Monday, May 18, 2015

Currently Reading: Tender is the Night

 For my last post ever on The Boylan Blog (yes, I am pretty shocked, upset, and confused about this), I've decided to focus on one of my favorite authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some people might find Fitzgerald to be overrated or boring or mainstream but guess what? Those people are tasteless haters and I have no time for that sort of dourness and negativity in my life. To me, reading Fitzgerald's works is close to having a synesthetic experience. He was also one of those authors that could translate any feeling, whether it be the elation of first love or the despair of losing control, into something very, very beautiful and poetic. There's just something very special about the ability to translate even ugly experiences into something gorgeous to read.

Lately, I've been reading Tender is the Night, Fitzgerald's fourth novel and the last one he ever fully completed (he died before he could finish The Love of the Last Tycoon). I would've read this book at some point in the future because I do want to read everything Fitzgerald has ever written, but that changed when I was having a conversation with a fellow intern a while back (I'm looking at you, Ivan) where he basically told me that The Great Gatsby sucks and Tender is the Night is way better.

I thought to myself, "No way. Ivan is trippin.'" I've always been a big fan of Gatsby. However, now that I'm reading the book, I realized that Ivan wasn't trippin' and that he's actually right (I still like Gatsby though, but Tender is the Night is...woah). I'm not done with the book yet, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Tender is the Night is the story of Dick and Nicole Diver, a married American couple living abroad in Europe with their two children. While on vacation in the French Riviera, they meet Hollywood movie star Rosemary Hoyt and she quickly becomes part of their social circle. The novel at first sounds like a lot of Fitzgerald's other stuff: young people cavorting in Europe, drinking, running around with influential folks, spending money and generally having a grand time. However, Rosemary falls madly in love with Dick (despite his being double her age) and he falls in love with her too, sparking a passion that spans several years. The love affair is the beginning of the end for the Divers, who aren't as perfect as they seem to be. Their world begins to unravel; their dark, ugly secrets spilling out everywhere.

As I've said before, I'm not finished with the book yet, so I don't really know what will happen to the Divers (although it probably won't be anything good), but it's easy to see that Fitzgerald based this book, like many of his other novels and short stories, on his doomed marriage to Zelda Sayre. I had just finished Zelda's only novel, Save Me the Waltz before reading Tender is the Night, and that novel was blatantly an autobiographical work with the names switched out. Save Me the Waltz is an almost frustratingly fractured work and even though it really isn't that long, its density will mean that you'll be reading it for a loooong time. Sentences run on for paragraphs, and you will have to read them dozens of times just to get a gist of what Zelda is saying. Strangely enough, Scott thought that Zelda was plagiarizing chunks of Tender is the Night, which he was working on at the time. So, if you've read Tender is the Night and want to see similar events from Zelda's perspective, her novel is worth a read, even though it's basically like jumping into a dark abyss.

In Tender is the Night, the Divers are clearly mirror images of the Fitzgeralds in their lifestyle, their problems, and even in their looks. Dick is described as having an "Irish" appearance, with reddish hair, sunburned skin, flinty blue eyes, and a pointed nose. Nicole is described as having thick, golden, curly hair "like a Chow's." Look familiar?

 Like Scott, Dick was at first charming and successful. However, he slowly falls apart and his less appealing qualities ooze forth. His mood snaps, he loses control over his life, he cannot help or understand his suffering wife, and he ultimately turns to alcohol, which as we all know, destroyed Fitzgerald in the end. Like Zelda, Nicole suffered from severe schizophrenia and was treated in clinics in Switzerland. Nicole's affair with a Frenchman named Tommy Barban mirrors Zelda's real-life affair with a French aviator Edouard Jozan (something that she also discusses in her own novel). Even though the action of the novel takes place in the 1920s, particularly in the years just before the Crash, it is a reflection of Fitzgerald's life in the early 1930s, which was arguably one of the darkest periods in his life.

Even though the "Hollywood" element in Tender is the Night is small, it interests me nonetheless. Fitzgerald had several stints as a scriptwriter and story writer for MGM (fun fact: he even wrote a portion of the script for Gone with the Wind. However, it all ended up on the cutting room floor.) so it's always fun for me to see how he incorporates two of my greatest loves: Old Hollywood and the decadence of the Jazz Age. Here, Dick Diver's passionate romance with Rosemary Hoyt mirrors Fitzgerald's affair with actress Lois Moran, whom he met in 1927 while he was in Europe. Hoyt, like Moran, is a "child-woman": she is in her late teens, on the cusp of adulthood, and in a limbo between these two stages of her life. In 1920s Hollywood, "child-women" were considered all the rage: they can play a wide variety of roles, from the baby to the sophisticate. It was like having several actresses rolled into one, and it was part of the reason why actresses such as Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and the Talmadge sisters were so successful at that time. Looking at these two photos of Lois Moran, it's hard to believe that this is the same person:

In Tender is the Night, Nicole's mental problems begin when her father rapes her as a child, taking advantage of his daughter's grief after the death of her mother. Rosemary's breakthrough film is entitled Daddy's Girl. And Dick, who is 34 when he meets the 18 year-old Rosemary, is somewhat reliving Nicole's awful experience at the hands of her father when he finally sleeps with Rosemary. It's all very complicated when paralleled with the 1920s idea of the woman-child and the whole fetishization (is that a word?) of child-like adults. Read Serhan's post about this, because she explains it all so much better than I can.

Ultimately, Tender is the Night reflects Fitzgerald's own disappointment in himself. During his lifetime, Fitzgerald's works were for the most part not as commercially successful as they were critically successful. Most of his money was made through writing for Hollywood, which he felt was stupid work and a waste of his talent. His dissolution into alcohol, the disintegration of his marriage, and the fact that Zelda's worsening condition forced him to cut back on writing made him feel like a failure in all areas of his life. In the larger scope of history, Tender is the Night peels back the glittery veneer of life during the Jazz Age and reveals the bleakness, paranoia, and disenchantment of that time period.

That was very dark. Here's a picture of Zelda with an adorable cat to lighten the mood.

So, that's all folks. It's been grand writing for the Boylan Blog and I leave this terribly long, confusing, and generally very frazzled post as my legacy. And no, Kyle, no Marlon Brando this time. However I did manage to stick in a photo of a historical figure holding a cat! I'm going to miss all of you dearly, and I truly enjoyed getting to know all of you :)


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