F. Scott Fitzgerald Society Conference
Nov 6th - 10th, 2013
|2. "Who Was Sara Mayfield?" with Jennifer Horne (Thursday, 8 a.m. at Troy University, Montgomery Campus)|
If you've read your share of Fitzgerald biographies you probably know this book as the most critically disdained treatment of Scott and Zelda's lives and careers:
Sometimes unfairly known as the "anti-Milford," Exiles from Paradise was published in 1971 to correct so-called "misperceptions" popularized by Nancy Milford's bestselling Zelda from the previous year. The book's claim to fame was that its author was a childhood friend of Z's who knew the inside story-which turned out to be more a one-sided case of defending a dead friend and a hometown from gossip than of telling any "true" stories. As Kirkus Reviews put it at the time, "In [Miss Mayfield's] retelling of the entire story from drink to quarrel to drink to debt to drink, Scott not only suffers but Zelda gains very little; Miss Mayfield confirms here, chides and corrects there (without notes), claims at one point that Scott's 'off color' jokes were responsible for Zelda's crack-up, tampers with some of the relative knowns (the Josanne-here Jozan-affair becomes an 'infatuation') and one is left feeling that the book is a disservice to Zelda as well as Scott."
Because of the biography's negative reception, critics have spent little time exploring Mayfield herself. (Sally Cline's 2002 bio is the rare exception). A few years ago, Jennifer Horne set out to develop a fuller picture of who the woman was and discovered a compelling character with a life story every bit as tangled and tragic as Zelda's. Because Mayfield is a Montgomerian-and because she was also a confidante of H. L. Mencken's wife Sara Haardt and Tallulah Bankhead as well-we thought Jennifer's research in progress offered an excellent opportunity to humanize a misunderstood figure. Nobody will walk away thinking Exiles from Paradise is a rehabilitated book. You will, however, have a deeper appreciation of why it was written the way it was.