Celebrity Lives of the Jazz Age

Though it is extremely fashionable to talk loudly and disdainfully about celebrities, the modern world is more knowledgable about their lives than ever before. Even if you are not guilty of leafing through a trashy magazine in the supermarket line, the abundance of gossip littering social media is unescapable, particularly now that Facebook has introduced their live [light] news feed on users’ home pages.


Whilst reality stars such as the infamous mighty Kardashian clan might be a little too much for most people, the scandalous happenings of the celebrity sphere are ever – alluring, no more so than during the Jazz Age. 1920s America celebrated the stars of the literary and art world, drawn into their semi-autobiographical novels and outrageous escapades. To fill that need deep inside for drama and vice, look no further than Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.


From Ernest’s affairs, four marriages drinking problem and ultimate suicide, to Scott’s drinking and Zelda’s famed exploits – dancing on table tops, diving naked into fountains and riding the roofs of New York taxis, to name a few – this threesome were the talk of the town, appearing on the covers of Life Magazine, Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. To add more intrigue to the mix, whilst Scott and Ernest were good friends, Hemingway and Zelda’s relationship was tumulus. In one letter Ernest wrote on July 6th, 1949, he reflects on the Fitzgerald’s’relationship, claiming that:“I loved Scott very much but he was extremely difficult with that situation he got himself into and Zelda constantly making him drink because she was jealous of his working well”. Miaow.


Romp through the increasing fame of Ernest, who became a hero-like figure of the 20th century, the endless creativeness of Zelda and the struggling talent that was Scott Fitzgerald with the help of some guilt-free celebrity indulgence. The following four novels, memoirs and biographies are amongst the best.


1. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Novel of Zelda - Jazz Age


This fictional work is evidently a result of committed research into the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, from adolescence through her tempestuous marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fowler attempts to deconstruct, and reconstruct the popular opinion of Zelda as a jealous caricature, intent on draining her husband’s creativity with her endless antics and mental insatiability.

Fowler explores the creative talents of Zelda, from her professional level ballet dancing, to her own novels and journalism, to art. The tension between Scott and Zelda’s respective talent brought into the marital sphere are central to the novel, contrasted with their wild antics.


2. Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

Mrs Hemingway - Jazz Age


Wood succeeds in giving voices to the four wives of Ernest Hemingway, who was married for forty years, with a single break of seven months. Keeping the man himself in the shadows of his four vivacious spouses, this is a pleasurable and interesting read.

From the sweet Hadly who accompanied Ernest through the beginning of his career, living in near poverty in Paris, a homely woman unsuited to the haughty literary crowd that her husband was being beckoned into with his increasing success. To Pauline, known as Fife, a sophisticated socialite whose wealth helped Ernest to rise to fame, to Martha, a successful novelist and war correspondent in her own right who was wary of appearing in the footnotes of her husband’s success, to Mary, left widowed after Ernest’s suicide in 1961.


3. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast - Jazz Age


Hemingway’s own memoir of his years as a struggling writer in Paris from 1921-26, before his true fame begun and during and his first marriage to Hadley, published after his death.

Hemingway romanticises about the simple yet joyous life he lead with his first wife and child in Paris. Their humble existence is increasingly at odds with his rising success and interaction with some of the key literary players of the period, notably Gertrud Stein. Hemingway’s sharp prose is immensely readable. Whether you love or despise him, this is a worthwhile glimpse into the inner workings of an indisputably great, and dedicated, writer.


4. Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise by Sally Cline

Zelda Fitzgerald - Jazz Age


A biography with mixed reviews, though worth a read. Detailing Scott and Zelda’s relationship, by examining it through a creative lens, Cline explores their individual works (both husband and wife were authors in their own right) and their effect and input on each other’s.

Of particular interest, is Zelda’s struggle to define herself outside of the frivolous flapper girl that Scott seemingly imposed on her. More is made of her creative talents, which Cline presents as far more substantial and of higher quality than other accounts of Mrs. Fitzgerald.