Writer Therese Anne Fowler never met Zelda Fitzgerald, but has come to know her well.
“I feel like we’re close friends; she’s always around,” said Fowler, whose historical fiction novel, based on Fitzgerald’s life and her 20-year marriage to writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was released in March.
“It’s about her life from her point of view,” said Fowler, who will talk about and sign her book, “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald,” on Saturday at the fourth annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.
The book of historical fiction, released in March, predates by a few months the release of director Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 book, “The Great Gatsby,” now in theaters.
Zelda Sayre of Montgomery, Ala., married F. Scott Fitzgerald of St. Paul, Minn., in 1920. Symbols of the Jazz Age, Scott died in 1940 of a heart attack, and Zelda died in a fire in 1948. They are buried together in the St. Mary’s Catholic Church cemetery in Rockville.
“She’s telling the story of their journey,” said Fowler about her book, which is based on fact but written from Zelda’s point of view as a novel, not a biography.
Fowler, who has written three previous novels, said this is the first book she’s written based on a real person’s life.
“I wanted to tell her story ... the character’s life, the emotional landscape, based on the research I did,” said Fowler, who lives in North Carolina.
She found a lot of material in the library of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s alma mater, Princeton University Library, among other places.
“I read all of the biographies, a lot of the scholarly articles, newspaper articles and preserved letters,” she said. “There’s a tremendous amount of wonderful material about them.”
The Fitzgeralds lived for a time in Paris, drinking and going to parties like so many people did in the 1920s and enjoying what many thought was an enviable life.
“It was in the culture — everyone was overdoing it, but there were consequences to doing that,” Fowler said.
In 1930, just before she turned 30, Zelda was institutionalized after having a nervous breakdown due to “exhaustion, stress and drinking,” Fowler said.
Zelda initially was diagnosed with “schizophrenia,” a broad term used at the time for various disorders.
“She was probably bipolar and today would be easily treatable,” said Fowler, who read reports by doctors who reviewed Zelda’s medical files.
Many blamed Zelda for Scott’s heavy drinking and downward spiral.
“She was seen as crazy, the architect of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s failure; then she went mad and had to be locked up,” said Fowler, who concluded such judgment to be inaccurate and unfair.
“When I first started, I saw how badly she is represented in popular culture,” Fowler said. “There was a lot of misinformation, and most is not true. ... I wanted to set the record straight.”
One perception that circulated was that Zelda refused to marry Scott until he had made a lot of money.
“The truth is that she agreed to marry him when he had a few thousand dollars when there was no guarantee of success,” Fowler said.
A middle-class student at a largely upper-class university, Scott wanted to be rich like his classmates but “he felt insecure and that he wasn’t achieving [that],” she said.
Also inaccurate was the perception that Zelda “was crazy all the time.” A talented and creative person herself, she took ballet lessons in Paris and was good enough that an Italian company asked her to join them.
She also wrote essays and short stories and was a talented artist.
“She was a very vibrant, creative, lively woman,” said Fowler. “She was much too modern for her age.”