapper with a huge capacity for alcohol, as everyone seemed to have in those days of prohibition in the US. She had a penchant for taking her clothes off at parties, dancing naked on the tables and such but she also had a brain and I found her to be likeable. Fitzgerald was obviously besotted by Zelda and their was never any question of him divorcing her, but the poor soul had many demons and was probably what would be described as bi-polar nowadays.
Anyway, to the book. The main character, Alabama Beggs(Zelda) is the youngest of a family of daughters, born in the deep south, and she’s the wildest of them. Early on in the book Alabama gets married to David Knight, a successful young artist and they move to the Riviera where they are feted as a famous and glamorous couple. David spends all of his spare time with a fashionable but vacuous set of people who are basically hangers-on and Alabama seems to be sidelined. They are both tempted to dally with people who give them more attention than they have been getting from each other.
She decides that she needs to do something for herself and takes up ballet dancing again, determined to make a success of it, despite the fact that she hasn’t done ballet for years. With hard work she manages to get a job in a production of Faustus, but meantime David is furious at what he sees as her neglect of him and their small daughter, in the pursuit of a career for herself.
I must admit that I had some sympathy with David/Scott Fitzgerald as I did feel that the ballet classes were a bit too much of the book, but I enjoyed it and I intend to read Tender Is the Night now as both books were being written around the same time, although this one was published two years earlier.
Apparently Fitzgerald was not amused when he read this book as he realised that it was giving away so much of their private lives. That’s a bit of a cheek when you consider that he had been using Zelda for years in his books and short stories, he even used chunks from letters which she had written in his books, and Zelda hadn’t complained about that!
I also went on to read a book called Careless People by Sarah Churchwell which was published in 2012, which is well worth reading if you’re at all interested in the Fitzgeralds and that period of American history.