Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom

I just finished SOMETIMES MADNESS IS WISDOM, a biography of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald with emphasis on and sympathy with Zelda. I liked it so much better than ZELDA by Nancy Milford. Milford seems too much a stylist, caught up with her subject, sure, but also she seems like she's in love with the sound of her own writing voice.

The author of SOMETIMES MADNESS IS WISDOM, Dr. Kendall Taylor, seems more straightforward, almost like she's teaching a course. I appreciated the brief tutorials about semi-famous figures that surrounded the Fitzgeralds during the Jazz Age, both in the United States and abroad.

Taylor has an advantage that Milford didn't: The Fitzgeralds' only child, Scottie, died since ZELDA was written, and Scottie's children have been forthcoming about the family where Scottie was fiercely protective and private.

Taylor also had more access to Zelda and Scott's letters and papers, and can more thoroughly trace how Scott appropriated ALL material about his and Zelda's lives, including lifting huge unedited chunks straight out of Zelda's private diaries. If that wasn't bad enough, Scott went ballistic when Zelda attempted to write about her/their experiences from her own viewpoint, saying that she had no right to. When (in spite of Scott) she finally wrote her own novel, SAVE ME THE WALTZ (1932), Scott got hold of it during the editing process and cut sections of it ruthlessly, to the point where parts of it are mostly incoherant. The finished product is a piece of crap, which of course, Fitzgerald intended. Taylor shows fully how afraid he was of competition, a situation that was exacerbated by alcohol, which seemed to be weakening his writing powers, and making him little more than a mean drunk.

Kendall Taylor really lets loose on Scott during the sections in which Zelda is going mad, and he's doing everything he can to send her all the way around the bend. Reading her furious prose, the reader gets the feeling that she'd like it very much if Scott were still alive so she could murder him for his role in Zelda's downward spiral.

No comments: