Editor's note: The following book chapter was rekeyed and reprinted on July 11, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Arcade Publishing, New York. The chapter was previously included in a book titled Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise. The book was first published in 2002 by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd, England, and the ISBN number is 1-55970-688-0. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the volume, please contact the Arcade Publishing at 212-475-2633.



 

Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise

Part IV, Creative Voices, January 1927-1929, Chapter 13

a book by Sally Cline

 

Zelda's first impression of Ellerslie was that the 'squareness of the rooms and the sweep of the columns were to bring us a judicious tranquility'.[20] Ellerslie became her earliest known oil on canvas, in which the tonal values she employs confidently convey that peace. She bathes the façade of the house in amber light against a strange green sky. There are no sharp lines; brushed soft colours give the house a moody atmosphere. The house in the top two-thirds of the canvas is warm and glowing, protected by its bright white columns and massive tree trunks which line the yard. But those trees cast ominous black shadows along the gritty path. The lingering impression is of a cozy, secure home fringed by unpredictable terrors.

Zelda and Scott paid an incredibly low rent of $150 a month for eighteen months for this sprawling mansion, which needed the attention of two black maids: Ella, who sang Deep South spirituals in the kitchen and sat like 'a dark ejection of the storm in the candlelight'; and Marie, 'a wonderful negro maid, high and gawky, who laughed and danced barefoot about the Christmas tree on the broken balls '.[21]

When the daughter of Scott's favourite cousin Ceci, twenty-two-year-old Cecilia Taylor, visited, she noticed that Scott 'seemed to tell the several colored servants what to do. I think Zelda was perfectly capable of handling things but she seemed perfectly willing to let Scott do it.'[22]

Cecilia also observed Zelda had less control than Scott over Scottie's education and discipline. After Nanny left they hired Mademoiselle Delplangue, whom Zelda described as reeking of sachet, with large brown eyes that 'followed a person about like a mop'.[23] Zelda confessed to Van Vechten: 'She is a great trial, but... I am afraid to fire her.'[24]

Cecilia thought Zelda's immersion in her art led Scott to take domestic and parental responsibility: 'She was painting then. She had done a screen... [with] seashore scenes... and a lamp shade of Alice-in-Wonderland characters for Scottie.'[25]

It is equally likely that Scott's control, which led to Zelda's renewed insecurities over both servants and child care, was a cause not a consequence of her working so hard at her art. Whatever the primary motive, and there must have been several intertwined in a complex network, Zelda's creative output remained steady. Scottie thought Ellerslie was where Zelda felt most imaginatively domestic. Zelda has been repeatedly criticized for her poor house management, but, as Scottie always said, Zelda was a marvellously creative mother. Nineteen twenty-seven was dedicated to art works designed for Scottie. Zelda began what over many years would be several series of thick watercolour and gouache paper dolls with costume changes. [26]

She embarked on a series of accurate historical figures: the courts of Louis XIV (the king, Cardinal Richelieu, courtiers and ladies), King Arthur's Round Table, and Joan of Arc. A second series of fairy tales included Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks, and in a third series of paper dolls Zelda, Scott and Scottie become witty, lifelike paper people who display themselves in several changes of natty underwear. Another paper Scott has angel's wings, an umbrella and a satirical pink tie.

When Zelda's paper dolls or fairy-tale drawings are examined, a pencil sketch is visible beneath the layer of watercolour and gouache. Scottie remembered: 'These dolls had wardrobes of which Rumpelstiltskin could be proud. My mother and I had dresses of pleated wallpaper, and one party frock of mine had ruffles of real lace cut from a Belgian handkerchief.. . it was characteristic of my mother that these exquisite dolls, each one requiring hours of artistry, should have been created for the delectation of a six-year-old.'[27]

The paper dolls show Zelda's strong whimsical and sardonic illustrational skills. Her gifts flourished in this smaller scale, especially when her ideas were grounded in fantasy, myth or memory. Over the years she developed several noticeable features in these early paper dolls for use in her human figures and in her later paper-doll series. Most striking is their gender ambiguity. Both sexes have heavy muscles, exaggerated shoulders, bosomy chests, powerful thighs, massive feet and enlarged calves. Male courtiers with frothy clothes, high heels, red lips and feet in ballet poses could be women. This gender ambiguity is even more obvious in the fairy tales, where the big bad wolf sports a party dress, Papa Bear minces in a skirt, and Little Red Riding Hood has a male, muscular body and large feet topped by golden hair like a transvestite's wig.

The doll-making allowed Zelda to feel young again. It was as if she was trying to repeat her childhood, but this time feminized in a way that her tomboy girlhood was not. [28]

This children's art, begun in 1927, became a lifelong preoccupation. Over the years she made several hundred paper dolls, which,together with fairy-tale scenes, formed a quarter of her 1974 retrospective exhibition at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. In 1927 she immersed herself in historical texts of each period she drew, while her knowledge of fairy-tale literature became prodigious. Her skill was to give it a nonconformist lift. Red Riding Hood, no longer innocent, becomes a sophisticated teenager, while the wolf has several personae. One wolf wears a carnivorous red jumpsuit and an evil scowl. Another, in black hood and cape, menaces children with his arsenal of firearms. But Zelda turns the tables by showing his gentle side in a flowing white party frock, elbow-length gloves and yellow wings. Wolf into angel becomes a counterpoint to Scott as writer into angel. Though Zelda is partly making children's art for Scottie, she is at the same time subverting the conventional childhood approach by using dolls to transgress male/female boundaries.

Critic Jane S. Livingston suggests Zelda was directly influenced by a certain strain of nineteenth- and twentieth-century French illustrational art. It is not surprising that a large part of Zelda's art belongs to the French culture she admired and understood.

Zelda used as a major source for her paper dolls two historical handbooks .[29] The first, L'Histoire du Costume Feminin Français de l'an 1037 a l'an 1870 (compiled by Paul Louis de Giafferri), catalogues hundreds of costumes and accessories from capes to corsets, bodices to brollies from the Middle Ages through to the Victorian era. More interesting even than the historical material that informs Zelda's paper dolls are the changes her transforming imagination made to her models. Her figures are considerably more lifelike, have greater fluidity and are more inventive than the historical costume drawings she was consulting. [30]

If we compare the second book she used, another French volume from the 1920s, L'Enfance de Becassine (illustrated by J. Pinchon), it is clear that Zelda's dramatic flair and draughtsmanship have revitalized Pinchon's somewhat flat drawings.

One emotional reason that lay behind Zelda's early paper-doll drawings was that they offered her a special way to communicate with Scottie, from whom she felt increasingly distanced. Water colour and gouache as an intimate medium may be particularly effective for communication with a child. The historical dolls were also an educational medium. And for Scottie, they worked as such. 'Her [Zelda's] paper dolls were works of art,' she said, but 'the whole court of Louis XIV... weren't to play with'. [31]

During the year, Zelda designed and built an elaborate dolls' house ostensibly for Scottie. But her little-girl's concentration made it seem as if she was also building herself a home. For months she worked on it secretly in a third-floor hideaway, where she meticulously painted, papered and furnished the house with elegant furniture, stylish mirrors and glass windows. It was finished in November, ready for Scottie to unveil it at Christmas. During the next two years Zelda also painted a series of extraordinary lamp shades, some wittily depicting members of their family or friends, others illustrating fanciful fairy tales. The most famous lamp shade shows Zelda, Scott, Scottie, servants and friends on a merry-go-round. Those who can be identified are George Jean Nathan on a lion, Tana the butler on a turtle, Scott on an elephant, Scottie on a horse, Zelda on a rooster, Nanny on a mouse, probably on the kangaroo one of their Negro maids, on the pig Amy Rupert Thomas and on the goose their male servant, Philippe.[32] Behind them are images of several places in America and Europe the Fitzgeralds had visited: Villa St. Louis, Juan-les-Pins, White Bear Lake Yacht Club, Minnesota, Ellerslie, New York's Plaza Hotel, Capri, Villa Marie, St. Raphael, Rome's Spanish Steps, and the Westport cottage.

 

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