Scott and Zelda – aintcha sick of ‘em? A couple of American Jazz Age cuties, flapping around the Cote d’Azur, boozing, name-dropping and fighting over which was the writer and which the human wreck?
The response, of course, is obvious. You can’t be sick of any figure from the past because the past is ever changing, more recoverable than ever before. With new techniques of archaeology, archiving and retrieval, new information emerges daily, about even the quite distant past. What’s more, families these days are less likely to throw old boxes of correspondence onto the fire than to sniff out the best offer from competing libraries.
Times change, too. Mental illness and alcoholism – the twin plagues of the Fitzgeralds’ lives – are subject to different interpretations than in the 1930s. So are homosexual ‘tendencies’ (a charge with which they taunted each other), for which Zelda was psychiatrically treated. In short, biography, like history, demands constant rewriting. For these two new Fitzgerald books, a main source has been the Rare Books Department of the Firestone Library at Princeton, the neo-Gothic New Jersey university that was Scott’s beloved, if stern, alma mater. (He left after four years without a degree.) Hundreds of letters – 500 from Zelda to Scott alone, 64 from him to her in the last year of his life – have been waiting there, either unpublished or scarcely touched by past biographers.