I have to assume that most of you know who Zelda Fitzgerald was. You have probably heard this sentence about her before . “She was an alcoholic, crazy women who ruined F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life.” But how can we know that this the truth? We can’t.
“They make Fitzgerald look like a whiny loser!” and “They love Zelda too much!“, wrote the critics once the series got released. To these allegations, I would say they’re absolutely untrue. This series is based on Zelda’s letters and diary entries- the source materials. This is the way Zelda saw things, not anyone else; and frankly, after all of the misinterpretations of her based on the commentary of men who didn’t like her, *cough cough* Hemingway, it’s time to get the iconic story from Zelda’s point of view.
We are introduced to Zelda Sayre in 1918, just weeks before the end of the first world war. She is a southern belle, controlled at all times by her father, the judge. She lives in Montgomery, a perfect, yet boring little town, filled with cookie cutter people. They all care about superficial things and they do the same things everyday.
Zelda wants adventure. She is a woman ahead of her time, not caring about pleasing anyone but herself, not joining the crowd, staying true to who she is. She is smart, adventurous, and wants to get out of Montgomery. She meets Scott, and a in a short amount of time, they fall in love with each other. At the beginning, we see him being fearless, someone who has great aspirations, and is full of confidence. But we soon find out, that he’s impulsive, and he very much depends on Zelda. He says “he’s nothing without her“. Scott is very selfish, he helps Zelda, but only if it benefits him as well.
One year later, after F. Scott successfully sold his first book, This Side of Paradise (for which he took inspiration and words from Zelda’s letters sent to him) , they get married in New York. Zelda’s expectations are huge, but they fail to meet with reality.
In the span of the first season, we follow the couple’s life in New York, a beach house, and at the end, Montgomery again. Zelda slowly realises what she really took on when she became Mrs. Fitzgerald. In New York, she had to use her bare body to get Scott’s attention. After they get married, everyone is focused on him, when it’s supposed to be about both of them. He wanted to change every detail about her. Despite these setbacks, Zelda really comes into her own, but only for Fitzgerald to tear her down. She gets offered parts in Hollywood, later on Scott’s publisher wants to publish her diary, but Fitzgerald doesn’t let her. When he gets asked the question ; “What does your wife do?” his answer is “She loves me. She’s Zelda, she doesn’t have to do anything.”
Zelda is the protagonist of the series, so it fittingly shows how the patriarchal society and constant misogyny that she had to face hurt her. It doesn’t show her neither in a good or bad light, she just is. Unfortunately, it cannot be left out, otherwise the story would be unbelievable.
Misogyny is a really big part of the couples marriage. But the tragic part is, it could be seen that Zelda is the one who perpetuated it, by willingly taking on the part of a wife without making something out of herself first. She naively thought this way she can become something great. When she meets with a poetess, she realises that women who are independent and successful on their own look down on her. She was lazy, she wanted the shorter, easier way to her aspirations , which was through getting a successful man. She was the one who perpetuated misogyny and when she realised, it was already too late. Scott was successful, and his success largely consisted of Zelda’s writing, so it was impossible for her to make something of her own.
She started to mother Scott in a way, keeping him grounded, saving him from himself ,protecting him (when she could), from embarrassing himself, losing his confidence, or ruining his career. She was the backbone of everything that F. Scott Fitzgerald did. When things got worse, for example, losing all of their money, Zelda coped with alcohol, which was already a huge habit in the jazz age. She tried to make every situation a better, more positive one.
In the eight episode, one could compare Zelda to Madame Bovary, a classic literary female character. Always bored, lonely, her life not turning out like she wanted to. Scott starts to shut her out, writing and drinking alone in his room.
Alcohol plays a big part both in Zelda’s and Scott’s life. Zelda uses it when she’s angry, desperate, nervous, or scared. As the series goes on, she drinks more frequently (at least twice per episode)- she uses it as a form of escapism. On the other hand, Scott just loves drinking, he almost always indulges in the activity. He says he “needs it to write“, but on more than one occasion no writing gets done, only drinking. In a certain sense, they were not only addicted to alcohol, but to each other as well, they couldn’t exist without one another.
Their marriage was complicated, from F. Scott letting her to drive the car, wear pants, calling her “his Queen”, to not letting her branch out on her own, getting jealous if Zelda hugs a man, but expects her to forgive him when he cheats on her with one of her friends, when he pushes her to the wall, just overall being possessive over her. They have a love-hate relationship, they admire each other, and hold onto the idea that they would be nothing without each other. Scott needs Zelda to grow and stay sane, and Zelda couldn’t bare living all her life with a boring blue blood, she feels even though life with Scott is not a joyride, that’s where she has to be. They belong together, but it’s a toxic relationship.
The show’s writers and directors doesn’t love Zelda over the top, they’re just simply giving her the benefit of the doubt. They let you inside of her world, not just the fluffy, scandalous surface of it. She’s actually very intelligent, and loyal to her husband, even if it hurts her. She always has good intentions. Compared to other adaptations of her, where she is an over exaggerated cartoon character (Midnight in Paris), or just simply numb and doesn’t know anything, has just gotten out of the asylum (Genius), or even a ghost (Last Call), they have never shown any realness of her before. This show not only does that, but it also inspires its viewers through Zelda.
Overall this series shows us Zelda, in all of her glory and tragedy. It doesn’t show us a perfect woman, but rather a flawed one. It shows her bravery, boldness, good and passionate heart, but also her impatience and laziness. The show’s just simply giving her a chance. A chance for us, too, to finally see behind the sexist and men oriented way she was portrayed. She had mistakes, yes, but who doesn’t? She, even in her time, was a modern woman, who was born in the wrong era, and I’m sure she would be better off today. She was a fighter, who we can all learn from. Her fierce way of holding onto her self, even when everyone wanted to change her, holding onto and sticking with Scott even at times when it hurt, shows us that she had great strength. She deserves to be remembered, not as a crazy women, but someone who was a strong, loyal, good person.
“It was always about me, until the very end.”
– Zelda Fitzgerald