On April 3, 1920, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre on a bright spring day. The story of how he came to marry her wasn’t simple. It had the irresistible arc of a Cinderella story, the tale of a poor writer who wanted to marry a girl from a rich family and somehow willed it to happen. There are traces of their relationship reflected in almost every novel Fitzgerald ever wrote — and 94 years later, people are still writing books about their love.
Scott first met 18-year-old Zelda at a country dance club in Montgomery, Alabama during his time as an army lieutenant at Camp Sheridan. Zelda was surrounded by suitors, but took a liking to the lieutenant. As her biographer, Nancy Milford explained, Scott was different from all the other boys who had chased Zelda: He was “unathletic, imaginative and sensitive, he represented a world she did not know and could not hope to enter, much less possess, without him.” He was soldier waiting to be shipped off to war in Europe, and she was his “southern belle.”
When The Great War ended, Scott was discharged and moved to New York City to become a journalist, but ended up working at an advertising agency. He wrote to and visited Zelda in Montgomery whenever he had the chance. The two were tentatively engaged and eager to conquer New York together, but there was an issue: Scott didn’t want Zelda to join him until he could show her the lifestyle he felt she deserved. Zelda, still in Montgomery with her family still in denial that she wore Scott’s mother’s engagement ring, continued to see other men. Her mother genuinely liked Scott, but worried about the realities that would come with marrying a struggling writer. Zelda’s father, a justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, thought Scott would be unable to support his daughter and didn’t like that he was Irish, Catholic or a boozer.
One day, the engagement was called off. Some say Zelda broke it off because she was tired of waiting or that she felt too much pressure from Scott. As the story goes, she accidentally sent a sentimental note for another man, a young golfer, to Scott. He came down to Montgomery on the next train and begged Zelda to marry him immediately. She refused, and for the second time following his failed relationship with Ginevra King, the struggling writer learned “rich girls don’t marry poor boys.”