Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

Posted March 14, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda FitzgeraldTitle: Save Me the Waltz (Goodreads)
Author: Zelda Fitzgerald
Narrator: Jennifer Van Dyck
Published: Vintage, 1932
Pages: 225
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Save Me the Waltz is the story of Alabama Beggs, a young Southern girl who meets and falls in love with David Knight during World War I. The two inevitably get married and David goes on to become a successful painter, before moving their family to the French Riviera. However Alabama is determined to find her own success and takes up ballet. When she lands her first solo debut in the opera Faust the cracks in their marriage become evident.

After an episode of hysteria in 1932, Zelda Fitzgerald was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment. Dr Adolf Meyer, an expert on schizophrenia was her doctor and as part of her recovery routine he got her to write at least two hours a day. Save Me the Waltz was written over the course of six weeks and was the first and only novel to be published by Zelda Fitzgerald. Her husband was outraged that she took so much of their personal life and added it into this novel. Despite the fact that the majority of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels are also autobiographical and he used the same material for his novel Tender is the Night.

I wanted to read Save Me the Waltz after reading Tender is the Night to compare the similarities. The problem I soon discovered is that Save Me the Waltz has possibly been whitewashed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Apparently he helped Zelda revise her book and the amount that has been changed is unknown because her original manuscript has been lost. However Scott went from being irate to writing to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner (their publisher) “Here is Zelda’s novel. It is a good novel now, perhaps a very good novel—I am too close to tell.” I am inclined to believe that he has made sure he comes across better than originally written but without the original that is purely speculation.

The major theme within Save Me the Waltz is around the intense desire for Alabama/Zelda to succeed for themselves. It was not enough for either person to be the wife behind a successful man, and it explores the problems faced in doing this in a male dominated society. When Alabama gets her dream job in Naples with the San Carlo Opera Ballet Company, David does not want to move. Considering that he is a painter and could really work from anywhere, it says a lot about their marriage. This does not hinder Alabama from perusing her dreams and she goes to Naples anyway, leaving her husband to look after their child alone. Now this move may make people uneasy but it really plays with the power dynamic of marriage. Zelda Fitzgerald wants to challenge the conceptions people had of the role of a wife in a marriage and ask why it was alright for a man to go away for work but not the woman.

This can be a very difficult novel to read, knowing the historical context and history behind the story. Comparing this book with Tender is the Night does not leave F. Scott Fitzgerald in pleasant light but then again his novel did not do that either. One of the most powerful lines in this novel can be found right near the end and it beautifully wraps up the whole book into a few lines. “Emptying the ashtrays was very expressive of myself. I just lump everything in a great heap which I have labelled ‘the past,’ and having thus emptied this deep reservoir that was once myself, I am ready to continue.”

While I cannot say that Save Me the Waltz is a strong novel, it was a fascinating exploration into the lives of the Fitzgeralds. I am glad to have read and compared this book to Tender is the Night but I think it has only fuelled my interest into this couple. I still need to read a biography or two on the Fitzgeralds but I am beginning to get a better idea of their lives. I think if you are going to read Tender is the Night, you need to read Save Me the Waltz so you can have perspective on the autobiographical elements; even if they were tainted by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s edits.

2 responses to “Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

  1. It sounds like the events surrounding the book’s publication are / were perhaps more gripping than the book itself. I hasn’t known any of that so thanks for the insight.

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