Zelda Fitzgerald and her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald appeared on the cover of Hearst’s International magazine in 1922, held up as icons of the Jazz Age, of youth, talent, and burgeoning literary celebrity. This image remains one of the most recognizable of the couple. However, alongside this iconicity, Zelda Fitzgerald’s various diagnoses of mental illness have prompted critics both sympathetic and unsympathetic to remember her primarily in terms of the tragedy of her life—whether as the mad wife who brought about the downfall of her brilliant husband, or as the victim of patriarchal control and pathologization.
Writing of the Great Depression, historian John Egerton observes that, “The whole country was in pain, and the South, by almost any measure you could apply, was suffering much more than the rest of the United States." Economic distress heightened racial tensions, as southern whites tightened their hold on the precious little wealth and privilege available to signal their supremacy. Despite the grip of poverty and rigid racial hierarchies, the 1930s was a period of cultural ferment, particularly in the literary and political realms, and especially in the South. The decade witnessed a brief (but ill-fated) marriage between literary experimentation and revolutionary politics, as writers such as John Dos Passos, Langston Hughes, and Muriel Rukeyser attempted to wed modernist formal experimentation with leftist social protest.