Words by Caelan, 18 NSW
At that gnarled and empty space between, when time stood still and fled, I thought about the things that pressed at my seams. I thought about the things that begged to spill from my mind to my tongue and embed themselves in places outside of me.
We are measured
In men and in
Affirmation by comparison
Or palm-to-mouth reticence.
Will you let me tell you a story? It’s a story that has been on my mind for a while. It’s a story that is begging, that is pressing at my seams.
The party is loud and bright, and
Writhing with life.
Teeming with the young and fashionable,
Like moths to a flame—
To the beating heart of youth and fashion.
The night is young and glittering,
Or perhaps, reflecting—
Its riotous tenants.
It is a wild stage. A backdrop
For the gaieties in store.
“Pardon me,” says the unfamiliar voice of a young man, slipping into the seat beside Her (She is Zelda Sayre, and She is a writer, a painter, a dancer. Do you know who She is?), “But I really feel that I must introduce myself to you.”
Zelda smiles, which is encouragement enough.
“I’m Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, but you should know I only respond to Scott. I am going to be a writer, and I’ll make my fortune on it.” His countenance is good-humoured, charismatic. He has a charming eloquence about him, and Zelda finds that She believes him entirely. Mr. Beerbohm would say he has ‘the literary flavour’.
“Zelda Sayre. How very ambitious of you,” replies She, with a sip of Her drink. “And what do you do now? Are you in the regiment – I don’t think I’ve met you before.”
“I’m stationed here,” he confirms.
And now, one of Zelda’s friends approaches. Her name is Betty, and she wears dozens of shimmering bracelets up her wrists. She introduces herself. He responds in turn. She calls him by his given name, as she is wont to do with young people she has hardly met.
“Now, tell me, Miss Sayre,” says Scott, leaning in conspiratorially. “I have a notion, and I want to know exactly what you think of it. There is a party tomorrow night, in Birmingham, and I’d very much like to see you again. May I count on your presence?”
“Yes, I’d heard about that,” She says. “It’s a little way off, but I’m sure we’ll manage. Won’t we, Betty?”
“You have nothing to worry about, Scott…” replies Betty, flashing a dazzling smile. “Zelda will be there.”
What happened next? Let me tell you.
Scott and Zelda married. They moved to New York. They moved to Paris.
Zelda continued to write, and was measured against Scott’s writing. Was deemed incomparable to him, and became the face of the flappers and nothing more.
Sometimes She wrote under his name and found more praise.
He plagiarised from Her diary.
Her mental health needed attention.
She was told She had schizophrenia and was institutionalised. (We don’t know if She actually had schizophrenia. Even then, for women it was schizophrenia or hysteria.)
She wrote Her major work and only novel, “Save Me the Waltz,” in six weeks and published it under Her own name
She was a genius, and I could go on for hours about why I think so. But despite this, She was compared to him, then ignored.
She is either compared to him or ignored.
She is always measured against him or ignored.
She will always be measured in men.
This is the story that is begging and pressing at my seams—it is the story of Zelda, a story of artists and intellectuals going backwards forever. She is lost in dusty corners of libraries, missing from citations. They mentioned Her in class some years ago, and now She’s tucked soundly beneath the piles of our subconscious.
But we are starting to see Her, and hear Her, because even time can’t keep its hand over Her mouth forever. And She has so much to tell us.
How great, how bold, how beautiful.