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
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
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.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders