- Reviewed by
For those who feel that the number of Fitzgerald biographies has reached saturation point, this new addition will do little to change their opinion. Despite evidence of careful research, and despite stylish presentation, neither the Fitzgerald scholar nor the casual reader will find much new here. What they will find is a sometimes elegantly written book that offers a convincing synthesis of the events of the Fitzgeralds' lives and of the mythical biographies they constructed for themselves in their fiction. Mellow's work thus exhibits an interesting tension; like all biographies, it claims to be a search for the truth of a life or lives, but here such truth emerges from a paradoxical fusion of mythic elements and conventionally documented events.
The biography is therefore not merely an account of two lives: it is also an exploration of the process of writing biography and an acknowledgment of the power of myth and anecdote in such a process. This approach provides a rich perspective on the Fitzgeralds, for it recognizes the extent to which both the myths and uncertainties of Fitzgerald biography have become enrolled as an important part of the canon, and that they cannot be overlooked because they are a vital part of our perceptions of the Fitzgeralds. Thus, Mellow's Scott and Zelda emerge as complex figures inhabiting a strange twilight world between fiction and fact. The realities of Scott's drunken brawls and Zelda's slow decline into insanity are balanced against their own fictional images of their relationship, images that grow increasingly brilliant, ethereal, and tragic. It is through these fictions that they communicate to each other their mutual doubts and uncertainties [End Page 404] about their marriage and their world.
Such an approach produces a biography that is heavily biased toward the period of the Fitzgeralds' greatest social and literary success, the 1920s, and Mellow produces a multiplicity of perspectives on many of the more significant events in their lives. His search for accuracy is painstaking, and he is thorough in his attempts to distinguish a species of biographical truth from conflicting accounts of numerous incidents. Unfortunately such a technique produces a biography that is at times infuriating in its minute attention to detail. The reader may be treated to perhaps five different versions of an event, only to be told four of them are of doubtful verisimilitude. An analysis of the significance of these apocrypha and their importance to Fitzgerald biography would have justified such an approach, but unfortunately most of them seem to have been included for the sake of completeness alone.
Although critical of earlier biographers for their omissions and errors, Mellow is strangely silent about two problematic documents of great importance to Fitzgerald biography. He presents the 1930 statement of Zelda as she entered Malmaison clinic for psychiatric treatment and the 1933 transcript of the Fitzgeralds in conversation, allegedly recorded by Dr. Thomas Rennie's secretary at La Paix, without comment. Given the depth of his discussion on other issues, and given the dubious factual status of such documents (Harold Goodhall's detailed investigations led him to label the Malmaison statement as "pure invention" and to have grave doubts as to the existence of the Rennie transcript), Mellow's omission seems significant until one realizes that, like so many other Fitzgerald biographers, he has his own images of the Fitzgeralds to preserve: Scott, the blighted alcoholic on an irreversible decline; and Zelda, the frustrated wife and victim of a life that stifled her creativity, sinking by slow degrees into madness.
Here, perhaps, is an aspect of Fitzgerald biography Mellow should have dealt with, a temptation to which Fitzgerald biographers seem to fall victim. As much as the Fitzgeralds themselves, they "invent" their subjects and mold them to an image, frequently "finding" documentation to support the images they create. Mr. Mellow's biography is an interesting and subtle work. It is unfortunate that he does not realize it is as much a part of their "invented lives" and their fiction. [End Page 405]