It's been a quiet year so far for Jennifer Lawrence. After her mesmerising performance in Joy last year, her only credit so far this year has been in the latest X-Men movie. This should change however, by the end of the year, when she co-stars alongside Chris Pratt in the wildly anticipated Passengers. You can watch the trailer below:
Having already been confirmed to play Fidel Castro's lover-turned-assassin, Marita, in an upcoming biopic, another classic and juicy role has been added to her ever-impressive roster: the unflappable flapper Zelda Fitzgerald. News broke via The Hollywood Reporter that Inferno director Ron Howard will direct the drama, which for now is titled Zelda, and will be a biopic of her life. But do you know the true story of F. Scott's Fitzgerald's infamous wife? Let's take a deeper look:
Born In The Wrong Time
Zelda Fitzgerald may have been credited with inventing what we understand as the "flapper" — short, tomboyish hair, tight-fitting dresses and relaxed sexual mores — yet her early lifestyle showed her fighting against patriarchal conventions, a fight she would sadly engage in her whole life until her tragic death.
She was born in 1900 in Montgomery, Alabama to episcopalian parents. Her mother bestowed her the unusual name after reading two short stories: "Zelda: A Tale of the Massachusetts Colony" by Jane Howard, and "Zelda's Fortune" by Robert Edward Francillon. 'Old money' — like Tom and Daisy Buchanan from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby — her parents were descended from some of the first Long Island settlers.
She had a lively childhood, taking part in numerous ballet lessons and leading the local youth scene, although she had no real interest in her formal education. Instead she liked to swim and talk to boys, shocking elders by drinking and smoking; acting quite the contrary to how polite Southern belles were supposed to behave at the time. Despite severe reprimands from those around her, she had little reason to care what they thought. She summarised her carefree approach to life as such in her high school yearbook:
Meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald
Just like Jay Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald met Zelda just before he was sent off to contribute to the First World War. He was based at Camp Sheridan, just near where she lived, and they met at a country club dance. Zelda had many men vying her for attention, yet Scott was so determined he even rewrote his female character in his debut novel, This Side Of Paradise, to be more like her. Luckily for Scott, he had signed up for the army right at the end of the conflict, being sent to Long Island as opposed to France. Reconvening there, the armistice was signed. He returned to Alabama and they renewed their courtship. By 1920 they were engaged.
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A Turbulent Marriage
Zelda's parents were unimpressed with the engagement as Scott was an alcoholic and a Catholic (the two are not unrelated), yet she went on ahead and married him anyway after Scott had published his first successful novel. Like all good American writers in the 20s, they moved to New York where they became the darlings of the emergent jazz scene. This was as much for Scott's literary output as for their drunken antics. Such as:
- Getting kicked out of the Biltmore and Commodore Hotel
- Jumping into the Union Square fountain
- Falling asleep and fighting with each other at parties
- Sitting on top of cars
Dorothy Parker, herself a famed columnist for The New Yorker and short story writer, described them as such:
This appearance of youth wouldn't last long, however, as the drinking continued and Zelda gave birth to her first child, fuelling further arguments between the couple. Scott had the habit of lifting phrases and passages from Zelda's notebooks for his novels, all of which had a certain basis in autobiography, leading her to say:
"Mr Fitzgerald... seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home"
After one of Scott's plays flopped they found themselves severely in debt, basically having no money, Scott famously chronicled the period in the essay "How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year". They moved to France in 1924 to take advantage of its relative cheapness.
After a brief stint in Paris, they relocated to the French Riviera, where Scott wrote his most famous novel The Great Gatsby. As he was off writing, Zelda was severely bored and unappreciated by her husband, so she had an affair with the French pilot Edouard Jozan, with whom she became quickly in love. After a mere six weeks she asked her husband if they could divorce. Unimpressed with her request, Scott brutally locked her up in her house until she stopped asking. Hurt by the crisis, he would write that it affected his marriage for the worse:
"That September 1924, I knew something had happened that could never be repaired."
It was around this time that Zelda overdosed on sleeping pills; nobody knew if it was a suicide attempt or an accident. After this, she began painting, her main inspirations being Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O'Keefe. After a brief holiday around Italy, they moved to Paris in 1925, where they hung about with Lost Generation expats such as Hemingway and Getrude Stein, famously lampooned in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris.
Famously, although Hemingway and Fitzgerald got on extremely well (you can read about their insane drinking bouts in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast) Zelda detested him, saying that his macho nature was a put-on and that they were sleeping together. In order to prove he wasn't a homosexual, Scott had sex with a prostitute just to spite her. This and other jealousies led to Zelda later throwing herself down a flight of stairs.
Mental Breakdown And Only Novel
By the late 20s, neither of them were making much headway with their literary pursuits, being too distracted by dealing with the other. Whilst Zelda wanted to rekindle her love for ballet, Scott was rude and told her she was entirely wasting her time. Despite practicing for eight hours a day, she still turned down an offer to join a ballet company in Naples. Finally, by 1930, after much consultation with doctors, Zelda was diagnosed as schizophrenic and taken to a sanatorium. After briefly leaving mental care to attend her dying father, she went back to another psychiatric ward, this time in Baltimore.
It was here in 1932 that she had a brief rush of creativity and wrote an entire novel in six weeks: Save Me The Waltz. Although now considered a masterpiece, it was dismissed at the time not only by critics, but by her own husband, who said that its autobiographical themes stole material from his own upcoming Tender Is The Night. Dismayed by this result, she never had the strength to publish another novel again. She spent the rest of her life in and out of hospitals, until 1948 when she perished in a fire. She was waiting for electroshock therapy when it happened. Scott had died of a heart attack eight years before.
Why We Need The Film
The life of F. Scott Fitzgerald is well documented and praised, even if it happened many years after his death. Zelda Fitzgerald, however, was seen as a tragic case of her time: a deeply talented woman who was never given the opportunity to shine as much as she should have. Scott Fitzgerald may have been a brilliant writer, of that there is no doubt, but as a husband, we can see that he was a pretty shitty person. As Zelda's biographer wrote:
"The vehemence of his rancor toward Zelda was clear. It was she who had ruined him; she who had made him exhaust his talents ... He had been cheated of his dream by Zelda"
He laid all his blame for his own alcoholism on Zelda, whilst simultaneously doing little to encourage her own talents. Their love for each other may have been famous, and helped to catapult their fame, but it was evident that it was also their undoing. Additionally, some of the best paintings Zelda completed were given little credit in their time and were later burned by her own mother. What this biopic will hopefully do, is give her the credit she so obviously deserves. Jennifer Lawrence, who knows how to play mentally conflicted yet brilliantly drawn women with blistering performances in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, is the perfect choice.
Do You Think Jennifer Lawrence Is The Right Choice For Zelda Fitzgerald?
Source: Zelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford. Hollywood Reporter