Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My problem with Scott and Zelda

Aren’t we usually perceived through the lens of our tragedies? Put another way, when someone looks at me do they not define me by the sadnesses of my life and/or how I overcame them? It is hard to escape such evaluations. Perhaps it is something that women are more prone to do. Or writers. Or both. I see my much admired writers in the same vein.

I know too much about F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was weak, a drunkard, he embarrassed his friends. He was insufferable and obnoxious, always broke or near broke, despite his many successes. It conflicts with my romantic image of him: pure, beautiful, with Gatsbyesque vitality and passion. And Zelda! Don’t even get me started on her ...

Gustave Flaubert wrote with such tenderness about his heroine Emma Bovary. Emma is weak, sinful, and ultimately destroys her husband and child with her self-destructive ways. But he was so tender with Emma; he helped me to understand the source of her unhappiness, the reasons why she behaved so wantonly. And yet he ruthlessly exploited his real life lover Flora Tristan and then discarded her … leaving only Emma’s infamous carriage ride to remember her by in Madame Bovary.

Jane Austen died without having found what seemed to be the source of a good deal of happiness for her heroines and for us, her readers. Lizzie Bennett found love. Emma Woodhouse found love. Even the sensible Eleanor and the passionate Marianne, after innumerable dramas, found their soul mates. Where is Jane's Darcy?

Sylvia Plath … I prefer to remember her as a revolutionary poet oppressed by a conformist age, by the need to be a good girl, to brilliantly succeed in 50s America, abandoned with two infants by her husband in the dead of winter. Why must the unhappy truth surface that she sometimes behaved like a controlling, manipulative bitch?

Tolstoy, died at 82 trying to “escape” his wife Tatyana Tolstaya, running away, boarding a train, falling ill then dying, far from home. Had he forgotten how he transcribed his thoughts of love using only the first letters of certain words on a tablecloth with his finger? Only to have Sonya read his inner most thoughts? When did she stop being the Kitty to his Levin?

Tolstoy wrote, “I clearly realized that my biography, if it suppressed all the nastiness and criminality of my life - as they customarily write biographies - would be a lie, and that if one is going to write my biography, one must write the whole truth.”

Originally published in an altered form at

No comments: