Marriage and parenthood

Zelda and Scottie

F Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda 1921In 1918, while Fitzgerald was stationed at Montgomery, Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre, a wealthy daughter of the established elite, whose father was an Alabama Supreme Court Judge. The relationship between them began passionately, with Fitzgerald commenting later that he met ‘a whirlwind’ (in Early Success, 1937). The couple were engaged to be married in 1919, but she broke it off as he was neither wealthy nor famous. Only after Fitzgerald had become more successful, having had a manuscript accepted for publication in 1920, did Zelda finally marry him.

Once married, Scott and Zelda enjoyed a riotous and extravagant lifestyle, even being thrown out of their honeymoon hotel for wild behaviour. She was highly unconventional, enjoying the ‘Flapper’ lifestyle, smoking, drinking and wearing short skirts. 

The couple had one child together, Frances Scott ‘Scottie’, born in 1921, and Fitzgerald recorded Zelda’s words as she recovered from the birth:

I hope it’s beautiful and a fool. A beautiful little fool.

He later borrowed the phrase for Daisy Buchanan’s response to the birth of her daughter. Following the arrival of Scottie, they lived for a time in Europe, mostly among the expatriate community in Paris, from 1924-31.

A tempestuous relationship

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were known for their socialising and party lifestyles, and both enjoyed celebrity during the 1920s, mixing with prominent American and European figures in high society. However, after the birth of Scottie, this excess increasingly turned sour through the 1920s, with outbursts of violence and drink-fuelled acrimony. 


During the summer of 1924, as Fitzgerald was writing The Great Gatsby, Zelda may have had an affair with a French man, Edouard Jozan, although this was disputed by Jozan. Nevertheless, the sense of loss and disillusionment affected Fitzgerald powerfully, and he responded to Zelda’s request for a divorce by locking her in the house until she gave up the idea.

Zelda then accused Fitzgerald of having a homosexual relationship with Earnest Hemingway (whom he had met in 1925), which led to more bitterness and jealousy. Their marriage deteriorated throughout the remaining years of the 1920s, with notable fights inspired by Fitzgerald’s apparent interest in Isadora Duncan and Lois Moran. Zelda’s obsession with ballet, which began around 1927, may have contributed to the demise in her mental health and eventually Zelda was admitted to a mental hospital in 1930. 

Life becomes art

It is interesting that Fitzgerald regarded his life experiences as his ‘material’, so drew heavily on the environment, relationships and events in which he was involved as sources for his literary output. He was also possessive about this, attacking Zelda when she also produced semi-autobiographical writing, namely Save Me the Waltz in 1932, as he didn’t want her to use ‘his’ material.