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FRANCIS SCOTT FITZGERALD

“The commonplace about Scott Fitzgerald is that he was “The laureate of


the Jazz Age.” If this means anything, it means that he was a kind of eulogistic
fictional historian of the half dozen years following the first World War when
there was such a change in American manners. In fact, however, Fitzgerald never
simply reported experience; every one of his books is an attempt to recreate
experience imaginatively. It is true that the objects, the people, the events and the
convictions in terms of which his imagination functioned were profoundly
American and of his time.”
(Arthur Mizener–F. S. Fitzgerald 1896-1940. The Poet of Borrowed Time,
p.23)

“He was fascinated with wealth and success the way he was with the Jazz
Age itself: as though they were delightful and fragile toys that should be enjoyed
with the realization that they might break in one’s hands at any moment. This
was the story of his own life: his toys (marriage, success as a writer, wealth) did
break in his hands, and he was left with the emptiness and futility which mark the
later lives of his fictional heroes. The collection of journals, letters, and notes
published in 1945 as The Crack-Up clearly reveal this personal tragedy. Yet if
Fitzgerald could not escape the social collapse he himself predicted and
understood, he greeted the disaster with courage; he himself seems in the end
more admirable, a person of greater character, than any of the heroes of his
novels.”
(Donald Heiney, ed. – Between the Wars: Realists and Naturalists, p.141)

“More than any other writer of these times, Fitzgerald had the sense of
living in history. He tried to catch the color of every passing year: its distinctive
slang, its dance steps, its songs (he kept making lists of them in his notebooks),
its favorite quarterbacks, and the sort of clothes and emotions its people wore. He
felt in the beginning that his own life was not merely typical but representative of
a new generation; he could look inside himself and tell quite accurately how
others would soon be thinking.”
(Malcolm Cowley – Third Act and Epilogue, p.64)

“Fitzgerald, who never underwent the European apprenticeship that the


others did, always stood rather apart from them, though he was the historian of
his generation and for a long time its most famous symbol. For Fitzgerald never
had to create a lost-generation legend or apply it to literature […] The legend
actually was his life, as he was its most native voice and signal victim; and his
career was perhaps its most central story […]
Fitzgerald came in with the modernism that flew in on short skirts, puffed
audaciously at its cigarette, evinced a frantic interest in sport and sex, in drinking
prohibited liquor, and in defying the ancient traditions. In 1920 he was not so
much a novelist as a new generation speaking; but it did not matter. He sounded
all the fashionable new lamentations; he gave the inchoate protests of his
generation a slogan, a character, a definitive tone. Like Rudolf Valentino, he
became one of the supreme personalities of the new day”
(Alfred Kazin – On Native Grounds, p. 242/3)

“He is a born writer, amusing himself with tales and pictures; and
eventually nothing is interesting but the natural bent. Salty and insipid,
exaggeratedly poetical and bitterly parodistic, his writing pours exuberantly out
of him. Flat paragraphs are redeemed by brilliant metaphors, and conventional
descriptions by witty, penetrating turns […] Not a contemporary American senses
as thoroughly in every fiber the tempo of privileged post-adolescent America. Of
that life, in all its hardness and equally curious softness, its external clatter,
movement and boldness, he is a part; and what he writes reflects the environment
not so much in its superficial aspects as in its pitch and beat. He knows how talk
sounds, how the dances feel, how the crap-games look.”
(Paul Rosenfeld – Fitzgerald before The Great Gatsby, p.72)
“He had given himself completely to his feelings about Zelda, and if those
feelings changed during the course of their marriage, he never imagined that he
loved her less or she him. He had never acquired the twenties’ habit of tolerating
casual affairs […] His attitude was the attitude of Gatsby toward Daisy, who was
for him, after he had taken her, as Zelda was for Fitzgerald, a kind of
incarnation.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p.178)

“Inevitably, the main impression left by his career is one of waste. Like so
many American writers, he never completely fulfilled the promise of his youthful
work. But in his best fiction he shows himself to be one of the best American
writers of this century. For all the romantic extravagance of his themes, he shows
a surprisingly painstaking craftsmanship. His writing style is simple but graceful
and he excels in creating striking literary metaphors”
(Ian Ousby – An Introduction to Fifty American Novels, p.209)

“Roughly speaking, Fitzgerald’s basic plot is the story of the New World
(ironic double entendre here and throughout); more precisely, of the human
imagination in the New World. It shows itself in two predominant patterns, quest
and seduction. The quest is the search for the romantic wonder (a kind of febrile
secular beatitude), in the terms proposed by contemporary America; the
seduction represents capitulation to these terms. […] In general, this quest has
two symptomatic goals. There is, for one, the search for eternal youth and beauty,
what might be called the historic myth of Ponce de Leon … The essence of
romantic wonder appears to reside in the illusion of the perennial youth and grace
and happiness surrounding the leisure class of which Fitzgerald customarily
wrote; thus the man of imagination in America, searching for the source of
satisfaction of his deepest aesthetic needs, is seduced by the delusion that these
qualities are actually to be found in people who, in sober fact, are vacuous and
irresponsible [..] The second goal is, simply enough, money. The search for
wealth is the familiar Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideal of personal material success,
most succinctly embodied for our culture in the saga of the young Benjamin
Franklin. It is the romantic assumption of this aspect of the ‘American dream’
that all the magic of the world can be had for money.”
(Edwin Fussell – Fitzgerald’s Brave New World)

“His nature was divided. Partly he was an enthusiastic, romantic young


man. Partly he was what he called himself in the “General Plan” for Tender Is the
Night, “a spoiled priest”. This division shows itself in nearly every aspect of his
life.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p.65)

“Something of a child always, with a child’s sudden and unexpected


wisdom, he could play with the subtle agonies of the leisure class as with a
brilliant toy; and the glamour always remained there, even when it was touched
with death. In one sense, as a magazine writer once put it, his books were “prose
movies”, and nothing was more characteristic of his mind than his final obsession
with Hollywood. In the same way much of his writing always hovered on the
verge of fantasy and shimmered with all the colors of the world. Just as the world
swam through his senses without being defined by him, so he could catch all its
lights and tones in prismatic style without having to understand them too
consciously. What saved his style from extravagance was Fitzgerald’s special
grace, his pride in his craft; but it was the style of a man absorbed in the romance
of glamour, the style of a craftsman for whom life was a fairy world to the end.”
(Alfred Kazin – On Native Grounds, p. 246)

“One of the safest generalizations that can be made about Fitzgerald is


that he is America’s most sentient novelist of manners.”
(Charles E. Shain – F. Scott Fitzgerald, p.86)

“I talk with the authority of failure,” he writes in the notebooks, “Ernest


[Hemingway] with the authority of success. We could never sit across the same
table again.” It is a great phrase. And the statement as a whole is one of neither
abject self-abasement nor of false humility. What Fitzgerald implies is that the
stakes for which he played were of a kind more difficult and more unattainable
than “Ernest” or any of his contemporaries could even have imagined. And his
only strength is in the consciousness of this fact.”
(William Troy – Scott Fitzgerald: The Authority of Failure, p. 86)

“The tension of this “double vision” is apparent in all his heroes. It is in


the portrait of Gatsby, the newly rich bootlegger who had grown up on a
Minnesota farm and had none of the superficial charm or confidence of the really
rich but did have his “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life”; it is his
portrait of Dick Diver, whose father was an impoverished clergyman from
Buffalo who nonetheless taught Dick his trick of the heart…”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p.142)

“The men in his fiction are often, as he was, astonished by the fearlessness
and recklessness of women. They are also finally made aware of the
deceitfulness and moral complacency of women. Jordan Baker in The Great
Gatsby and Baby Warren in Tender is the Night, for example, are studies of
mercenary American women as dangerous to man as classical sorceresses. Daisy
Buchanan and Nicole Warren are fatally irresponsible human beings. All his
critics have noticed Fitzgerald’s ability to project himself into women’s lives.”
(Charles E. Shain – F. Scott Fitzgerald, p.92)

The Great Gatsby (1925)

“Today it is obviously the work by which Fitzgerald’s name is destined to


be remembered, and one of the classics of modern American literature.”
(Ian Ousby – An Introduction to Fifty American Novels, p.218)
“Fitzgerald always saw life as glamour, even though he could pierce that
glamour to write one of the most moving of American tragedies in The Great
Gatsby”
(Alfred Kazin – On Native Grounds, p. 246)

“…it seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since
Henry James”
(T. S. Eliot – A Letter on The Great Gatsby, p.93)

“One of the classics of literary criticism, Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal


Imagination, makes a convincing case for it [The Great Gatsby] being the last in
a great series of novels beginning in the early nineteenth century about the rise
from poverty to wealth. The protagonist of Balzac, Stendhal, and Dickens tries to
conquer the social world of London or Paris. He is able to do so because under
the new industrialism, money has taken the place of class. So, what used to be a
fairytale, the peasant turning into a prince, becomes a historical possibility.”
(Ronald Berman – The Great Gatsby and the Twenties, p.80)

“The Great Gatsby is his summative comment on the Jazz Age of which
his own career was so prominent a part. The book expresses neither shallow
criticism nor thoughtless praise but a delicate blend of enchantment and
disenchantment. Like Nick Carraway himself, Scott Fitzgerald is both an outsider
and an insider in Gatsby’s world. He is passionately attracted to its glamour
while being deeply aware of the pettiness and suffering that underlie its tinsel.”
(Ian Ousby – An Introduction to Fifty American Novels, p.219)

“The book has no real scale; it does not rest on any commanding vision,
nor is it in any sense a major tragedy. But it is a great flooding moment, a
moment’s intimation and penetration; and as Gatsby’s disillusion becomes felt at
the end it strikes like a chime through the mind. It was as if Fitzgerald, the
playboy moving with increasing despair through the tinsel world of Gatsby’s, had
reached that perfect moment, before the break of darkness and death, when the
mind does really and absolutely know itself – a moment when only those who
have lived by Gatsby’s great illusion can feel the terrible force of self-betrayal.
This was the playboy’s rare apotheosis, and one all the more moving precisely
because all of Gatsby’s life was summed up in it, precisely because his decline
and death gave a meaning to his life that it had not in itself possessed.”
(Alfred Kazin – On Native Grounds, p. 247)

“Against Nick’s gradual understanding of the incorruptibility at the hart of


Gatsby’s corruption, Fitzgerald sets his gradual penetration of the charm and
grace of Tom and Daisy’s world. What he penetrates to is corruption, grossness,
and cowardice. In contrast to the charm and grace of this world, Gatsby’s
fantastic mansion, his absurd pink suits, “his elaborate formality of speech
(which) just missed being absurd” appear ludicrous; against the corruption which
underlies this grace, Gatsby’s essential moral incorruptibility is heroic. To the
representation of this double contrast Fitzgerald brings all his now mature powers
of observation, of invention, of creating for the scenes and persons the quality
and tone the story requires. Because of the formal perfection of The Great
Gatsby, this eloquence is given a concentration and intensity Fitzgerald never
achieved again. The art of the book, in the narrow sense, is nearly perfect. Its
limitation is the limitation of Fitzgerald’s nearly complete commitment to
Gatsby’s romanticism.”
(Arthur Mizener–F. S. Fitzgerald 1896-1940. The Poet of Borrowed Time,
p.37)

“In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald was in full control of the language of the
religion of love spoken by a modern but strangely old-fashioned courtly lover.
None of the ironies visited upon Gatsby in the novel is allowed to tarnish his first
response to Daisy. The lack of self-consciousness, the commitment to such pure
feelings of sexual tenderness and compassion, distinguish Fitzgerald’s romantic
attitude toward women from any other modern novelist’s”.
(Charles E. Shain – F. Scott Fitzgerald, p.90)

“It is this innocence that seals Gatsby’s fate, for it makes him vulnerable.
In this respect, despite all his wealth, he resembles the Wilsons. Just as Gatsby’s
car can sweep Myrtle Wilson down without noticing, so the hardness of Daisy
and Tom Buchanan can destroy Gatsby. The simultaneous death of Wilson and
Gatsby – fellow victims of the same tragedy – is thus a fitting irony as well as a
superb dramatic touch. Nick Carraway understands the reasons for Gatsby’s
destruction. He sees the essential callousness of the gay brittle life of the Jazz
Age”
(Ian Ousby – An Introduction to Fifty American Novels, p.220/1)

“The novel which seems most fully to have carried out his desire to write
“something new, something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and
intricately planned” is The Great Gatsby (1925), focusing on the deeply and truly
romantic love of a gangster for a woman whom he had earlier lost to another – a
work at once brilliant and sad, with some of the poetic qualities one might expect
from a writer of Irish ancestry. T. S. Eliot wrote him that it was “the first step that
American fiction has taken since Henry James”.
(Willis Wager – American Literature. A World View, p.231)

“Gatsby is that jazz-bloated America which was ended by the financial


crash that ended the mad twenties. Fitzgerald is obsessed, like America herself,
with a tycoon image which is also chivalric: it is there in Tender is the Night and
in the unfinished The Last Tycoon, which is based on the career of the film-
producer Irving Thalberg. But, recording the tragedy of the fall of great men, he
was aware of the adolescent nature of the image. His own personal tragedy was
that he belonged to the dream and collapsed with it”
(Anthony Burgess – The Novel Now, p.31)
“In fact, he [Fitzgerald] was Gatsby. It was for him, not for that ambiguous
ghost impeded by a German immigrant name and a gangster’s prestige, that the
green light burned at the end of the dock – that symbol in the book of the true
success, the ultimate home. It was he who wanted Daisy, “glowing like silver,
safe and proud among the hot struggles of the poor,” Daisy whose voice so
fascinated Jay Gatsby because it had “money” in it. Since he was Gatsby, and
could never really admit the fact into the course of the novel, he made a bargain
with himself. He would make Gatsby an object of rich historical pathos, but a
kind of anonymous figure, and easy to patronize, to whom the cool amused
narrator of the book (Fitzgerald himself, as we were led to think) would not seem
related. He could create Gatsby only at the price of admitting that he was Gatsby,
just as he could develop as a writer only by disguising the fact that he thirsted for
immediate goals, for that impalpable social world where people derived their
self-importance by battening on each other, and in which a writer could be
accepted – for what came after he had done in his writing.”
(Alfred Kazin – An American Confession, p.178)

“The Great Gatsby (1925) shows a great advance in seriousness. Today it


is recognized as his finest work. Precise and compact in its form, it gives a finely
objective portrait of the hedonistic world in which the Fitzgeralds themselves
lived, capturing both the frantic gaiety and the underlying sadness.”
(Ian Ousby – An Introduction to Fifty American Novels, p.208)

“…The Great Gatsby offers some of the severest and closest criticism of
the American dream that our literature affords. Read in this way, Fitzgerald’s
masterpiece ceases to be a pastoral documentary of the Jazz Age and takes its
distinguished place among those great national novels whose profound corrective
insights into the nature of American experience are not separable from the artistic
form of the novel itself. That is to say, Fitzgerald – at least in this one book – is
in a line with the greatest masters of American prose. The Great Gatsby
embodies a criticism of American experience – not of manners, but of a basic
historic attitude to life – more radical than anything in James’s own assessment
of the deficiencies of this country. The theme of Gatsby is the withering of the
American dream. […] but the essence of the American dream whose tragedy
Gatsby is enacting is that it lives in a past and a future that never existed, and is
helpless in the present that does.”
(Marius Bewley – Scott Fitzgerald’s Criticism of America, p.125/137)

“Gatsby’s mingled dream of love and money, and the iron strength of his
romantic will, make up the essence of the fable, but the art of its telling is full of
astonishing tricks. To make the rise and fall of a gentleman gangster an image for
the modern history of the Emersonian spirit of America was an audacious thing
to attempt, but Fitzgerald got away with it. His own romantic spirit felt deeply
what an Englishman has called the ‘myth-hunger’ of Americans, our modern
need to ‘create a manageable past out of an immense present’.”
(Charles E. Shain – F. Scott Fitzgerald, p.104)

“For its highest level The Great Gatsby does not deal with local customs
or even national and international legends but with the permanent realities of
existence. On this level nothing or nobody is to blame, and people are what they
are and life is what it is, just as, in Bishop Butler’s words, “things are what they
are”. At this level, too, most people don’t count; they are merely a higher form of
animality living out its mundane existence: the Tom Buchanans, the Jordan
Bakers, the Daisy Fays. Only Nick and Gatsby count […]
Taken together they contain most of the essential polarities that go to make
up the human mind and its existence. Allegorically considered, Nick is reason,
experience, waking, reality and history, while Gatsby is imagination, innocence,
sleeping, dream and eternity. Nick is like Wordsworth listening to the “still sad
music of humanity”, while Gatsby is like Blake seeing hosts of angels in the sun.
the one can only look at the facts and see them as tragic; the other tries to
transform the facts by an act of the imagination. Nick’s mind is conservative and
historical, as is his lineage; Gatsby’s is radical and apocalyptic – as rootless as his
heritage. Nick is too much immersed in time and in reality; Gatsby is hopelessly
out of it. Nick is always withdrawing, while Gatsby pursues the green light. Nick
can’t be hurt, but neither can he be happy. Gatsby can experience ecstasy, but his
fate is necessarily tragic. They are generically two of the best types of humanity:
the moralist and the radical.”
(John Henry Raleigh, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, p.103)

“I have only two actual criticisms: one is that among a set of characters
marvelously palpable and vital – I would know Tom Buchanan if I met him on
the street and would avoid him – Gatsby is somewhat vague. The reader’s eyes
can never quite focus upon him, his outlines are dim. Now everything about
Gatsby is more or less a mystery, i.e., more or less vague, and this may be
somewhat of an artistic intention, but I think it is mistaken…”
(Maxwell E. Perkins – A Letter on The Great Gatsby, p.85)

“The Great Gatsby becomes a kind of tragic pastoral, with the East
exemplifying urban sophistication and culture and corruption, and the Middle
West, “the bored, sprawling, swollen towns beyond the Ohio”, the simple virtues.
This contrast is summed up in the title to which Fitzgerald came with such
reluctance. In so far as Gatsby represents the simplicity of heart Fitzgerald
associated with the Middle West, he is really a great man; in so far as he achieves
the kind of notoriety the East accords success of his kind and imagines
innocently that because his place is right across from the Buchanans’ he lives in
Daisy’s world, he is great about as Barnum was. Out of Gatsby’s ignorance of his
real greatness and his misunderstanding of his notoriety, Fitzgerald gets most of
the book’s direct irony.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p.190)

“Fitzgerald’s imagination plays with wit and perfect taste over the
suggestive details of the story’s surface: cuff buttons, a supper of cold chicken
and two bottles of ale, Gatsby’s, and the names of the people who came to his
parties. The whole novel is an imagination feat that managed to get down the
sensational display of postwar America’s big money, and to include moral
instructions on how to count the cost of it all. The Great Gatsby has by this time
entered into the national literary mind as only some seemingly effortless works of
the imagination can.”
(Charles E. Shain – F. Scott Fitzgerald, p.105)

“The intertextuality of The Great Gatsby has been studied almost as


assiduously as that of Heart of Darkness and the models adduced can be equally
tendentious. Most ingenious of all, perhaps, is Nancy Y. Hoffman’s The Great
Gatsby: Troilus and Criseyde Revisited? where the analogy is developed to show
that “the customs and artificial values of East and West Egg reflect the medieval
courtly love code…” Ms. Hoffmann actually discovered from the Princeton
English Department that Fitzgerald took a course entitled “Chaucer and his
Contemporaries” in the autumn of 1916; surely an extreme example of the
extrinsic approach to a text. Other literary antecedents for The Great Gatsby
range chronologically from the Satyricon to the novels of Scott. More striking
howerver are the analogies with popular literature: movies and light romances, or
even fairy tales and marchen (the latter are discussed by Neila Seshacari in an
essay entitled The Great Gatsby: Apogee of Fitzgerald’s Mythopeia). The popular
sources are of particular interest as they belong predominantly to oral tradition.
The same is true of the most celebrated instance of intertextuality in the novel,
the list of summer guests to Gatsby’s home […].”
(John Skinner – The Oral and the Written: Kurtz and
Gatsby Revisited, p.138/9)

“Although it was written at the peak of Modernism under the


unmistakable influence of such arch-Modern texts as The Waste Land, The Great
Gatsby has seldom, if ever, been mentioned in discussions of the modern age.
Even when it has not been dealt with from an exclusively thematic point of view,
The Great Gatsby has never received the sort of critical attention generally
bestowed on those texts explicitly engaged in pioneering literary enterprises. Its
formal perfection has been praised, but more as a successful application of
Jamesian or Conradian formulas, than as the result of a self-conscious and
original approach to the novel as form, despite Fitzgerald’s repeated emphasis on
his striving for form during the laboured composition of the novel. In other
words, The Great Gatsby has never been recognized for what, in our opinion, it
is: one of the great texts of the Modern age.”
(Paola Cabibbo, Donatella Izzo – Looking Backward,
Looking Forward, p.141)

“… in contrast to the corruption which underlies Daisy’s world, Gatsby’s


essential incorruptibility is heroic. Because of the skilful construction of The
Great Gatsby the eloquence and invention with which Fitzgerald gradually
reveals this heroism are given a concentration and therefore a power he was
never able to achieve again. The art of the book is nearly perfect.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p.192)

“… in Gatsby is achieved a dissociation, by which Fitzgerald was able to


isolate one part of himself, the spectatorial or esthetic, and also 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
from St. Paul and Princeton, in the person of the legendary Jay Gatsby. It is this
which makes the latter one of the few truly mythological creations in our recent
literature […] Indeed, before we are quite through with him, Gatsby becomes
much more than a mere exorcising of whatever false statements of the American
dream Fitzgerald felt within himself: he becomes a symbol of America itself,
dedicated to ‘the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty’.”
(William Troy – Scott Fitzgerald: The Authority of Failure, p. 82)
“Mythic” characters are impersonal. There is no distinction between their
public and their private lives. Because they share their meaning with everyone,
they have no secrets and no hidden corners into which they can retire for a
moment, unobserved. An intimacy so universal stands revealed in a ritual pattern
for the inspection and instruction of the race. The “mythic” character can never
withdraw from that air in which is his existence – that is to say, from that area of
consciousness (and hence of publicity) which every individual shares with the
members, both living and dead, of his group or race. Gatsby is a “mythic”
character in this sense – he has no private life, no meaning or significance that
depends on the fulfillment of his merely private destiny, his happiness as an
individual in a society of individuals. In a transcendent sense he touches our
imaginations, but in this smaller sense – which is the world of the realistic novel
– he even fails to arouse our curiosity.”
(Marius Bewley – Scott Fitzgerald’s Criticism of America, p.131)

“A close analysis of the plot and characters of The Great Gatsby presents
us with a paradox. Despite the tragedy-like finality of the former, and the pathos
and suggestiveness of the latter, under scrutiny both plot and characters turn out
to be composite and devoid of all inherent unity: not only semiotically
decomposable, but already decomposed. Their various components are all too
visible. The plot is a compound of archetypal structures and popular formulas:
fairy-tale and romance, success-story and love-story, mystery and initiation tale,
social melodrama and gangster story. The same is true of the characters, all cast
in the mould of a variety of cultural or literary types and stereotypes, while, at
story level, their continuous role-playing contributes to undermine all residual
sense of a stable identity. Gatsby is of course the most composite figure of all:
imitator of Franklin and ‘Young Man from the Provinces’, romance hero and
quester following a Grail, World War I hero, bootlegger, self-made man, tycoon,
‘mysterious stranger’, unhappy lover…”
(Paola Cabibbo, Donatella Izzo – Looking Backward,
Looking Forward, p.143)
“The battle between Gatsby and Tom is at one level the battle between
illusion and reality. Tom has the nature of things on his side, and it is part of the
nature of things that he and Daisy belong together. Daisy has to say to Gatsby not
“I loved you alone” but “I loved you too.” This “too” is Tom’s victory and he can
follow it up by equating Gatsby’s romance with his own hole-in-the-corner affair
with Myrtle – calling it a “presumptuous little flirtation” and announcing that it is
now at an end. After this Gatsby has no weapons left for the fight. He goes on
watching over Daisy to the end, but half aware himself, now, of the annihilating
fact that he is watching over nothing. “So I walked away and left him standing
there in the moonlight – watching over nothing”.
(A. E. Dyson – The Great Gatsby: Thirty-Six Years After, p.121/2)

“What gives the story distinction is something quite different from the
management of the action or the handling of the characters; it is the charm and
beauty of the writing [...] There are pages so artfully contrived that one can no
more imagine improvising them than one can imagine improvising a fugue. They
are full of little delicacies, charming turns of phrase, penetrating second thoughts.

In other words, they are easy and excellent reading – which is what always
comes out of hard writing.”
(H. L. Mencken – The Great Gatsby, p.89/90)

“Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald’s narrator, is, for the book’s structure, the most
important character. Quite apart from his power to concentrate the story and its
theme into a few crucial scenes and thus increase its impact, a great deal of the
book’s color and subtlety comes from the constant play of Nick’s judgment and
feeling over the events. Fitzgerald had struggled awkwardly with all sorts of
devices in his earlier books to find a way to get these things in without
intervening in his own person and destroying our dramatic perception of them.
Nick, as one of the characters in the story, not only allows but requires him to
imply feelings everywhere.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p.187)

“… the critics were not alone in sensing a certain lack in The Great
Gatsby. Fitzgerald himself felt it, was uncomfortable about it, tried to explain it
even though there is evidence that he always regarded Gatsby as his greatest
piece of work. No one agreed, however, about what the lack was. Fitzgerald
could not define it consistently; in a letter to John Peale Bishop postmarked
August 9, 1925, he calls The Great Gatsby “blurred and patchy” and adds: “I
never at any one time saw him clear myself – for he started out as one man I
knew and then changed into myself [n.b.!]– the amalgam was never complete in
my mind.” In a letter written the same year to Edmund Wilson, however, he shifts
his ground: “The worst fault in [The Great Gatsby] I think is a BIG FAULT: I
gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional
relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the
catastrophe.”
(Tom Burnam – The Eyes of Dr. Eckleburg A Re-examination of The Great
Gatsby, p.106/7)

Tender is the Night (1934)

“It took a while before readers began to discover the book’s enormous
wealth: it was not especially well received upon publication on April 12, 1934,
but by the close of the twentieth century, it had become admiringly recognized,
appreciated, and praised as one of America’s great books. Yet it also had suffered
badly from ideologically distorting criticism and simplistic readings stemming
from an over-identification of Fitzgerald’s work with his life and times during the
Jazz Age. He named the age, which featured Roaring Twenties expatriates – not
only artists and writers, but also the idle rich such as those who people his fourth
novel. In the 1930s Tender Is the Night was often dismissed because the surfaces
of its materials were shallowly seen as the intellectual and moral substance of the
book, just another story about playboys and playgirls with not enough serious
work to make them significant in what had become an economically grim ‘real
world’”.
(Milton R. Stern – Tender Is the Night and American History, p. 96)

“Dick Diver is the epitome of this world: not merely rich and stylish, but
with an innate sense of courtesy towards other people. In a sense he is the last
gentleman alive, a naïve and gentle figure too frail to survive the frantic
merrymaking of the Jazz Age. Dick’s surname – ‘Diver’ – contains an implicit
warning of the disasters to come, and the cracks in the happy picture soon begin
to show.”
(Ian Ousby – An Introduction to Fifty American Novels, p.225)

“By the time he [Fitzgerald] came to write Tender is the Night, he was
haunted by the idea of emotional bankruptcy and made it the central meaning of
Dick Diver’s history. Dick yields to the other pressures that his world puts on
him only after the slow, unavoidable devitalization that takes place inside him
has done its work. That “lesion of vitality” is the heart of his mystery, and
Fitzgerald traces it minutely in the book.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p. 275)

“For all its obvious faults – the incoherence of its structure and the self-
pitying tone – Tender is the Night is a moving and memorable work. In some
respects, indeed, it surpasses Fitzgerald’s most widely praised book, The Great
Gatsby. Written out of deep disappointment and betrayal, Tender is the Night
goes far towards achieving what Fitzgerald himself calls a ‘wise and tragic sense
of life’.”
(Ian Ousby – An Introduction to Fifty American Novels, p.226)
“Whether one accepts Fitzgerald’s conception of the cause of this [Dick’s]
spiritual death or not, Tender Is the Night remains his most brilliant book. All his
powers, the microscopic observation of the life he describes, the sense of
significance and relations of every detail of it, the infallible ear, and the gift of
expression, all these things are here in greater abundance than ever before. And
as never before they are used for the concrete, dramatic presentation of the inner
significance of human experience, so that all the people of his book lead lives of
“continual allegory” and its world is a microcosm of the great world. Its scope is
such as to make The Great Gatsby seem small and simple, for all its neatness and
perfection, and its dramatic realization is so complete that Fitzgerald need not
ever say what is happening: we always see.”
(Arthur Mizener–F. S. Fitzgerald 1896-1940. The Poet of Borrowed
Time, p.41)

“The complex interweaving of themes in Tender is the Night is among the


richest of aesthetically and intellectually satisfying performances in American
literature […] the themes are many and complex. They include was (the book’s
central metaphor for moral chaos and the destruction of humane values and
relationships), identity (the overall theme), wealth, the movies, acting,
swimming, the New Woman, the fathers, Europe and America, prisetliness, past
and present, sun and moon, heat and coolness, black and white, as probably the
most prominent.”
(Milton R. Stern – Tender Is the Night and American History, p. 98/99)

“Tender is the Night promises much in the way of scope but it soon turns
out to be a backsliding into the old ambiguities. […] And it is this Bovaryism on
the part of the hero, who as a psychiatrist should know more about himself,
which in rendering his character so suspect prevents his meticulously graded
deterioration from assuming any real significance. Moreover, there is an
ambiguous treatment of the problem of guilt. We are never certain whether
Diver’s predicament is the result of his own weak judgment or of the behavior of
his neurotic wife. At the end we are strangely unmoved by his downfall because
it has been less a tragedy of will than of circumstance.”
(William Troy – Scott Fitzgerald: The Authority of Failure, p. 83)

“… if Tender Is the Night fails to make its central character completely


coherent, and if its structure is damaged by a failure to solve the problem of point
of view and by inadequate selection, these faults are at least in part the result of
Fitzgerald’s attempting to write a very ambitious novel. The book’s defects are
insignificant compared to its sustained richness of texture, its sureness of
language, the depth and penetration of its understanding – not merely of a small
class of people, as so many reviewers thought, but of the bases of all human
disaster. With all its faults, it is Fitzgerald’s finest and most serious novel.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p. 267)

“Tender is the Night is Fitzgerald’s weightiest novel. It is full of scenes


that stay alive with each rereading, the cast of characters is the largest he ever
collected, and the awareness of human variety in the novel’s middle distance
gives it a place among those American novels which attempt the full narrative
mode. Arnold’s assumption that how to live is itself a moral idea provides the
central substance of the novel. The society Dick has chosen is a lost one, but
Dick must function as if he is not lost. To bring happiness to people, including his
wife, is to help them fight back selfishness and egotism, to allow their human
imaginations to function. To fill in the background of a leisured class with human
dignity does not seem a futile mission to Dr. Diver until he fails. For Fitzgerald’s
hero, ‘charm has always had an independent existence’; he calls it ‘courageous
grace’.”
(Charles E. Shain – F. Scott Fitzgerald, p.109/110)

“Dynamic and accomplished, young Dick Diver is nevertheless vulnerable


in his contradictions. He is a self-sacrificial enthusiast, an unworldly naïf, and yet
a sophisticated man of brilliant studiousness. He is a romantic of deep feeling and
yet a man strong self-discipline. He is youthfully exuberant and extravagantly
hopeful, yet restrained by a deep sense of moral obligation. He is highly educated
and internationally traveled, yet, for all of Yale and John Hopkins and Oxford
and Zurich, he begins his story as a shining-eyed kid from the country, an
idealistically optimistic young American […] Dick is a very mixed hero. His
genuinely heroic qualities and transcendent possibilities are used up and thrown
away not only by the corrupt world around him but also by his own outworn pre-
war idealism, whose erosion was to lead increasingly to his alcoholism and his
descent into oblivion. Fitzgerald makes the name Diver connote at least two
ideas. One is Dick’s deep diving into learning, discipline, creativity, and the
moral identity Dick learned from his father and aunts, all metaphorically
suggested by Dick’s superb abilities in his younger days. The other is the dying
fall, Dick’s long dive into disintegration and oblivion, metaphorically related
through the swimming theme with the older, dissipated, and exhausted Dick’s
inability to perform aquatically.”
(Milton R. Stern – Tender Is the Night and American History, p. 100/1)

“The theme of the novel is essentially the problem of the homme epuisé,
the intelligent and capable hero who gradually degenerates through the draining
away of his spiritual forces”.
(Donald Heiney, ed. – Between the Wars: Realists and Naturalists, p.145)

“Because he thought of Dick as an homme epuisé, Tender Is the Night


becomes Fitzgerald’s first full exploitation of the most important of all his
convictions about experience. He was a man for whom nothing existed at all if he
did not feel strongly about it, Like the Troilus of Shakespeare’s play, therefore, he
was committed by his nature to the doctrine that value dwells rather in the
particular will than in a thing’s being precious of itself. Like Troilus, he risked
sentimentality, absurdity, and in the end tragedy for his conviction, because he
was incapable of existing at all except according to its terms.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p.272)
“Although the pattern is more complex than in Gatsby, practically the
same controlling lines of theme can be observed. The man of imagination, fed on
the emotions of romantic wonder, is tempted and seduced and (in this case,
nearly) destroyed by that American dream which customarily takes two forms:
the escape from time and the materialistic pursuit of a purely hedonistic
happiness. On the historical level, the critique is of the fatal beauty of American
capitalism, its destructive charm and recklessness.”
(Edwin Fussell – Fitzgerald’s Brave New World, p.53)

“Beyond the story, there is Mr. Fitzgerald’s ability to catch “the essence of
a continent”, the flavor of a period, the fragrance of a night and a snatch of old
song, in a phrase. A comparison of Tender Is the Night as it ran in Scribner’s
Magazine and as it appears in book form gives a measure of the author’s artistic
conscience. He has made many deft excisions, many sound reallocations of
conversation.”
(John Chamberlain – Tender Is the Night, p.97)

“The scope of Tender Is the Night is such that, for all the book’s faults, its
“philosophical” impact is unforgettable. It makes The Great Gatsby, which in
structure so perfectly satisfies “the cannons” of the dramatic novel, seem neat
and simple.”
(Arthur Mizener – The Far Side of Paradise, p. 279)

“In his exhausted state, deep in the stale human contaminations of the
world’s immemorial social and sexual corruptions, Dick has a desperate need for
the beauty of freshness and innocence. His adolescently frantic attraction to new
love, exemplified by dewy youth, is what makes the Rosemary story such an
integral part of the novel’s plot. Dick’s is no mere midlife crisis, no seamy
middle-aged lust for young flesh. Dick has been reduced to his recognition that
he has given himself, with all the ridiculousness of a Don Quixote, to the
salvation of an unsalvageable world. His bitter resentment of the bay-new,
blithely free Nicole, whom he has liberated at every cost to what he had been, is
surpassed only by his ridicule and loathing of himself – he should have known
better in the first place, but he had had the bad luck to fall in love. All that is left
to him in his last battle is a lashing out – a symptomatic racism, xenophobia, a
short-tempered nasty honesty, and that hideously hilarious internal giggle – at
what a farce his world and life have become.”
(Milton R. Stern – Tender Is the Night and American History, p. 108/9)

“In the first place the doomed hero is offered as the most admirable kind
of modern man we can reasonably ask for, and throughout the novel he is made
to stand out as superior to all the other personae. This being so we look for some
explanation of his collapse, and the first mechanism of misery appears in the
ambiguity here. Various possible explanations are hinted at but none is allowed to
stand.”
(D. W. Harding – Mechanisms of Misery, p.100)

In Tender Is the Night Fitzgerald was writing out of his own mature power
and experience, knowing yearningly that there never was an American Eden,
knowing sadly that the corrupting actualities of human life always betrayed what
Nick Carraway had called that “last and greatest of all human dreams”, knowing
darkly that America will be America only as long as it understands that dream,
knowing hauntingly that it is no less than impossible dream of the fulfilment of
the best and most creative human aspiration in a world whose idealizations
thereby become real. […] It is about a world in transition, when established
values crumble, when human society’s ideas of goodness, stability, and moral
purpose are lost in corruption, and when the emerging society has not yet
discovered a reason or a way to regain them. Tender Is the Night is about moral
chaos attendant upon violent, if inevitable, change in the Western world in the
twentieth century – and perhaps in all places and times. The tale of a dying fall is
told in the story of one good man ruined in that process of change and, in his
way, representative of it, in all its sad and tremendous history.”
(Milton R. Stern – Tender Is the Night and American History, p. 116/7)

“In Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald expressed his uneasiness at the


feminization of American culture and at the threat of emasculation posed by
seductive girls as much as by masculine women. Like Carl Jung, D. H.
Lawrence, and Oswald Spengler, whose theories he admired, Fitzgerald believed
that men and women had complementary natures and feared that a loosening of
binary gender distinctions simply encouraged each side to adopt the worst
characteristics of the opposite sex (Giddens, The Baby Vamp, 35). In his writings,
“the breakdown of sexual identities is a sign of the breakdown of moral
certainties” (Stern, “Tender Is the Night”: The Broken Universe, 41). Thus, his
works express his period’s fear that cultural feminization was a symptom of a
larger disorder – the decline of the West.”
(Rena Sanderson – Women in Fitzgerald’s Fiction, p. 160)

“The truth is that Fitzgerald has slipped back into subjective


autobiography. All the things that happened to Diver did not, of course, happen
literally to Fitzgerald; but the breakdown in the conviction that the novel carries
is due to some essential lack of appreciation on the author’s part of the manner in
which normal professional life is lived. He is prepared to romanticize Dr. Diver’s
work; even to take pains in recording its correct detail; but in the last resort he
fails to grasp any reality but that of his own tortured nerves as a writer. The
unfolding of Tender Is the Night, from the point of view of different characters,
adds technically to the handicaps under which the novel labours; but in spite of
undoubted failings it remains a somewhat magnificent failure, and a book that
should certainly be read by those interested in the American novel.”
(The Times Literary Supplement – Power Without Glory, p.211)
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