100 years ago today (September 13, 1918), Zelda Sayre gave F. Scott Fitzgerald a sterling silver flask, and American literary history gained a tumultuous love story for the ages. The flask, which holds 10 ½ ounces, is engraved “To 1st Lt. F. Scott Fitzgerald 65th Infantry Camp Sheridan For-get-me-not Zelda 9-13-18 Montgomery, Ala.”
In 1917, Fitzgerald was on academic probation at Princeton and dropped out to join the Army. After a brief stint at Fort Leavenworth under Dwight Eisenhower, Fitzgerald was stationed to Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama. Fitzgerald was an inadequate soldier. His biographer, Matthew Bruccoli, refers to him as “unreliable in the field,” and it was reported that he was irrationally cruel and punitive to the men under his command. Concerned more with finishing his first novel and enjoying Montgomery social life, his fellow officers often made him the butt of jokes and victim of pranks.
Zelda was known for being outgoing and energetic. Scott first met Zelda at the local Country Club, in July of 1918, where she performed the “Dance of Hours.” Even though the two were both dating other people at the time, Scott quickly worked his way up the ranks to become one of Zelda’s primary suitors. In his ledgerbook of the period he wrote a note about falling in love on September 7th. He was 22, and she was 18 and just finished school.
Despite resistance from her family, Zelda was charmed by Scott, and may have seen someone much like herself in him. In her autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, Zelda recounts her earliest impressions of meeting Scott: “There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention.” While her parents were concerned with Scott’s drinking and what they presumed would be his poor financial prospects as a young writer, seems to have been attracted to the romance and artifice of Scott’s personality.
Scott’s infantry unit was transferred to Camp Mills on Long Island, NY, on October 26th, with the assumption that they would be deployed to the War front in France; however the de-escalation of conflict and the armistice a few weeks later mean that he would complete his military career without ever having left the States. With time on his hands, Scott shuttled around from New York to Montgomery to St. Paul and back, worked on revising his novel, and continued to court Zelda through letters. Zelda followed Scott to New York, and the two were married on April 3, 1920.
Scott considered Zelda to be the archetype of the flapper, and he drew a considerable amount of inspiration not only from their lavish life together, but also from her diaries and unique turns of phrase and table-talk.
Such blurring of the lines between life and fiction, along with their tendency to overindulge and their penchant for exhibitionism lead to the couples becoming new icons of youth, genius, and frivolity. While she could not have been aware of it at the time, on September 13th, 1918, Zelda gave Scott a gift that would symbolize the modus operandi of not only their own relationship, but of an era in American literary history.
Michael C. Weisenburg
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections
Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Second Edition. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), pp. 82, 128.
Fitzgerald Zelda. The Collected Writings. ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. (New York: Collier, 1991), p. 37.