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Biography • $15.00 U.S. •
WRITERS BETWEEN THE COVERS:
The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas,
Coquettes, and Cads
What happened off the page was often a lot spicier than what was written on it…
Why did Norman Mailer stab his second wife at a party? Who was Edith Wharton's secret transatlantic lover? What motivated Anaïs Nin to become a bigamist?
Writers Between the Covers rips the sheets off these and other real-life love stories of the literati—some with fairy tale endings and others that resulted in break-ups, breakdowns, and brawls. Among the writers laid bare are Agatha Christie, who sparked the largest-ever manhunt in England as her marriage fell apart; Arthur Miller, whose jaw-dropping pairing with Marilyn Monroe proved that opposites attract, at least initially; and T.S. Eliot, who slept in a deckchair on his disastrous honeymoon.
From the best break-up letters to the stormiest love triangles to the boldest cougars and cradle-robbers, this fun and accessible volume—packed with lists, quizzes and in-depth exposés—reveals literary history’s most titillating loves, lusts, and longings.
by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon
PRAISE FOR WRITERS BETWEEN THE COVERS
"Excellent.... clever.... The team of McKenna Schmidt and Rendon find success with their realistic treatment of personality." —PopMatters
• Read the entire review: "Words Are Sexy And So Are You, Dear Reader"
by Raymond E. Lee
"Following their tribute to literary landmarks in Novel Destinations, Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon compiled a very different compendium of information about authors—gossipy and surprising, filled with all kinds of salacious stories about the writers we know and love (or think we know, at any rate)." —Shelf Awareness
• Read the entire review by Valerie Ryan
"Writers Between the Covers is not just for English majors; it’s for anyone who loves the written word, those who create them, and those who want to know the hidden inspiration behind their favorite novels. (Isn’t that everyone?)"
• Read the entire review by Bronwyn Miller
Read an excerpt from Writers Between the Covers:
Beautiful and Damned
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
"Nobody has ever measured, even the poets, how much a heart can hold."
—Zelda Fitzgerald, “The Big Top”
In the summer of 1918, at a country club dance in Montgomery, Alabama, dashing young army lieutenant F. Scott Fitzgerald met
free-spirited, flirtatious Zelda Sayre, who had a reputation for speaking her mind and engaging in wild behavior like smoking in
public. A stormy courtship ensued, with endearing, passionate, and angry letters exchanged between the southern belle and her
beau, who worked as a poorly paid advertising copywriter in New York City after leaving the military.
While eager to escape her parents’ home and start a new life, Zelda nonetheless took a hard line with Fitzgerald. She broke off their relationship and refused to marry him until he made something himself and could support them in high style. Zelda’s declaration, along with steep competition for her affections, spurred the aspiring novelist to take a leap of faith. He jettisoned his job and sequestered himself in his parents’ attic in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to work on his writing.
Within months of being given this ultimatum, Fitzgerald jubilantly ran up and down the streets of his hometown as he shouted
out the news that his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was going to appear in print. Picked up by a renowned publisher, the book brought him instant fame, considerable cash, and a new bride. A week after it debuted, in April 1920, selling out the initial printing within days, he and Zelda tied the knot at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The twenty-three-year-old groom and his nineteen-year-old bride honeymooned at the Biltmore Hotel, where their drunken revels got so out of hand that they were asked to check out and take the festivities elsewhere.
The public was fascinated by the striking pair, who epitomized the glamour and lavishness of the postwar 1920s, a period Scott
famously dubbed the Jazz Age. The fashionable, vivacious Zelda shared the limelight with her spouse and even gave joint interviews with him. She represented a new generation of liberated women who emerged in the Roaring Twenties, as young people disillusioned by the devastation of World War I rebelled against old-fashioned conventions and attitudes. Determined to be recognized as men’s equals, flappers like Zelda boldly cut their hair into boyish bobs, abandoned corsets for shift dresses with shortened hemlines, drove motorcars, defied Prohibition at speakeasies, and treated sex in a newly casual manner.
“I married the heroine of my stories,” boasted the novelist. He was already writing about flappers when he met Zelda, the flesh- and-blood embodiment of his fictional creations. Scott infused the character of Rosalind Connage in This Side of Paradise with aspects of his love interest’s personality, mannerisms, and witticisms (often verbatim). He gave Zelda chapters of the novel to read, courting her in a unique way that both charmed her and appealed to her vanity.
Despite flattering Zelda by immortalizing her in print, Scott was still smarting over being dumped by her until his coffers increased. He denied the novel’s lovesick Princeton University student Amory Blaine a walk down the aisle with the debutante Rosalind. “Marrying you would be a failure and I never fail,” she blithely informs her smitten suitor before running off with a wealthier man. The fictional heartbreaker’s callous treatment of Amory, however, didn’t dissuade Zelda from identifying with her. “I like the ones that are like me! That’s why I love Rosalind in This Side of Paradise,” she proclaimed. “I like their courage, their recklessness and spendthriftness.”
Before Fitzgerald published any additional novels, he and Zelda produced their only child. Following a two-month trip to England, France, and Italy, they retreated to Saint Paul to await the arrival of their daughter, Scottie, in October 1921. Becoming parents didn’t slow down their hard-partying ways. They headed east, baby in tow, resuming their life of excess in Manhattan and Great Neck, the suburban Long Island town that provided a model for West Egg in The Great Gatsby.
The couple regularly showed up in gossip columns because of outrageous escapades like riding atop a taxi down Fifth Avenue,
jumping into a public fountain (Zelda), and undressing at a theater (Scott). Their turbulent, hedonistic lifestyle and alcohol-
fueled fights offered fodder for Scott’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned. The story follows New York City socialites Anthony and Gloria Patch from heady days of extravagance and nonstop revelry to a sobering new reality when an anticipated inheritance doesn’t materialize.
Zelda penned a cheeky review of The Beautiful and Damned in which she implored readers to buy the book as she had her eye on a pricey gold dress and a platinum ring. But underlying the seemingly irreverent piece is a serious admission. “On one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar,” revealed Zelda. “In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald . . . seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”
Not only did Fitzgerald attribute some of Zelda’s physical characteristics and personality traits to his characters, with her consent he lifted passages from her journals and letters to use in his fiction. At the time this “plagiarism” was something of a lark to Zelda and a way for her to support the breadwinner who funded their swanky lifestyle. When a well-
known drama critic happened upon her lively diaries during one of the couple’s soirées and expressed interest
in publishing them, Scott opposed the idea because he wanted dibs on the material for his novels and short stories.
The Fitzgeralds’ finances were perpetually shaky, with the royalty checks spent almost as soon as they were cashed. In 1924, after
the failure of a play they were counting on to boost their bank account, the couple and their daughter set sail for Europe, where a favorable exchange rate meant they could afford a grander lifestyle.
After a brief stay in Paris, Scott and Zelda headed to the French Riviera in search of the solitude he needed to write. At a seaside villa, he shut himself away for long periods and forbade any interruptions while he worked on The Great Gatsby. Lonely and resentful at being abandoned, Zelda struck up an intimate friendship with French aviator Edouard Jozan. “I must say everyone knew about it but Scott,” remarked an acquaintance who witnessed the budding affair.
A histrionic scene ensued when Zelda confessed to Scott that she was in love with Jozan and asked for a divorce. He furiously
responded that her lover would have to confront him in her presence. Zelda backed down and ultimately decided to stay with Scott, having regained his attention with the illicit fling but still desperately unhappy. The incident further damaged their already strained relationship, and shortly afterward she tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
“That September 1924 I knew something had happened that could never be repaired,” Fitzgerald said of the unhappy period. He
admitted having encouraged his wife to spend time with Jozan as a distraction while he worked. Although other men routinely fell in love with Zelda, “it never occurred to me that the friendship could turn into an affair,” he said. And yet he acknowledged that he may have unconsciously encouraged the situation to stimulate his fiction. An affair with tragic consequences is integral to The Great Gatsby’s storyline. Infidelity is also a pivotal plot point in a later work, Tender Is the Night, in which Nicole Diver leaves her psychiatrist husband for a mercenary soldier.
The couple’s incessant love of drama found expression in the various embellished accounts of the love triangle they shared with
friends and acquaintances, including the claim that Scott locked Zelda in the villa for a month after finding out about her romance. She falsely reported that a despondent Jozan killed himself, while her husband boasted that he had challenged her admirer to a duel. According to Scott’s fantasized account, both men fired and missed—an episode that appears in Tender Is the Night.
Back in Paris, the Fitzgeralds fell in with other expatriate writers, including Ernest Hemingway, who, in the memoir A Moveable
Feast, made some sharp observations about the couple’s relationship. He believed his fellow writer was talented enough that he
might have surpassed his masterwork, The Great Gatsby, if not for a critical factor. “I did not know Zelda yet,” Hemingway wrote, “and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.”
In Hemingway’s opinion, Zelda was jealous of Scott’s work and encouraged him to drink to excess so he wouldn’t be able to write. “As soon as he was working well Zelda would begin complaining about how bored she was and get him off on another drunken party,” he recalled. “They would quarrel and then make up and he would sweat out the alcohol on long walks with me, and make up his mind that this time he would really work, and would start off well. Then it would start all over again.”
According to the gossipy Hemingway, who had a notoriously contentious acquaintance with Zelda, she verbally emasculated her
husband by telling him he could never make a woman happy in bed. “She said it was a matter of measurements,” confided Fitzgerald, who hadn’t slept with anyone expect his wife. In the bathroom of a Paris restaurant, Hemingway assessed his writer pal’s implement, deemed it acceptable, and called Zelda crazy.
On subsequent trips to the Riviera following Zelda’s affair, both Fitzgeralds began drinking more heavily. They became increasingly and deliberately reckless, daring each other to cliff dive into the sea at night and driving dangerously on winding mountain roads. While dining out one evening, Scott flirted with dancer Isadora Duncan, who was seated at a nearby table. As she stroked his hair and called him her centurion, Zelda launched herself down a set of stone stairs.
After two and a half tumultuous years abroad, the Fitzgeralds returned stateside but found little respite from their marital woes.
During a stay in Hollywood, Zelda was distressed by Scott’s blatant infatuation with seventeen-year-old actress Lois Moran. He would often take the young girl and her mother out on the town, leaving his wife behind. Scott further upset Zelda with his effusive praise of Moran’s initiative in forging a career, something she desired for herself. (When she had expressed an interest in acting, years earlier, he derided her ambition and ultimately persuaded her against it.) During one desolate evening alone, she made a bonfire in the hotel bathtub and destroyed clothes she had designed herself.
On their way back East by train, Scott informed his wife that he had invited Moran to visit them once they found a home. Zelda
responded to this malicious pronouncement by tossing out the window a platinum and diamond wrist watch Scott had bought her as an engagement gift.
It’s not known for certain if Fitzgerald’s involvement with Moran—whose short blonde hair and facial features were strikingly
similar to his wife’s—was merely emotional or turned physical. She did, at any rate, leave enough of an impression to inspire Rosemary Hoyt, the beautiful teenaged actress with whom psychiatrist Dick Diver, a married man twice her age, has an affair in Tender Is the Night. Even the name Rosemary is a not‑so‑subtle reference to Moran, taken from the character she played in the film The Road to Mandalay.
When introducing readers to Rosemary, Fitzgerald waxed poetic about the character’s youth and looks. “Her fine forehead sloped gently up to where her hair, bordering it like an armorial shield, burst into lovelocks and waves and curlicues of ash blonde and gold,” he wrote. “Her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood—she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her.”
Fitzgerald toiled for years on Tender Is the Night, which appeared nine years after The Great Gatsby. Zelda meanwhile had a creative awakening of her own and began painting, writing, and taking ballet lessons, a youthful interest revived during her time in Paris. She penned articles and short stories that appeared under a dual byline with her husband, who was seen as the top draw by magazine editors. In at least one instance, a tale she wrote appeared solely as his
The couple crossed the Atlantic two more times for extended stays. While living in Paris, thirty-year-old Zelda suffered her first mental breakdown, triggered in part by obsessive and strenuous ballet practice. In 1930, less than a month after the couple’s tenth wedding anniversary, she entered a clinic for a short time. When hallucinations recurred and she again attempted suicide, Fitzgerald took her to a sanatorium in Switzerland. Zelda spent the rest of her life in and out of institutions in Europe and the United States, with Scott standing by her and often taking lodgings nearby.
The deck may have been stacked against the couple from the start. It’s possible that Zelda, whose family had a history of mental
illness, suffered from manic depression or schizophrenia, or perhaps both. Not much was known about either disease at the time. Likewise, the alcoholism that afflicted Scott was not yet recognized as an addiction but instead seen as a moral failing or a character flaw. Others speculate that Zelda’s maladies had a far simpler cause: stifled artistic creativity.
During a stay at a Baltimore clinic in 1932, Zelda turned out, in less than two months, the autobiographical novel Save Me the
Waltz. She incorporated elements of her life with Scott, which infuriated him because it overlapped with material he was using in Tender Is the Night. He became even more enraged when he learned that Zelda had sent her novel to his editor, who wanted to publish it. Along with demanding that half the royalties be applied to debts he owed the publisher, Scott took a heavy hand in editing the story, including reworking the portrayal of the fictional husband to make him more sympathetic.
When Hollywood beckoned again, Fitzgerald heeded the call and signed on as a scriptwriter with a movie studio. He took up
romantically with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and started working on a novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. Living a fairly quiet life, he altered some of his self-destructive behavior, even giving up drinking in his last year. But it was too little too late, and the forty-four-year-old writer died of a heart attack at Graham’s apartment in December 1940.
A year and a half before Scott’s death, he and Zelda saw each other for the last time during a drama-filled holiday in Cuba. After Scott became drunk and was severely beaten while trying to break up a cockfight, Zelda took charge and got them back to the States. Upon their return, he wrote to her of the affection he still had: “You are the finest, loveliest, tenderest, most beautiful person I have ever known.”
Seven years after Scott’s death, Zelda too met an untimely and tragic end. While she was locked in a North Carolina hospital room, awaiting electroshock treatment, a nighttime fire broke out, killing her and eight other women. The Jazz Age chronicler and his muse are laid to rest in a Maryland cemetery, where their shared tomb is etched with The Great Gatsby’s concluding line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”