“It was an age of art, it was age of excess, and it was an age of satire”, wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1931, in his essay titled “Echoes of the Jazz Age”. Perhaps it was too soon to reminisce, but like everyone else, the Jazz Age which marked a golden era, was over for Fitzgerald too.
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Jazz Age, or the Roaring Twenties as they were termed, was a classic time in history which succeeded the First World War. Post war, the economy flourished, and with the migration of jazz artists to different locations, the music culture boomed.
With the rise of jazz music came the Flapper, who formed the living embodiment of the twenties. Lower hemlines and cinched waists of the preceding decade gave way to shorter lengths and straight and drooping waistlines. The look though flamboyant, was boyish; uniform chest, bobbed hair of short length and bare arms were in vogue, as was the ‘devil may care’ attitude that accompanied it all.
Zelda at the piano A portrait
As radio concerts became a rage and jazz became more fashionable than ever, the Fitzgeralds celebrated their new-found popularity in the age of exuberance. Dubbed as the ‘first American flapper’ by her husband, Zelda Fitzgerald lived up to her status with her impeccable manner. Born in 1900 in Montgomery, long before she became an inspiration for the people, Zelda was the heroine of Scott’s novels. “The dominant influences on F. Scott Fitzgerald were aspiration, literature, Princeton, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, and alcohol,” wrote Matthew J. Bruccoli in his book, A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.
If his first novel had made him an overnight success, Fitzgerald’s second only cemented his status as an author further. ‘The Great Gatsby’ represented the glamour and the charm of the 20’s, and before it was published in 1925, the couple relocated to Paris to join a community of liberal American writers such as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Needless to say, Zelda’s dynamic personality and flair was a hit in the Parisian circles. With her short hemlines, bobbed hair and a style that soon everyone wanted to adapt, she was nothing short of a celebrity.
The Fitzgeralds in 1921
The Great Depression in 1929 brought the Jazz Age to an unforeseen end. The parties ceased and the times changed. A painter, ballet enthusiast and writer herself, Zelda published her first and only novel called ‘Save me the Waltz’ in 1932, which is said to have irked Scott, who cited similarities between the novel and his own unpublished work.
Having suffered a mental breakdown in the early 30’s, life was never the same again for Zelda. From here on, hospitals formed a part of her life and in 1948, few years after her husband’s death, Zelda Fitzgerald died in a fire in North Carolina.
Her vibrant living and modish style gave a new definition to the decade that drew inspiration from her, and as we continue to do so even now, it’s more than clear that Zelda Fitzgerald’s allure was not restrained to the Jazz Age alone.