Literary daybook, March 10

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Topics: Books, Richard Blumenthal,

Today in fiction
On March 10, Jennifer Dowling meets Joe Campbell.
— “The Advocate’s Devil” (1994)
By Alan Dershowitz

From “The Book of Fictional Days”
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

- – - – - – - – - – -

Today in literary history
On this day in 1948, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, and eight other patients were killed in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, N.C.. Zelda’s first breakdown in 1930 resulted in a 16-month stay in a Swiss clinic, and she spent six and a half of the next eight years in American institutions. Though discharged to her mother’s care in the spring of 1940 — Fitzgerald was in Hollywood, and just months away from a fatal heart attack — she would periodically readmit herself to Highland. It was during one of these stays that she and the others died, unable to flee the rooms into which they had been locked for the evening.

While the popular press had elevated them to the legendary glitter-couple, and then reduced them to a Jazz Age parable, the Fitzgeralds themselves spent their last decade struggling toward a clearer understanding of what had happened to the people they had once been. In one letter to Zelda after her first breakdown in 1930, Fitzgerald’s attempts to find cause and blame arrive at this: “You were going crazy and calling it genius — I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand.” One letter from Zelda five years later — after countless pleas to her husband that he “please, please let me out now,” or that he “come to me and tell me how I was” — seems to finally accept defeat:

“Dearest and always Dearest Scott:

You Might Also Like

“I am sorry too that there should be nothing to greet you but an empty shell … Had I any feelings they would all be bent in gratitude to you and in sorrow that all of my life there should not even be the smallest relic of the love and beauty that we started with to offer you at the end … It is a shame that we should have met in harshness and coldness where there was once so much tenderness and so many dreams … I love you anyway — even if there isn’t any me or any love or even any life.”

Fitzgerald kept writing to her until the end, and writing whatever else he could manage in order to support her. Two last letters, both written on the same day a week before his death, are to the tax man and to daughter Scottie. The first asks for more time, the second says that “the insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.” Zelda struggled over her last years with a novel about Jacob and Janno, two who were beautiful and self-damned. In one fragment Janno talks of her husband’s death, though “he had been gone all summer and all winter for about a hundred years”:

“She remembered the ragged edges of his cuffs, and the neatness of his worn possessions, and the pleasure he always had from his pile of sheer linen handkerchiefs. When she had been away, or sick or something, Jacob never forgot the flowers, or big expensive books full of compensatory ideas about life. He never forgot to make life seem useful and promising, or forgot the grace of good friendship, or the use of making an effort …

“Nobody has ever measured, even the poets, how much a heart can hold … When one really can’t stand anymore, the limits are transgressed, and one thing has become another; poetry registers itself on the hospital charts, and heartbreak has to be taken care of … But heartbreak perishes in public institutions.”

– Steve King

To find out more about “Today in Literary History,” contact Steve King.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>