- Validating the Life of Edouard Jozan and the Art of Zelda Fitzgerald
By Kendall Taylor. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018, 253 pp.
By Deborah Pike. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2017, 301 pp.
In Kendall Taylor’s The Gatsby Affair, we find a biography that more carefully explores the life of Edouard Jozan, the French pilot who infamously had an “affair” of some sort with Zelda Fitzgerald in the summer of 1924 as her husband raced to complete The Great Gatsby, and who inspired numerous creative works from both Fitzgeralds while considerably impacting their marriage. Deborah Pike’s The Subversive Art of Zelda Fitzgerald provides a serious [End Page 252] treatment of Zelda’s extensive writing and visual art, asserting her role as a legitimate modernist artist.
Taylor’s biography provides a detailed account of the lives of both Fitzgeralds and of Jozan, opening with a timeline that runs from 1896 to 2006, showing the progression of each individual’s life—a helpful visual that traces when their lives met, overlapped, and diverged. Each dense chapter offers critical insights into the historical moment as well as compelling details about the lives of individuals who existed on the periphery of the famous duo, such as Jozan’s friends Rene Silvy and Bobbe Croirer. Although every Fitzgerald biography offers its own interpretation of the minutiae of the Fitzgeralds’ lives and complicated relationship, Taylor interviewed and carefully researched the family and friends of the Fitzgeralds and of Jozan, creating a more complete picture of the “affair” and its aftermath. As Taylor points out, “Although Edouard has always interested Fitzgerald followers, there has been little agreement about his impact on their lives, and in an otherwise well-researched case history, the pilot has remained a mystery” (xi). This book effectively fills that gap.
Of course, in any discussion of the summer of 1924, one must put quotation marks around the word “affair” for the simple reason that available evidence neither confirms nor denies an actual physical relationship between the aviator and the 23-year-old wife who was bored and restless while her husband wrote. Were Zelda and Jozan lovers or was their five-week Riviera encounter a flirtation that trespassed into emotional adultery? Biographers typically take a stand at one extreme or the other and read texts such as The Great Gatsby and Save Me the Waltz for corroboration. To a certain extent Taylor sidesteps the ambiguity of the evidence and simply asserts that the summer romance was indeed a “petite aventure, a brief affair with a willing partner” that left Scott “the proverbial mari trompé, or cuckolded husband” (71). Readers expecting a case to be made and a position staked against claims in previous Fitzgerald biographies may be thrown for a bit of a loop; for a measured assessment of clues and presumed proof (or the lack of it), one must turn to Scott Donaldson’s chapter “Summer of ’24: Zelda’s Affair” (172–86) in his The Impossible Craft: Literary Biography (2015).
Refreshingly, Taylor does not come across as biased toward either of the Fitzgeralds, but instead offers an assessment that is critical and validating of both individuals’ flaws, talents, aspirations, and misadventures. Following the contemporary trend, Taylor gives careful attention to Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s upbringing in Alabama as well as to her time in various mental institutions at the end of her life, showing how her experiences run parallel to her husband’s own pitiable [End Page 253] downfall. She is not portrayed as secondary to her husband, and Jozan is also given substantial attention beyond his role in the couple’s marital woes.
Indeed, the major contribution of this book is its robust understanding of Jozan, including insights into his upbringing, disposition, romantic motivations, and career and marital aspirations. For this background, Taylor is deeply indebted to Jozan’s daughter, Martine Jozan Work, who contacted the author shortly after the publication of her 2003 biography of Zelda, Sometimes Madness is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald: A Marriage, offering insights about her father, who died...