The women behind the words

I have finally gotten around to reading Z: a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald which has made me curious about other writer’s spouses. There are biographies about the writers themselves but very few on the wives behind the words.

Because of this I explored their fictional worlds to come up with some interesting theories.

Z: a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (M) by Therese Anne Fowler has been written about in length in April 22nd edition of this blog. To quickly summarize, this novel is the tale of Zelda Fitzgerald starting with her courtship and marriage to writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. I always wondered about Zelda and this novel helps flesh out the little knowledge I had. She and Scott were the epitome of a “Jazz Age” with their drinking, partying and madcap lifestyle that placed them in Paris with the literary elite of the time. Reading this novel makes me wonder even more who the “real” Zelda was – the girl from Montgomery or the public persona of the famous couple. You have to wonder if her own talent would have shone through if she had not been overshadowed by her famous husband. There is a particular section in the novel that sums it up nicely :

Before their reign….there’d been little glamour in the literary world. To be a writer then was to be a drab little mole who thought big thoughts and methodically committed them to paper, hoping for publication but not courting it……some of their influence (the Fitzgerald group) would grow from design…the publicity game… a game he’d conjured, almost and wanted the two of us to play…some grew from our giddy laughter…from the singing…from the dancing….Just then, though, that influential little group was still a bunch a young men…along with me, a very young woman who hadn’t known there would be this kind of carnival…but was game enough to give it a try.

The Paris Wife (M) by Paula McLain is a novel about the “bad” boy of literature – Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway went on to marry four times and have numerous affairs but The Paris Wife is about his first wife, Hadley Richardson Hemingway. An older woman (29 to his 21) Hadley was an accomplished pianist when they met. A whirlwind courtship and wedding followed their meeting in Chicago in 1920. Hemingway used her as his sounding board for his writing. It is when the couple move to Paris they become the golden couple in the company of a living and volatile group. This group of bohemians included F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. Oh, to be a bug on the wall at some of those encounters! Their marriage turns sour after Hadley loses a valise of Hemingway’s early drafts and papers on a train and it was stolen. At that point Pauline Pfeiffer worms her way into their life. Hey, if you are in bed with your husband and a naked woman joins you …..Well read this novel to find out what happens next.

The Raven’s Bride (M) by Lenore Hart is a book I may have picked up due to the latest tv series, The Following. Because of this series I have re-introduced myself the world of Edgar Allen Poe. I always found Poe fascinating and this novel gives a slightly different view of him. Virginia “Sissy” Clemm was only eight years old when she met her thirteen year older cousin, Edgar Allen Poe. She was so taken with him she pictured him as the perfect husband in her childhood games. It is when she turns thirteen that Eddy proposes. It is when she falls ill that Poe is driven to madness and his greatest writing. Poe’s life would be perfect for a soap opera, or I suppose a reality tv show. An 27 year old man seducing his very young thirteen year old cousin which results in a taboo marriage, poverty, alleged drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and she gave up a promising career for him then dies and his life goes further downhill…….Well, each of these issues could be a full plot of a novel.

And now for something completely different, a husband overshadowed by his wife. Written by a mistress of the husband, Emma Tennant, Sylvia and Ted (M) presents a very unusual story. After all, your own personal encounters with a person will colour your opinions. Tennant’s treatment of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is a mixture of fact and fiction according to the author. Tennant focuses mostly on the time of Sylvia’s death. Tennant claims that she carefully gathered nuggets of information over the years from several close friends of the couple. The trouble with this is Tennant’s attitude is intentionally subversive. A lot has been written about Sylvia Plath and is a favorite of feminists and weepy teenagers all over. It is her depression and subsequent suicide at the age of 30 that seems to garner the most attention. While Hughes did become famous in his own right for his poetry, he is viewed as a villain in some circles. It was his affair with Assia Weivill that caused Ted and Sylvia’s separation. Suicide followed Ted with the suicide of Wevill six years after Sylvia’s and their son’s suicide in 2009. It is always interesting to speculate on the who, what, where and why of a tragic event and Tennant helps fill in the blanks for this famous couple.

So for those who enjoy historical and/or biographical fiction the above books may be a good starting point for you.

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