- The Subversive Art of Zelda Fitzgerald by Deborah Pike
After reading Zelda Fitzgerald's Save Me the Waltz (1932), Malcolm Cowley wrote in a letter to Zelda's husband dated 22 May 1933 expressing his feeling that she had "a different story to tell" than her contemporaries; "she has something there that nobody got into words before."1 Zelda's one-of-a kind narratives are the focus of Deborah Pike's The Subversive Art of Zelda Fitzgerald. Taking Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's theory of minor literature as her through line and psychoanalytical theorists for the critical framing of her position, Pike offers a biocritical reading of Zelda's art—in the many forms it took—to establish her place in literary modernism. In this first book-length study of Zelda's oeuvre, the first to critically evaluate "Caesar's Things" and her spiritual diary, Pike analyzes an impressive array of her work—most of which is still obscure, understudied, or tucked away in the Princeton archives—and points the way to further research.
As Pike states, "Zelda's own words literally lie within the heart of the established literature of F. Scott Fitzgerald"—in other words, at the heart of canonical literature (p. 56). Yet the context of these words has gone unexamined for too long and its author relegated to the status of mad muse. Some have recently attempted to recuperate Zelda's perspective; in the last five years, at least four fictional accounts were printed, including Therese Anne Fowler's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (2013) and Erika Robuck's Call Me Zelda (2013). Published on the heels of these books, Pike's contribution provides a more authentic portrait of Zelda through its insightful analysis of the ways in which her writings constitute minor literature—that is, how Zelda exploits the major language of her literary tradition in order to subvert it. Because the problem of marginality is still a concern for literary critics, this lens is apt.
Throughout her five-chapter book, which includes a lengthy introduction, a section on Zelda's artwork, and twenty-two illustrations, Pike makes brilliant observations about Zelda's unique and revolutionary writing style. Because she authored over six hundred letters during the course of her life and epistles have often been dismissed as a lesser form of literature, it is appropriate that this study opens by treating her correspondence. Pike comments on Zelda's experimental syntax; even her earliest notes take spontaneous turns, display a lyrical style, and frequently use the dash to convey sharp changes in tone. The letters often chart the stream-of-consciousness of a coming-of-age Zelda, who attempted to straddle conventional Southern femininity and the changing landscape of gender equality. In her examination of unpublished letters from the 1930s when Zelda was institutionalized, Pike illustrates how extraordinary her persistence to communicate and self-express was even amidst the misogynistic [End Page 223] psychiatrists, who often forbade her to write, and in so doing, acknowledged the power of constructing narratives.
Pike's exploration of Zelda's journalistic articles and first publications—also in the beginning chapters—would have benefitted from a reading of "The Iceberg," written when Zelda was seventeen or eighteen years old and published in the Sidney Lanier High School Literary Journal in 1918. With the December 2013 republication of "The Iceberg" in The New Yorker, we know that Zelda began writing before Scott entered her life, which suggests that she tried her hand at crafting fiction and that certain themes were introduced in her writing even before September 1919, the date Pike identifies as Zelda's first foray into creative writing.
Even when Pike travels familiar terrain, she sheds new light on her subject. In revisiting the pairing of Zelda's Save Me the Waltz and Scott's Tender Is the Night (1934), she reads these novels through an analysis of a transcript from one of Zelda's therapy sessions for which Scott was present. Pike hones in on the couple's use of...