Wednesday, April 30, 2014


When I was in college, I had a special interest in the literature of the first half of the 20th century, and so visiting the home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in Montgomery was especially intriguing. Opened in 1989, it is the only museum dedicated to the Fitzgeralds. Zelda was born in Montgomery, and this house, where Scott, Zelda, and their ten-year-old daughter Scottie lived for only six months (October 1931 to April 1932), was not far from her parents' home.
F. Scott and Zelda FItzgerald Home, Montgomery, AL / Souvenir Chronicles
While they were living here, Scott was working on his book Tender Is the Night, and Zelda was writing her only book, Save me the Waltz, which ended up being one of many the thorns in the Fitzgerald marriage:
After the Fitzgeralds moved out, the house was subdivided into four apartments, and just a few of the rooms are currently open to the public. Today, the museum curator/tour guide, who is working on a graduate English degree, lives in one of the apartments. He is very knowledgeable and has an obvious passion for the Fitzgeralds.

The rooms are full of memorabilia from many periods of the Fitzgeralds' tumultuous lives:
F. Scott and Zelda FItzgerald Home, Montgomery, AL / Souvenir Chronicles
This is not so different from the manual typewriter I learned to type on in eighth grade. We've come a long, long, LONG way since then:
I was intrigued by the display of the galley proofs for Zelda's one and only book. I wish my students could catch this vision of working over their rough drafts:
Zelda Fitzgerald's editing, Fitzgerald Home, Montgomery / Souvenir Chronicles
The museum has a nice collection of first editions of many of Scott's novels:
Some of the most interesting artifacts are Scott Fitzgerald's ledgers. He kept a very detailed record of everything he wrote, including where each piece was published, anthologized, or reprinted:
F. Scott Fitzgerald's Ledgers, Fitzgerald Home, Montgomery, AL / Souvenir Chronicles
F. Scott Fitzgerald's Ledgers, Fitzgerald Home, Montgomery, AL / Souvenir Chronicles
He also kept extensive records of his income:
There are lots of old photos and letters, and quite of few of Zelda's paintings on display:
This picture was taken in 1924, seven years before the Fitzgeralds lived in this house
There are signs the Fitzgeralds lived a normal family life, at least some of the time:

However, Scott and Zelda's life together was rarely so picture perfect. The Fitzgeralds are as well known for their partying, their financial extremes, and their tempestuous relationship as they are for their writing. The cover illustration for Scott's second novel, which was the first published after his marriage to Zelda, is a drawing of the two main characters, both alcoholics, and they bear a striking resemblance to Scott and Zelda.

I kept being drawn back to Zelda, who, prior to moving into this house in Montgomery, had just finished a period in the sanatorium for what was labeled schizophrenia, but what according to modern thought was probably bipolar disorder. Later, Scott went off to Hollywood to try out screenwriting, and in 1936 Zelda was back in a mental hospital, where she spent the rest of her life. While there she worked on a second novel, which was never finished, and took up painting. As previously noted, many of her paintings are on display in this house/museum, the last place where Scott, Zelda, and Scottie all lived together as a family.

When Scott died in Hollywood in 1940, it had been a year-and-a-half since he had seen Zelda. Zelda died in a fire at the hospital in 1948.
Scenes from their rocky marriage was fodder for their writing, a fact that they often fought over. Their life together was at least as wild as anything that can be found in their novels and stories. 


F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote only five novels. His most famous work is unquestionably The Great Gatsby, but I've also enjoyed Tender Is the Night and This Side of Paradise. I have yet to read The Last Tycoon and The Beautiful and the Damned, but they are on my list. Fitzgerald also wrote many wonderful short stories.

I bought a set of Fitzgerald's books when I was in college in the early eighties, back in the day when the Book-of-the-Month Club offered wonderful sets of classics for a dollar as a way to draw in new customers. It worked well so well for us that we joined more than once!

I reread Gatsby just this year after seeing Baz Luhrmann's movie adaptation, but it's been a few years (okay, decades) since I've read the others, and I think it's time to go on a Fitzgerald reading binge.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler was published just after we returned home from this trip, and I purchased it for my iPad. Visiting Zelda's hometown of Montgomery and seeing some of her paintings had piqued my interest in her and in her marriage.

Although fiction, the book is, of course, based on real events, and it was interesting to see the world through Zelda's eyes--or at least through how Fowler imagined Zelda saw things. The curator of the Fitzgerald home wasn't too keen about this book, but even if it isn't exactly pure history, I found it an interesting read. It gave me a feel for the pacing of Scott's writing, how his muse worked in fits and starts, sometimes related to the couple's financial situation, and sometimes not. The book deals with the collapse of the marriage due to excessive spending and drinking and carousing, as well as Scott's numerous affairs. In general, the author is very sympathetic towards Zelda and pretty hard on Scott, but really hard on their "friend" Ernest Hemingway.

The Fitzgeralds were part of the legendary circle of American expatriate authors living in Paris in the 1920s, and I especially liked the tie-ins to other authors of the day--Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and especially Ernest Hemingway.

I wouldn't say this is either a literary classic or a true story, but it is a fun read with some good insights into the lives of two highly volatile writers.

I also have a copy of R. Clifton Spargo's 2013 book Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, a book recommended by the Fitzgerald Museum curator. I haven't read it yet, but I know it builds on historical events and imagines what a final get-together between this volatile couple would have been like. The book has gotten great reviews from The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, my hubby and I spent an evening last week watching Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr in the 1958 movie Beloved Infidel, based on Sheilah Graham's autobiography of the same name. The book was an international best seller and discusses Graham's affair with Fitzgerald during the years he was trying (and failing) to be a screenwriter in Hollywood and struggling with alcoholism. After Fitzgerald's death in 1940, Graham became a nationally syndicated gossip columnist.

I have to confess that I'd like just about any movie starring Gregory Peck, but in spite of that bias, I think this movie was very well done. Peck was a surprisingly convincing drunk, and the movie didn't romanticize his character's failings. Kerr was well cast as an ambitious, determined woman who was completely smitten with Fitzgerald.

The movie is available on Amazon Instant Video.


  1. Interesting, but I have to say I am SO glad I don't have to ever use a typewriter anymore.

  2. Beloved Infidel was my first brush with Fitzgerald, after of course, this visit to the museum. I guess I've seen the Great Gatsby or bits and pieces of it. I've never really liked it. I need to find the vision of why he was considered such a great writer.