BOOK REVIEW / The far side of parasol: 'The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald' - Ed Matthew J Bruccoli: Little, Brown, 18.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
'I LOVE you most and you 'phoned me,' Zelda Fitzgerald wrote to her husband Scott from a Swiss sanitorium. 'I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me.' The image is quintessentially Zelda - extravagant, surreal, profligate. Whether about love or flappers or the American South, she was never far from talking economics. 'There is no materialist like the artist,' she wrote in her only novel, Save Me The Waltz, 'asking back from life the double and the wastage and the cost on what he puts out in emotional usury.'

After 10 years of this intensity (they married at 20), the fragility of Scott's parasol was apparent. With the publication of This Side Of Paradise, the couple had become symbols of the Jazz Age. They lived hard and high in New York, Switzerland, Paris and the Riviera, Zelda painting, dancing, and writing fiction which usually appeared under Scott's byline. At 30, her breakdowns began. At 48 she died in a fire.

Zelda's fiction is all about female social-climbing and over-achievement. Her heroines are like male capitalists - driven, insatiable - but what they accumulate are good times, love and endless material symbols of their worth. 'Flapperdom', she thought, gave a woman 'the right to experiment with herself as a transient, poignant figure'. Poignancy aside, it also taught women 'to capitalise their natural resources and get their money's worth. They are merely applying business methods to being young.'

These contradictions - existential freedom mixed with hard-headed capitalism - are reflected in the tone of Zelda's stories. When her narrators are not quivering with an overblown Southern sensitivity, they sound like Mickey Spillane: it is the tough-girl voice of the flapper, whose creed may be 'to give and get amusement', but whose ideal is to be 'reticent emotionally and courageous morally'.

Yet all Zelda's beauty and courage could not make things right, and neither could her artistic striving. One day when Scott had not phoned, she wrote to him: 'I still know in my heart that it is a godless, dirty game; that love is bitter and all there is.' How sad to have lost this game, having explained it so brilliantly to the world.

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