In 1913 The Salamander by Owen Johnson came out. This was the book to read, it spawned a wildly successful play and movie. And it was Zelda Sayre’s favorite book. The Salamander was the first instance of a flapper in a novel. The protagonist was Dore Baxter a woman who thought the only reason for marriage was for money. She called men props Dore balanced a dozen men on a string so that she could have fun.
They support themselves through taking advantage of/capitalizing on male affection. The idea is that they are so sought after (the life of the party, really beautiful, flirty) that men are falling all over themselves to take them to dinner and buy them flowers and a plethora of other gifts. Through selling these gifts (often back to the original sellers), the girls earn their keep - live in their own apartment and have what they consider independence. They have multiple (fake) birthdays a year (for more gifts/income) and need to keep track of which man thinks their birthday is which day. They keep all of these suitors on the edge so that none ever feel secure or as if they’ve “won” and the men are constantly vying. The women are not truly emotionally attached/in love with any of them, or that’s the idea. To be beholden to nothing and no one.
Although all of this sounds very base and shallow, the book actually does have some depth in approaching the subject of male hierarchy in society and the resulting compromise of a woman’s freedom. Although these girls think and appear to be the power players, the fact is, it’s the men with the money. So in the end they were somewhat beholden to all.
When this thought is made clear to the main character, she considers her limited choices. All of them involve being at the mercy of men, whether she is working for one, married to one, mistress to one, or carrying on with them supporting her as present. And she chooses the option where there is the most security. (from here)
She was the first flapper, even if the term wasn’t around then. Johnson hated that F Scott Fitzgerald got the credit for inventing the flapper.
You can see the evidence of Johnson’s writing in both Scott and Zelda’s writings. They both use female characters who are men eaters, who would break a man’s heart just to have some fun.
Zelda, herself, called herself a salamander and thought along the same lines as Dore. Zelda wanted to marry a handsome big city stranger with money who would give her everything she wanted. Instead she got Scott.
I want to read this book to get a better understanding of who Zelda was. Good for me that the book is now in the public domain so it is free to read.
As a reminder this is happening tomorrow! I have to work so I won’t be there but if any of you go tell me how it went.
Also tell the director that I sent you (because it would be cool although I don’t think he knows about this blog).
F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in 1921
Zelda is about 8 months pregnant here.
Edit: Meant to queue this but hit publish instead so you all get a bonus post today.
Zelda with Scottie at the swimming area at Prangins Clinic in Switzerland— 1930
Zelda is very muscular here. This was after she pushed herself to exhaustion while learning ballet.
Just found out about this graphic novel detailing the life of Zelda Fitzgerald (they started following me on twitter). You can find out more here. It looks really well made. If I hadn’t just spent all my money on an apartment and furniture I would buy one.