Cambridge £18.99

'The Jelly Bean' from Tales of the Jazz Age, By F Scott Fitzgerald

For Jazz Age girls Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivienne Eliot and Lucia Joyce, having it all was not enough.

'Those girls,“ wrote Zelda Fitzgerald at the beginning of her 1932 novel Save Me the Waltz, ”think they can do anything and get away with it.“ But it was Zelda's husband, F Scott Fitzgerald, who gave us the iconic portrayals of such girls, the 1920s ”flappers“. From his bestselling debut This Side of Paradise to The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, he showed young women of the new Jazz Age, with its improvised rhythms and emphasis on parties and music, ”doing anything and getting away with it“. And all of them were based on his glamorous young wife and muse, Zelda.

Interest in the ”flapper girl“ is once again high, with Baz Luhrmann's forthcoming film remake of The Great Gatsby and new editions of Fitzgerald's short story collection Tales of the Jazz Age published by Cambridge University Press next week and by Oxford University Press in June.

Vivienne Eliot, the young wife of T S Eliot, was also a flapper, or ”char-flapper“ as he liked to call her when they met in 1915. And across the Channel, Lucia Joyce, dancing exuberantly through the 1920s, was another. The daughter of James Joyce, she was his femme inspiratrice, according to Carl Jung; Vivienne Eliot was, according to Virginia Woolf, ”the true inspiration“ of her husband.

These three young women, the female embodiments of the new partying age, would each end their lives in mental hospitals. Their tragic ends are obscured by our shiny rediscovery of the flapper today – possibly because they posit such uncomfortable questions. The muse is traditionally a silent, passive figure; a beautiful woman whose beauty alone is enough to inspire artists. But what made young women of such an exciting new age want to take on this silent, passive role? Did they renew it or rebel against it? And did their rebellion lead to their madness?

Vivienne Eliot recognised her value to her husband early on. When they married, just a few months after their first meeting, her husband wrote ”I owe her everything“, while Bertrand Russell recognised her as a ”real help to a literary career“. Vivienne typed up her husband's work and helped him with book reviewing. She contributed small sections to his most famous poem, ”The Waste Land“ and knew how much help she gave: ”Of course he has had me to shove him – I supply the motive power and I do shove,“ she wrote in 1916. There is little sign of passivity or silence in her representation as muse to a great poet, and yet there are hints that it wasn't fulfilling enough.

Early in the marriage, she wrote of her dancing ambitions: ”Now that I am the wife of a poet whose fame is rapidly increasing throughout the length and breadth of more than one land, and in order not to become merely 'TS Eliot's wife' – am embarking on the profession of ballet dancing.“

Dancing was also the passion of both Zelda Fitzgerald and Lucia Joyce. In 1924, Zelda started to take lessons in Paris – ”because I had nothing to do“. In the spring of 1928, she took lessons from the Russian ballet dancer Madame Egorova. Lucia Joyce had been taught by Raymond Duncan, the brother of Isadora, but in 1929, she too began studying with Egorova. Vivienne and Zelda started their dance careers too late – Vivienne was 27 when she began her lessons, and Zelda the same when she met Egorova – so it was the younger Lucia who came closest to real professional success. She and Zelda were offered roles with professional dance companies: roles that both women mysteriously turned down.

Zelda responded to the disappointments of her dance career by writing, as did Vivienne Eliot. Both were initially encouraged by their husbands. Eliot wrote repeatedly to friends about Vivienne's reviews and short stories, telling one correspondent that, ”although her output is small she has met with extraordinary success. There is no doubt whatever that she has talent. She should have been encouraged to write years ago.“ But when Zelda completed the semi-autobiographical Save Me the Waltz (while in a sanatorium), and sent it to her husband's agent, Max Perkins, Fitzgerald went wild and refused to let her publish it without alterations. Similarly, Vivienne's writing career came to an end when a sketch she wrote anonymously, satirising her friends, had serious repercussions. At this point, maintains Vivienne's biographer Carole Seymour-Jones, Eliot ”threw his wife to the wolves“.

Lucia and Zelda would spend time in the same sanatorium, Les Rives de Prangins, under the care of Dr Oscar Fogel, and were diagnosed schizophrenic, the illness believed to have been brought on by their obsession with dance. (In this, both Fitzgerald and Joyce agreed with the doctor's attribution of blame.) But it might be argued that dance had been their most serious creative outlet; their only way out of the passivity of the muse role.

Vivienne Eliot was first sent to a sanatorium towards the end of 1925, beginning a pattern of movement into and out of psychiatric hospitals lasting until her final incarceration in 1938. In 1930, Zelda agreed to enter Malmaison, a hospital outside Paris. Lucia's first stay at a sanatorium came in 1932. Vivienne died in Northumberland House, a private mental hospital, in 1947; Zelda at Highland Hospital in 1948. Lucia spent the last 30 years of her life at St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton, where she died in 1982.

These are the tragic ends of the rebel muses, the flapper girls who wanted more from life than simply to inspire. It is ironic that the very age that launched them with such hope was also the age that failed to save them.

Lesley McDowell is working on a study of female literary muses. Her book Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Writers and their Famous Literary Partnerships (Overlook Duckworth) is published in paperback on 18 May

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable