The works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, in particular ‘Tender is the Night’, documented his marriage as an alcohol fueled tragedy beset by his wife’s mental instability. ‘Save Me the Waltz’ by Zelda Fitzgerald tells the story of their marriage through her eyes. She depicts their marriage as a constant power struggle and one that is consistently lost by her. This intensely autobiographical work was written in six weeks following a mental breakdown and could be viewed as a cathartic way of venting her frustrations and trying to usurp her husband’s success.
‘Save Me the Waltz’ tells the story of Alabama Beggs, a faded Southern belle who after having a string of beaus in her teenage years marries the artist David Knight during the First World War. The Knights’ marriage and their intense love for each other becomes the talk of New York society during the Jazz Age but dissatisfaction quickly follows and David’s need for a new muse prompts their move to France where the tragedy of an intense love unfolds. Whilst in Paris, Alabama decides to learn ballet dancing in a bid to become successful in her own right, determined that she will not just be a woman defined by the men in her life. This reflects Zelda Fitzgerald’s own attempt to become a dancer in her twenties which brought her to both physical and mental exhaustion. Through the ending of the novel, Zelda conveys how it was impossible for her as a woman to rise to the same stature as her husband and this is where the tragedy lies.
There are many comparisons between this novel and one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works and it is almost impossible to read this novel objectively. The line between fact and fiction is very fine and while this does not diminish the quality of the writing, the storyline and characterisation is lessened somewhat. Alabama is a very strong leading lady throughout the novel but her husband David is portrayed as weak and fanciful leading us to questioning whether this was a deliberate act by Zelda to diminish her husband’s stature or whether he was written that way as a work of fiction.
This intense novel depicts Alabama Knight’s attempt to become her own woman and be defined as a person of her own merit and not simply through her marriage to a successful artist. In comparison to Alabama I would argue that Zelda Fitzgerald did succeed in defining herself as her own woman, and portrayed herself in a vastly different light to her husband in his semi-autobiographical work ‘Tender is the Night’. While this work could be seen as born out of spite and fueled by jealousy, I think it is much more than that. It is an honest piece of literature that lays bare the patriarchal society of the time and how difficult it was for a woman to become someone of her own merit. This novel should be considered as great a piece of American literature as anything written by F. Scott Fitzgerald for its honest depiction of the American Jazz Age and beautifully tragic writing.