‘The Great Gatsby’ Still Gets Flappers Wrong
Through their writings, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald—the young, glamorous literary couple du jour—defined the Jazz Age as we know it. Scott declared his Southern belle wife, whom he married in 1920, “the first American flapper.” The inspiration for Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby,” Zelda was known for her wild antics, like drunkenly jumping, fully clothed, into the fountain at New York’s Plaza Hotel. Even as a kid, she was always creating a scene: She stole a car when she was 8; she went swimming in a flesh-colored bathing suit in her teens….
But Zelda, as fearless and trail-blazing as she was, can’t even embody the flapper movement fully. For one, it was not all white women, as NYU’s Modern America reports: “For the time being, the bob and the entire Flapper wardrobe, united blacks and whites under a common hip-culture.” Secondly, the flapper’s rebellion against Victorian sexual mores didn’t start among the high-society debutantes, but in “working-class neighborhoods and radical circles in the early 1900s before it spread to middle-class youth and college campuses.”
Pictured: African American Flappers at a football game in Washington D.C. from the Smithsonian Institute.
Oh OF COURSE WOC would have been the ones running the flapper game from the getgo.
And we would never have known this either thanks to bullshit fucked up history/english classes excluding them
But I thought the inspiration for Daisy was an ex-paramour of Fitzgerald’s, Ginevra King? (thank you brightthings)
Nonetheless, Woc <33
Oh hi let me volunteer to answer your question (and in doing so completely miss the point of the original post).
Basically pretty much all of Fitzgerald’s heroines/objects of desire, with the possible exception of Kathleen in The Last Tycoon, are based on Ginevra King, Zelda, or a combination of the two. Isabel from This Side of Paradise (which he began writing before meeting Zelda) and Josephine from the Basil-and-Josephine series of stories (for which he drew from his high school and college years) are modeled more explicitly on King; Nicole Diver of Tender Is the Night, Gloria of The Beautiful and Damned, Jonquil of “The Sensible Thing,” Ardita of “The Offshore Pirate,” and Emmy of “Two Wrongs” are more explicitly Zelda.
Daisy Buchanan is sort of a combination of the two. Her Southern origins, the emphasis on gold and white as her colors, her alternately casual and affectionate relationship with her daughter, and her longing to be amused all stem from Zelda. But the association with money is from King, who was the society girl that Fitzgerald wooed while he was at Princeton and broke up with soon after essentially flunking out. Zelda’s family, while respectable, was not rich, and while Zelda participated in the materialistic excess that produced works like “How to Live on $36,000 a Year” (or not), her early letters during her courtship to Fitzgerald suggest that he cares a lot more about money than she does.
Having said that, the post’s original point — that the mythologizing of Scott-and-Zelda whitewashes the actual social change behind flapperdom — is valid. Flapperdom as a bunch of crazy white college kids running around New York City was a fairly easy sell; it’s why Fitzgerald was able to command so much money for his “trash,” as he called the stories he sold to the Saturday Evening Post. At one point Fitzgerald had an exclusive contract with Hearst’s, which advertised — yes — Scott and Zelda together with the line “Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald started the flapper movement in this country.” In other words, the Fitzgeralds were an appealing brand, and they sold. Still do.
Fitzgerald’s work as a whole isn’t so much openly racist as sort of limited (although there is some jarring anti-Semitism in The Beautiful and Damned; I want to say racism too, but I remember it less well). Towards the end of his life he did try a story about a black family, “Dearly Beloved,” which was rejected by Esquire in 1940. If you’re interested in Fitzgerald and issues of race, it’s collected in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
(Other sources: Zelda by Nancy Milford; F. Scott Fitzgerald by Andre Le Vot, translated by William Byron.)
Oh wow, thanks for the information! Really fascinating stuff! Have you by chance, come across this post theorizing Jay Gatsby as a white passing man yet? Love to hear your thoughts about it: http://pollums.tumblr.com/post/49568188213/jay-gatsby-was-black-an-explanation