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Love in the Time of Jazz

I recently stumbled upon a show called Z: The Beginning of Everything (there will be spoilers). The series is about the tumultuous relationship between Zelda Fitzgerald and her husband the late, great F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Of his, or should I say their work, I’ve only read The Great Gatsby. I’m enamored by the roaring 20s. Young women in sparkling flapper dresses with fringe rustling against bare calves danced with dapper gentlemen in back alley speakeasies. They defied prohibition and celebrated life because they had survived the war. Little did they know what was yet to come.

Fitzgerald encapsulated this moment in time by writing a story about a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby. The lavish parties he hosted were debauchery incarnate. He spared no expense and his guests were treated to the height of what money could buy. None of it meant anything to him. He had one purpose in life, winning back Daisy, the love of his life who is married.

Amidst all the glamour of the 20s was the stark reality of the class system. When Jay Gatsby first met Daisy, he was a poor soldier and she a young debutant. It only took a moment for him to fall for her. They were only together briefly before her parents forbade her from seeing him again. However, a moment is all it really takes to establish a deep infatuation for someone. Call it love if you want. The sensation of a new connection, especially when it’s enflamed by reciprocation, is enough to leave the most sensible of us floundering.

Gatsby was anything but sensible and proceeded to spend the rest of his life striving to become the kind of person she could be with, even after he found out she’d married. He orchestrated every minute detail so when they finally met again, he could display the wealth and extravagance he thought necessary to have a life with her. For another brief moment, he achieved the bliss he’d been so desperately searching for. Then he died tragically before anything could fall apart again.

After watching Z, the significance of this became apparent. In his actual life, Zelda, not her parents told him he must make something of himself before she would marry him. He moved to New York City to write. Zelda was a phenomenal woman in her own right. She was a gifted writer as evidenced by Scott using phrases from her letters without even asking in his first hit This Side of Paradise. When she performed ballet, she captured the imagination of every man in the room. She was part of the early battle for women’s voting rights.

Change is at the very heart of life and love is not immune. Scott did become the success he always claimed he would be, and Zelda moved to New York City to start a life with him. He wanted them to have this life he’d been imagining, with him at the center and her by his side. It worked for a while. Then she was offered a moment in the spot light, and he couldn’t handle the perceived competition. His manager constantly pressured him to start his next book, and when the money ran out he could no longer distract himself from the imminent loss of everything he’d worked so hard for. They moved to the country so he could focus on writing, and Zelda grew bored which irked him. He ended up cheating on her with one of their friends.

In The Great Gatsby, Daisy, unlike Zelda, always remained perfect to Jay because he died while they were in the thralls of recently rekindled passion. What would have had happened if Jay lived, and they actually tried to have a relationship? She had a child with Tom, her husband. Was Jay going to raise another man’s child? Divorce was not socially acceptable in the 20s. The child would have probably gone to Tom considering the divorce laws of the time. Her parents may have disowned her. Maybe the book ended with the happiest ending possible. Daisy had to continue living out her mundane life with her abusive, cheating husband. However, Jay could also remain perfect to her, the moments they shared preserved like relics in a museum.


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