Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jazz Age

I've just finished reading Zelda: a Biography by Nancy Milford. Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald were the Sid & Nancy of the Jazz Age. Zelda, as most people know, spent nearly the last twenty years of her life in and out of different posh mental institutions. It's a sad story, and it seems that she and Scott were never happy together. Milford doesn't spend much time trying to guess why Zelda went insane. It seems to me that her life paralleled that of a firecracker--a big explosion all at once and then nothing. She spent the years leading up to her descent into madness frantically trying to make something of herself as a ballet dancer, in what I see as a desperate attempt to regain her youth.

You can't have a biography of Zelda, without much mention of her famous husband. I've never really liked the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read Tender is the Night last year and had a hard time getting through it. I do like his short stories, particularly "The Ice Palace." This biography has led me to reconsider Fitzgerald as an important American writer. I think I may re-read The Great Gatsby, and read some of his other novels as well.

I feel an affinity with the Jazz Age generation. Isn't it true that children tend to reject the ideals of their parents' generation and identify better with their grandparents? My parents were early wave baby boomers--my mom and Mick Jagger were born the same year. My grandfather, born in 1903 (and my grandmother, born in 1905) were just a few years younger than F. Scott Fitzgerald and his contemporaries. My grandfather told stories of drinking in speakeasies during prohibition and liked to tease my grandmother and call her a flapper, although she always insisted she wasn't any such thing. Flapper grandmother or not, they knew how to live well and did so without any bourgeois hand-wringing about it.

My own generation (unfortunately named "generation X") grew up in the shadow of the baby boomers. They were our baby sitters, our friends' mean older brothers, and in my case, our parents. I felt oppressed on almost a daily basis by the baby boomer nostalgia that became popular as I entered my teens. The Jazz Age generation grew up not under the shadow of another generation, but under that of a powerful cultural influence--Victorianism. Born just as Queen Victoria was dying, they successfully shook off the inhibitions of the Victorian Age. Their frenzied post-war partying was short-lived, since the Depression and World War II soon put an end to it. My own generation, rather than feeling carefree after the end of a major war, felt oppressed by the cold war and all its implications. Why care about anything when someone in power need only "push a button" and destroy the entire world? This led to our reputation for being "slackers"--cynical and selfish-appearing in the eyes of the idealistic baby boomers. And yet I can see a link between our cynicism and the Jazz Age's hedonism.

Or maybe I'm just being ridiculous. Don't forget, I call my site Fatuous Observations for a reason.

1 comment:

  1. Patience,

    Great timing on the Zelda recommendation. I just finished up the book "Five Sisters" and there was a Zelda/F. Scott tie that peaked my interest in learning more about Zelda . . . thanks . . .