If the name Therese Anne Fowler doesn’t ring any bells (yet), chances are Zelda Fitzgerald will. As the wife of established writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, he of Great Gatsby fame, Zelda has been credited throughout history as the catalyst for his demise due to her schizophrenia and wayward attitude towards men, life and clothing. Ironically, it was this spirited attitude that also saw Zelda lead the way for an entire generation of women throughout the Roaring Twenties (and beyond) as the ‘first American flapper’, favouring cropped hair, bold makeup and free fitting garments – the antithesis of social norms and a style which is still referenced season after season.
Add to this the allure of a Jazz age setting and her reputation as being one half of an indomitable power couple and you’ve the recipe for a fascinating tale, one that bestselling author Fowler has successfully breathed to life though her addictive and delicious fictional biography Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. Published last year to great acclaim, Fowler’s depiction of Zelda is touching, humorous and offers a realistic insight to an often misjudged woman, as well as the seemingly fabulous world she inhabited. Jennifer Savin was privileged enough to interview the author of this unforgettable account of a similarly unforgettable woman.
What inspired you to write about Zelda Fitzgerald?
Initially, it was just a notion, a curiosity as to whether anyone had ever written a novel about this woman that everyone said had been the ruin of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’d read Nancy Horan’s gorgeous novel Loving Frank, which piqued my interest in biographical fiction. I discovered there was no Zelda novel, and discovered, too, that what I thought was true about her might not be entirely right.
I was eager to learn more, and the more I learned, the more intrigued I became, until the whole endeavour turned into a passion to not only know her intimately but to attempt to tell her real story through her own voice.
How did you research for the book, in particular 1920s fashion?
Most of my research involved reading numerous biographies, collections of letters and so forth. The Fitzgeralds were wonderful collectors of their own paraphernalia – including many, many photographs, which gave me a place to begin where fashion was concerned. From there, I went hunting for vintage apparel using books and the Internet, and I visited some wonderful vintage clothing shops in New York City. The dress Zelda buys for her outing at the Palais Royale is based on a real dress I saw and fell in love with.
How much of the book is fictionalised?
I’ve used established fact wherever possible. The trouble is, many things known to be true about the Fitzgerald’s have little or no context. My job, then, was to fill in the blanks using deductive reasoning. The scene at the Union Square fountain is a good example. We know Zelda did swim in the fountain, and we know the event occurred when she and Scott were newlyweds; using other biographical information about people they knew, who was in New York at the time, etc., I built a plausible scenario of how and why that fountain dive took place.
How important is fashion within the novel?
Fashion matters more than it might seem at first. Wherever you see what Zelda is wearing (and what the characters around her are wearing), you’re seeing a very specific, telling snapshot not only of the times, but also of what was going on with Zelda in her life—that is, who she was, what was happening in her relationship with Scott, how she was changing, how she was feeling, and so forth.
Why do you think women in the 1920s were particularly fascinating?
They were the first generation to really throw off the Victorian and Edwardian restrictions and begin asserting, openly, that they were every bit as intelligent and important as men, and deserved to be treated accordingly. In doing this, they were breaking all the rules of the time—and aren’t rule-breakers inherently interesting?
Zelda was dubbed ‘the first American flapper’ by her husband. In what ways do you think she used style to her advantage?
Zelda, never a shy person, enjoyed being the centre of attention. She was an intelligent, witty conversationalist who didn’t appreciate being sidelined. She came to exemplify the flapper ideologies of forthrightness and independence and disregard for the old manners of dress and behaviour, which I think encouraged people to take her more seriously than they would have otherwise.
Are there any films or books in which you have especially enjoyed the costume?
Almost anything historical (whether book, film, or TV) is interesting with regard to fashion of the era. I’ve enjoyed Downton Abbey and Mad Men in particular. In books, fashion plays a prime role for the characters in Ania Szado’s lovely, thoughtful Studio Saint-Ex.
Are you able to tell us anything about the book you’re working on now?
I’d love to, but I’m too early in the process to want to talk about it in print. Check in with me again in a few months!
‘Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald’ by Therese Anne Fowler is out now.
Interview Originally published via Brighton Fashion Week