Revisiting Zelda Fitzgerald’s ‘Save Me The Waltz’
People are like almanacs, Bonnie—you can never find the information you’re looking for, but the casual reading is well worth the trouble.” – David Knight, Save Me the Waltz
Published in October of 1932, Save Me the Waltz is part memoir and part bildungsroman, a semi-autobiographical account of Zelda Fitzgerald’s marriage to novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her only published novel, Save Me the Waltz follows the life of Southern belle Alabama Beggs and her marriage to artist David Knight.
Alabama comes of age in the Deep South, in a house with an affectionate mother, Millie, and a distant father, Judge Austin Beggs, along with two older sisters Joan and Dixie. Amidst the tensions in her house, Alabama grows up a rebellious teenage daughter, albeit still the favorite. Despite disapproval, Alabama marries the charismatic David Knight, an aspiring artist based on F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the most emotionally powerful moments in the novel is when they first meet and Knight carves into the door “David, David, David, Knight, Knight, Knight, and Miss Alabama Nobody.” They move to New York, and between their extravagant social gatherings and David’s painting, Alabama gives birth to their only daughter, Bonnie.
When Bonnie is still a child, they move to the French Riviera, and tensions between the couple continue escalating as Alabama has an affair with charming French Lt. Jacques Chevre-Feuille. David becomes increasingly unhappy at his wife’s infidelity, but Alabama eventually breaks off the affair. Getting increasingly restless amongst David’s circle of friends in France, Alabama decides to learn ballet, but in her twenties is warned that ballet takes time. As she practices and practices, she grows increasingly distant from her daughter and family back in the United States and then travels to Italy to continue her pursuit of becoming a ballet dancer. After an injury that leaves her unable to perform anymore, Alabama is forced to reconsider her own identity, what success means to her and her relationships with her husband and daughter.
A portrayal of the marriage of Alabama Beggs and David Knight, Save Me the Waltz highlights the trials and tribulations both went through in their attempts to discover their own identities, separately and in the context of one another. Using place and setting, Fitzgerald manages to portray the nuanced, multifaceted lives of the Knights. Fitzgerald’s characters are compelling, interesting and multi-dimensional, and she makes them extremely likable, despite all their flaws.
Fitzgerald’s semi-autobiographical novel is a wonderfully detailed account of a couple, who despite their misgivings and fights, loved each other greatly. This account, albeit partly fictional, of the Fitzgeralds’ marriage, portrays the people behind the larger-than-life legends and the emotional truth of their lives.
Through increasingly tense and tragic circumstances, Alabama pushes through. Her strength of character in the face of tragedy, including the death of her ballet career and her father in quick succession, makes for a character you want to root for, a character you know will persevere, be somebody and go far beyond “Miss Alabama Nobody.”