"The Romantic Egoist" was a provisional title for F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, ultimately published as "This Side of Paradise". For this book an "s" was appended, thereby adding Zelda to Scott and making a very apt title for this collection of photographs, letters, newspaper notices, book reviews, and ephemera from the lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the First Couple of the Jazz Age/Roaring Twenties. Most of the contents of THE ROMANTIC EGOISTS come from seven scrapbooks and five photograph albums of the Fitzgerald family. They are arranged chronologically, from the "Welcome, Little Stranger" page of Scott's baby book (1896) to a newspaper article announcing Zelda's death in a hospital fire (1948).
The Fitzgeralds' daughter, Scottie, had a major role in the compilation and preparation of this book, which originally was published in 1974. It was re-issued in this paperback edition in 2003.
For those who already are familiar with the lives of Scott and Zelda and their place in American cultural history, this is an interesting, perhaps even fascinating, book. But it does not make for a particularly good introduction to the Fitzgeralds. (For that, I recommend "Scott Fitzgerald", by Andrew Turnbull.) Like most family scrapbooks or photo albums (have they now gone the way of the rotary dial telephone?), it is a hodgepodge, with only a faint narrative story-line. Moreover, the layout is too chaotic and the quality of many of the reproductions ranges from middling to poor.
But, again, there is plenty to attract and reward the attention of the Fitzgerald enthusiast. For example, a week before he and Zelda were married Scott wrote a friend: "Next time you're in New York I want you to meet Zelda because she's very beautiful and very wise and very brave as you can imagine--but she's a perfect baby and a more irresponsible pair than we'll be will be hard to imagine." A self-fulfilling prophesy?
One of the co-editors, Matthew J. Bruccoli, a prominent Fitzgerald authority, contributes an epilogue of sorts for this 2003 edition, in which he discusses the astonishing "Fitzgerald revival", which he claims is "unequaled in American literature in terms of critical, scholarly, and popular response." As a measure of that revival, consider that after Fitzgerald died in 1940, the librarian at Princeton declined to purchase Fitzgerald's papers for $3,750, "remarking that Princeton had no obligation to squander funds to support the indigent widow of a Midwestern hack who was lucky enough to have attended Princeton, unfortunately for Princeton." Ten years later, Fitzgerald's daughter Scottie nonetheless donated the Fitzgerald archive to Princeton. It is now "the most actively used manuscript collection in the library."
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald personify something marvelously and tragically American. This book helps show why that is the case.