Essay Example: The Beautiful and Damned – Fitzgerald
Whilst This Side of Paradise gave us an insight into Fitzgerald’s early development, his following novel, The Beautiful and Damned, explores the uncertainties that the author faced concerning his future as a writer alongside his commitments to his new wife, Zelda. For Amory concludes in This Side of Paradise that art and life are hostile, mutually exclusive spheres, suggesting that one can only write at the expense of and ‘instead of living’ , a notion that seemingly haunted Fitzgerald, who endeavoured to balance these two commitments, albeit in unsettling harmony.
After their marriage in 1920, Fitzgerald and Zelda remained in New York to revel in their celebrity status. However, Fitzgerald was concerned that this was preventing his writing and thus, in the hope that life would be less hectic outside of the city, they rented a house in Westport for the summer months. After an unproductive summer however, the couple returned to New York in the autumn. This pattern of renting houses and travelling became characteristic of the Fitzgerald’s who never did settle down or truly establish a home for themselves. Instead they remained constantly on the move, just like many of the characters in Fitzgerald’s fiction, in particular Anthony and Gloria.
It was that winter after returning from Westport, that Fitzgerald completed The Beautiful and Damned and, in a letter to his literary agent, Charles Scribner, described the focus of the novel to be Anthony, ‘one of those many with the tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no actual creative inspiration. How he and his beautiful young wife are wrecked on the shoals of dissipation is told in the story’ . Not only does this echo the story of Fitzgerald and Zelda’s own dissipated living, but also suggests that’s perhaps Anthony’s lack of ‘creative inspiration’ was also a concern for Fitzgerald who relied heavily upon his own life experiences for writing material.
In fact, Fitzgerald relied heavily upon Zelda for inspiration too and in a witty review of The Beautiful and Damned in The New York Tribune, she noted that ‘Mr Fitzgerald seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home’ ; a comment on his having attributed various fragments of an old diary and letter of hers, to Gloria. With this in mind I have chosen a key scene, The Winter of Discontent, in order to explore to what degree Fitzgerald’s own life as a newlywed parallels Anthony and Gloria’s and the impact it may have had on the Fitzgerald caricature.
Although the passage initially suggests that Anthony and Gloria had retained their handsome appearance despite their dissipated living, and although they observe their weekend revelry with ‘some sort of unholy excitement’ , the title of the passage implies otherwise. For rather than excitement, the couple are fuelled by discontent, suggesting that their ruin was both inevitable and imminent.
Given the era in which Fitzgerald lived and Anthony exists, it is unsurprising that alcohol, specifically ‘high-balls’, are a weakness for Anthony. For irresponsible drinking was characteristic of the Jazz Age and had detrimental effects for Anthony, whose inability to resist ‘just one high ball’ repeatedly marks the beginning of Gloria and his raucous weekend’s amongst the ‘noisiest and most conspicuous part[ies]’ . Anthony’s drinking also profoundly echoes Amory’s in This Side of Paradise. For although Clara dispels the notion that Amory is a slave to high-balls, Amory attributes this weakness to himself and behaves accordingly. In attempting to foster this habit, we might speculate that by the time Amory had reached Anthony’s age, he too would have developed a taste for high-balls like Anthony. Though figurative, this idea supports John Aldridge’s argument that Anthony is a ‘slightly older Amory’ , in a slightly more advanced stage of alcoholism. Likewise, Anthony’s drinking also echoes Fitzgerald’s own inebriated reputation, for the author was said to introduce himself to party guests in the 1920’s as ‘one of the most notorious drinkers of the younger generation’ or as ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald, the well-known alcoholic’ ; an anecdote that biographers were quick to draw upon when constructing their caricature of Fitzgerald as a drunken, unsuccessful writer.
This connection between alcohol, carelessness and reckless living is reinforced when Fitzgerald describes Gloria and Anthony’s home as pungent with ‘the odor of tobacco…it was in their clothes, their blankets, the curtains, and the ash-littered carpets’ and ‘the wretched aura of stale wine’ that pollutes Anthony and Gloria’s everyday lives with the tell-tale signs of dissipation. Yet it is not only Anthony and Gloria that are reckless, for ‘people broke things; people became sick in Gloria’s bathroom; people spilled wine’ but nevertheless, there is a pervading sense that Anthony and Gloria take no responsibility for the damage, ‘customarily attribut[ing] it to the general penury of the ‘friends’ who had accompanied them’ instead. As a result of their lack of accountability, Anthony and Gloria continue their cycle of rendezvous’ on a Saturday and resolutions on a Monday, thus maintaining their downward spiral into dissipation.
Whilst Anthony and Gloria encourage each other’s reckless behavior, in the early stages of marriage, Fitzgerald was concerned that Zelda was a bad influence, preventing his writing by coaxing him to parties that would inevitably distract him. In an attempt to remedy this, the couple moved to Westport for the summer in order to locate an environment productive to writing. However, life outside the city was no different and fellow Westport resident, Guy Pene du Bois, noted that their summers at Westport ‘exceeded the riotousness of New York…gin and orange juice ruled the days and nights. Talk was an extravaganza. Work was an effort made between parties’ , similar to the alcohol fueled parties of Anthony and Gloria’s life. Yet Du Bois’ account of the Fitzgerald’s summer is significant because it relies upon a ‘characteristic’ anecdote of Fitzgerald, something that Max Saunders notes biographers were once advised to include but which often ensued into ‘gossip about personal traits rather than ideas or arguments’ . Du Bois’ account is an exemplar of this, perpetuating Fitzgerald’s reputation and implying that the author’s writing was of secondary importance to him.
In The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony also finds himself subject to gossip when the tale of his disinheritance is ‘given a conspicuous place in Town Tattle’ and he hears rumours about himself, ‘usually founded on a soupcon of truth, but overlaid with preposterous and sinister detail’ . This, Fitzgerald and Anthony have in common; whereas Anthony is portrayed negatively in the tabloids however, Fitzgerald suffers at the hands of biographers who incorporate anecdotes ‘founded on a soupcon of truth’ into their apparently factual biographies.
Over the years, biographers have recorded and elaborated every chronicle of Fitzgerald’s behaviour; from jumping into fountains and spinning through revolving doors, to disrupting dinner parties and even attempting to drive off a cliff . Critic Jeffery Meyer for one, includes every anecdote, no matter how insignificant, into his biography of Fitzgerald, casting the author in an embarrassing and disparaging light . As a result, it is perhaps more pertinent to consider Meyer’s biography as an example of what Joyce Carol Oates has coined a ‘pathography’, a form of biography that demeans its subject by focusing on ‘dysfunction and disaster, illnesses and pratfalls, failed marriages and failed careers, alcoholism and breakdowns and outrageous conduct’ . Whilst these themes evidently permeate Fitzgerald’s life and many of his biographies, these themes also permeate Anthony and Gloria’s life and in this sense, The Beautiful and Damned could also be read as a ‘pathography’ itself.
For Anthony and Gloria revel in ‘dysfunction’ and delight in the parties that became a ‘regular part of their existence’ . Meanwhile their friends look on, ‘predicting a somber end for them in the loss of Gloria’s “looks” and Anthony’s “constitution”’, a prediction that implies that eventually their ‘outrageous conduct’ will expose itself and take its toll on their good looks. This is emphasized when Fitzgerald notes that ‘outwardly [Anthony and Gloria] showed no signs of deterioration’ , implicitly suggesting that on the inside, the couple were deteriorating. This notion is romanticized by Fitzgerald whom goes on to suggest that ‘Anthony had rather gained than lost in appearance; his face had taken on a certain intangible air of tragedy, romantically contrasted with his trim and immaculate person’. This contrast between Anthony’s immaculate appearance and the air of tragedy that surrounds him, not only likens him to a tragic hero but also romanticizes the role, suggesting that his change of fortune, from minor celebrity to failed writer, is iconic and ‘heroic’.
Despite their debauched living, Gloria is also considered to have ‘gained’ rather than ‘lost’ in appearance and this prompts us to question her similarity to Zelda. For Fitzgerald himself admitted that his worst habit was ‘referring everything to Zelda’ who, like Gloria, was renowned for her good looks and flirtatious behaviour. Whilst Gloria basks in ‘masculine eyes’ that follow her in ‘prolonged states of sincere admiration’, since she was ‘a thing of exquisite and unbelievable beauty’ , Zelda was likewise considered the ‘most in demand, most admired, most sought after’ ; one of the very reasons Fitzgerald was first enticed by her and allowed her to become his ‘most enormous influence’ . Like Gloria, Zelda also proved herself to be ‘provocative to the point of exhaustion…receiving guests while in her bath’ and ‘stripping down in the middle of Grand Central Terminal’ , another example of some of the anecdotes incorporated into Fitzgerald’s biographies. Whilst Gloria’s flirtatious behaviour later contributed to the collapse of their marriage, it was not until after the publication of The Beautiful and Damned that Zelda’s own behavior became a source of tension for the Fitzgerald’s, suggesting that the novel somewhat prefigured their lives.
Regardless of their similarities then, Anthony and Gloria’s downward spiral foretells Fitzgerald and Zelda’s own. For during the time that Fitzgerald was writing The Beautiful and Damned his dependence on alcohol was relatively mild in comparison to Anthony’s, suggesting that The Beautiful and Damned foreshadows the author’s own dissipation. Years later, Fitzgerald alluded to this himself when he recollected that the novel ‘was all true’ that like Anthony and Gloria, he and Zelda had ‘ruined ourselves’ . With this in mind, though the novel contains elements of the autobiographical, as Fitzgerald grew older, it seems the number of these elements increased as Fitzgerald’s life gradually came to parallel Anthony’s.
Not only does this highlight the complex intertwining of Fitzgerald’s life and his writing, but also suggests that the author was not always in command of his writing, rather his writing was in command of him. Since many of the biographers I have studied completed their research long after the publication of The Beautiful and Damned and even after the author’s death, their study of this novel and their depiction of Fitzgerald might well have been distorted by the older Fitzgerald’s increased likeness to Anthony.
In conclusion, The Beautiful and Damned comes to straddle the line between two genres, proving to be both a ‘pathography’ of Anthony and Gloria and an autobiographical account of Fitzgerald’s own early years of marriage. However, in relaying the dysfunction and disaster that permeated Anthony and Gloria’s life, Fitzgerald draws several parallels between their ‘outrageous conduct’ and his own, thus complicating the distinction between Anthony and himself. Fitzgerald’s likeness to Amory even extends to the gossip and rumours that permeate his life, an echo of the anecdotes that were incorporated into biographies and have consequently sullied Fitzgerald’s legacy. What is significant however, is that Anthony’s likeness to Fitzgerald increased throughout the author’s life and thus our reading of the novel is distorted since it seems to prefigure and proliferate a reputation that Fitzgerald did not earn until after his death and until after biographers had mythologized him.
Chapter 4 – The Great Gatsby
Warning signs that permeated The Beautiful and Damned were to be realised in the following three years when Fitzgerald’s marriage to Zelda took a sour turn. During the summer of 1924 the couple visited the French Riviera, where Zelda became infatuated with a young French aviator, Edouard Jozan. Jozan maintained it was nothing more than a flirtation , but the event affected Fitzgerald profoundly as he recorded in his Notebook that he ‘knew something had happened that could never be repaired’ .
Following this setback, Fitzgerald channeled his energies into his writing and in 1925, finished The Great Gatsby, the story of one man’s ‘incapacity to distinguish between dream and reality’ . Outlined by William Troy, this synopsis could also describe Fitzgerald’s own breakdown, for the author’s romantic dreams and illusions were profoundly affected when Fitzgerald learnt of the reality of Zelda’s affair. Whilst Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s failures are evidently similar, Troy’s synopsis of the novel, is an exemplar of the difficulty that many biographers had distinguishing between the two men.
Andrew Hook suggests that Fitzgerald ‘on some level…needed and wanted [Zelda] out of the way’ , implying that the author was aware of Zelda’s infatuation with Edouard, but dismissed the idea and put his dreams of becoming a successful writer first instead. However, Hook’s interpretation of events disregards the influence that that summer had on Fitzgerald and the plot of The Great Gatsby. For if Fitzgerald had simply ‘wanted [Zelda] out of the way’ in order to focus on his writing, his supposed indifference would have distanced him from the very material he was drawing upon. Perhaps then, Fitzgerald ‘on some level’ knew of Zelda and Edouard’s romance but allowed it to continue due to his subconscious desire for writing material. If so, it becomes significant that for the duration of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby expresses a desire to repeat and repair the past, embodied also by the ‘landscape of nostalgia’ that the novel is constructed upon and serves as a refuge for both Gatsby and Fitzgerald, whose own marriage was dissipating with every page he wrote.
Despite their turbulent marriage, Fitzgerald wrote to his literary agent in 1925 to inform him that The Great Gatsby would soon be finished but that ‘Zelda and I are contemplating a careful revision after a week’s complete rest’ , indicating that regardless of Zelda’s affair, Fitzgerald remained influenced by her. Whether this extended to the character of Daisy, like it did Clara and Gloria, is arguable, but what is certain is that The Great Gatsby was profoundly influenced by their time on the French Riviera. For The Great Gatsby is permeated by the themes of infidelity, loss and nostalgia, which come to culmination in Chapter 6. Exploring a scene from this chapter I hope to measure the impact Zelda’s extra-marital romance had on Fitzgerald’s writing and explore further the similarities between Fitzgerald and Gatsby, looking closely at the parallels between Gatsby’s persona and the biographer’s caricature of Fitzgerald.
Though brief, the conversation that takes place between Gatsby and Nick after Daisy has left the party, not only sums up many of the fundamental themes of the novel but also highlights the dichotomy between the two men. For Gatsby is an optimist, a relentless romantic and a dreamer with a tendency for the extravagant, whilst Nick is passive, reserved and reflective; a juxtaposition that critics have suggested represents Fitzgerald’s own divided personality. William Troy for one notes that ‘Fitzgerald was able to isolate one part of himself…the more intelligent and responsible, in the person of the ordinary but quite sensible narrator, from another part of himself, the dream ridden romantic adolescent…in the person of Jay Gatsby’ . Though Gatsby and Nick evidently represent opposing traits that the author happens to possess, I disagree with Troy that Fitzgerald achieves this through ‘disassociation’ , something that would detach Fitzgerald from himself, his surroundings and his experiences. On the contrary, I would argue that Fitzgerald was wholly incapable of doing this; demonstrated by his writing which was tirelessly autobiographic and his persistent habit of referring everything back to himself and Zelda. Fitzgerald’s ability to isolate ‘one part of himself’, I would suggest is in fact due to his hyper self-awareness, illustrated not only in This Side of Paradise by his dissection of Amory, whose character parallels his own, but also demonstrated in his manipulation of his public image and mythology. For Fitzgerald was known to have capitalised upon his mythology in order to spin humorous episodes of his life into stories for popular magazines and in doing so, evidenced his ability to exaggerate and inflate various aspects of himself, a skill he used to construct Nick and Gatsby.
Despite Troy’s argument that Nick and Gatsby represent opposing aspects of Fitzgerald, the prevalent caricature of Fitzgerald resembles Gatsby much more so than Nick. For instance, Lionel Trilling notes that ‘for all the engaging self-depreciation which was a part of [Fitzgerald’s] peculiarly American charm, he put himself, in all modesty in the line of greatness, he judged himself in a large way’ , a description of Fitzgerald that echoes Gatsby’s own conception of himself. For Gatsby remarks that he can ‘fix everything just the way it was before’ and judges himself in such a way that he is confident that Daisy will leave Tom and return to him. Trilling’s suggestion that Fitzgerald’s ‘engaging self-deprecation’ was simply part of his charming façade also serves to downplay Fitzgerald’s resemblance to Nick and exaggerates his likeness to Gatsby instead.
Yet Fitzgerald’s similarities to Nick run much deeper than that. For The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick and as a result, the details of Gatsby and Daisy’s affair are absent from the narrative. Instead, Nick ‘linger[s] in the garden’, speculating from a distance at Gatsby’s ‘unutterable depression’ . Removed from the central affair, Nick’s perspective echoes Fitzgerald’s own position in relation to Zelda’s infatuation with Edouard and, in turn, positions the reader in the author’s shoes.
Fitzgerald’s familiarity with the storyline of The Great Gatsby is unique and has a profound effect on Gatsby’s portrayal. For instance, critic John Aldridge suggests ‘it is because his dream is unworthy of him that Gatsby is a pathetic figure and it is because Fitzgerald himself dreamed that same dream that he cannot make Gatsby tragic’ ; an example of how the similarities between Fitzgerald and Gatsby not only influenced Fitzgerald’s depiction of Gatsby, but also inhibited Aldridge’s ability to delineate between the two.
Though ‘unworthy’ of him, Gatsby’s dream was ultimately to recover his relationship with Daisy who he had manifested his dreams of success and perfection in; a feeling familiar to Fitzgerald who had also once suggested that to marry Zelda, the girl ‘most in demand, most admired, most sought after’ , was a sign that he had achieved success. Likewise, Nick notes that Gatsby ‘knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God’ , foreboding the fragile nature of Gatsby’s success. For the juxtaposition of Gatsby ‘forever’ wedding his visions to Daisy’s ‘perishable breath’, highlights Daisy’s ephemerality in contrast to Gatsby’s undying romantic dreams. Likewise, when Gatsby kisses Daisy he listens for ‘the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star’ , a sign that his dreams have been achieved and a sound that comes to define perfection and torment Gatsby for the rest of his life.
Thought the similarities between Gatsby and Fitzgerald are extensive, it is important to consider Fitzgerald’s own authorial intention. For the author once wrote to John Peale Bishop that Gatsby ‘started out as one man I knew and then changed into myself’ , suggesting that although their likeness was not intended, Fitzgerald confesses that Gatsby eventually did come to be a reflection of him and his experiences. This is complicated however, by the uncanny insight that Nick possesses into Gatsby’s thoughts and emotions. For Nick notes that Gatsby knew ‘his mind would never romp again like the mind of God’ , thus blurring Nick’s role as an observer into something of an omnipotent narrator and articulating what we might interpret to be the author’s own voice. As a result, Fitzgerald is aligned with Nick rather than Gatsby, further complicating the notion of which character resembles the author.
The ambiguity that surrounds Nick’s role as narrator also complicates the distinction between him and Gatsby. For his uncanny insight into Gatsby’s mind, the part he plays in the fruition of Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion, and even the counter he provides to Gatsby’s idealism, reminding him not to ‘ask too much of [Daisy]’ , illustrates that Gatsby is reliant upon Nick. Likewise, Nick also relies upon Gatsby, for without him, Nick would be purposeless in West Egg and the very tale of The Great Gatsby would go untold.
Since Nick and Gatsby’s relationship to one another informs our understanding of them, I would argue that William Troy is mistaken in his study of the characters as separate individuals . For although they embody contrasting traits, Gatsby and Nick come to complement one another and do not exist within The Great Gatsby apart from each other, illustrating the necessity of aspects of each character and symbolic of the balance that Fitzgerald was adamant to achieve between his conflicting responsibilities as a writer and as a husband.
Fitzgerald’s conflicted emotions, in regards to reconciling his marriage and responsibilities, are expressed and played out in conversation between Nick and Gatsby. On the one hand, Gatsby argues that he can ‘fix everything just the way it was before’, whilst Nick, on the other, warns Gatsby that ‘You can’t repeat the past’ . This conflict of opinions parallels the conflict that Fitzgerald experienced himself and is heightened by Gatsby’s desire for Daisy to ‘go to Tom and say: “I never loved you.”’, consequently ‘obliterat[ing] four years’ of history together. This echoes Fitzgerald’s own subconscious desire to eradicate from memory Zelda’s romance with Edouard, to rewind time and begin again. I suggest Fitzgerald’s desire to do so was ‘unconscious’ because, although he believed his marriage ‘could never be repaired’ , he later confessed that ‘I can never remember the times when I wrote anything’, but rather ‘lived in the story’ of his novels . This suggests that rather than confront Zelda, Fitzgerald poured his emotions into his writing and as a result, conveyed through Gatsby his nostalgia and wish to recover the past. It is this nostalgia however, that Wright Morris argues ‘reduces [Fitzgerald’s] ability to function’ as a husband and as a writer; a notion that also extends to Gatsby who was unable to recreate his past with Daisy and thus, on realising that ‘the past was dead, and that the present had no future’ , ultimately crumbled.
This parallel between Gatsby and Fitzgerald, in addition to Fitzgerald’s similarities to Nick, complicates the notion of where the characters end and Fitzgerald begins. For Fitzgerald ‘lived the story’ of The Great Gatsby, and in doing so, he confessed that Gatsby unintentionally ‘changed into [him]self ’; a notion that challenges Edmund Wilson’s criticism of Fitzgerald for being ‘very much wrapped up in his dream of himself and his projection of it on paper’ , debateable considering Gatsby’s resemblance to the author was unintentional. In fact, Gatsby is arguably more concerned with his dream of himself than Fitzgerald, for Nick notes that he wants to recover ‘some idea of himself…that had gone into loving Daisy’ , suggesting that Wilson, among many other critics, has fallen foul of attributing Gatsby’s flaws to Fitzgerald.
In conclusion, although both This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned blur the lines between Fitzgerald and their protagonists, The Great Gatsby complicates this notion further by incorporating aspects of the author into multiple characters and yet, despite this, many biographers consider Fitzgerald to resemble Gatsby and have even attributed the character’s flaws to Fitzgerald too. Significantly, Fitzgerald himself confessed that he ‘lived the story’ of The Great Gatsby, suggesting that even the author was somewhat confused as to the distinction between himself and his writing. Amid this confusion however, are a number of dichotomies, Nick and Gatsby, dreams and reality, and writing and husbandry, which characterise not only Fitzgerald’s life and his writing but also the Fitzgerald caricature which is distinguished by its conflicted and divided nature.
Chapter 5 – Tender is the Night
Almost immediately following the publication of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald began working on his next novel, Tender is the Night. Although Fitzgerald wrote several chapters between the years of 1925 and 1927, Tender is the Night was not completed until much later in 1933; the result of several dramatic changes in his life. It was during these eight years of Fitzgerald’s life that the author returned to America from the French Riviera, where he briefly moved to Hollywood to pursue script writing and became involved with a young actress, Lois Moran. In 1929, he and Zelda retreated back to Europe where Zelda had her first of many nervous breakdowns and was institutionalised in Switzerland.
As a result, Tender is the Night underwent several redrafts as Fitzgerald altered the plot in order to incorporate aspects of his own personal life. For example, when Fitzgerald’s father died in 1931, the author changed the plot to include the death of Dick’s father. Consequently, not only does Tender is the Night reflect the events, beaches and asylums that characterised Fitzgerald’s personal life but also draws upon the set of friends that the Fitzgerald’s made during their time in Europe. For although Fitzgerald was busy writing The Great Gatsby during 1924 on the French Riviera, he was continually accumulating material and inspiration and thus, whilst Zelda’s infatuation with Edouard inspired much of The Great Gatsby, the sense of loss regarding Fitzgerald’s romantic dream is also echoed in Tender is the Night in which we can draw parallels between Zelda and Edouard’s affair with that of Nicole and Tommy Barban’s.
Fitzgerald himself described Tender is the Night as a ‘novel of deterioration’ echoing the deterioration that permeated the author’s personal life, his marriage and Zelda’s mental state. In fact, just as Dick becomes the shell of a man he once was, Fitzgerald also neglected himself in order to care for Zelda and their daughter, indicated by the quantity of short stories the author produced in 1931 in a tireless attempt to pay for Zelda’s treatment.
This notion of deterioration is highlighted by John Aldridge who suggests that Daisy and Gloria, Fitzgerald’s earlier female protagonists, have essentially become Nicole and Rosemary, whilst aspects of Amory and Anthony can also be detected in Dick’s character . With this in mind, I would suggest that Tender is the Night is somewhat a sequel or extension of Fitzgerald’s previous novels, illustrated by Amory, Anthony, Gatsby and Dick’s collective embodiment of outward splendour versus inner disintegration.
This juxtaposition not only permeates Fitzgerald’s writing but also characterises the Fitzgerald caricature that permeates biographies. For example, Kirk Curnett considers the very basis of ‘the fascination with the Fitzgerald story’ to have ‘arisen from its irresistible blend of glamour and dissolution’ , an echo of the struggle between external and internal appearances that Dick and his predecessors embody. Despite the glamour of Fitzgerald’s persona however, the author was unable to juggle his conflicting responsibilities as a writer and as a husband and this ultimately led to his dissipation. By studying the penultimate chapter of Tender is the Night, my objective is to explore whether the progression of the author’s writing reflects the deterioration of his personal life.
Tender is the Night charts the disintegration of Dick’s external façade, drawing several parallels to Fitzgerald’s own increasing inability to conceal from his critics the effects of his lifestyle. Whist William Troy draws similarities between Dick and Fitzgerald, on the other hand, Leslie Fielder argues that each character within Tender is the Night represents a version of the author. Fielder suggests that even minor characters such as McKiscoe, the pretentious novelist and drunk, are a caricature of Fitzgerald, highlighting his social insecurity and pretences . This notion that Fitzgerald’s characters represent ‘versions’ of him is something that we have encountered before in The Great Gatsby, reinforcing the idea that Fitzgerald was a man divided. Yet John O’ Hara suggests otherwise, that ‘sooner or later his characters always come back to being Fitzgerald characters in a Fitzgerald world’, that is ‘Dick Diver ended up as a tall Fitzgerald’ as a result of the author’s inability to write outside the bounds of what he knew.
In contrast, Ernest Hemingway accused Fitzgerald of constructing his characters too literally upon the templates of real people , suggesting that the characters within Tender is the Night are pseudonyms for Fitzgerald’s real friends. Though there is evidence that Fitzgerald did indeed base Dick and Nicole upon Gerald and Sara Murphy, their American expatriate friends in Europe, I would agree with O’Hara that eventually, just as Gatsby ‘started out as one man I knew and then changed into [him]self ’, the characters of Tender is the Night always ‘come back to being…in a Fitzgerald world’ where they gradually, perhaps inevitably, come to resemble the author.
In the penultimate scene of Tender is the Night, Dick seeks validation of his former self from Mary, asking her ‘You once liked me, didn’t you?’ To which Mary replies “Liked you–I loved you. Everybody loved you. You could’ve had anybody you wanted for the asking–” . Not only does this echo Fitzgerald’s previous novel, This Side of Paradise, in which Amory asks Clara a similar question, it also highlights the insecurity that plagues Dick. For Mary alludes to the respect that Dick once garnered but has since lost as a result of his drinking, which causes him to ‘say awful things to people’ and ‘offend people’ . Likewise, although Fitzgerald’s lifestyle played a huge part in his literary success, providing him with first-hand experience of the very era he was chronicling, it also played a part in his downfall. For Fitzgerald, like Dick, was alcohol dependent and this resulted in a number of revealing and disparaging anecdotes, evidenced in previous chapters, that have since been uncovered and inflated by biographers in their portrayal of Fitzgerald as a caricature.
Whilst Fitzgerald’s previous protagonists have also been marked by deterioration and dissipation, Dick is arguably the first protagonist whose full breakdown we witness. For even in The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s untimely death inhibits us from witnessing the full extent of his ruin. In Tender is the Night however, Dick’s conversation with Mary serves as a reminder of the respect that Dick once garnered and the degree to which this has changed, for Mary laments that she now spends ‘most of [her] time defending’ Dick, whilst Dick implicitly ‘asks her sympathy’ through the expression in his eyes; an indication of Dick’s own awareness of his dissipation.
The final chapter of Tender is the Night also puts Nicole’s perspective at the centre of the narrative, reversing their roles and positioning her as the carer. Not only does this change of perspective highlight the influence that Dick still has on Nicole despite their separation, but also emphasises Dick’s absence since everything that is revealed about Dick’s life and whereabouts in the final scene is speculative, either via a letter to Nicole or a rumour that she has heard ‘by accident’ . Comparing this to Fitzgerald’s own life, which revolved somewhat around caring for Zelda, perhaps Nicole rather than Dick is in fact a reflection of Fitzgerald.
Yet besides Dick’s legacy and the rumours about him that Nicole overhears, there is little left of Dick in these final scenes and whilst Fitzgerald could not have possibly predicted that he would leave behind a similar legacy, he arguably did. For we as readers rely upon biographies for an insight into Fitzgerald’s personal life and yet, noting how many biographies are in fact built upon anecdotes, we come to occupy a similar position to Nicole, reliant upon letters and gossip to satiate hers and our curiosity. Thus, just as Dick’s final whereabouts are surrounded by a sense of mystery, ‘his latest note was post-marked from Hornell, New York, which is some ditance from Geneva…in any case he is almost certainly in that section of the country, in one town or another’ , Fitzgerald too has created for himself a legacy that is incredibly ambiguous. For not only have biographers failed to distinguish between Fitzgerald and his protagonists, but also failed to overlook the influence of anecdotes and gossip themselves.
Since Tender is the Night is Fitzgerald’s last complete novel and considering that biographers were influenced by his previous protagonists in their depiction of the author, it is possible that Dick’s dissipation, rather than the promise and naivety of Amory, was ringing in the ears of biographers when they began sculpting the Fitzgerald caricature. For instance, the absence of Dick at the end of the novel is echoed by critic Andre Le Vot who argues that Fitzgerald ‘receded before the storm of responsibilities he faced towards Zelda, Scottie, the Post, his creditors…estrange[ing] himself to the point that he no longer knew exactly who he was or even if he was still anyone at all’ . Not only does Le Vot highlight the divided and conflicting responsibilities that Fitzgerald faced but also suggests that like Dick, Fitzgerald lost himself in the process of balancing these responsibilities and even confused himself, along with critics, as to where he ended and his protagonists began.
In conclusion, Kathleen Parkinson suggests that Dick disintegrated ‘under the strain of a lifestyle that gnaws at his moral values’ and this I would extend to Fitzgerald too. For the author had not only deteriorated significantly by the time he wrote Tender is the Night but, like Dick, had lost himself in the process. This I would suggest is a result of Fitzgerald’s divided self, a notion that biographers are keen to draw attention to in their caricature of the author and also responsible for proliferating, particularly when they infer that the characters in Tender is the Night represent ‘versions’ of the author. For if so, how can we or even biographers, ever know which ‘version’ is the true Fitzgerald?
The research, reflection and writing that has gone into this study has been an arduous process with an unpredictable conclusion. Whilst I began my study concerned that many biographies written about Fitzgerald were disparaging and inaccurate, I was also determined to identify the flaws in their depiction of the author and offer a true profile of Fitzgerald. I have since come to the conclusion however, that that there might never be an accurate biography of Fitzgerald.
For Fitzgerald’s writing evidently contains elements of the autobiographical, an addition to the narrative that provides a unique insight into his experiences and emotions, but consequently blurs Fitzgerald’s personal life with his writing. The result of this is that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between what is and what is not fiction, for even Fitzgerald himself once confessed that ‘sometimes I don’t know whether I’m real or whether I’m a character in one of my own novels’ , an exemplar of not only the author’s inability to separate himself from his writing but also his own failure to know himself. As a result, over the years, biographers have looked to Fitzgerald’s writing for insights but almost inevitably been influenced by his protagonists, who in their likeness to Fitzgerald, have distorted biographers depiction of the author into an exaggerated caricature.
In my own endeavour to identify the real Fitzgerald, I have come to the disturbing conclusion that Fitzgerald truly is an enigma to us all. For it is impossible to identify a singular protagonist that resembles Fitzgerald more so than others and as a result, it is understandable why the caricature of the author draws upon each and every one, inevitably creating an incredibly conflicted image of Fitzgerald that is emphasised by many of the biographers who suggest his characters are ‘versions’ of him.
In fact, Fitzgerald himself once ruminated that ‘There never was a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn’t be. He is too many people if he’s any good’ , an idea that the author could never have known would apply so acutely to himself but inexorably does. For Fitzgerald was every one of his characters and simultaneously none of them at all. Though aspects of his character will forever be immortalised in his writing, as a whole, Fitzgerald remains the ultimate enigma and leaves behind a legacy that will invite speculation for years to come.
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