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F. Scott Fitzgerald Long Fiction Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6284

“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked in the late 1930’s, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” At his best—in The Great Gatsby, in parts of Tender Is the Night, in the unfinished The Last Tycoon, and in parts of his first two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned—Fitzgerald demonstrates the kind of intelligence he describes, an intelligence characterized by the aesthetic principle of “double vision.” An understanding of this phrase (coined and first applied to Fitzgerald’s art by Malcolm Cowley) is central to any discussion of Fitzgerald’s novels.

“Double vision” denotes two ways of seeing. It implies the tension involved when Fitzgerald sets things in opposition such that the reader can, on one hand, sensually experience the event about which Fitzgerald is writing, becoming emotionally immersed in it, and yet at the same time retain the objectivity to stand back and intellectually criticize it. The foundation of double vision is polarity, the setting of extremes against each other; the result in a novel is dramatic tension. By following the changes in Fitzgerald’snarrative technique from This Side of Paradise to The Beautiful and Damned to The Great Gatsby and finally into Tender Is the Night, one can trace the growth of his double vision, which is, in effect, to study his development as a literary artist.

The major themes of Fitzgerald’s novels derive from the resolution of tension when one idea (usually embodied in a character) triumphs over another. Amory Blaine, the protagonist of Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, is a questing hero armed with youth, intelligence, and good looks. Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned has a multimillionaire grandfather, a beautiful wife, and youth. Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby possesses power, newly made money, and good looks. Finally, Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night has a medical degree, an overabundance of charm, and a wealthy wife. The common denominators here are the subjects with which Fitzgerald deals in all of his novels: youth, physical beauty, wealth, and potential or “romantic readiness”—all of which are ideals to Fitzgerald. Set against these subjects are their polar opposites: age, ugliness, poverty, squandered potential. Such conflict and resulting tension is, of course, the stuff of which all fiction is made.

With Fitzgerald’s characters, however, partly because of the themes with which he deals and partly because of his skillful handling of point of view, the choices are rarely as obvious or as clear-cut to the main characters at the time as they may be to a detached observer, or as they may seem in retrospect to have been. Daisy, for example, so enchants Gatsby and the reader who identifies with him that only in retrospect (if at all) or through the detached observer, Nick, does it become clear that she and the other careless, moneyed people in the novel are villains of the highest order. It is Fitzgerald’s main gift that he can draw the reader into a web of emotional attachment to a character, as he does to Daisy through Gatsby, while simultaneously allowing him to inspect the complexity of the web, as he does through Nick. That is what Fitzgerald’s double vision at its best is finally about.

For the origins of Fitzgerald’s double vision, it is helpful to look at several ingredients of his early life, particularly at those facets of it that presented him with the polarities and ambiguities that would later furnish the subjects and themes of his art. “In a house below the average on a block above the average” is the way that Fitzgerald described his boyhood home. A block above the average, indeed. At the end of the “block” on Summit Avenue in St. Paul lived James J. Hill, the multimillionaire empire builder referred to by Gatsby’s father in the last chapter of The Great Gatsby. The Fitzgerald family, however, nearly in sight of such wealth, lived moderately on the interest from his mother’s inheritance, taking pains not to disturb the capital; Fitzgerald’s father, in spite of his idealistic gentility and an ancestral line that linked him to the Maryland Scott and Key families, was unable to hold a good job. One of Fitzgerald’s most devastating memories was of his father’s loss of a job with Procter and Gamble, which left the older Fitzgerald, then beyond middle age, broken and defeated. When Fitzgerald was sent East to boarding school and then to Princeton, it was with his mother’s money, less than a generation earned, and with considerably less of it than stood behind most of his classmates.

Early, then, Fitzgerald, a child with sensitivity, intelligence, and good looks—qualities possessed by most of his heroes and heroines—was impressed with the importance of money, at least with the lifestyle of the moneyed class. Yet Fitzgerald’s participation in that lifestyle, like that of many of his fictional creations, was limited by something beyond his control: the fixed income of his family. In addition, he watched his father, an idealist unable to compete in a materialistic world, defeated.

With this kind of early life, Fitzgerald was prepared—or, more accurately, left totally unprepared—for the series of events in his life that formed the basis of much of his later fiction. Two of these stand out: his romantic attachment to Ginevra King, a wealthy Chicago debutante who, in his words, “ended up by throwing me over with the most supreme boredom and indifference”; and his relationship with Zelda Sayre, who broke their engagement (because Fitzgerald was neither rich enough nor famous enough for her) before finally marrying him after his first novel was accepted for publication. Fitzgerald emphasizes the importance of the Ginevra King episode in particular and of biographical material in general in his essay “One Hundred False Starts.” He wrote, We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives.Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories—each time in a new disguise—maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.

The subjects and themes from those experiences formed what Fitzgerald called “my material.”

Through Ginevra, Fitzgerald saw the opportunity to be accepted into the wealth that the King family represented. Her father, however, did not conceal his “poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls” attitude, recorded in Fitzgerald’s notebooks, and when Fitzgerald was “thrown over” in favor of an acceptable suitor with money and social position, he saw the rejection not only as a personal one but also as evidence that the emergence of an upper caste in American society had rendered the American Dream an empty promise. Curiously though, Fitzgerald’s infatuation with wealth and the wealthy, symbolized by the Kings, stayed with him for the rest of his life. As he wrote to his daughter in the late 1930’s on the eve of seeing Ginevra for the first time since she had rejected him nearly twenty years earlier, “She was the first girl I ever loved and I have faithfully avoided seeing her up to this moment to keep that illusion perfect.” It was this experience, then, coupled with the near loss of Zelda and their subsequent, complex relationship, that would provide his “material.” Fitzgerald also describes an attitude that grows out of these experiences of enchantment and loss, and that he identifies variously as his “solid gold bar” or his “stamp”: He wrote, “Taking things hard—from Ginevra to Joe Mank. That’s the stamp that goes into my books so that people can read it blind like Braille.”

Fitzgerald’s achievements rest on three obsessions that characterized him as an artist and as a man. The first of these obsessions was “his material.” It included the subjects of youth, wealth, and beauty and was an outgrowth of his social background. The second was his“solid gold bar” or his “stamp,” which he defined as “taking things hard,” an attitude that grew out of his background and was partly rooted in his feelings of social inferiority. The third was his “double vision,” an artistic perspective that remained his goal until the end. This double vision matured as he gained objectivity toward his material. With these cornerstones, Fitzgerald constructed a set of novels that document the development of one of the most complex and fascinating literary personalities of modern times, that chronicle a time of unparalleled frivolity and subsequent national despondency in the United States, and that speak with authenticity about an international wasteland almost beyond reclaiming. “The evidence is in,” wrote Stephen Vincent Benét regarding the body of Fitzgerald’s work in a review of the incomplete The Last Tycoon. “This is not a legend, this is a reputation—and seen in perspective, it may well be one of the most secure reputations of our time.”

This Side of Paradise

Writing in 1938 about the subject matter of his first novel, Fitzgerald alludes to its origins in his experience: “In ’This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.” The love affair that he refers to is his relationship with Ginevra, and it is but one of many episodes from Fitzgerald’s life—his courtship with Zelda is another—that are loosely tied together in This Side of Paradise to form a bildungsroman. Unlike the novel of “selected incident,” the bildungsroman is a novel of “saturation”—that is, a novel in which the hero takes on experiences until he reaches a saturation point; by virtue of his coming to this point, he reaches a higher level of self-awareness. In This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine, the hero and thinly veiled Fitzgerald persona, reaches this point when, at the end of the novel, he rejects all of the values that have been instilled in him, embraces socialism, and yells to the world, “I know myselfbut that is all.”

The route that Amory follows to arrive at this pinnacle of self-knowledge is more a meandering process of trial and error than it is a systematic journey with a clearly defined purpose. His mother, whom Amory quaintly calls by her first name, Beatrice, and whom he relates to as a peer, instills in Amory an egotism (almost unbearable to his own peers as well as to the reader) and a respect for wealth and social position. These qualities make Amory an object of ridicule when he goes away to an eastern boarding school. His years at St. Regis are spent in isolation, and there he finally makes the emotional break with his mother that frees the “fundamental Amory” to become, in Fitzgerald’s words, a “personage.”

The landmarks of this becoming process are, for the most part, encounters with individuals who teach Amory about himself: “The Romantic Egotist,” as he is referred to in book 1 of the novel, is too solipsistic to go beyond himself even at the end of the novel. After learning from these individuals, Amory either leaves or is left by them. From Clara, a cousin whose beauty and intelligence he admires, he learns that he follows his imagination too freely; he learns from his affair with Rosalind, who almost marries him but refuses because Amory lacks the money to support her, that money determines the direction of love. Through Monsignor Darcy, he learns that the Church of Rome is too confining for him, and from half a dozen of his classmates at Princeton, he discovers the restlessness and rebelliousness that lead him to reject all that he had been brought up to believe, reaching out toward socialism as one of the few gods he has not tried.

The reader will perhaps wonder how Amory, whose path has zigzagged through many experiences, none of which has brought him closely in contact with socialism, has arrived at a point of almost evangelical, anticapitalist zeal. It is worth noting, however, that, in addition to its interest to literary historians as an example of the bildungsroman, This Side of Paradise also has value to social historians as an enlightening account of Jazz Age manners and morals. One contemporary observer labeled the novel “a gesture of indefinite revolt,” a comment intended as a criticism of the novel’s lack of focus. The social historian, however, would see the phrase as a key to the novel’s value, which view would cast Amory in the role of spokesperson for the vague rebelliousness of the lost generation, a generation, in Amory’s words, “grown up to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.” As Malcolm Cowley has noted, More than any other writer of these times, Fitzgerald had the sense of living in history. He tried hard to catch the color of every passing year, its distinctive slang, its dance steps, its songsits favorite quarterbacks, and the sort of clothes and emotions its people wore.

John O’Hara, for one, recalls the impact of This Side of Paradise on his generation: A little matter of twenty-five years ago I, along with half a million other men and women between fifteen and thirty, fell in love with a book.I took the book to bed with me, and I still do, which is more than I can say of any girl I knew in 1920.

By Fitzgerald’s own account, the novel made him something of an “oracle” to his college readers, and largely on the strength of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald became the unofficial poet laureate of the Jazz Age.

For those interested in Fitzgerald’s development as a novelist, however, the value of This Side of Paradise goes beyond its worth as a novel of growth or its importance as a social document. In it are contained early versions in rough form of most of the novels that Fitzgerald later wrote. By the time of its completion, Fitzgerald’s major subjects were cast and marked with his stamp: “taking things hard.” Amory “takes hard” the breakup with the young, wealthy, and beautiful Isabel, modeled on Ginevra. Amory “takes hard” his rejection by Rosalind by going on an extended drunk, similar to Fitzgerald’s response when Zelda refused to marry him until he demonstrated that he could support her. Event after event in the novel shows Fitzgerald, through Amory, “taking hard” the absence of wealth, the loss of youth, and the ephemerality of beauty. Even in the characterization of Amory, who is born moneyed and aristocratic, Fitzgerald seems to be creating his ideal conception of himself, much the way Gatsby later springs from his own platonic conception of himself.

With his subject matter, his themes, and his distinctive stamp already formed, Fitzgerald needed only to find a point of view by which he could distance himself, more than he had through Amory, from his material. He had yet, as T. S. Eliot would have phrased it, to find an “objective correlative,” which is to say that he had not yet acquired the double vision so evident in The Great Gatsby.

The Beautiful and Damned

Although The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald’s second novel, is usually considered his weakest, largely because of its improbable and melodramatic ending, there is evidence in it of Fitzgerald’s growth as a writer. Unlike This Side of Paradise, which is a subjective rendering through a thinly disguised persona and which includes nearly everything from Fitzgerald’s life and work through 1920 (one critic called it “the collected works of F. Scott Fitzgerald”), The Beautiful and Damned moved toward the novel of selected incident. Written in the third person, it shows Fitzgerald dealing in a more objective fashion with biographical material that was close to him, in this instance the early married life of the Fitzgeralds. Whereas This Side of Paradise was largely a retrospective, nostalgic recounting of Fitzgerald’s recently lost youth, The Beautiful and Damned projects imaginatively into the future of a life based on the belief that nothing is worth doing.

In spite of the differences between the two novels, however, particularly in narrative perspective, it is clear that the characters and subjects in The Beautiful and Damned are logical extensions, more objectively rendered, of those introduced in This Side of Paradise, making the former a sequel, in a sense, to the latter. With slight modifications, Anthony Patch, the hero of The Beautiful and Damned, is Amory Blaine grown older and more cynical. Add to Amory a heritage that links him to Anthony Comstock, a mother and father who died in his youth, a multimillionaire grandfather, and half a dozen years, and the result is a reasonable facsimile of Anthony. To Amory’s Rosalind (a composite of Ginevra and Zelda), add a few years, a “coast-to-coast reputation for irresponsibility and beauty,” and a bit more cleverness, and the result is strikingly similar to Gloria Gilbert, the heroine of The Beautiful and Damned, who will, unlike Rosalind, marry the hero.

When Fitzgerald created Rosalind, of course, Zelda had for the time being rejected him. Her reappearance in The Beautiful and Damned as the hero’s wife reflects Fitzgerald’s change in fortune, since he and Zelda had been married for two years when The Beautiful and Damned was published. Their life together provided the basis for many of the experiences in the novel, and there is good reason to believe that the mutual self-destructiveness evident on nearly every page of the novel reflects Fitzgerald’s fears of what he and Zelda might do to each other and to themselves. In This Side of Paradise, Amory knows himself, “but that is all.” Anthony carries this knowledge two years into the future and cynically applies it to life: He will prove that life is meaningless and that “there’s nothing I can do that’s worth doing.” His task is to demonstrate that it is possible for an American to be gracefully idle. Gloria’s goal is to avoid responsibility forever, which was essentially Rosalind’s goal in This Side of Paradise. The kind of life that Gloria and Anthony desire is dependent on the possession of wealth, of which Anthony has promise through the estate of his grandfather, a virtual guarantee until the social-reformer grandfather happens into one of the Patches’ parties and disinherits Anthony.

The novel could logically end there, but it does not. Instead, its long conclusion leads the reader through a maze of melodramatic circumstances and improbabilities. Gloria and Anthony contest the will and, with dwindling funds, sink into despair and self-destructiveness. Gloria auditions for a part in a motion picture and is told that she is too old; Anthony remains drunk, tries unsuccessfully to borrow money from friends, and finally gets into a senseless fight with the film producer who has given Gloria the news that she is too old for the part she wants. On the day of the trial that will determine whether the will is to be broken, Anthony loses his mind and is capable only of babbling incoherently when Gloria brings him the news that they are rich.

The major flaw in the novel is this long, melodramatic ending and the thematic conclusions it presents. On one hand, Fitzgerald posits the theory that life is meaningless, yet Anthony’s life is given meaning by his quest for money, not to mention that the philosophy itself can be practiced only when there is enough money to support it. Certainly Gloria, who is sane and happy at the novel’s end, does not seem much impressed by life’s meaninglessness, and the reader is left with the feeling that Anthony, when the advantages that his inheritance can offer him are evident, will recover from his “on-cue” flight into insanity. The effect of the ending is to leave the reader with the impression that Fitzgerald had not thought the theme carefully through; or, as Edmund Wilson hints with the following words, that Fitzgerald himself had not taken the ideas in either of his first two novels seriously: In college he had supposed that the thing to do was to write biographical novels with a burst of energy toward the close; since his advent into the literary world, he has discovered that another genre has recently come into favor: the kind which makes much of tragedy and what Mencken has called “the meaninglessness of life.”

The greater truth suggested by Wilson here is that through 1922 Fitzgerald was writing, in part, what he thought he should write. With the completion of The Beautiful and Damned, his apprenticeship was over, and with an artistic leap he moved into his own as an original prose stylist, writing in The Great Gatsby what Eliot called “the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James.”

The Great Gatsby

For Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise, there are four golden moments, as many perhaps as there are new and exciting women to meet; for Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned, the moment is his meeting with Gloria Gilbert. For Jay Gatsby, the golden moment is the time when “his unutterable vision” meets Daisy’s “perishable breath.” For Fitzgerald, the artistic golden moment was the creation of The Great Gatsby. Critics have marveled that the author of This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned could in less than two years after the publication of the latter produce a novel of the stature of The Great Gatsby. Clearly, the writer of This Side of Paradise did not blossom overnight into the author of The Great Gatsby. The process by which Fitzgerald came to create The Great Gatsby is a logical one.

From the beginning of his career as a novelist, Fitzgerald stayed with the subjects and themes that he knew well and that were close to him: wealth, youth, and beauty. What did change between the creation of This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby was Fitzgerald’s perspective on his material and his ability to objectify his attitudes toward it. In 1925, Fitzgerald was more than five years removed from his affair with Ginevra King, which gave him the distance to be Nick Carraway, the novel’s “objective” narrator. Yet he was also near enough in memory that he could recall, even relive, the seductiveness of her world; that is, he was still able to be the romantic hero, Jay Gatsby. In effect, he had reached the pivotal point in his life that allowed him to see clearly through the eyes of both Gatsby and Nick; for the time of the creation of The Great Gatsby, he possessed double vision.

The success of the novel depends on Fitzgerald’s ability to transfer to the reader the same kind of vision that he himself had: the ability to believe in the possibilities of several opposite ideas at various levels of abstraction. On the most concrete level, the reader must believe that Gatsby will and will not win Daisy, the novel’s heroine and symbol of the American ideal. On a more general level, the reader must believe that anyone in America, through hard work and perseverance, can and cannot gain access to the best that America has to offer. Until Daisy’s final rejection of Gatsby in the penultimate chapter of the novel, the reader can, indeed, believe in both alternatives because both have been seen, from the perspective of Gatsby (who believes) and from the point of view of Nick (who wants to believe but intellectually cannot).

The central scene in The Great Gatsby nicely illustrates how Fitzgerald is able to present his material in such a way as to create dramatic tension through the use of double vision. This scene, which occupies the first part of chapter 5, is built around the reunion of Gatsby and Daisy after a five-year separation. The years, for Gatsby, have been devoted to the obsessive pursuit of wealth, which he wants only because he believes it will win Daisy for him. Daisy, who has married Tom Buchanan, seems to have given little thought to Gatsby since her marriage. The moment of their reunion, then, means everything to Gatsby and very little to Daisy, except as a diversion from the luxurious idling of her daily existence. In this meeting scene, as Gatsby stands nervously talking to Daisy and Nick, Fitzgerald calls the reader’s attention to a defunct clock on Nick’s mantlepiece. When Gatsby leans against the mantle, the clock teeters on the edge, deciding finally not to fall. The three stare at the floor as if the clock has, in fact, shattered to pieces in front of them. Gatsby apologizes and Nick replies, “It’s an old clock.”

On the level of plot, this scene is the dramatic high point of the novel; the first four chapters have been devoted to preparing the reader for it. The image of Daisy’s desirability as she is seen through Nick’s eyes in chapter 1 has been followed with an image at the chapter’s end of Gatsby standing, arms outstretched, toward the green light across the bay at the end of Daisy’s dock; the image of the emptiness of the Buchanans’ world in chapter 1 has been followed with the image in chapter 2 of the valley of ashes, a huge dumping ground in which lives the mistress of Daisy’s husband, Tom; the open public gathering of Gatsby’s lavish parties in chapter 3 has been set against the mysterious privacy of Gatsby’s life. All of these scenes have come to the reader through the central intelligence, Nick, who has learned from Jordan Baker a truth that, at this point, only Gatsby, Jordan, and Nick know: Gatsby wants to turn time backward and renew his relationship with Daisy as if the five years since he has seen her have not gone by. Nick, Daisy’s cousin and Gatsby’s neighbor, is the natural link that will reconnect Daisy and Gatsby. To the tension inherent in the reunion itself, then, is added the ambivalence of Nick, who despises Gatsby’s gaudiness but admires his romantic readiness and who is captivated by Daisy’s charm but also, by the time of the meeting in chapter 5, contemptuous of her moral emptiness.

On coming into the meeting scene, the reader is interested, first on the level of plot, to see whether Gatsby and Daisy can renew their love of five years before. In addition, he is interested in the reaction of Nick, on whose moral and intellectual judgment he has come to depend. At a deeper level, he is ready for the confrontation of abstract ideas that will occur in the clock scene. The clock itself, a focal point of the room in which Gatsby and Daisy meet, represents the past time that Gatsby wants to repeat in order to recapture Daisy’s love for him. That this clock, which has stopped at some past moment, can be suspended on a mantelpiece in front of them affirms the possibility of bringing the past into the present. Yet, the fact that they all envision the clock shattered on the floor suggests that all three are aware of the fragility of this past moment brought into the present. The fact that the clock does not work hints at the underlying flaw in Gatsby’s dream of a relationship with Daisy.

The scene is a foreshadowing of what the rest of the novel will present dramatically: the brief and intense renewal of a courtship that takes place behind the closed doors of Gatsby’s mansion, a courtship that will end abruptly behind the closed doors of a Plaza Hotel room after a confrontation between Gatsby and Tom convinces Daisy finally to reject Gatsby. The death of Myrtle, Tom’s mistress; Gatsby’s murder by Myrtle’s husband; Daisy and Tom’s “vacation” until the confusion dies down; Gatsby’s funeral, whose arrangements are handled by Nick—all follow with an unquestionable inevitability in the last two chapters of the novel. Nick alone is left to tell the story of the dreamer whose dreams were corrupted by the “foul dust” that floated in their wake and of the reckless rich who “smashed up things and people and then retreated back into their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

At this endpoint, the reader will recall the ominous foreshadowing of the broken clock: Gatsby cannot, as Nick has told him, repeat the past. He cannot have Daisy, because as Nick knows, “poor guys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.” Gatsby cannot have what he imagined to be the best America had to offer, which Nick realizes is not Daisy. The fault, however, does not lie in Gatsby’s capacity to dream, only in “the foul dust” that floated in the wake of his dreams—a belief in the money-god, for example—which makes him mistake a counterfeit (Daisy) for the true romantic vision. “No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end,” Nick says in a kind of preface to the novel, a statement that keeps Fitzgerald’s double vision intact in spite of Gatsby’s loss of Daisy and his life. At the highest level of abstraction, the novel suggests that an idealist unwilling to compromise can and cannot survive in a materialistic world, an ambivalent point of view that Fitzgerald held until his death. No longer did he need to write what he thought he should write; he was writing from the vantage point of one who saw that he had endowed the world of Ginevra with a sanctity it did not deserve. Part of him, like Gatsby, died with the realization. The other part, like Nick, lived on to make sense of what he had lost and to find a better dream.

Tender Is the Night

For the nine years that followed the publication of The Great Gatsby (sometimes referred to as “the barren years”), Fitzgerald published no novels. During the first five of these years, the Fitzgeralds made four trips to Europe, where they met Ernest Hemingway in 1925 and where they lived for a time on the French Riviera, near Gerald and Sara Murphy, prototypes for Dick and Nicole Diver in Fitzgerald’s last complete novel, Tender Is the Night. In 1930, Zelda had her first mental breakdown and was hospitalized in Switzerland. Two years later she had a second breakdown. For Fitzgerald, the years from 1930 to 1933 were years during which he was compelled to write short stories for popular magazines, primarily the Saturday Evening Post, to enable Zelda to be treated in expensive mental institutions. All of these years were devoted to developing a perspective on his experiences: his feelings about Zelda’s affair with a French aviator, Edouard Jozan; his own retaliatory relationship with a young film star, Lois Moran; his attraction to the lifestyle of the Murphys; Zelda’s mental illness; his own alcoholism and emotional bankruptcy. He carried the perspective he gained through seventeen complete drafts, fully documented by Matthew J. Bruccoli in The Composition of “Tender Is the Night” (1963), to its completion in his novel.

Partly because it attempts to bring together so many subjects, partly because it deals with so complex a theme as the decline of Western civilization, and partly because of its experimentation with multiple points of view, Tender Is the Night is usually regarded as Fitzgerald’s most ambitious novel. The story line of the novel is straightforward and has the recognizable Fitzgerald stamp. Its hero, Dick Diver, is a gifted young American in Europe who studies psychiatry with Sigmund Freud, writes a textbook for psychiatrists, marries a wealthy American mental patient, and over a period of years makes her well, while sinking himself into an emotional and physical decline that leads him away from Europe to wander aimlessly in an obscure part of upper New York state. The plot rendered chronologically can be represented as two v’s placed point-to-point to form an X. The lower v is Dick’s story, which follows him from a relatively low social and economic position to a high one as a doctor and scientist and back again to the low point of emotional bankruptcy. The story of his wife Nicole can be represented by the upper v, since Nicole starts life in America’s upper class, falls into mental illness (caused by an incestuous relationship with her father), and then rises again to a height of stability and self-sufficiency.

Fitzgerald, however, does not choose to tell the story in chronological sequence, electing instead to focus first on Dick at the high point of his career, following him through his training in a flashback and ending the novel with his collapse into anonymity. Nicole’s story, secondary to Dick’s, is woven into that of Dick’s decline, with the implication that she has helped to speed it along. Nor does Fitzgerald select for the novel a single focus of narration, as he does in The Great Gatsby. Instead, book 1 of the novel shows Dick in June and July of 1925 at the high point of his life, just before the beginning of his decline, from the viewpoint of Rosemary Hoyt, an innocent eighteen-year-old film star whose innocence Dick will finally betray at his low point by making love to her. Book 2 contains four chronological shifts covering more than a decade, beginning in 1917, and is presented variously from Dick’s and then Nicole’s perspective. Book 3 brings the story forward one and a half years from the close of book 2 to Dick’s departure from the Riviera and Nicole’s marriage to Tommy Barban, and it is from the point of view of the survivor, Nicole.

The complicated shifts in viewpoint and chronological sequence are grounded in the complexity of Fitzgerald’s purposes. First, he is attempting to document both the external and internal forces that bring about the decline of a gifted individual. In Dick’s case, the inward flaw is rooted in an excess of charm and in a self-destructive need to be used, which the reader can best see from Dick’s own perspective. From without, Nicole’s money weakens his resistance and serves as a catalyst for the breaking down of his willpower, a process more clearly observable in the sections from Nicole’s point of view. The value of seeing Dick at a high point early in book 1 through Rosemary’s eyes is that it emphasizes how attractive and desirable he could be; by contrast, the fact of his emotional bankruptcy at the end of the novel gains power.

Fitzgerald, however, is also attempting to equate Dick’s decline with the decline of Western society, a subject that had come to him primarily through his reading of Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918-1922; The Decline of the West, 1926-1928). As Fitzgerald wrote to Maxwell Perkins, “I read him the same summer I was writing The Great Gatsby and I don’t think I ever quite recovered from him.” The moral “invalids” of the international set, who gather on “the little prayer rug of a beach” in Tender Is the Night, are, like the characters in Eliot’s wasteland, hopelessly cut off from the regenerative powers of nature. There is evidence that even Nicole, whose strength seems assured at the novel’s end, may soon be in danger of being overcome by Barban, whose name hints at the barbarian takeover of Western culture predicted by Spengler.

At first glance, Tender Is the Night may appear far removed in theme and narrative technique from The Great Gatsby, even farther from the two apprenticeship novels This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned. Yet, it does not represent a radical departure from what would seem a predictable pattern of Fitzgerald’s growth as a novelist. In Tender Is the Night, as in all of his earlier work, Fitzgerald remains close to biographical material, particularly in his drawing on actual people for fictional characters and parts of composite characters. Dick and Nicole Diver are patterned, in part, on Gerald and Sara Murphy, whose “living well” Fitzgerald admired and to whom he dedicated the novel. The Divers are, of course, also the Fitzgeralds, plagued in the 1930’s by mental illness and emotional bankruptcy. Similarly, Rosemary, whose innocent and admiring viewpoint sets up the first book of the novel, is patterned on the young actor Lois Moran, and Tommy Barban is a fictional representation of Zelda’s aviator, Jozan.

Also, in drawing on subjects and themes that had characterized even his earliest work, especially wealth and its corrosive influence, Fitzgerald was extending his past concerns from as far back as This Side of Paradise into the present, most notably in Baby Warren in Tender Is the Night, who callously “buys” Nicole a doctor. Finally, the multiple viewpoint of the novel is a logical extension of the narrator-observer in The Great Gatsby, an attempt to carry objectivity even further than he does in that novel. Only perhaps in his reaching into historical prophecy does Fitzgerald go beyond his earlier concerns. Yet even The Great Gatsby, which Nick calls “a story of the West,” appears on one level to address the moral decay of society on an international level. What Tender Is the Night finally reflects, then, is a novelist who has gained philosophical insight and technical skill and has added them onto the existing foundation of his craftsmanship.

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