Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, born Zelda Sayre, was a novelist and the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. She was an icon of the 1920s—dubbed by her husband "the first American Flapper."
Zelda Fitzgerald was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in a prominent family. She attended the prestigious Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, where she excelled in ballet, gymnastics, and literature.
Zelda was also known for her beauty and charm and was crowned "the prettiest girl in town" at a local beauty pageant. Even as a child, her courageous behavior was the subject of Montgomery's gossip.
After high school, Zelda enrolled at St. Margaret's School in Virginia, where she continued to pursue her interests in dance and literature. She met F. Scott Fitzgerald at a dance. A whirlwind courtship ensued. Though he had professed his infatuation, she continued seeing other men. Despite fights and a prolonged break-up, they married in 1920 and spent the early part of the decade as literary celebrities in New York.
After the success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), the Fitzgeralds became celebrities. The newspapers of New York saw them as embodiments of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties: young, rich, beautiful, and energetic.
Later in the 1920s, they moved to Europe and recast as famous expatriates of the Lost Generation. While Scott received acclaim for The Great Gatsby and his short stories, and the couple socialized with literary stars like Ernest Hemingway, their marriage was a tangle of jealousy and resentment.
Scott used their relationship as material in his novels, even lifting snippets from Zelda's diary and assigning them to his fictional heroines.
Zelda wrote magazine articles and short stories. At 27, she became obsessed with a career as a ballerina, practicing to exhaustion. The strain of her turbulent marriage, Scott's growing alcoholism, and her increasing instability were precursors to Zelda being admitted to a sanitarium in 1930. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Zelda Fitzgerald was a talented artist, author, and dancer, and her work was often inspired by her experiences as a young woman in the 1920s. Her most notable work is the novel Save Me the Waltz (1932), which drew heavily from her life and relationship with Scott. Her other significant works are autobiographical essays which were published posthumously under the title Zelda Fitzgerald: Collected Writings.
Despite her many accomplishments, Zelda struggled with mental illness throughout her life. She spent much of her later years in and out of psychiatric hospitals.
Zelda Fitzgerald died tragically in a fire at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, at the age of 47.
Her life story took on new significance in the 1970s when she posthumously became an icon of the feminist movement. In many ways, her struggles with mental illness and her complicated relationship with her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, were emblematic of how women's potential was suppressed by the patriarchal society in the early twentieth century.