AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

Lecture 20

 - Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night


Professor Wai Chee Dimock positions her reading of Tender Is the Night alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald’s career as a Hollywood screenwriter. She shows how the novel borrows narrative techniques from film, particularly flashback, “switchability” on a macro and micro scale, and montage. Invoking the theories of Sergei Eisenstein, she reads scenes of wartime death and individual murder to show how love and war are cross-mapped, superimposed onto one another as part of the narrative fabric of Tender Is the Night

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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner

AMST 246 - Lecture 20 - Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night

Chapter 1: “Ode to a Nightingale” and the Glamor of Tender Is the Night [00:00:00]

Professor Wai Chee Dimock: Here is Fitzgerald – reciting “Ode to a Nightingale.”  It’s a shortened, abbreviated, and in fact, a doctored version of “Ode to a Nightingale.”  I encourage you to go back and look at the original. I have part of the original here, and I’m not even going to read it to you. You can just check. Fitzgerald was reading from memory I think. So he was giving us his own version of “Ode to a Nightingale.”   I’ve posted that link online on our class website. So you can just go and listen to it yourself. But the reason I’m bringing that up today is that –for my purposes, what is interesting is not what Fitzgerald chooses to recite, but that part of the poem actually has a reference to the bell tolling – an eerie, totally unplanned, I think, but kind of nonetheless very fitting, accidental connection to For Whom the Bell Tolls.  “Forlorn, the very word is like a bell to toll me back from thee to my soul self. Adieu, the fancy cannot cheat so well, as she is famed to do, deceiving elf.”

And, from what Fitzgerald himself is reciting – “beauty cannot keep”: that’s the note on which he ends.   What is in the Keats poem that is, once again, is a tolling of a bell, tolling your form self back to you. This novel is very much about decline, about loss of what used to be yours. This is the story that Tender Is the Night is telling someone with tremendous promise early on in his life, but losing it gradually.  It is that subtraction, that process of subtraction, things being taken away from him, that the novel chronicles.

This novel– I’m sure you’re sick of this at this point– can very much be read within the paradigm of “have” and “have not.”   Dick Diver – well,  it would be very interesting, very useful to think about Dick Diver once again as yet another example of someone who’s struggling between those two positions, have and have not. But the novel certainly begins with a very different note.  The very glamorous French Riviera.  In fact, it’s modeled on a glamorous historical couple, Gerald and Sara Murphy.  In this picture we can’t really see how magical they were. But apparently they had this circle of friends around them, and every day was a special day. The novel was supposedly attributed to them.  There was a show at the Beinecke– I think it was a couple years ago– called “Making it New: the art of Gerald and Sara Murphy,” – attributed to this celebrated couple.

But in fact, Fitzgerald didn’t have to look too far. He and his wife Zelda were celebrated as well. And certainly very much part of that world. This is a PBS feature on Fitzgerald, this image is taken from it.   Here’s is another image of Fitzgerald, his daughter Scottie, and Zelda in the French Riviera, 1926.   Those were the productive years. The Great Gatsby came out in ‘25, and then he was working on this when he was at the French Riviera.

But as we read on, we know that glamour and that magic were probably not sustainable. His first novel was very much about sustainability.  How long can this last?   That’s an almost intrinsic question in the way that they were thought of as the golden couple. And Dorothy Parker, another well-known novelist, said that they did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun.  They lived in this completely light-filled world.

Chapter 2: The Influence of Hollywood on Fitzgerald’s Work [00:03:47]

But there’s a different way in which being in the sun can have a different meaning in Fitzgerald’s career.  It turned out in fact, his only hugely successful novel was his first novel.  Even The Great Gatsby, as we know, didn’t sell all that well in his own lifetime. It was out of print before he died, in his relatively short life. So Fitzgerald, in order just to make a living had to have other jobs. And he was a screenwriter in Hollywood in the ’30s.

There are a number of books written about Fitzgerald as a screenwriter. This is Some Time in the Sun. But it pretty much is a kind or an ironic reference to being in the sun, as we can see from the pictures, it’s not such a glamorous time to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. You’re stuck with your typewriter. So the phrase that was used for all the screenwriters, including Fitzgerald, including Faulkner, as we know, so for all these people was they were hacks with their Underwood typewriter. They were hack writers, not having a lot of control over the material.

Here is another book about Fitzgerald in Hollywood. And this is a picture of him in the ’30s struggling pretty much. There’s a very important collection of Fitzgerald’s screenplays, 2,000 pages, at the University of South Carolina. And Fitzgerald himself, actually, also wrote 17 stories that were published in Esquire magazine between January of 1940 to May ‘41, and then he died after that. So it was actually published after his death. But they’re The Pat Hobby Stories. There are 17 stories about this screenwriter, down and out screenwriter in Hollywood. And basically very alcoholic, so quite autobiographical. So we know that film, actually, was front and center for Fitzgerald pretty much from the ’20s to the ’30s, and very much till the end of his life. So it is really a very organic part of his career.

What I’d like to do today is to talk about the ways in which cinematic techniques get translated into linguistic and textual techniques. And especially I wanted to look at two phenomena, flashback, which is very much something that was used inHollywoodfilms. But also montage, something that was used more in European films, especially in the Russian cinema, but was gradually making its way to mainstream Hollywood film as well.

Chapter 3: The Publication History of Tender Is the Night [00:06:57]

The structure for today’s lecture:  I’ll begin with the publication history of Tender Is the Night, which actually it first came out in a magazine, and then two editions. The first edition is non-linear, it has a flashback.   The ‘51 edition reversed this, going back into a chronological narrative. What we see today is a restoration to that 1934 edition with the flashback.   I’ll give you details of that.

Because the narrative order of Tender Is the Night is in some sense switchable or reversible, we’ll be looking at phenomenon of switchability or reversibility in three ways. One is looking at sequence of adjectives, how they are reversible. We’ll be looking at the relation between actor and accessory or appendage. And we’ll be looking at the relation between proper nouns and active verbs.  A grammatical relation, a kind of reversibility of grammatical relation. And then we’ll be looking at montage as a technique, and the way that that is played out in thematic ways.

But first, the publication history of Tender Is the Night. We’re very used to this. Authors quite often would publish first in magazines. So it came out in four installments in Scribner’s magazine.  Scribner’s also published the novel in ‘34.  This is the first edition of the novel.  Then it came out as a Bantam edition, $0.35 in 1951

The two editions – there’s a huge difference between the two editions. The ‘34 edition, book one, begins in 1925, and then there’s a jump back to eight years ago, back to 1917.  It begins with Dick Diver and his family in the French Riviera. And then it goes back when he was just a young doctor, just the beginning, the very beginning of his career full of promise, 1917. And then it goes back to a later point of his life, 1930.

This is the edition that was published, that Fitzgerald originally published. And some critics objected to this out of sequence, this not chronological narrative.  When it came out as the Bantam classic that was switched, and it began chronologically. It began with Dick Diver’s early promise as a young doctor, and then it just proceeds chronologically. Reversing the order of the ‘34 edition, and eliminating the flashback.  We can talk a little bit– in fact, I would encourage you to think more in section about why it is important for Fitzgerald to have the flashback. What effect is achieved by having a narrative that is out of sequence?

Chapter 4: Switchability on the Micro Scale [00:10:30]

Today I wanted to concentrate, because we haven’t read so far into the novel, I wanted to concentrate on switchability or reversibility as a relatively small scale phenomenon. Not so much looking at the narrative form as reversible, but looking at very minute details within the novel that are reversible. So the order of appearance of adjectives can be seen as reversible. This is just one example.

“Nearest her, on the other side, a young woman lay under a roof of umbrellas making out a list of things from a book open on the sand. Her bathing suit was pulled off her shoulders and her back, a ruddy, orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls, shown in the sun. Her face was hard and lovely and pitiful.”

Those adjectives don’t usually go together. Usually they are not seen in such close proximity, “hard,” and “lovely,” and “pitiful.” And just to have those three adjectives, they are lined up in that particular way, generates kind of a mini narrative. This is one way in which the order of appearance of adjectives is a case of a kind of a mini narrativization of a description, even though it seems to be just descriptive. Nonetheless, there’s an implicit narrative suggests that by that order of appearance, and the narrative would be different if we were to reverse the order. If her face were pitiful and lovely and hard it would be a different narrative.

Fitzgerald’s not going to let those adjectives go, as you will see. So right here, we also have this additional image that her shoulders and back are ruddy and orange brown, and there’s a string of creamy pearls around her neck. When Fitzgerald comes back to this detail, he does something else for that detail.  This is him revising himself all the time, revising his mini narrative all the time.

“Nicole Diver, her brown back hanging from her pearls, was looking through a recipe book for chicken Maryland.” Her brown back hanging from the pearls. Before it was pearls hanging around her neck. All of a sudden there’s a reversible relation between the actor and the appendage, so it is her brown back that is hanging from the pearls.  This suggests that the pearls are the more important of the two, that maybe money is the more important of the two.  This is the persistent question: whether the money is more important than human beings, or vice versa.

Once again, this is more than – in fact, more than just a mini narrative, but a kind of global vision of the world, a vision of the relation in between humanity and economy is suggested by the very, very micro detail of the reversible relation between “back” and “pearls.” So I would say that reversibility is really the key player all through the novel. Operation off scales operates between adjectives, operate between different books, the three main books of the novel. And they operate on the shape of Dick Diver’s career. So very, very important concept.

Just to give you one more example of a very local micro instance of switchability or reversibility has to do with the transitive relation between proper names and active verbs.  We know that there’s a character in a novel called Dick Diver. And here’s Rosemary, the actress, talking about what she does and what she has to do. She has a fever, but because the set is very expensive, they just have to shoot. So this is what she has to do. She has to dive into the water for that episode.

“One day I happened to have the grippe and didn’t know it, and they were taking a scene where I dove into a canal in Venice. It was a very expensive set, so I had to dive and dive and dive all morning.”

Obviously, it’s not a trivial or unconnected detail in a novel where the protagonist is called Dick Diver. That there should be someone else diving and diving and diving, because of her discipline as an actress.  I think that right then and there, the question opens up: who is more capable of a kind of sustainable performance? It seems that just the repetition of those three words, “dive and dive and dive all morning” suggest that Rosemary is probably going to be an actress who will have a long career because she’s so disciplined and just hardworking that if she has to do something she would do it. So the question then, because she seems to have such a sustainable career, sustainable performance, whether Dick Diver is capable of that sustainable performance, the person who has that proper name, whether he can actually live up to the promise of his name, Dick Diver.

Chapter 5: “Hard” and “Pitiful” [00:16:29]

I want now to zero-in on those two adjectives, “hard” and “pitiful,” and look at the way Fitzgerald really spins out a whole narrative.  Maybe the whole novel is based on the interplay between those two adjectives.  Let’s look at what the hard Nicole does. And what comes through, what kind of story emerges when we go along the axis of Nicole as a hard person. This is what she says to Rosemary just talking casually about the beach and so on, and about the tourists.

“‘Well, I have felt there were too many people on the beach this summer,’ Nicole admitted.  ‘Our beach that Dick made out of a pebble pile.’  She considered, and then lowering her voice out of range of the trio of nannies who sat back under another umbrella.  ‘Still, they’re preferable to those British last summer who kept shouting about: ‘Isn’t the sea blue? Isn’t the sky white?  Isn’t little Nellie’s nose red?’” Rosemary thought she would not like to have Nicole for an enemy.”

This is a great demonstration of a hard person – without this person actually lifting a finger to do a thing. It’s just the way her mind works. It is her tone of voice, it is the way she thinks about nannies, people in her employ. The way she thinks about people who don’t have to cling to the beach that she does. It’s really the speech pattern and the tone of voice of someone who’s never not been on the top of the world, as she looks down on everyone, and just putting them in the places.

This is the hard Nicole. It actually gives another meaning to her back hanging from the string of pearls. That may be, really, this is what the real Nicole is. It is the fact that she is hanging from the string of pearls. That they will always be a string of pearls for her to hang from that she can afford to look at the world in this way, look at other people in this way, and speak in that particular tone of voice that signals to Rosemary– it takes about two seconds for Rosemary to know what kind of a person she is dealing with. So she casts a summary of what a person is without recourse to any action. And in fact, Nicole doesn’t really act until the very end of the novel. And even then it’s not even especially hard kind of action, although that’s debatable.

But as is the case with Fitzgerald, the word “hard” is not allowed to stand alone, because we can’t forget that in fact, there were three adjectives, “hard,” and “lovely” and “pitiful.” That kind of permutation, it’s like a dance, a dance of adjectives, will keep coming up again.  Just a few pages later, now the description of Nicole, her face at different times, the “hard” as to be in quotation marks. “Her face was hard, almost stern, save for the soft gleam of piteous doubt that looked from her green eyes.”  It seems that those adjectives are really ingrained in Fitzgerald’s mind. That he cannot think about Nicole without using that trio, “lovely,” as well as – or maybe just a duo of two adjectives. They are the two poles of the spectrum on which she shadows back and forth.

Because “pitiful” is so much a companion to the adjective, “hard.” Let’s look at one instance of the pitiful Nicole, and see whether or not there is an organic connection between the “pitiful” Nicole and the “hard” Nicole.  We have to go back earlier, so we have to go back to– well go forward to book two, which is backward in time. Go back to 1917 when she was a patient, and Dick Diver was about to– well actually, he had not even agreed to do anything for her. He was just someone who had been consulted about her.  She was writing to him when she was in this mental institution.

“Dear Captain Diver, I write to you because there’s no one else to whom I can turn and it seems to me if this farcicle”– misspelled by Nicole—

“if this farcicle situation is apparent to one as sick as me it should be apparent to you.  The mental trouble is all over and besides that I am completely broken and humiliated, if that was what they wanted.  My family have shamefully neglected me, there’s no use asking them for help or pity.  I have had enough and it is simply ruining my health and wasting my time pretending that what is the matter with my head is curable.”

This is the absolute low point for Nicole. She is by herself. Her family isn’t there, she’s in the hands of strangers who are paid to take care of her. And here, who is this person who seems to have his whole life full of promise ahead of him, completely healthy, about to be launching this great career.

In one sense it is Nicole at her most abject. That this is someone who really has no future to look forward to. Has really no hope, really, has nothing that she can claim. Except that given the fact that we have seen the hard Nicole, I think that we should also be alert a little bit to the suggestion of hardness, even in this moment when Nicole is most object. And I think that, in fact, that misspelled word, “farcicle,” points to a different linguistic usage. Some reason he uses the word “farcicle,” actually, is more in command of the faculties than is suggested by the profession of abjection.

Likewise, it is simply “ruining my health and wasting my time.” Someone who would use the phrase “waste my time” has a different sense of herself than is suggested by the profession of abjection. So right there, even though it is the pitiful Nicole who is in the foreground, an element of hardness is never not on the horizon. I think that it is really that combination that Fitzgerald wants us to see that she’s completely switchable. The distance between hardness and pitifulness is tiny. She can just go back and forth, it takes one second for her to switch from one to the other.

One more instance of the pitiful Nicole. This one is very late in her life, so this is in the present for her.

“Nicole knelt beside the tub swaying sidewise and sidewise.  ‘It’s you!’ she cried, ‘it’s you come to intrude on the only privacy I have in the world – with your spread of red blood on it.  I’ll wear it for you – I’m not ashamed, though it was such a pity.’”       

The word “pity” is foregrounded. But once again, even though this is Nicole out of her mind, Nicole totally out of control, Nicole gone crazy again, and therefore, she has to be medicalized. Nicole is a candidate for medicalization. But even though she’s a candidate for medicalization, she’s also quite aggressive, as well as we can see. She’s not so defenseless as not to be able to say some pretty wounding things to whoever would listen to her.

Once again we have that combination, the pitifulness in the foreground, but hardness is always lurking very, very close to the front, actually, in the background.  It’s because of that, I think, it’s because the distance between the two switchable platforms is such a small distance, that I think that the technique of montage is especially helpful to Fitzgerald.

Chapter 6: Montage as a Narrative Technique [00:25:48]

As I said before, I don’t think it was actually a mainstreamHollywoodtechnique in the ’20s yet, although it was already theorized by film theorists all over the world. I’ll give you one instance of that. But basically, montage is a film editing technique. And the two things that are central to it are dissolving from one narrative into another, and superimposition of one onto another. So these are two fundamental elements of montage.

Sergei Eisenstein, the Russian, great filmmaker in the ’20s, he wrote a lot on montage. In fact, I think that most people who actually talk about montage go back to Eisenstein’s writing in the 1920s. So according to Eisenstein, “Montage is the nerve of cinema.” In the collision of different narratives, “each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other.” Even though they are sequential, even though one comes after the other.  And there’s no way we can– this is how time works. One thing comes after another, the structure of time. There’s no way we can completely do without that, or completely undermine that. But nonetheless, it’s a way of storytelling that makes that sequential appearance almost case of superimposition. And I think that this is really what Fitzgerald does for a good part of the time in Tender Is the Night. So let’s just look at five or six instances of what I would call different modes of superimposition. Or superimposition being mapped on different kinds of thematics that are themselves interrelated.

War – we began with war in the very beginning of this semester.  It turns out that war would come back in quite a big way in this novel that really otherwise has nothing to do with war. This is a novel set in the French Riviera, and then basically in various civilian and very luxurious settings.  It seems to have nothing to do with war. Except that, for some reason, war keeps coming up in very strange allusions.   One of the first instances of this, and usually it comes out in casual conversation. So sometimes between a major character, and sometimes between a minor character. So this is a conversation between Rosemary and Tommy Barban who’s a mercenary. Actually, I didn’t know that that was such an important class of– that was such an important profession, but it turns out that maybe it was in the early twentieth century.

Tommy, because he’s a mercenary, goes around from one place to another –

‘Home?  I have no home.  I am going to a war.’ ‘What war?’ ‘What war?  Any war.  I haven’t seen a paper lately but I supposed there’s a war – there always is.’ ‘Don’t you care what you fight for?’ ‘Not at all – so long as I’m well treated.  When I’m in a rut I come to see the Divers, because then I know that in a few weeks I’ll want to go to war.’ Rosemary stiffened. ‘You like the Divers,’ she reminded him. ‘Of course – especially her – but they make me want to go to war.’”

Tommy Barban might be a mercenary, but he certainly is not just brute strength. There’s a lot of psychological subtlety at play here. This is page 30. So we have no understanding of what context Tommy Barban is speaking. All we can say is that it is not an innocent context. That he has lots of things that he’s holding back about how he feels about the Divers is clear, that he doesn’t like Dick Diver, right? That I like them, especially her. But also the general sense that it’s just the two of them, for a few weeks is enough, that is enough to make him want to go to war. We don’t know what it is about them that would have this kind of effect on him. But it never fails.

Right there, this is a snake making its way into this paradise that is the French Riviera. The least we can say that even amount the close friends and people who are right there, who are there constantly with them, they’re people who supposedly are very good friends of theirs, have this opinion about them. So we have– this is just one mystery that we have to figure out, and the details of which we have to fill out for ourselves. And in fact, I would suggest that even at the very end of the novel, I’m not sure that we can completely clear up this mystery.

Chapter 7: The Superimposition of Love and War on a Macro Scale [00:31:20]

It’s the superimposition of love and war that creates the particular kind of psychological dynamics between Rosemary and Tommy and also between Tommy and the Divers.  It is not even just visual.  I want to emphasize that when the film technique of montage is used in a novel, it doesn’t always have to be only on the visual register.  It can also be a case of psychological superimposition, although sometimes Fitzgerald also uses very, very visual superimposition as well.

To give you one more example of how persistent Fitzgerald is about superimposing these two, love and war.  They go and they walk out, and it turns out that even here in this seemingly very peaceful setting, that actually World War I was fought very close by. So close by that the relics of World War I was still there.  This is the spot where the British could only advance a foot at a time, and the resistance was so fierce that they could only move ahead one foot at a time, the army. And it cost 20 lives to date for them to go forward one foot.

“‘This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer,’ he said to Rosemary.  She looked out obediently at the rather bare green plain with its low trees of six years’ growth.  If Dick has added that they were now being shelled she would have believed him that afternoon.  Her love had reached a point where now at last  she was beginning to be unhappy, to be desperate.  She didn’t know what to do – she wanted to talk to her mother.”

At this moment Rosemary is deeply in love. She is in the throes of love, of what seems to be unrequited love for Dick, and the necessary background is World War I. That it is the fact that she would have believed him if he had told her that they were being shelled, once again, as in World War I, that she would have believed him if he had said that, that is the measure of how much in love she is.

It seems that love is really not a freestanding entity in this novel. It’s always mapped against large-scale warfare. We don’t simply know. The logic of that mapping is not clear. In fact, I would also say that this is another one of those mysteries that even at the end of the novel, we might not be able to say exactly what the logic is. But clearly, for Fitzgerald there’s a logic that always, persistently, we saw it in this cross-mapping or superimposition of love and war.

One more example just to see how obsessed he is, really, with this kind of cross-mapping. General Grant– so it’s not just World War I, but the Civil War. And this is something that Fitzgerald has in common with Hemingway as well in For Whom the Bell Tolls. We see that Spanish Civil War and the American Civil War sometimes cross-mapped in the importance of Robert Jordan’s grandfather. Here, for no reason that we can see, the Civil War comes into play, in the midst of the discussion about World War I.

“‘General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty-five.’ ‘No, he didn’t – he just invented mass butchery.  This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines inMarseillesand girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg andWestphalia.  Why, this was a love-battle – there was a century of middle-class love spent here.  This was the last love-battle’”

Strange use of the English language.  “Love battle” is not a phrase that anyone else would use. Fitzgerald uses it as if it was a most idiomatic expression in the world. And that’s because in his mind there is such a tight knit between love and war that you almost cannot talk about one without talking about the other. But according to this analysis of war, it is middle-class romantic love that is at the back of war. It’s a very long causal chain to go from middle-class love to trench warfare, or to the Civil War in the U.S. history. It’s a very, very long causal chain, and we have to fill in lots of lots of relays in order for that causal change to make sense. But that’s what Fitzgerald wants us to imagine is to imagine all those missing links that he’s not showing us.

I think we’ve seen enough to know that this really is a very significant pattern, not fully explained to us. But that is one of the constants in this novel is that extreme conditions of love always require a very violent, large-scale violent background for it to be fully manifested. That maybe its articulation requires some relation to that large-scale event.  I want to turn now to talk about this – we’ve been looking at kind of the narrative mapping.  A large-scale, historical event that’s constantly being summoned and reactivated and brought into the novel.  This macro register has implications for micro romantic relations.

Chapter 8: The Superimposition of Love and War on the Micro Scale [00:37:48]

It turns out that that combination of love and war can also be played out in incidental moments not involving the protagonist at all – which suggests that it is the narrative fabric, it’s a descriptive fabric for Fitzgerald – almost like a stylistic tic for Fitzgerald – without even making a huge thematic point about it. That’s what his mind reverts to. Whenever he talks about any kind of violence, there’s also this other element of love that is superimposed.  This is a totally trivial incident, except for the fact that it’s just the same kind of dynamics.

“At a Pullman entrance two cars off, a vivid scene detached itself from the tenor of many farewells.  The young woman with the helmet-like hair to whom Nicole had spoken made an odd dodging little run away from the man to whom she was talking and plunged a frantic hand into her purse; then the sound of two revolver shots cracked the narrow air of the platform… But before the crowd closed in, the others had seen the shots take effect, seen the target sit down upon the platform.”

People constantly getting shot in this novel, which is really a surprising fact, for that murder to appear with this kind of regularity in this particular kind of social setting, but it does.  That in itself is a very insistent pattern on the part of Fitzgerald. But I want to call attention to this highly cinematic moment. The beginning was just kind of the usual scene at a train station. People are saying goodbye. But the introduction of a textural element that actually could be filmed with perfect to maximum effect, the young woman with the helmet-like hair. A completely gratuitous detail that would not have called attention to itself– would not otherwise have called attention to itself, but in this novel, given the superimposition of love and war does.

The woman with helmet-like hair that Nicole has just been speaking to – “made an odd dodging little run away from a man to whom she was talking, and plunged a little frantic hand into her purse.”  Almost dance steps taken by that woman.  A kind of dance movement, and then the shot coming after that as the not predictable, not expected conclusion to that dance movement that creates this montage effect.

She’s been talking to Nicole, she’s making a little run. Maybe we would expect someone who’s making a little run in a train station to go and catch the train. That’s the most usual context for the little running, except it was a dodging little run. It turns out that the outcome of that little run is, in fact, the shooting.

Two completely separate narratives being mapped onto one another. They’re much more standard and surprising are they with saying goodbye in the train station with a totally different story being mapped onto it. And it turns out that the two can actually share a lot of the same visual details unless there’s a divergence, and the violence of that divergence that create that particular cinematic effect.

Chapter 9: A Cinematic Rendition of Murder [00:42:07]

I want to give you one more example of this highly cinematic rendition of murder. And it turns out that Fitzgerald is especially interested in the way that the sequence leading up to a murder, or the sequence by which murder is finally recognized as murder. So here is a description of something that happens in Rosemary’s hotel room.  It takes a long time to get to the end. I think that that’s the point.  Let’s follow Fitzgerald in this very, very strange passage.

“…Then, rather gradually, she realized without turning about that she was not alone in the room. In an inhabited room there are refracting objects only half noticed: varnished wood, more or less polished brass, silver and ivory, and beyond these a thousand conveyers of light and shadow so mild that one scarcely thinks of them as that, the tops of picture-frames, the edges of pencils or ash-trays, of crystal or china ornaments; the totality of this refraction – appealing to equally subtle reflexes of the vision as well as those associational fragments in the subconscious that we seem to hang on to, as a glass-fitter keeps the irregularly shaped pieces that may do some time – this fact might account for what Rosemary afterward mysteriously described as “realizing” that there was some one in the room, before she could determine it.  But when she did realize it she turned swift in a sort of ballet step and saw that a dead Negro was stretched upon her bed.”

This has got to be the most deferred discovery of a dead body in any work of American literature. It seems almost counterproductive for the realization on the part of Rosemary that she was not alone in the room to the fact that yes, there’s a dead negro on the bed. Why Fitzgerald would want to take that long detour to me, actually, once again, is not completely transparent.

All we can say is that this is a kind of cinematic moment when we soon know that something is wrong in a room. But instead the focus is kept frozen, fixated, on all these refracting objects. Varnished wood, ashtrays, and so on. All these refracting objects that are actually not reflecting that dead body.  This is a weird kind of way in which there are multiple mirrors in a room, all these refracting surfaces, but they’re not reflecting the central, the most important, crucial factor in that room, the dead body on the bed.

Instead, it seems simply to be a meditation on the way the world comes to us refracted, and there are multiple objects to be doing that, and the relation between that and our subconscious, and the relation between that and our memory. Almost a meditation on the way in which our memory is structured by visual refractions.

And then finally coming back to Rosemary.   Repeating exactly the same sequence, right. There’s the woman before has this dodging little run before she plunges a hand into her purse to pull out the revolver. And here, Rosemary’s not going to plunge into her purse, but she’s going to do a little ballet dance, a ballet step before she discovers the dead body on the bed.

All, we can say, really, is maybe just describe and re-articulate what Fitzgerald is doing is highly delivered, it’s highly stylized, one of the most stylized moment, consciously, maybe even heavy-handedly written, although to what end is not entirely clear. But it’s one of the most purposeful moments in novel. So I think that we are obligated to interpret it in some fashion, and to attach some degree of thematic weight to this seemingly inexplicable moment.  Tender Is the Night is a challenge to us, as much of a challenge as Faulkner’s novels are.

[end of transcript] 

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