The most important and the most difficult subject for our time": Hollywood and Tender is the Night.
In his "A Note on Fitzgerald" John Dos Passos regrets the early death of his friend before he could finish The Last Tycoon, sure to be a "great novel" (339). More striking than the fact that Dos Passos felt The Last Tycoon would turn out to be a well-written novel is his opinion that the true greatness of the novel lies in its subject of Hollywood,
probably the most important and the most difficult subject of our time to deal with. Whether we like it or not it is in that great bargain sale of five and ten cent lusts and dreams that the new bottom level of our culture is being created. The fact that at the end of a life of brilliant worldly successes and crushing disasters Scott Fitzgerald was engaged so ably in a work of such importance proves him to have been the first-rate novelist his friends believed him to be. (343)
Not only is Hollywood an acceptable subject for a literary novel in the opinion of Dos Passos, but its choice by Fitzgerald confirms him as one of America's greatest novelists. This is an opinion, about The Last Tycoon and about Hollywood, completely rejected by Kenneth Eble in his biographical study of Fitzgerald. Eble sees The Last Tycoon as "a departure from Fitzgerald's previous work," a departure that would have ended up truly "second-rate" (148). Eble admits that all we have of the novel is a fragment and so Fitzgerald very well could have drastically improved it before publication, but he then questions "whether a great novel is likely to result from a documentary study, and particularly from one of such a limited and artificial world as Hollywood" (149). The influence of Hollywood on Fitzgerald's style is praised by Wheeler Winston Dixon, who argues that a new, highly visual style of writing is evidenced in the unfinished novel (86), but bemoaned by Alan Margolies, who offers examples of several Fitzgerald short stories that "suffered further because they were written with an eye on sales to Hollywood" (65). The failure of these stories, for Margolies, was not just in their being hastily written in the hopes of immediate financial reward, but that their actual content betrayed Fitzgerald's gifts as a writer by becoming overly concerned with action over dialogue and with impressive visual scenes over psychological development.
Fitzgerald, himself, seemed as unsure about the relationship between Hollywood and his novels as his critics and biographers. His letters and essays suggest a highly conflicted view of the artistic merits of the film industry, spanning from outright praise to total contempt. Most often cited is his eulogy for literature from "The Crack-Up" pieces, a series of essays detailing his own destruction as an artist. Fitzgerald famously mourns that
the novel, which at my maturity was the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion from one human being to another, was becoming subordinated to a mechanical and communal art that, whether in the hands of Hollywood merchants or Russian idealists, was capable of reflecting only the tritest thought, the most obvious emotion. It was an art in which words were subordinate to images, where personality was worn down to the inevitable low gear of collaboration. As long past as 1930, I had a hunch that the talkies would make even the best selling novelist as archaic as silent pictures ... there was a rankling indignity, that to me had become an obsession, in seeing the power of the written word subordinated to another power, a more glittering, a grosser power. ("Handle" 78)
The bitterness here is hard to miss. Fitzgerald places the novel and the film in direct opposition to one another and worries that the latter will soon replace the former. The basis for this differentiation is not merely the whims of popular taste or the ability to make a profit, but the very natures of the respective media--" the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion" as opposed to a medium "capable of reflecting only the tritest thought, the most obvious emotion." Of course condemning Hollywood for its superficiality was as common then as it is today, but Fitzgerald includes Russian montage filmmakers as well and sees little hope for an art that deals in images over words. The direct references to the medium of film have made this passage oft-cited evidence of Fitzgerald's disdain for the audiences who were not buying his books and for the Hollywood machine that would eventually eat him up and reject him. In the third essay of the series the ironic persona Fitzgerald adopts suggests he will smile like a "hopeful extra swept near the camera" ("Pasting" 83).1 Not only does the sarcastic comparison reveal Fitzgerald's disdain for the Hollywood system, but by referencing the smiling extra, stereotypically a young woman with little training in acting who hopes to be discovered and turned into a star, he seems to draw a strong distinction between the contemplative act of novel-writing and the superficial glamour of Hollywood film.
While his "Crack-Up" essays connect Hollywood and his personal depression, his earlier letters betray a different attitude. Looking to John Peale Bishop for advice on This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald asks him to write back with comments on whether "Chap I is like the elevated moments of D. W. Griffith" ("Letter to John" 258), suggesting that film provided a common artistic reference point within his circle of friends, that he saw value in some films, and that he acknowledged at an early age the influence of film on his writing style. Once his first novel was published to great acclaim, Fitzgerald described the whirlwind success as "the presses ... pounding out This Side of Paradise like they pound out extras in movies" ("Early" 88). Though this use of "extras" is hardly flattering, it does blur the distinctions between the book and film trades at the point of mass production. Finally, after the success of Paradise, with his career as a novelist rising meteorically, Fitzgerald claimed he was "working like a dog on some movies" ("Letter to Edmund" 259), and a large portion of his income at this time came from selling the movie rights to The Beautiful and the Damned (a novel with numerous negative references to the mercantile film industry) to Warner Brothers.
It is hard to discern a sustained pattern in Fitzgerald's attitude towards film and Hollywood over the course of his life. The "Crack-Up" essays come near the end of his career while most of the enthusiastic references to film are found in much earlier writing, suggesting, perhaps, a growing disillusionment with the film industry in large part due to his own dwindling success as a novelist. (2) Yet, it is early in his career that he writes The Beautiful and the Damned with its negative portrayal of Hollywood and the end that he writes The Last Tycoon with its vision of a Hollywood reborn as art due to the influence of producer Monroe Stahr. It is quite tempting to see Fitzgerald's extended years in Hollywood as the ultimate degradation for an artist as he was forced to work for the very medium he had bemoaned in the "Crack-Up" essays, but biographical evidence suggests he hardly treated the time period as a degradation, and his financial records reveal that in one way or another he had been working for Hollywood for most of his career. (3) Rather than try to determine which side Fitzgerald was on--did he resent the popularity of Hollywood or attempt to participate in it, did the art of moving images inspire his writing or cause it to suffer, did his artistic crack-up lead to a humbling end or a rebirth of his talent as he began to write about the "most important" subject of his time--I will read Fitzgerald as a novelist struggling to draw upon the material and cultural power of Hollywood while simultaneously rejecting the new medium in order to protect the position of the literary novel within American culture, feelings of both desire and repulsion.
Previous attempts at understanding Fitzgerald's relationship to film have tended to draw a firm line between the two media, with the implication that a great novelist such as Fitzgerald might experiment with the newer medium but would never succeed in writing for a mass audience of filmgoers as he would an audience of individual readers. When Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the producer of Three Comrades, justifies his rewriting of much of Fitzgerald's dialogue for the final script because "It was very literary dialogue that lacked all the qualities required for screen dialogue. The latter must be 'spoken.' Scott Fitzgerald wrote very bad spoken dialogue" (qtd. in Dardis 39), or when Nunnally Johnson, another man with extensive Hollywood experience, agrees that "[Fitzgerald] had simply wandered away from the field where he was a master and was sludging around in an area for which he had no training or instinct" (qtd. in Dardis 57), the two media are distinguished by supposedly essential characteristics. Whatever it was that made Fitzgerald an important American novelist could not be translated to film because of the nature of the medium. Wheeler Winston Dixon appears to find a way to relate the two media to one another with his study The Cinematic Vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald in which he argues that, rather than diminishing his talents, Fitzgerald's time in Hollywood actually contributed new techniques and ways of seeing that he then applied to his novels. While the title of the study suggests a marriage of the novelistic and cinematic, the thesis places the novelist in a position outside the film industry, an artistic alien visiting the world of popular culture for a few months in order to transform its natural tendencies into the stuff of art. Dixon's close readings of Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon reveal an ongoing conflict in Fitzgerald about the influence of cinema as well as his own desire to see his novels sold to Hollywood and turned into films. Strangely, however, after so carefully noting the numerous details in the novels that could have been the result of Fitzgerald's new understanding of screenwriting, Dixon ends the chapter on The Last Tycoon with the declaration that we should not take these connections too far for "film is film, and print is print" (99). The ending is strange not because it is false, but because it is stated so plainly as though the differences between film and print require no further discussion, despite the fact that these differences and the attempts by Fitzgerald to alternately overcome and accentuate them is, I believe, the central issue of the book. Interestingly, Gautam Kundu's recent study of Fitzgerald's cinematic style also assures the reader early on that "Fitzgerald himself was well aware of the differences between the two modes of artistic expression" (9), as though it might detract from Fitzgerald's legacy to suggest his borrowings from Hollywood were not always completely self-conscious. (4) Yes, there are differences between film and print, but what these differences meant to Fitzgerald (and to other novelists, to filmmakers, to readers, and to filmgoers) is precisely what needs to be discussed. By reducing the relationship between the Hollywood film and the literary novel to a difference of essence, "film is film, and print is print," we miss out on the complexity of Fitzgerald's struggle. (5) In Tender is the Night Fitzgerald is not simply dismissing a form of mass culture nor selectively borrowing a few techniques from a newer art form; he is personally engaged in a complex and sometimes contradictory attempt to define the still-amorphous relationship between film and the novel, a relationship that was important to Fitzgerald's sense of himself as an artist and to his financial future.
According to Matthew Bruccoli's extended research of the manuscripts, Tender is the Night went through seventeen separate versions. While the setting, plot, and even gender of the main character changed over the years of revision, each version retained some connection to Hollywood and filmmaking. In the published version this connection is found most prominently in the character of Rosemary Hoyt, a young starlet whose popularity has swept over America due to her performance in Daddy's Girl. One of the longest-running debates about the novel concerns Fitzgerald's decision to focus on Rosemary during Book I despite the fact the novel is clearly about the degradation of Dick Diver from bright, young psychologist to an empty shell. Fitzgerald, himself, seemed to doubt his decision as he began outlining a more chronological version of the novel after the initial publication that Malcolm Cowley would eventually transform into reality after Fitzgerald's death. Rather than continue this debate along aesthetic claims of quality or through psychoanalytic readings of Fitzgerald based on his own marital problems, which John B. Chambers claims is the primary reason so many have criticized the original version (127-37), I will simply point out one of the interesting effects of Fitzgerald's original structure. The opening of Book II, the chronological start of the novel, takes on the voice of a Bildungsroman with a Jamesian omniscient narrator. It opens, "In the spring of 1917, when Doctor Richard Diver first arrived in Zurich, he was twenty-six years old, a fine age for a man, indeed the very acme of bachelorhood" (115). The rhythm of the "indeed" and the knowing tone of "a fine age for a man" suggest a narrator in full control of his subject, telling us the story of Dick Diver not as it happens or with any claim to objectivity but with artistic flair. Note also that the chapter starts with a date and basic background information about the hero--his full name and age. We are not shown these facts; we are told them. A little further down the page we receive a brief biography of the young psychologist:
Doctor Diver had been around the edges of the war by that time: he was an Oxford Rhodes Scholar from Connecticut in 1914. He returned home for a final year at Johns Hopkins, and took his degree. In 1916 he managed to get to Vienna under the impression that, if he did not make haste, the great Freud would eventually succumb to an aeroplane bomb. Even then Vienna was old with death but Dick managed to get enough coal and oil to sit in his room in the Damenstiff Strasse and write the pamplets that he later destroyed, but that, rewritten, were the backbone of the book he published in Zurich in 1920. (115-16)
Other than the image of Dick sitting in his room trying to keep warm, this quick tour through Dick's college years is offered to us as a series of dates. The narrator is also able to seamlessly enter Dick's mind to explain his reason for moving to Vienna and can offer the reader a description of Vienna, "old with death," that is largely subjective. In short, Book II utilizes the sort of "old-fashioned devices" that Wayne C. Booth claims would have made a better opening for the novel (189-90). As Kirk Curnutt points out in his critique of Booth, however, had these "old-fashioned devices" been used in a chronological narrative, the effect likely would have been identification with Dick and his gradual downfall. Placing this style of narration midway through the novel is jarring and encourages a critical distance from Dick and his feelings, a critical distance that adds to the ambiguous feelings towards Hollywood evoked by our introduction to Rosemary. (6)
The opening Fitzgerald did choose for Book I was far different not just in subject matter (Rosemary) but in style. Book I begins, "On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel. Deferential palms cool its flushed facade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach" (3). Though the language is at times subjective, we are offered far more visual descriptions, with a focus on space over time. This strategy continues in the next paragraph as we see "The hotel and its bright tan prayer rug of a beach," "the pink and cream of old fortifications, the purple Alp that bounded Italy," and "ripples and rings sent up by sea-plants through the clear shallows." The vibrant colors of these descriptions perhaps bear a resemblance to the saturated hues of the recently popularized Technicolor process being used in many Hollywood films. The sense that we are looking through a camera continues as the beach awakens with life. We "see" a man in a blue bathrobe take an early morning swim and then: "Merchantmen crawled westward on the horizon; bus boys shouted in the hotel court; the dew dried upon the pines. In another hour the horns of motors began to blow down from the winding road." The descriptions are mostly objective and give the sense that one is there on the Riviera watching and listening to whatever random images and sound are caught by lens and microphone. Even more film-like is our introduction to Rosemary and her mother. While Dick is introduced in Book II with his name and age before any physical description, our first impression of Rosemary is entirely visual. First her mother is described, but then "one's eye moved on quickly to her daughter" as the "camera" pans to the side and closes in on the "magic in her pink palms and her cheeks lit to a lovely flame. ... Her fine forehead sloped gently up to where her hair, bordering it like an armorial shield, burst into lovelocks and waves and curlicues of ash blonde and gold. Her eyes were bright, big, clear, wet, and shining, the color of her cheeks was real" (3-4). It is only after this use of color, lighting, and close-ups to describe Rosemary that we are given her age, eighteen, though her first name is kept from the reader for another page until she feels the stares of the people on the beach who recognize her, and her full name is not revealed until one of the women on the beach says it aloud, "You're Rosemary Hoyt" (7). Of course the use of objective language and visual description has been used by many other novelists, even novelists writing before the invention of film. By itself the passage is not proof of the influence of film on Fitzgerald's style, but the drastic difference in style and tone between the respective descriptions of Rosemary and Dick encourages the reader to understand the depths of Dick's life and mental development but to "see" the surface of Rosemary Hoyt. Given that most critics read Dick as a version of Fitzgerald, and Rosemary, the actress, clearly embodies popular Hollywood, (7) the difference is significant for beginning to understand Fitzgerald's own feelings towards both film and his own work as a novelist.
Though Fitzgerald sees fit to employ a highly visual style to open the novel, the remainder of Book I seeks to convince the reader that Dick's choice about whether to remain faithful to Nicole or sleep with Rosemary is also a choice between the depth of traditional art and culture and the superficial pleasures of the new medium of film. The initial description of Rosemary focuses on her dewy eyes, that vital feature of any emerging film starlet, while Nicole is offered to us in portrait:
her face could have been described in terms of conventional prettiness, but the effect was that it had been made first on the heroic scale with strong structure and marking, as if the features and vividness of brow and coloring, everything we associated with temperament and character had been molded with a Rodinesque intention, and then chiseled away in the direction of prettiness to a point where a single slip would have irreparably diminished its force and quality. (16-17)
As with Rosemary, Fitzgerald describes Nicole's surface qualities; while Rosemary is all bright colors, styled hair, and innocent eyes, however, Nicole is a work of art, a sculpture that is not just beautiful but has "character" and depth to it. And though Dick is strongly attracted to Rosemary he, too, notes that "the beauty of Nicole had been to the beauty of Rosemary as the beauty of Leonardo's girl was to that of the girl of an illustrator" (104). Even Rosemary's own mother, her greatest supporter, comes to the conclusion that "Nicole was a great beauty, with the frank implication that Rosemary was not" (67). The contrast is not merely one of beauty, however. Dick recognizes quickly that Rosemary's personality and knowledge of life are derived largely from the two-dimensional life she has led on the screen. When she is finally able to get Dick into her hotel room and offer to sleep with him, both recognize that she is playing "one of her greatest roles" (64), that her seduction consists of lines and images planted in her head by Hollywood. In a similar scene with a young Nicole, Dick attempts to convince her to no longer pursue a relationship with him but is struck to see in her "a creature whose life did not promise to be only a projection of youth upon a grayer screen, but instead, a true growing" (141). Rosemary's beauty and appeal are momentary and superficial while Nicole's attractions are timeless because part of her essential structure. As a doctor aware of Nicole's psychological trauma at the hands of her father, Dick should be just as motivated to reject her romantic approaches as he is to reject Rosemary, yet he quickly succumbs to Nicole and marries her while turning down Rosemary until later in the novel when his life has crumbled. Though Nicole, too, is beautiful, his inability to resist her cannot be put down to her greater physical attractions over Rosemary but rather to Dick's interest in her traumatized mind and her depth of character for surviving the incestuous relationship with her father. As a man dedicated to his craft he falls in love with Nicole, while the screening of Rosemary's hit film Daddy's Girl, with its merely implied incest, causes Dick to "winc[e] for all psychologists at the vicious sentimentality" (69). If, as many critics suggest, "Dick's practice of psychiatry ... becomes an analogue for Fitzgerald's vocation as a writer" (Moreland 360), we can see in Dick's choice not just a preference for Nicole over Rosemary, but a preference for psychological depth over the sensual pleasures of Hollywood.
Michael North agrees that Rosemary seems "a filmed version of the older woman" but goes on to argue that Fitzgerald is therefore criticizing the "appetite for repetition" film creates in its audience. Reading the relationship of Rosemary to Nicole as a degraded image and the novel as a complaint "that movies are responsible for a general lowering of artistic standards" (134), however, ignores the complexity of Dick's struggle. He is obsessed with Rosemary, yet he resists her much longer than he resisted Nicole. Dick cringes at the metaphorical incest of Daddy's Girl yet becomes involved with a patient of his suffering from the trauma of real incest. Though numerous passages early in the novel make clear that Rosemary is a superficial version of Nicole, Dick's actions show a deep sense of internal conflict, a conflict that would hardly be so intense if Rosemary was only the next youthful illusion attracting Dick. Further analysis of Rosemary and Nicole complicates their roles as well. Despite Rosemary's inability to seduce Dick without relying on her Hollywood experiences, she is far from oblivious to this superficiality. When she first meets Dick and his group at the beach she notes that their gentleness is "part of their lives, past and future, not circumstanced by events, not at all like the company manners of actors" (19). And though she clearly wants Dick to become her leading man when she offers him the opportunity to take a screen test (an offer Dick brutally rejects because "The pictures make a fine career for a woman--but my God they can't photograph me" ), her attraction to Dick is due to the fact that, unlike the other young men she has met, Dick is "the real thing" (31). Hers is not simply a young woman's crush on a distinguished older man as she realizes the difference between her feelings for Dick and her feelings towards the director Earl Brady, another man she respects. Her attraction to Brady is "not at all the spontaneous admiration she had felt for the man [Dick] on the beach this morning . . . she knew she would forget him half an hour after she left him--like an actor kissed in a picture" (24). Though she sees Brady as an intellectual, and perhaps even an artist (though she never uses the term to describe her career), he is easy to forget when not immediately in front of the eyes. Like an enthralling film or a handsome actor Brady commands the attention of the senses but leaves little impression on the mind--"But Dick Diver--he was all complete there" (19). Just as Dick's attraction to Rosemary can be unfavorably contrasted to his attraction to Nicole, Rosemary's attraction to Dick can be favorably contrasted to her brief relationships with actors and the college boys who have fallen in love with her screen image. The Divers, as their last name would suggest, possess a depth of character with which Hollywood, despite its sensual attractions, cannot compete, and Rosemary, the representative of Hollywood, fully realizes this.
Even though Rosemary and the Divers seem convinced of the superiority of the Divers to upstart Hollywood money, Rosemary first notices him on the beach "giving a quiet little performance" (6) for the rest of his party, including Mrs. McKisco, who tells Rosemary, "We thought maybe you were in the plot" and "One man my husband had been particularly nice to turned out to be a chief character" (7). In this particular instance "performance" need not refer to film acting, of course (his performance is later described as an "esoteric burlesque," which might suggest a knowledgeable parody and an extra layer of depth), but throughout the early part of the novel Dick is associated with acting. After talking to Dick, Rosemary notes that he shows her an understanding she has only ever encountered in other professionals, and, despite the previously mentioned differences between Dick and Earl Brady, Dick surely becomes an absurd version of a director himself when he speaks to Nicole via megaphone during one scene at their home. Indeed, Rosemary describes this home, the Villa Diana, as "a stage [on which] some memorable thing was sure to happen" (29), and, later, at the Cardinal de Retz's palace with Dick, she has "the detached false-and-exalted feeling of being on a set" (71). Lest one think that Rosemary is simply incapable of understanding the world in other than acting terms, a woman is overheard at the palace describing the Divers as "Practically the best show in Paris" (72). Even the narrator utilizes Hollywood to accurately describe Dick, comparing him to "an actor who underplays a part" (92) and later describing the argument between Augustine the cook and Dick as "a gladiatorial combat" (265), a reference that would bring to the minds of contemporary readers scenes from the recent blockbuster Ben Hur, whose set the Fitzgeralds had visited, more than anything else. By the end of Book I, then, we are hardly shocked when told that Rosemary says "her most sincere thing to [Dick]: 'Oh, we're such actors--you and I'" (105). The dash in the middle of the sentence draws the reader's attention to the pairing of Dick and Rosemary, "you and I," actors both.
Though Nicole is not directly associated with acting the way her husband is, she often appears to be as much a Hollywood leading lady as Rosemary due to Fitzgerald's frequent use of lighting, one of the central tools of Hollywood glamour. At Dick's intentionally bad dinner party, for instance, Rosemary notes the effects on Nicole's beauty of carefully placed light sources, her face lit both by "candlelight" and "wine-colored lanterns in the pine" (33). Surprisingly, though, a majority of these dramatically lit scenes occur during Dick's courtship of Nicole in Book II, the portion of the novel that at first seems associated with depth and traditional narrative devices. During an early meeting at the clinic "Miss Warren emerged first in glimpses and then sharply when she saw him; as she crossed the threshold her face caught the room's last light" (133); later on during the same meeting but in a new location Dick sees "her face lighting up like an angel's when they came into the range of a roadside arc" (135); as he tries to break off their relationship her face is "ivory gold against the blurred sunset" (141); and after speaking to Baby Warren, Dick finds Nicole "motionless between two lamp stands" (153). Most remarkable about these examples of lighting is their resemblance to what Laura Mulvey, many years later, would identify as the "male gaze" of Classic Hollywood Cinema. In each example from Book II the beautiful lighting adds to the erotic feelings in Dick as he stares at Nicole, who is either motionless or moving almost in slow motion. This erotic contemplation is not reserved for Nicole, as we see such lighting every time Dick spies a young woman. As Baby Warren begins to use her money to tie Dick to Nicole, Dick sees an attractive girl in the moonlight outside (176), but later that night under less flattering lighting "Dick found the girl devitalized, and uninteresting" (178-79). In the next chapter Dick visits a dying patient, a 30-year-old woman who had once been "exceptionally pretty." As he talks to her about her sickness "he went out to her unreservedly, almost sexually" and this is the moment that Fitzgerald describes "The orange light through the drawn blind, the sarcophagus of her figure on the bed" (185), as if Dick's sexual feelings suddenly made the lighting noticeable. Later, during some time away from Nicole, Dick realizes "He was in love with every pretty woman he saw now, their forms at a distance, their shadows on a wall" (201). In each of these cases the mention of lighting is less an objective description for the reader than a desire within Dick to see these women in the same way he might see Rosemary or any other starlet on the big screen--carefully lit for his erotic contemplation. Lest we think that Fitzgerald, a writer, would not be aware of the intricacies of film lighting, near the end of Book II as Dick visits Rosemary on set we are told the day's shooting ends early because there was "a fine light for painters, but, for the camera, not to be compared with the clear California air" (213).
As in Fitzgerald's own life, then, we find that the role of Hollywood and film is not so easy to pin down in Tender is the Night. The opening Book finds Rosemary falling in love with Dick because he exudes a reality and meaningfulness absent in her Hollywood world, Mr. McKisco making "several withering remarks about movies" (33) to Earl Brady at the dinner party, Dick fleeing from a possible screen test as if the camera might steal his soul, and even the normally neutral narrator mocking Daddy's Girl with baby talk ("Was it a 'itty-bitty bravekins and did it suffer? Ooo-ooo-tweet, de tweetest thing, wasn't she dest too tweet?" ). This attack on Hollywood superficiality, however, is undercut by Rosemary's realization that Dick is as much an actor as she, that Mr. McKisco, the "literary man" (45), is disliked by everyone, and that Daddy's Girl seems to evoke a true emotional response from Dick even though it embarrasses him as a professional psychologist. Film is more than just a theme or piece of setting for Fitzgerald as he utilizes a virtual long shot that tracks into a close up of his leading lady in the initial pages, then finds use for Hollywood lighting to make Dick's longing for the various women he encounters more concrete to the reader.
Rather than a simple opposition between film and the novel, between Rosemary and the Divers, Tender is the Night offers us a number of complex relationships. The movie business is clearly critiqued throughout the novel. Dick cringes at the thought of taking a screen test; Rosemary's mother wants her to be "In the movies but not at all At them" (31); in Paris Dick starts a conversation with a man selling American newspapers, but when the man explains his real goal is to break into the movie business, "Dick shook him off quickly and firmly" (93); and during a drunken evening Rosemary's admirer Collis Clay tells Dick he'd "like to get in the movies" (223), which Dick immediately counsels against. These passages warn against the business of Hollywood, and Dick seems to despise the fact that the most dreadful people can make fortunes in moving pictures. The ability of Hollywood to make money, however, is what allows Rosemary to travel Europe and is her calling card for being introduced to Dick's social group in the first place. More generally the issue of money is central in Dick's life--he spends the early part of his marriage with Nicole trying to sustain himself on the money he earns on his psychology practice and writing but soon finds himself more and more dependent on her family fortune. The potential for profits in Hollywood is both its greatest attraction and power as well as its greatest detriment. The ease with which money can be made is both to its discredit and part of its appeal for an artist like Fitzgerald.
The film audience who pays the profits to Hollywood is also put under scrutiny. We learn that Violet McKisco's understanding of high society was "born dismally in the small movie houses of Idaho ... together with several million other people" (206), dismissing her true understanding of life and culture as "naive." Tommy Barban, Nicole's blunt and simple lover, explains his own bravery and heroism as merely "what I see in the cinema" (270), to which Nicole's response, "Very well, whenever I go to the movies I'll know you're going through just that sort of thing at that moment," could be read as a further critique of the tendency of movie audiences to replace real experience with the experience of watching a movie, but it could also point out the power of films to make "real" the unimaginable. Dick clearly succumbs to this power when Collis is describing to him a sexual mishap between Rosemary and a Yale boy. Dick places himself in the traditional position of the movie patron--the voyeur: "The vividly pictured hand on Rosemary's cheek, the quicker breath, the white excitement of the event viewed from outside" (88) enflames his jealousy all the more while also adding a degree of sexual excitement for him. Perhaps Rosemary's sophistication is questioned when we learn that she is "accustomed to seeing the starkest grotesqueries of a continent heavily underlined as comedy or tragedy" (15) since she relies on the broad categories of her movie career to make sense of the real world; but can the same be said of the narrator when we are told that Dick's "party that night moved with the speed of a slapstick comedy" (76)? And though Fitzgerald's use of camera-like techniques to start the novel could be seen as merely a clever method of introducing Rosemary's character as both an actress and a fairly superficial attraction, there is little reason to read the three-page montage of Dick and Nicole's early married life (a highly visual sequence where the scenes follow one another without transition as though cut together on film [159-62]) as critical. Editing, lighting, cinematography, and a particular interest in how the reader "sees" the characters suggest Fitzgerald has latched on to many of the techniques of the film industry not just to complement the subject matter of this novel, but to utilize many of the powerful emotional effects Hollywood has made its most effective selling point.
The emotions of Hollywood films are simple, broad, and sentimental but nonetheless evocative. Rosemary's first attempt at seducing Dick fails as she "struggle[d] with an unrehearsed scene" (38), suggesting Dick did not disapprove of her claim to love him as much as the quality of her acting. Later, Dick finally succumbs to Rosemary's allure because "It was time for Rosemary to cry, so she cried" (74), and this cliched emotional response causes him to tell her he loves her. This is the dilemma for Dick: not that he must choose between Rosemary and Nicole, between something simple and pleasurable and something complex and challenging, between his desire and his responsibility, between the new and the old, between surface and depth, but that the ability of Rosemary to evoke a strong emotional response in him along with the fact that Nicole "ought to be in the cinema, like your Norma Talmadge" (239) means the choice is hardly as simple as either/or. When Dick takes Rosemary to a World War II battlefield the sadness in his throat is not just for the lost soldiers, but for the loss of a previous way of life, one "invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine" and "D.H. Lawrence" (57), a shared culture created and communicated through the novel. It is no coincidence that as Dick is preparing himself to finally sleep with Rosemary in Book III he first reads a blurb in the newspaper about Sinclair Lewis's Main Street and "tried to think about Rosemary" (207), and then, in her room while she talks on the phone, examines a novel by Edna Ferber--an author whose novel Show Boat would become one of the first American musicals--and the novel of his "friend" Albert McKisco--whose plan was to write of "a decayed old French aristocrat ... in contrast with the mechanical age" (10). These three references to novels, all connected to mass culture in some form, are Dick's goodbye to a previous way of life before choosing Rosemary. Choosing Rosemary, for Dick, is less an action, though, than a resignation as the description of their lovemaking, "what had begun with a childish infatuation on a beach was accomplished at last" (213), makes clear. Dick has resigned himself to living in a world shaped more by the experience of watching Daddy's Girl than reading a novel, a world that saddens him at the same time that it fills him with a powerful desire. He explains these feelings to Rosemary and Nicole near the end of the novel when Rosemary asks the Divers if they've seen her latest pictures. Dick's response is philosophical: "What do you do in life? What does anyone do? They act--face, voice, words--the face shows sorrow, the voice shows shock, the words show sympathy" (288, emphasis original). Acting is what people do. Rosemary, of course, but also Nicole. Also Dick. It should be no surprise that the novel ends with Dick finally returning to America. The attempted escape to the Old World, to the lands of great art and culture and Freud, has failed for, as Rosemary points out, "no matter where we go everybody's seen 'Daddy's Girl'"(13).
Attached to this struggle over the merits of Hollywood, then, are questions of authenticity (are Rosemary's emotions less sincere because they are derived from her acting roles, or does their power to affect millions of filmgoers, including Dick, suggest they are as authentic as the most psychologically profound novel?), culture (Dick prides himself on his sophistication yet he fades into obscurity once cut off from his wife's fortune, while Daddy's Girl not only makes Rosemary financially independent but an icon that transcends all sorts of borders), and gender (As Dick says, "The pictures make a fine career for a woman," or less bitterly, as Anthony Slide claims, "Women thrived and, in many cases, dominated the motion picture world as screenwriters, editors, fan magazine writers, directors, and, of course, stars" ). Rather than Hollywood as simple temptress, luring novelists with its promise of easy money, Fitzgerald offers us Hollywood as Daddy's Girl, an object of incest. From the title of her popular film to Dick's thought that "She was young and magnetic, but so was Topsy [Dick's daughter]" (207), or to Rosemary's telling Topsy "I think you'd make a fine actress" (288), which enrages Nicole, the novel makes clear that Dick's reluctance to sleep with Rosemary is as much about a feeling of sexual perversion as about staying faithful to his wife. George Toles's claim that in the novel "Sexual incest is a metaphorical marker for fictional incest--the scandalous violation of life material" (425) is on the right track in connecting Dick's fears to Fitzgerald's fears, but rather than see the incest as a violation of F. Scott's personal life with Zelda, a life he had mined for years in his writing, the incestuous relationship is the one he was contemplating with the young medium of film. Ruth Prigozy reads the incest motif as a metaphor for a decaying civilization, which certainly connects to contemporary critiques of Hollywood, but she seems to ignore Dick's necessary role in the incest motif. Prigozy deftly elaborates the popularity of the "daddy's girl" character in Hollywood films but seems to avoid discussing the fact that incest is committed by the older generation against the young and innocent. (8) The novelist, in this struggle with metaphorical incest, is no longer a cool outsider or a mere victim of mass culture but instead the ultimate location of desire and the one who will bear the moral responsibility of any commingling. If Hollywood was merely superficial and representative of cultural decay, it would not require a metaphor so laden with guilt and desire. (9)
There is no doubt that Fitzgerald is critical of Hollywood's direct effect on American culture as well as its indirect effect on the market for literary novels. To read the novel as merely critical--Tender is the Night as "a cautionary tale for Fitzgerald" (Moreland 365)--however, is to make the mistake of failing to see the deeply tangled relationship between film and the novel. The novelist is deeply embedded in a web of associations and a process of defining the numerous intersections between novel and film: the camera-like shots of Rosemary associate film with the flat image as compared to the psychological depth of the novel while her sexual attractiveness suggests a difference in the relative abilities of film and the novel to enthrall an audience. Rosemary is a middle-class American, while Dick is an expatriate who has married into the very upper-class. Rosemary is a barely legal adult naive about the world, while Dick is experienced and contemplative. Film is represented by the ingenue Rosemary, while the old world of psychology and the novel are connected to masculine figures such as Freud and Lawrence. All these relationships are temporary and say more about the attitudes of Fitzgerald (and many other novelists) towards film in the twenties and thirties than they do about the essential qualities of the respective media. Indeed, the association of film with young starlets possibly began to shift with Fitzgerald's very next novel as The Last Tycoon made Monroe Stahr, a male producer, its central representative of Hollywood and its potential as an art form, an image that was no doubt enhanced on the film side by the recognition of a number of male directors as artists at this time. By reading Tender is the Night as part of a web of associations, then, we do not learn what essential differences defined film and the novel, but we do discover the highly volatile attitudes towards gender, art, mass culture, and "the real thing" that shaped these two novels and were subsequently shaped by them.
Berman, Ronald. The Great Gatsby and Modern Times. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994. Print.
Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961. Print.
Bruccoli, Matthew. The Composition of Tender is the Night: A Study of the Manuscripts. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1963. Print.
Chambers, John B. The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989. Print.
Curnutt, Kirk. "'A Unity Less Conventional But Not Less Serviceable': A Narratological History of Tender is the Night." Twenty-First-Century Readings of Tender is the Night. Ed. William Blazek and Laura Rattray. Liverpool, Eng.: Liverpool UP, 2007. 121-142. Print.
Dardis, Tom. Some Time in the Sun. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. Print.
Dixon, Wheeler Winston. The Cinematic Vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1986. Print.
Dos Passos, John. "A Note on Fitzgerald." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Books, 1945. 338-343. Print.
Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1963. Print.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. "Early Success." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Books, 1945. 85-90. Print.
--. "Handle With Care." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Books, 1945. 75-80. Print.
--. "Jacob's Ladder." 1927. The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989. 350-71. Print.
--. "Letter to Beatrice Dance, September 1936." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Books, 1945. 279-80. Print.
--. "Letter to Edmund Wilson, Spring 1922." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Books, 1945. 259. Print.
--. "Letter to John Peale Bishop, Spring 1922." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Books, 1945. 258-59. Print.
--. "Pasting It Together." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Books, 1945. 80-84. Print.
--. Tender is the Night. 1933. New York: Scribner, 1995. Print.
Grenberg, Bruce L. "Fitzgerald's 'Crack-up' Essays Revisited: Fictions of the Self, Mirrors for a Nation." F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Perspectives. Ed. Jackson R. Bryer, Alan Margolies, and Ruth Prigozy. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2000. 203-15. Print.
Kundu, Gautam. Fitzgerald and the Influence of Film: The Language of Cinema in the Novels. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. Print.
Margolies, Alan. "'Kissing, Shooting, and Sacrificing': F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Hollywood Market." The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism. Ed. Jackson R. Bryer. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1982. 65-73. Print.
Moreland, Kim. "Gerald Murphy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dick Diver: The Artist's Vocation." Journal of Modern Literature 23.2 (1999/2000): 359-65. Print.
Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Visual and Other Pleasures. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: MacMillan, 1989. 14-26. Print.
North, Michael. Camera Works: Photography and the Twentieth-Century Word. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
Prigozy, Ruth. "Fitzgerald's Flappers and Flapper Films of the Jazz Age: Behind the Morality." A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Kirk Curnutt. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. 129-61. Print.
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(1) Bruce L. Grenberg describes this as the "most devastating passage" in Fitzgerald's indictment of "new America" (212). Grenberg's overall reading of the essays argues that they are evidence of Fitzgerald's growth as an artist, admitting that the world he once wrote about so famously was gone and a new one, represented, in part, by Hollywood, was emerging. Though Fitzgerald's relationship to Hollywood is not central to Grenberg's reading, his final claim that the essays "allow him to give a most poignant statement of all his dreams in a most pervasive account of their loss" (213) captures the same ambiguous mixture of acceptance and disgust that I will connect to Dick Diver's feelings towards Rosemary Hoyt. Grenberg's essay also demonstrates the tendency in the last ten years of Fitzgerald criticism to take Fitzgerald's conflicted relationship with film and use it to further valorize the genius of his prose.
(2) Michael North notes the growing complexity in Fitzgerald's relationship to film during his years working in Hollywood but describes the years as a "crushing failure" and argues for a trajectory of increasing despair as he contrasts the optimistic attitude towards film in Gatsby to the pessimistic attitude in Tender is the Night:
There is something compulsive about the relationship that recording makes possible with the past, and Fitzgerald was to focus on this particular form of mental instability in his next work. All the quickness that seems so brilliantly to annihilate time in the "fast movies" now rebounds on itself in an endless rewind, a metaphor that seems to withdraw all the promises of film and simultaneously to retract the optimism of Fitzgerald's earlier work. (129)
Ruth Prigozy describes Fitzgerald's "gradual disappointment in the art form he celebrated throughout his youth" in her discussion of the flapper as a character in Fitzgerald's novels that did not survive the translation to the new medium ("Fitzgerald's Flappers" 135).
(3) This is the central argument in Tom Dardis's Some Time in the Sun.
(4) Kundu's claim becomes hard to maintain as he briefly discusses Fitzgerald's failures as a screenwriter. Noting the quotation by Mankiewicz about Fitzgerald's inability to write good film dialogue, Kundu suggests the real problem was that Fitzgerald was inspired by the recent introduction of sound to "lace his film writing with talk and more talk" (83). He then goes on to note the preponderance of talking in the novels, arguing that Fitzgerald was inspired by "talkies" to write cinematic novels but unsuccessful screenplays. While this might be a possibility, it does not support the idea that the distinction between film and novel was an easy one for Fitzgerald.
(5) To demonstrate the complexity of this relationship one can compare Scott F. Stoddart's attempt to explain the "inablility to filmically replicated the written word" (102) in the numerous versions of The Great Gatsby to Ronald Berman's claim that the novel "is full of instructions on its own translation" into film (154). The novel is both unfilmable and ready to be filmed.
(6) More specifically Curnutt argues that the distance created by Fitzgerald's choice of narrative style and order critiques Dick's "theatricality" (138). Curnutt does not associate this term with film acting, but his argument is of a piece with my analysis of the complex relationship to film throughout the novel.
(7) "Rosemary is the Hollywood product incarnate" ("From Griffith's Girls" 215) agrees Ruth Prigozy in her discussion of the incest motif in the novel. Though I agree with Prigozy's association of Rosemary with Hollywood, her use of the word "product" makes it easier for her to dismiss Rosemary as superficial, although such a dismissal would seem to contradict the attraction to film she notes throughout Fitzgerald's career.
(8) Prigozy does claim that "The father-daughter movies allowed both male dominance and female power to exist harmoniously by depicting feminine strength in little girls who could still be controlled" ("From Griffith's Girls" 197) but does not suggest that Dick, and certainly not Fitzgerald, might be one of those people highly vested in controlling Rosemary and Hollywood.
(9) Fitzgerald's short story "Jacob's Ladder" is generally agreed to be closely related to Tender is the Night. In the story Jacob takes it upon himself to help a sixteen-year-old in dire straits to become an actress. In New York he protects her from other men, and when she tries to thank him, "he was chilled by the innocence of her kiss" (357), but once she leaves for Hollywood and becomes a star he falls in love with her image and goes to California to propose marriage, jealous of every man she talks to. She rejects Jacob because she loves him, "But not that way" (365), suggesting she sees him as a father figure.
PAUL HACKMAN has a Ph.D. in twentieth-century American literature from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. He teaches film and fiction and has presented papers on the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Jerzy Kosinski, and Shelley Jackson.
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|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2011|
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