Book Awards E-MAIL US

Sometimes Madness is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, A Marriage
Kendall Taylor
Ballantine Books
443 pp.

Amazon.com order now logo


The Wag Chats with
Kendall Taylor

Kendall Taylor, the author of Sometimes Madness is Wisdom, discusses how Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's lives might have been different had they never met, and she tells us why the treatments for Zelda's mental instabilities were hopeless without her husband receiving treatment as well.

You began working on portions of Sometimes Madness is Wisdom as a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in the 1960s, but you left the project unfinished for many years. Why did you return to it so much later?

Taylor: Because for me it was "unfinished business," a project that I considered critically important and a subject that still needed interpretation and publication.

WAG: You write in the Preface that during your initial research in the 1960s, you "received a call from Nancy Milford. It seemed she was writing about Zelda and interviewing the same people. Emphasizing that she was far along in her research with a publisher in hand, she also implied she had Scottie's [the Fitzgeralds' daughter] backing." (Milford's Zelda was published five years later, in 1970.) It's hard not to interpret the phone call as a territorial warning: Zelda, she seemed to be saying, was hers. But you also mention that other scholars readily shared their material with you. In general, did you find your fellow Fitzgerald scholars to be territorial or generous with their research?

Taylor: I didn't really ask the help of other Fitzgerald scholars (other than Andrew Turnbull, whom I interviewed in the sixties). I was determined to do the original research and to come up with my own theories.

WAG: What's the most daunting task a biographer faces? And would you expect it to be harder to write the biography of a writer than, say, writing the biography of a general or a politician?

Taylor: I think the task of the biographer is the same regardless of who they write about, and that is to come up with the most accurate exploration of the person they are researching and defining: to be fair and objective and as insightful as possible.

WAG:Because she was so vibrantly independent-minded in the early years of their marriage and because there was surely some organic component to her later problems, I can imagine that Zelda's life might have taken a similar course, if less explosively, had she never met Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald, on the other hand, relied on her so much for his female characters as well as for guidance in the marriage (at least in the early years) that I wonder whether his life would have taken the same course without Zelda. How do you think their lives might have been different without the other's influence?

Taylor: A great question! And one that requires a complex and long answer. The short of it, however, is that Fitzgerald was always on the lookout for a female persona about whom to write and would have found another model with another result. She would have be fictionalized, but whether she would have resulted in a character as potent as Daisy or Nicole is questionable. As for Zelda, she was determined to get out of the South and to lead an expansive, exciting life. She also would have found a way to do that, and if she had married more wisely (read here: a man with more stability), she may have been spared the madness into which she descended.

WAG: Fitzgerald used Zelda's diaries and conversations as the raw material for many of his fictional characters, thereby 'robbing' Zelda of her chance to publish the material as her own. "Initially," you write, "she had been flattered to have Scott appropriate her ideas for his fiction, and agreed that he, as the breadwinner, had earned the exclusive use of all creative materials. But that notion was gradually changing, and a reservoir of hostility mounting as she saw all elements of their life together being used as raw material for his fiction." Do you think Zelda might have developed into a full-fledged novelist on her own if Fitzgerald hadn't so adamantly discouraged it?

Taylor: Zelda's ability as a writer rested more in the form of the short story than the novel form, and she was most comfortable writing shorter pieces. She was very imaginative and clever with short story lines and wrote quickly and fluidly. This irritated Scott, who wrote slowly and depended on Zelda for much of his material. Initially, Scott put the short story form off-limits for Zelda and then extended the restriction to the novel form. With encouragement, Zelda would have made a fine short story writer.

WAG: Given that schizophrenia was hard to treat (at best) in the 1930s, do you think Zelda's condition would have considerably improved if Fitzgerald had followed her doctors' suggestion that he stop drinking and enter therapy himself?

Taylor: It certainly would have helped. Zelda's illness was described as a "folie à deux"—an inter-connected malady that required treatment for both. We use the term " co-dependency" today, and while that is now somewhat of a cliché, the premise is still valid: with only Zelda in therapy, it was pretty much a lost cause.

WAG: Did researching and writing Sometimes Madness is Wisdom change your impression of the Fitzgeralds and their era?

Taylor: Not substantially. I had begun researching and writing about the Twenties and the Fitzgeralds years ago and developed my premise about their marriage at that time. Over the years, my continued work on the book further substantiated what I believed to be an accurate reflection of their marriage and the era.

—Interview conducted by Doug Childers

Posted October 1, 2001


Photo Credit: Debra McCord

Kendall Taylor, Ph.D., a cultural historian and Fulbright scholar, has been a professor and a museum curator. Her interest in Zelda Fitzgerald began thirty years ago when she was a graduate student at Vassar University. She began her research by speaking with many of the Fitzgeralds' acquaintances and conducting interviews with Zelda's friends and family. She has continued her investigation over the past decades. She lives in New York and Washington.




Graphic Design by D.A. Frostick 
Contents and Graphic Design Copyright 1999-2005
riverrun enterprises, inc.