Three Letters from Switzerland

Between June 1930 and August 1931, after a series of mental health episodes had whittled away at her career, her marriage, and her overall well-being, Zelda Fitzgerald was a patient at Les Rives de Prangins, a clinic in Nyon, Switzerland, where she wasn’t allowed visitors until her treatment had been established. The experience, as one could imagine, was tremendously isolating: once at the center of a lively and glamorous scene, she now found herself utterly alone with her thoughts. Her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, sent short notes and flowers every other day. She wrote long letters in reply, tracing the contours of her mind, expressing both love for and frustration with Scott, and detailing, in luscious, iridescent prose, the nonevents of her days. Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda collects more than three hundred of the couple’s letters to each other. Three of Zelda’s letters from Les Rives de Prangins—carefully transcribed with an eye for accuracy, misspellings and all—appear below.

Zelda Fitzgerald. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

[Fall 1930]

Dearest, my Darling—

Living is cold and technical without you, a death mask of itself.

At seven o:clock I had a bath but you were not in the next room to make it a baptisme of all I was thinking.

At eight o:clock I went to gymnastics but you were not there to turn moving into a harvesting of breezes.

At nine o:clock I went to the tissage and an old man in a white stock [smock?] chanted incantations but you were not there to make his imploring voice seem religious.

At noon I played bridge and watched Dr. Forels profile dissecting the sky, contre jour—

All afternoon I’ve been writing soggy words in the rain and feeling dank inside, and thinking of you—When a person crosses your high forehead and slides down into the pleasant valleys about your dear mouth its like Hannibal crossing the Alps—I love you, dear. You do not walk like a person plowing a storm but like a person very surprised at their means of locomotion, hardly touching the earth, as if each step were experimental—

And you are a darling and it must be awful to have a person always trying to creep inside you the way I do—

Good-night, my Sweet Love

Zelda

*

[Fall 1930]

Goofy, my darling, hasn’t it been a lovely day? I woke up this morning and the sun was lying like a birth-day parcel on my table so I opened it up and so many happy things went fluttering into the air: love to Doo-do and the remembered feel of our skins cool against each other in other mornings like a school-mistress. And you ’phoned and said I had written something that pleased you and so I don’t believe I’ve ever been so heavy with happiness. The moon slips into the mountains like a lost penny and the fields are black and punguent and I want you near so that I could touch you in the autumn stillness even a little bit like the last echo of summer. The horizon lies over the road to Lausanne and the succulent fields like a guillotine and the moon bleeds over the water and you are not so far away that I can’t smell your hair in the drying breeze. Darling—I love these velvet nights. I’ve never been able to decide whether the night was a bitter enemie or a “grand patron”—or whether I love you most in the eternal classic half-lights where it blends with day or in the full religious fan-fare of mid-night or perhaps in the lux of noon. Anyway, I love you most and you ’phoned me just because you ’phoned me tonight—I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me. My dear—

I’m so glad you finished your story—Please let me read it Friday. And I will be very sad if we have to have two rooms. Please.

Dear. Are you sort of feeling aimless, surprised, and looking rather reproachful that no melo-drama comes to pass when your work is over—as if you [had] ridden very hard with a message to save your army and found the enemy had decided not to attack—the way you sometimes feel—or are you just a darling little boy with a holiday on his hands in the middle of the week—the way you sometimes are—or are you organizing and dynamic and mending things—the way you sometimes are—

I love you—the way you always are.

Dear—

Good-night—

Dear-dear dear dear dear dear dear

Dear dear dear dear dear dear dear

Dear dear dear dear dear dear

Dear dear dear dear dear dear

Dear dear dear dear dear dear

Dear dear dear dear dear dear

dear dear dear dear dear dear

dear dear dear dear dear dear

dear dear dear dear dear dear

dear dear dear dear dear dear

*

[Spring 1931]

Dear heart, my darling love,

This is no good—but nothing matters because after to-morrow I’m going to see you again—

What a dreary rain—I rowed on the lake. It was like being on a slate roof. When the boat is not pointed into the waves it goes up with them and you keep waiting for the bump of coming down but it doesn’t come so you just slide from one to another and have no sense of direction like being on one of those oily tin platforms at Luna
Parc—

I can’t write. I tried all afternoon—and I just twisted the pencil round and round churning between my teeth, and I love you. You are a darling. When you can’t write you sit on the bed and look so woebegone like a person who’s got to a store and can’t remember what they wanted to buy—

Good-night, dear. If you were in my bed it might be the back of your head I was touching where the hair is short and mossy or it might be up in the front where it make[s] little caves above your forehead, but wherever it was it would be the sweetest place, the sweetest place

Darling

 

Zelda Fitzgerald was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1900. She and Scott Fitzgerald married in 1920, and the following year she gave birth to their daughter, Frances “Scottie” Fitzgerald. The couple became a fixture of the Jazz Age and quickly became known for their wild behavior. Throughout their marriage, Zelda and her diaries were inspiration for Scott’s novels and their characters. Zelda is the author of several short stories and novels, including Save the Waltz. She died at age forty-seven.

Excerpted from Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Copyright © 2002 by Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Barks. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

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