In response to:
Caesar's Things from the September 24, 1970 issue
To the Editors:
The book review of Elizabeth Hardwick of Zelda Fitzgerald [NYR, Sept. 24] is very beautifully written and seems to me extremely pertinent. However, one sentence shocked me slightly, and I think it needs some additional comments. Elizabeth Hardwick writes, “Zelda was diagnosed abroad by a Dr. Bleuler as a schizophrenic. She herself thought Dr. Bleuler ‘a great imbecile’….”
I was prepared to come across in the next sentence, “…A Dr. Freud however thought something different….”
Nancy Milford does not seem to realize that Eugene Bleuler was the most famous psychiatrist probably in the history of psychiatry and his importance for the understanding of mental illness equals Freud’s. He is, therefore, as well-known all over the educated world. It was Bleuler who coined the term Schizophrenic in one of the most famous publications in psychiatric literature: Die Schizophrenien, which appeared around 1911. If he, therefore, diagnosed Zelda as schizophrenic, the diagnosis has to be accepted as the most authoritative diagnosis if there has ever been any. Bleuler was at the time of consultation on the peak of his fame and world-wide reputation, but anyone who had the privilege of knowing him would agree that he was the kindest, most modest physician who could be imagined. His beautiful head, which was cast from the Swiss mountains, coming from old peasant stock, was the incorporation of intelligence, kindness, and vision. Nobody could resist his impressive face and his ways in which he handled patients, and it is quite surprising that a person like Zelda should not have responded to his irresistible magnetism. The reviewer and the author are also mistaken that the diagnosis of schizophrenia meant hopeless mental disaster. It was Bleuler who established that there are many forms of schizophrenia, and that many of them have a good prognosis and respond to treatment.
As to the book itself, it is sad to see that the unusual material which consists of half of the book of medical records and reports has not been used in cooperation with a greater expert who could have helped interpret the mystery. Anyone who knows certain schizophrenic women knows the tremendous, powerful fascination which some of these persons exert, and it is well understandable that Scott could never detach himself from her, but fell prey time and again to her freedom and lack of inhibitions on one hand and the almost blind perseverance with which some gifted schizophrenics pursue their goals regardless of all obstacles. In the world of art and literature, there are many famous schizophrenics, like Strindberg, who dominated European literature in the Twenties, and among the painters, the great Edvard Munch was also a schizophrenic.
Zelda’s dependency and independence at the same time could not be mastered by any human being, and Scott evolves from the book remarkably well in spite of the little credit the author and many other people give him.
Clemens E. Benda, M.D.
October 22, 1970