About Tender Is the Night


Throughout the discussion of this novel, there has also been a consistent attempt to interlace relevant biographical information into the body of criticism about the novel. Such a practice could be discredited by followers of the New Critics school of literary criticism, who hold that the text itself is all-important and should have no historical or biographical ballast to support it. Fitzgerald's novel, however, seems to become richer, more complete, and, at some points, more understandable if it is viewed against the backdrop of biography. We know, for example, from his notebooks that the author intended the Nicole Diver sections to parallel Zelda Fitzgerald's mental breakdown. This fact alone contributes a rather sizeable, and interesting, biographical element. Fitzgerald was one of those writers who created out of himself; something got written because he felt it deeply and personally. For this reason one often misses historical scope and philosophical depths in his writing, while at the same time one is grateful for the piquancy which his personal experience gives to his art.

This guide is also in some ways a feminist reading of Tender Is the Night (a fact which might terrify the unwary student who intends to crib part of this for a term paper). What is a feminist critique and is such a thing justified in this instance? Actually, the fact is that what has passed for objective criticism in the past has nearly always had its bias — frequently masculine, so that "pure criticism" is rare. "Feminist" criticism does not mean the automatic dismissal of male characters from consideration. Instead it insists that criticism be balanced by an examination of females as well. F. Scott Fitzgerald called Tender Is the Night "a woman's book," yet it has, nearly without exception, been examined solely in terms of its male hero. There has been an attempt here to look at the female characters as well, to examine Fitzgerald's portrait of them, and to sort out what seems to be a rather complicated authorial thesis about the nature of the male/female relationship.

Finally, a feminist reading in this case means giving some thought to Zelda Fitzgerald and trying to realize the influence she had upon her husband. A very useful purpose is served by reading her own novel, Save Me the Waltz, published four years before Tender Is the Night, since the two novels treat many of the same events from the Fitzgeralds' life together. Even though her novel was rather heavily edited by her husband out of the fear that she was writing his novel, enough parallels remain to exhibit, rather dramatically, that F. Scott Fitzgerald often used his wife and her experiences rather mercilessly for his fiction. All these reasons make it clear that it is necessary to look critically at Fitzgerald's women. Indeed, such an examination broadens the scope of the novel and yields a better understanding of its author.

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