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Zelda Fitzgerald and ballet

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A new piece  on Zelda Fitzgerald's involvement with ballet in The New Yorker by Meryl Cates.

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Zelda’s infatuation with ballet can be traced to that summer, in 1925, when she began lessons in Paris with the great Russian ballerina Lubov Egorova. Afterward, travel kept the Fitzgeralds away from Paris until 1928. During that time, Zelda continued to train several days a week, in Philadelphia, while they rented a home in Delaware, but the discipline that drove her upon her return to France is remarkable. Egorova’s studio in Paris was a hive of the most talented dancers of the time.

 

Zelda also wrote a good first novel, "Save Me the Waltz."

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Thanks for drawing attention to this.

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Zelda Fitzgerald was also a pretty good novelist and diaryist – good enough that Scott Fitzgerald borrowed sections of her journals for "Tender is the Night."

 

Not sure if "Save Me the Waltz" is in print or not.  San Francisco Library has one tattered copy. From Google Books:

 

 

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Swirling round and round like an exercise in penmanship, Alabama threaded the line through the spots of light.

 

“But you are like Madame!” said Madame Sirgeva. “We were at the Imperial School together in Russia. It was I who taught her her entrechats, though she never did them properly. Mes enfants! There are four count to a quatre-temps, please, p–l–e–a–a–s–e!”

 

Alabama clamorously dropped her person bit by bit into the ballet like pieces dropped through a mechanical piano.

 

The girls were unlike the Russians. Their necks were dirty and they came to the theatre with paper bags filled with thick sandwiches. They ate garlic; they were fatter than the Russians and their legs were shorter; they danced with bent knees and their Italian-silk tights crinkled over their dimples.

 

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Diaghilev died. The stuff of the great movement of the Ballet Russe lay rotting in a French law court – he had never been able to make money.

 

Some of his dancers performed around the swimming pool at the Lido to please drunk Americans in summer; some of the worked in music-hall ballets; the English went back to England. The transparent music-hall celluloid decor of La Chatte that had stabbed its audience with silver swords from the spotlights of Paris and Monte Carlo, London and Berlin lay marked “No Smoking” in a damp, ratty warehouse by the Seine, locked in a stone tunnel where a gray light from the river sloshed over the dark, dripping earth and over the moist curving bottom.

 

Edited by Quiggin

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Thanks, Quiggin. I forgot to mention that SMTW deals with ballet.  I see by Amazon that the paperback copy I picked up from a bin many moons ago for a couple of bucks is now selling for double digits.

 

Scott also dipped into Zelda's diaries for earlier work like "The Beautiful and Damned," causing Zelda to joke that her husband seemed to think that plagiarism began at home.

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“Save Me The Waltz” is one of my favourite ballet novels. Alabama speaks of “the demon that drives her onwards” and I understood exactly what she meant when I first read it.

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Posted (edited)

I finished Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (the original Mary Hemingway edition) this weekend. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald play a very prominent part in the book with no less than three chapters -- "Scott Fitzgerald," "Hawks Do Not Share," and "A Matter of Measurements" -- devoted to them.

Hemingway's depiction of Zelda is definitely unflattering but then that may say more about Hemingway than it does about Zelda. It wasn't exactly courageous of Hemingway to write what he did about the Fitzgeralds when they were long gone and couldn't defend themselves.

Nevertheless, an interesting lead-in to my rereading Save Me the Waltz this summer.

Edited by miliosr

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"Sorry I didn't read Hemingway's book......bought 'Save Me The Waltz"  and am not able to finish it!  Zelda, among other traits, was an abominable writer!!  The foolish girl did not know her limits (in ANYTHING she attempted).  Poor Scott!

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Posted (edited)

Obviously Zelda’s talent as a writer did not begin to approach her husband’s, but some of the stories with Scott and Zelda’s joint byline were written by Zelda alone. Zelda’s ballet teacher thought that although her pupil had begun her studies too late to become a really good dancer, with continued application many companies would consider her employable. In fact she received an offer, which she turned down for reasons that are unclear. That doesn’t sound as if she was always reaching for the stars. It’s one of the sadder aspects of Zelda's illness that her attempts to express herself through the arts were thought to be bad for her, when we now know that such attempts can be therapeutically helpful.

I can also see it from Scott’s side – here was Zelda producing a publishable first novel from inside the bin while he had to put aside major projects to pump out stories to pay for her care. Still, his position was a little bizarre ("You can't use your life and our marriage for material! Only I can use your life and our marriage for material!") 

Edited by dirac
Edited to add that Zelda actually got an offer from a company, which had slipped my mind when I was typing the OP

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15 hours ago, dirac said:

 

Still, his position was a little bizarre ("You can't use your life and our marriage for material! Only I can use your life and our marriage for material!") 

True -- but look what he did with that material!  To me, it reminds me of Tschaikovsky's use of Russian folk themes in his compositions -- look what he did with them!

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9 hours ago, atm711 said:

True -- but look what he did with that material!  To me, it reminds me of Tschaikovsky's use of Russian folk themes in his compositions -- look what he did with them!

That's a wonderful comparison, atm711. I've always loved Fitzgerald. 

 

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I've read Z: A novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, The Paris Wife, and recently The Gatsby Affair.  

The Gatsby Affair  is non fiction and provided very sad details of the "psychiatric" treatment that Zelda recieved.  She was not a well person but the marriage really never was functional at any time. They moved constantly. Traveled constantly.  Drank constantly. It's a wonder Scott could produce any work--and something as masterful as Gatsby is nothing short of a miracle. 

I should try Save me the Waltz to at least hear Zelda's own words. 

 

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16 hours ago, dirac said:

That's a wonderful comparison, atm711. I've always loved Fitzgerald. 

 

I guess, I too, love Fitzgerald too much and it makes me over react to Zelda!

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I think reading Save Me the Waltz alongside Tender is the Night might be helpful. Scott Fitzgerald of course drew from, and collaged in, some of Zelda's observations and letters into his own work. And she perhaps had the purer Modernist voice, something of the tone he needed to use in his own more traditional stories.

From their "co-counseling" sessions as Zelda Fitzgerald was being institutionalized in Maryland in 1933 –

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Scott: You’re a third-rate writer and a third-rate ballet dancer. I am a professional writer, with a huge following. I am the highest paid short-story writer in the world.

Zelda: I am perfectly sure I can write, and [Scott] knows that, too, or he would not be raising so much hell about it... It seems to me you are making a rather violent attack on a third rate talent … If I thought that about anybody, I would not care what they wrote.

Quoted in "Tender Is the Night and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Sentimental Identities"

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Quiggin:

Great quote that captures what I noticed as a theme in their marriage-- professional competition. 

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I wouldn’t say professional competition. Zelda wasn’t a career woman in any sense and she never intended to compete with her husband. She was brought up to get married, not go to work. Her ballet studies were undertaken because she wanted to have something of her own and one wonders how/if things might have been different if she had accepted that job offer. Might have been better for both Fitzgeralds.

The sense one gets is of a couple almost too close and too alike for their own good – in the jargon of today, “co-dependent.”

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I reread Save Me the Waltz. I can't say that my reaction was any different on the second reading than it had been on the first. It doesn't get going until 'Alabama' (Zelda) starts taking ballet lessons and it doesn't really get going until she accepts the offer to dance in Naples. Just when the novel should take off in a flight of fancy about life in an Italian ballet troupe, it crashes back to earth and Alabama's dreary relationship with 'David' (Scott).

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