LLR Books

Novelist Speaks to Capacity Crowd

When novelist Lee Smith enters a room the world brightens.
I'm not speaking metaphorically. Smith's countenance is so positive it's almost impossible to ignore the transformation that accompanies her arrival.
That's the way it was on Sunday, Feb. 13, when Lee spoke at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities. The capacity crowd was busily chatting away when she stepped to the front of the room and there was silence - followed by genuine, unadulterated laughter.
As always, Lee had everyone laughing at her characters - outrageous and honest each and every one of them - as they played out their shenanigans in her slyly authentic Grundy, Va., drawl.
Lee read from her most recent book of stories, "Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger," and then from "Family Linens," a novel that was inspired, in part, by a murder that took place in Raeford. And then she mentioned that her next book would be about Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Zelda's tragic life is recounted in Nancy Milford's biography "Zelda," and there is no more compelling figure in American letters - Zelda was a novelist in addition to being the archetypical flapper - than Fitzgerald's beautiful, doomed wife.
As I sat listening to Lee, I couldn't help but reflect that Zelda had been the topic of conversation on numerous occasions in the Great Room. Over the years, Weymouth has presented lectures in which the Fitzgeralds were the primary topic, and a few years ago, Weymouth hosted a readers' theater production of the Boyd correspondence, which included numerous letters from and to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
It's unclear whether James and Katharine Boyd ever met Zelda. She was hospitalized in Baltimore when James Boyd first met Fitzgerald, and it's possible that Boyd visited with Zelda during her confinement. But Scott Fitzgerald was much given to discussing his wife's mental problems when imbibing with his friends.
From early 1935 until August 1936, Boyd and Fitzgerald carried on an extensive correspondence, discussing writing and the personal problems that both men suffered. With Fitzgerald, Zelda was a great source of worry.
In early '35, Zelda was hospitalized in Baltimore, but later in the year, she was transferred to Highlands Hospital in Asheville, and Scott began to stay at the Grove Park Inn so that he could visit his sick wife regularly.
In March 1935, Fitzgerald wrote to Boyd from Baltimore: "It was great seeing you and your removal honestly leaves a gap. I made a short trip to New York which, while it reminded me that I have lost much of my old enthusiasm for talk and groups, also reminded me of the vacuum which I have been living down here. If I have anything in common with a man intellectually here our pasts seem to have been very different, and if, on the contrary, our pasts have been the same, there is no intellectual meeting ground. I feel like the old maid you mentioned one day who 'grew less desirable and more particular.'"
In late June 1935, Fitzgerald traveled by train from Asheville and spent a long weekend at the Boyds' home discussing his writing and personal life. In a letter dated simply "Summer 1935," Fitzgerald thanked the Boyds for their hospitality and apologized for his behavior, which was no doubt the product of too much alcohol.
Fitzgerald begins: "Thank you. In better form I might have been a better guest but you couldn't have been better hosts even at a moment when anything that wasn't absolutely - that wasn't near perfection made me want to throw a brick at it. One sometimes needs tolerance at a moment when he has least himself."
When Lee Smith again visits Weymouth, perhaps she'll reveal Zelda's part of the Boyd/Fitzgerald saga.