Conversation with Marjie Kirkland, cousin of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which tell us of Scott and Zelda, books and Roaring Twenties

Life is made of coincidences – if you like to call them so. On September 24, 2018, 122 years after the birth of the great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marjie Kirkland, a distant cousin of him, went into labor, delivering her baby in the after of the next day, on September 25, the day of the birth of William Faulkner. The same Faulkner who wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Her daughter’s first name is anything but random: Keyes. A name derived from the original Keye, the bloodline of those English families who settled on the coast of Virginia in 1698. The 7th grade great-grandfather of Marjie was born in Maryland in 1731, and the Keye became Keyes. In 1754 her 6th great-grandfather, General John Ross Key was born. One of his children – Francis Key – later became famous for writing the American anthem. As she reminded me, her family’s name has changed generation to generation – Keye, Keyes, Key and Keys.

A little and smiling F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald – whose full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald – was in fact a distant cousin of the writer Francis Key, and this links these two important American historical figures to Marjie Kirkland.

Exactly as my thoughts, even Marjie in convinced that to fully understand the human figure of Scott, not only his historical part, is necessary read his letters.

“The letters he wrote back and forth with Ernest Hemingway were quite nostalgic and loving.” This can looks different from the historical image we have of them today, but, says Marjie: “The two friends would send each other money, sign letters with ‘love’ and were very charming towards each other.” All this, probably, like a form of illusion to those difficult times, “maybe just like a modern day social media relationship?”

Here is born an interesting point of conversation: the similarities between today’s generation and the ’20s. “In today’s society everything is short and glamours on the surface just like the ’20s. Just like Jay Gatsby himself. Some of us are just floating through life to hide what’s beneath the surface.”

Appearance and waste. 2000s as the ’20s. Don’t you think?

Talking about exchanges of letters, is impossible not consider those between Scott and his daughter “Scottie.” It were filled with affection, sometimes reproach, teachings and always unconditional love. According to Marjie, the letters also tells a lot about the personality of Scott, especially those he wrote to his daughter when she was at the summer camp. One of the most famous, in which Scott lists a number of things to her daughter to worry about, and others according to him not so much important, is so beloved by Marjie that she has printed and framed it in the her daughter’s bedroom.

Worry about courage, but don’t worry about popular opinion. Just two of the many advices of Scott to his daughter.
I thanks Marjie Kirkland for the photo.

The relationship between Scott and his daughter Scottie is essential in the psychological understanding and development of both. The growth and emotional stability of Scottie was derived from the mistakes and lessons of her father, who really committed himself in growing positively his daughter.

Marjie, during our conversation, has brought back the words of Dr. Frank Gogan, one of the Scottie’s doctors for brief periods of times throughout the years, that he told her personally. “I remember her to be spunky, flinty, resourceful, kind, funny, intelligent, generous and brave.”

It is opinion of Marjie that “F Scott’s intention was to make his daughter emotional stable, in which he succeed that very much so!”

Frances Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith – the only child of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

She also remembered that talking with Gogan she had the impression that the personality of Scottie was very similar to that of Judge Sayre (Zelda’s father). “She became a solid woman by witnessing and studying her own parents mistakes.” In this case, we have the help of the words of F. Scott to his daughter, in his last letter to her few weeks before he died: “You have two beautiful bad examples for parents. Just do everything we didn’t do and you will be perfectly safe.”

Marjie remembers me that “my father, Honorable Judge James H Anderson here in my Montgomery, has played a huge impact on my own life too. Also he happens to be a leader in the Democratic Party. So, as you see the Key genes have a powerful impact on carrying a strong influence in ones personality.”

Both, Sayre and Key, have “strong will and smarts. Oh, and both sides have a very healthy sense of humor.”

Then the conversation moved on Scott’s literature. “The Beautiful and the Damned is one of my favorites,” says Marjie. The second book of Fitzgerald “sits comfortably on a small table in our lounge.”

Marjie told me that the female protagonist of the novel, Gloria Gilbert, “reminds me of the relationship he had with Zelda at certain points.”

Much has been said about the autobiographical aspect of the female protagonists of Scott, drawn on the physical and psychological aspect of Zelda. According to Marjie, those descriptions “are way more drawn out in her writings compared to Scott.” The reason of this is to be found in the capacity of Fitzgerald to express a concept in a very small amount of words. “Scott’s ability to use one character or one simple metaphor describes so much more with so little words.”

Another aspect to be taken into consideration is the eloquence of the Fitzgerald’s writing. Marjie is good also on this point: “Scott’s writings are very influenced by his beginnings on writing lyrics to play. All of his books looks like an album to me.”

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in Montgomery, 1921.
Photo: Princeton University Library

When the conversation moves on the mental breakdowns of Zelda and the possible responsibility of Scott in them, Marjie says that “this is all opinion based” on an extremely sensitive question.

“I’m married to a psychologist, forensic examiner and he see the worst of worst! His father too. My father is a judge… I grew up in politics… My biological mother being an artist moved to New Zealand when I was 5. She suffered with depression and still does. Gosh, there’s so much.” For this reason, says Marjie to me, try to give an answer on Zelda “it’s really hard.”

First, trying to analyze the problem, she says: “I don’t believe they had the correct medicine for her.” The reason was probably due to her artistic skills (she was a good writer, dancer, painter…). “Most artists can remain completely noncreative when they’re on the right medicine.”

“Terribly real, I’ve seen it though.” However, “Zelda did amazing paintings in rehab.”

“Honestly”? says Marjie, “I think she was just bored. And reactive. She was a shaker and a flapper!”

Zelda and little “Scottie”, presumably on the French Riviera in mid twenties.
I thanks Marjie Kirkland for the photo.

Obviously, also the situation of her family could have contributed to her increasingly frequent nervous breakdowns. “She was sad in her marriage… She had a child and not keep or have children might had changed her esteem of her own self  in different areas.”

“And who knows what medicine she needed. It wasn’t gin.” That, of course we know, was the apparent solution to Scott’s problems.

The last questions I asked to Marjie was if she had one or more sentences of Scott or Zelda that she particularly loved. About Scott, she said, “it’s a toss! Changes weekly. I will pick one I used last week that spoke loudly.”

You & I have been happy; we haven’t been happy just once, we’ve been happy a thousand times.” A letter that Scott wrote to Zelda while she was in hospital, when their marriage was a sinking boat, but not their feelings to each other.

The king of the Jazz Age.

A significant phrase, which, tell us Marjie, has recently helped her to understand what happiness really is. “Happiness is the state of a moment, a still film of time. The more times you get and the more one feels the emotion of calm in reaction.” Some kind of endless addiction. Happiness bring happiness.

“So many people are too afraid to just laugh hard or not feel bitter. Happiness is happening once, then hopefully more! If I feel happy will it be taken for granted or will I be alone?”

Marjie reminds me that it is sad when someone feel bad emotions, loneliness or melancholy, because “happiness is just there for you like a mother to a child, a bird to a tree or the simple sound of a bell.” You need to search and find happiness because “it can just keep happening a thousand more times!”

Thinking about what Scott would want to say to Zelda in the above mentioned quote, says Marjie, it could be something like: We’ve been happy a thousand times Zelda. You don’t need anger or sadness for attention.

“That’s how he’s speaking to me in this quote to her.”

If you want to know better the literature of F. Scott Fitzgerald, through anecdotes and an analysis of his character, I have wrote a book (for now only in Italian) that you can find on Amazon at this link.

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