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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 30, 1996|Noel Riley Fitch

ZELDA An Illustrated Life: The Private World of Zelda Fitzgerald Edited by Eleanor Lanahan; essays by Peter Kurth and Jane Livingston (Harry N. Abrams: $24.95; 128 pages). The Jazz Age was the age of the gifted amateur. One always allowed time to "Save me the waltz," and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is very much of her era.

This centenary year of F. Scott Fitzgerald's birth, with the attendant symposia and exhibits of memorabilia, will also force a reexamination of Zelda, his madness-haunted muse, drinking companion and, by most accounts, prototype for his fictional heroines.

Zelda clearly is more than "the wife of a celebrated Jazz Age novelist," as the purveyors of this attractively presented album would have us believe. We know something of her complex and tormented inner life and its disastrous consequences from the intimate confessional memoir by Scott and Zelda's granddaughter, Eleanor Lanahan, "Scottie: The Daughter of . . . " and the 1970 biography, "Zelda," by Nancy Milford. Zelda's collected writings have been available since 1990.

Now, to accompany a traveling exhibit of Zelda's artwork marking Fitzgerald's centennial, we have a catalogue raisonne demonstrating the wide diversity of her "supernally innate, and fecund, giftedness." These wonderful period photographs enhance a book that should really have been entitled "A Life Through Illustration."

Certainly, Zelda was technically accomplished: Her landscapes pastiche the late Impressionists and early Cezanne; her drawings are less accomplished. It is perhaps as an illustrator, as Jane Livingston (former chief curator of the Corcoran Gallery of Art) points out in a perceptive introductory essay, that Zelda most clearly achieved a certain enduring originality, resulting particularly from her psychological affinity with the delusional Alice in Wonderland.

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