The Beauty of Old Death

“I wouldn’t mind a bit if in a few years Zelda and I could snuggle up together under a stone in some graveyard. That is really a happy thought, and not melancholy at all.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today I visited the grave of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in Rockville, Maryland.  It’s a trip I’ve been longing to make for some time, as the Fitzgeralds are characters in my new novel, REMEMBERING ZELDA, and I’ve been caught up in their world through my reading and writing for the past year.

I sent my manuscript to my editor early this week, but I’ve felt immobilized and somewhat depressed ever since. I’ve had the Fitzgeralds, particularly Zelda, in my head for so long that I’m having a hard time letting them go. I hoped a visit to the grave would give me the closure I needed to move forward and begin researching my next novel.

I received more than I could have ever hoped.

To start, this week marks the anniversary of Zelda’s death and burial in March of 1948, so there is special significance in visiting the grave at this time. Also, the weather in Maryland has been unseasonably warm and springlike. Daffodils, Bradford Pears, and cherry blossoms  have burst into life, and the birds are making happy, noisy work of nesting. Overall, it’s a very hospitable environment.

But all of this isn’t what gave me the most remarkable feeling today.

It was this:

This is a photograph of the radio in my car. I often listen to classical music because it soothes me when I drive, and it puts me in a literary mood. As I said before, I had the lingering effects of post-writing depression, and I was having an internal debate with myself about my novel. One of the main themes in the book is to do with the way Scott mercilessly used Zelda in his fiction–her words, letters, actions–he used it all. I had a nagging feeling of guilt that maybe I did the same thing by placing her in my novel.

Just as the thought entered my mind that my work was an attempt at redeeming her, and therefore, I was not using her as her husband had, the song The Dance of the Hours came on the radio.

The Dance of the Hours was the song playing the night Scott walked into the steamy, Alabama country club and saw young Zelda Sayre for the first time. She was dancing to the song, and the crowd had cleared the floor for her. I recollect this moment in a scene in my novel, and the song and the opera in which it is nestled, La Gioconda, recur as themes in my book. I have never heard that song on the radio before, ever. It felt as if Zelda was giving me her blessing.

I don’t believe in coincidence. To me, the significance of that moment and the release and peace following it will live in my heart for a very long time. I realize that might sound strange to some of you, but I hope that others will understand the profound beauty of the providence, nous, or even simple serendipity I experienced.

When I got to the graveyard, that peace sunk deep inside of me. I stayed for awhile, leaving flowers and a penny. I walked around the old gravestones and snapped pictures of the large religious statues. I had a hard time leaving, but when I finally did, I left with the closure I was seeking.

I’m excited now for the future, and ready to transition back into research mode. I think I know who I will write about next, and I can’t wait to share my subject with you. For now, I’ll leave you with this.

“[I]n a hundred years, I think I shall like having young people speculate whether my eyes were brown or blue–of course they are neither..Old death is beautiful–so very beautiful–we will die together–I know.” Zelda Fitzgerald, to Scott.

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16 thoughts on “The Beauty of Old Death

  1. This is really quite moving, Erika. It’s both strange and magical how characters we’ve never met can have such a strong hold on us, as both writers and readers. I’m glad you found the closure you were looking for and are excited to begin anew on the next novel. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. That’s an amazing story…I read it on the train commute to work and got goosebumps reading about Zelda’s Dance of the Hour 🙂 Serendipity is a beautiful thing!!

  3. One of the main themes in the book is to do with the way Scott mercilessly used Zelda in his fiction–her words, letters, actions–he used it all.
    This reminds me of that thing Zelda said of Scott – “Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”
    I had a nagging feeling of guilt that maybe I did the same thing by placing her in my novel.
    Nah, Zelda approves, she just does, and she would thank you for doing this for her. – For Remembering Zelda.

    • erikarobuck says:

      Ah, I love that Zelda quote. He took her diaries from their courtship years and used those, but the worst betrayal was copying her letters from psychiatric clinics word for word in Tender is the Night.

      Thank you for your kind words. I hope I’m able to accomplish that.

  4. erikamarks says:

    Erika, I am chagrined to admit that I know so little about the relationship between F. Scott and Zelda–and yet, I am almost glad for it. Now when I read your novel, my mind will be that much more wide open to experience it through your eyes.

    I know how hard it can be to let go–so glad you found such poignant closure, my dear. And thank you for sharing with us!

  5. Oh, wow, Erika… I got goosebumps reading this. Wonderful post, and how spectacular that you left with the peace of mind that will allow you to continue to write. Those serendipitous moments should be savored.

  6. Kelly says:

    oh dear me, my cryey heart~

  7. Cannery Row Reads says:

    Just curious.. Did you happen to read “Zelda” by Nancy Milford when researching your new book?

  8. Jenna says:

    Yes! I am from the same small hometown in California as Steinbeck and have had a life long love of his work! Your research into the life of an author like Fitzgerald makes me want to look more into Steinbeck’s personal life. I just started keeping track of the books I read through canneryrowreads.blogspot.com I’m adding your book to my list of to-reads!

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