Zelda Fitzgerald led such a melodramatic life that it seemed like the stuff of fiction. Her turbulent marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald took her from Alabama to glitzy 1920s New York and Paris, where she and Scott mingled with artists and writers like Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. But she struggled with being cast as her husband’s muse. She claimed he plagiarized her diaries, grew resentful when he took credit for her short stories, and published her own novel based on their train wreck of a marriage. She wrestled with mental illness, and spent the last years of her life in institutions. She died in a fire in a North Carolina asylum at the age of 47.
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Underwood & Underwood/Corbis
Scott and Zelda’s tragic love story has been picked over by critics and scholars for decades, but Zelda’s side of the saga hasn’t inspired much fiction—until now. This year, four novelists are releasing very different takes on Zelda, exploring her creative ambitions, her illness and her tortured relationship to Scott, the love of her life and at times her oppressor. The first to come out, “Z” by Therese Anne Fowler, will be released next week and trace Zelda’s transformation from a beguiling teenage debutante in Montgomery, Ala., to glamorous flapper, aspiring painter, writer and dancer and, finally, middle-age mental patient.
Zelda’s resurrection comes as publishers are snapping up stories about the wives and consorts of famous historical figures, tapping into a built-in audience of readers who are already interested in the subject matter. Recent hits in this growing subgenre include Paula McLain’s 2011 novel “The Paris Wife,” about Hemingway’s wife Hadley, which sold 1.2 million copies, and “Loving Frank,” Nancy Horan’s 2007 debut novel about Frank Lloyd Wright’s affair with a married woman, which has sold nearly a million copies.
More are in the wings. The latest crop of novels about the wives of famous men include works about the wives of Benedict Arnold, Napoleon, Charles Lindbergh, Robert Louis Stevenson and the mountaineer George Mallory.