The Limits of Literary Celebrity: Psychiatry, Gender, and Zelda Fitzgerald
Contemporary culture is in the process of revitalizing the memory of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, an early twentieth-century American author, painter, and dancer, conventionally known as the Queen of the Jazz Age and dubbed the “First American Flapper” by her husband, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (Cline 1), and frequently remembered more for her struggles with mental illness than her artistic output. At its core, this dissertation is interested in the way that psychomedical discourses shape the construction of a public artistic self, and Part One turns to a burgeoning literary celebrity—one of the most prominent innovations in public life of the early-twentieth century—in order to argue that modernist authorship and celebrity alike depend on masculinist constructions of a virtual, agential, authorial subject. Part Two looks to a flurry of novelistic renarrativizations of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life in early twenty-first century middlebrow literature, identifying in this publishing event a historiographic impulse to renegotiate the cultural memory of a figure who has become paradigmatic both as celebrity and as patient. This reconsideration, Part Two argues, constructs itself as a compassionate exercise, and in so doing demands that middlebrow authors in some way achieve justice through the sympathetic and repeated retelling of these stories. As constructions of authorship also require the construction of a readership, this project suggests that the core function of compassion asks readers and authors alike to in some way turn compassionate feeling into an ethical orientation towards their own societies. As the movement to destigmatize mental illness has seen increasing cultural prevalence in the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, the question of what compassionate writing about Zelda Fitzgerald prompts readers to do is more important than ever.
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