March 9, 1948
Asheville, North Carolina.
Scott, I'm locked in this room, alone with my feelings. There is a window, the warm light of Asheville's sky skitters across the wooden floor —my little slice of freedom, my only refuge. I'm in a confined space with an uncomfortable bed and tattered furniture. I don't like this room, or this place, or this life; but you know my condition very well. When I'm not confined to the hospital, I begin to hallucinate, I've even had a chat with Alexander the Great and Cleopatra; sometimes I have delusional ideas, I imagine you have come for me and we go to Paris together. Other times, I'm consumed by a terrible sadness that lasts for days. I need to tell you that I miss you. It's ironic how distance makes the heart grow fonder. Even bad moments fill me with nostalgia. I liked your gloominess —I hope I did say that at some point—, it was tender. I don't regret any of our arguments, now I feel they were what kept us together. I always tried to kiss you and make you forget every argument.
I'm going to be honest with you, being Zelda Fitzgerald is difficult. Sometimes I wonder what my life would've been like if I'd stayed Zelda Sayre, lived in Alabama and married one of those young men chasing after me. To bear your surname is to bear all those demons that, I admit, we set free together. The surname Fitzgerald attracts a lot of attention, we both were a reflection of what was the greatest time of this century, we embodied the American dream: we were a young, passionate couple, blond, beautiful, ambitious, charming... a golden duo of the 20s, and also successful, at least during that time. But everything must come to an end, right, Scott? We must face it, everything dies: romance, fame, glamour, and people. Along with our generation, we reached the end of a heady delirium of liquor, balls, and charm. We never fathomed how ephemeral those years would be, how decay would arrive sooner for some of us. Maybe it is better to die than to keep on living with time as a burden, engulfed by nostalgia.
Do you remember when we first met? I'm not sure whether or not I first saw you at that ball in the country club, or if I'd met you before at the train station. It must've been the latter because you wrote about that in The Great Gatsby. You were a young and amateurish writer who bragged about his talents, a lieutenant waiting for his first orders to go fight in the war. I in turn was a southern girl, brought up by a family of senators, judges, and council-members. I was impetuous, wild, much-coveted by the county's young men, and unsatisfied with life in the countryside. We were doomed, Scott, we were so dreamy and enthusiastic, it was impossible not to feel attracted to each other. I know you wrote down in that notebook you carry everywhere that September 7, 1918 was the day you fell in love with me. You'll be glad to know that I did as well. We found a certain sense of vanity in each other that we had only seen in ourselves.
Naturally, I was unsure about marrying just any slacker who had the nerve to call himself a writer, but you proved that you were no ordinary writer. How many people can really call themselves a symbol of their generation? You are a luminary in that circle of drunkards you called friends. I know people will continue to read your novels long after you're gone. You're a sublime talent, Scott, not as great as William Faulkner, but still sublime. In one of his novels, Ernest Hemingway calls us "The lost generation." He said he had seized this name from a conversation with Gertrude Stein and —though I find Hemingway loathsome— I must admit he is right. We are lost.
I like to evoke every detail of the life we had together because it makes me feel sane. When the German treaty was signed, you were discharged from your duties and took up residence in New York. We would write to each other while we were apart, until you sent me your mother's ring in March, 1920. I remember we got married on April 3rd of that same year, in the beautiful St. Patrick's Cathedral. We got carried away by glory, we lived in an erotic and and artistic frenzy, and those drivers bound together our marriage. You had just published you first novel This Side of Paradise, a bestseller, all the copies flew off the shelves in three days. After that, everyone expected your following works to be as fruitful, but even with your uncontested abilities as a writer, your works were never again as profitable.
In your novel you rewrote one of your characters so she would resemble me, you even used fragments from my personal journal to write your book. I'm more than a muse, Scott, I am also an author and part of your career, there is no Scott Fitzgerald without Zelda Fitzgerald.
We swept New York together like a storm, and that's where it all began. As told by Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Precocious and unruly, we were just a pair of celebrated newlyweds riding the adrenaline waves that had hit the nation. We gave the word 'sumptuousness' a new meaning. The city was brought to life with jazz and the Charleston lifestyle. The press followed us like hounds, and it was understandable, we provided them with enough material that the ink ran out.
We showed the rest of the world how to have fun and we tested the boundaries of scandal. We shined with the light of our fevered youth and we would wander around the city, heralding taxis from spot to spot, and toasting in the Union Square fountain. We were a joyous couple in the eyes of the world, but our arguments at home became fiercer.
Despite our fights, our first year of marriage surprised us with a beautiful gift on Valentine's Day, 1921: I was pregnant. We went to you parents' home in Minnesota to have the baby. Our Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald was born in October. It saddens me to think that Scottie was stuck in the middle of those rampant years. Despite our knowledge in many subjects, we weren't the best parents. Do you know what I just remembered? I see myself recovering from the anesthesia after delivering Scottie and babbling nonsense. I think I said something about hoping Scottie would become a beautiful little fool because that's the best thing a girl can be. You had the gall to write it in The Great Gatsby. Our experiences really fed the pages of our books and the wraiths of our memories are scattered across the words.
Gatsby's world and the people in it were indeed beautiful and foolish in the extreme. Daisy Buchanan was put to one side, her mere form reduced to an ornament, like a carpet to be stepped on or a lamp to be lit at night. The Great Gatsby was a great novel, my dearest Scott. I read it every time I feel a need to revisit the 20s.
Being a housewife wasn't my forte, which is why we had multiple servants, while one cooked, another took care of our daughter. I feel the devastation of 1922 just as keenly as if it were yesterday. I got pregnant for the second time, but we still weren't ready to be parents, just like the first time. Scottie remained a single child and the mother's love she received was always tinted with sorrow. Your following novel wasn't so successful and our house was swept away by debt. In defeat, we left for Paris.
You used to do nothing but write, I don't intend to say this to justify myself, but you can understand my French outburst better than anyone. I met Edouard Jozan on the summer of 1924. He was handsome, gallant, and a fearless pilot. You'll have to forgive me for what I'm about to say, Scott. I fell in love with him. We would spend the evenings together, swimming at the beach or playing in the casino tables. Unfortunately, I failed to grasp the true nature of my affair and ask you for a divorce. As I expected, your way of facing this circumstance wasn't exactly mature, you locked me away. When Edouard learned of this, he insisted that it was just a fling and swiftly left to the Mediterranean. We had a need for drama and we had been reaping the fruits from an orchard of false hopes for many years. It was time reality struck us in our face. In that same year, I started to paint and had my first suicide attempt.
When we left for Paris, you started going out with Hemingway a lot, I won't deny it, I even came to think you were a couple. I never liked Ernest, he always appeared narcissistic, haughty, and hypocritical. Aside from your friendship with him, our time in Paris was wonderful. The City of Light was a melting pot of new artists, avant-garde movements, and glamour.
It was a vivid and cursed era, a long-lived bacanal that concealed a monstrous depression that silenced our minds. I told you horrible things, Scott, and I am sorry. I insulted you as an attempt to rein you in. Your unfaithfulness clouded my entire judgment with jealousy.
I threw myself down those marble stairs in the middle of a gathering just to capture your attention and give everyone something to talk about. Our gatherings were just vulgar attempts to please a circle of friends that shrunk into nothingness.
I tried to learn ballet, I'd been a wonderful dancer as a child. I had the grace, the physique, and even the discipline, Scott! I sometimes practiced eight hours a day. Did you ever see me be so passionate about something? But you didn't like the idea, and the others said that I was destroying myself. Perhaps it was true, but I would have preferred to die as an artist than as drunkard on a lewd night.
I was 30 years old when I was institutionalized for the first time, and the most brilliant doctors in Europe took care of me. When we went back to America due to your father's death, you took a job in Hollywood. I don't mean to diminish it, Scott, but I have to be honest... What a waste of your talent! Be that as it may, it covered our expenses. Those were terrible years, my dear, and not only for us. When we left for Europe, America was at its peak, and upon our return it was submerged in the great Wall Street depression.
While I was institutionalized in Baltimore, I managed to write a novel, Save Me The Waltz. I still believe you overreacted when you learned about the book. I'm aware that the plot revealed parts of our life, but you intended to do the same in your next book, and who strikes once, Scott, strikes twice. I'm sorry about Save Me the Waltz for not getting good critiques, but what do people know about art?
During my time at Asheville Highland Hospital, you had an affair with that outrageous journalist, Sheila Graham. I can assure you, you had never been so unhappy, not even in our worst moments. When Highland organized the trip to Cuba, we decide to go, another fatal mistake, Scott. That trip was —in the most flattering description— demoralizing. We quarreled, you got intoxicated and ended up in a clinic when we got back to America. After that, we didn't see each other again. You went back to your lover and I went back to the hospital. We still communicated with each other, if we can call it that. We exchanged letters during the following years, but you did everything in your power to stay away. Eventually you started to blame me for your failures. In your eyes, I was the cause of your decline, but you must know that it was the two of us that made the Fitzgerald surname a legend. You wouldn't have written those books without me. My shadow shall remain by your side for all eternity.
You died eight years ago from a heart-attack, you were living with Sheilah Graham in her apartment. Scottie said you had a good funeral. She is 19 now, so I trust her word. I couldn't bring myself to go, you were my life, how is one supposed to witness the burial of their own life? Now existence is just emptiness to me. It is like an ethereal dream, as if reality was covered by a veil.
Scottie is a full grown woman now, I'm proud of her. She took your remains to Maryland, so you could be laid to rest in your family's plot at the church. She wasn't allowed, apparently you were impure because more alcohol than blood had ran through your veins while you were alive. Still, she says she'll make the church change its mind, we'll see if that happens.
Right now I only have two problems: firstly, staying here, and secondly, leaving this place once and for all. The doctors and I are working on both. I have an electroshock therapy scheduled, I'm terrified, but I'm even more scared of this damn illness. I have very little hope left, I learned too late that luck, wealth, and notoriety can be squandered and they come and go, but what never returns is hope. It is priceless.
As sunset approaches, sunlight dies out like me. I think of you and I together, living in the south, in a home next to a valley that blossoms in the spring, covered in flowers with a fragrance that bring back the best memories. This will never happen but maybe i'll see you in another life, Scott.
Yours truly, Zelda Fitzgerald.
June 17, 1986
Mom died on March 10, 1948, in the Psychiatric Highland Hospital, Asheville, where she had been institutionalized. A fire that started in the kitchen spread through the building. Mom, who was locked in her room, died during the incident. She was 48 years old, four years younger than dad when he died. I'm the child of the novelist and central figure of the lost generation, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the amazing jazz age diva, Zelda Fitzgerald. Carrying this surname can be a heavy burden, but life is never easy. I too became a writer and social figure but it wasn't until the 1960s. In 1975, after the church's approval, I had my parents' coffins taken to the Fitzgerald family plot. After two marriages and four children, I moved to Montgomery, Alabama, my mother's home. Now I'm 64 years old.
As Dad once said, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past".
With love, Frances “Scottie” Fitzgerald
The letters you have read are fiction.
Translated by Andrea Valle Gracia
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