To the end of his life Fitzgerald was puzzled by the comparative failure of Tender is the Night, after the years he spent on it and his efforts to make it the best American novel of his time. He had started it when he was living on the Riviera in the late summer of 1925. At first he had worked in bursts and had put aside the manuscript for months at a time while he wrote his profitable stories for the Saturday Evening Post; but early in 1932 he had found a more ambitious plan for it and had gone into debt to work on it steadily until the last chapters were written and the last deletions made in proof. He had watched it grow from a short dramatic novel like The Great Gatsby to a long psychological or philosophical novel on the model of Vanity Fair, and then, as he omitted scene after scene, he had watched it diminish again to a medium-length novel, but one in which he was sure that the overtones of the longer book remained. Nine years of his life had gone into the writing and into the story itself. Reading closely one could find in it the bedazzlement of his first summer at the Cap d’Antibes—for he could picture himself as Rosemary Hoyt in the novel, besides playing the part of Dick Diver; then his feelings about money and about the different levels of American society; then his struggle with alcoholism and his worries about becoming an emotional bankrupt; then his wife’s illness and everything he learned from the Swiss and American doctors who diagnosed her case; then the bitter wisdom he gained from experience and couldn’t put back into it, but only into his stories; then darker things as well, his sense of guilt, his fear of disaster that became a longing for disaster—it was all in the book, in different layers, like the nine buried cities of Troy.
When another writer went to see him at Rodgers Forge, near Baltimore, in the spring of 1933, Fitzgerald took the visitor to his study and showed him a pile of manuscript nearly a foot high. “There’s my new novel,” he said. “I’ve written four hundred thousand words and thrown away three-fourths of it. Now I only have fifteen thousand left to write—” He stood there with a glass in his hand, then suddenly burst out, “It’s good, good, good. When it’s published people will say that it’s good, good, good.”
Tender was published in the spring of 1934 and people said nothing of the sort. It dealt with fashionable life in the 1920s at a time when most readers wanted to forget that they had ever been concerned with frivolities; the new fashion was for novels about destitution and revolt. The book had some friendly and even admiring notices, but most reviewers implied that it belonged to the bad old days before the crash; they dismissed it as having a “clever and brilliant surface” without being “wise and mature”. Nor was it a popular success as compared with Fitzgerald’s first three novels, which had been easier to write; in the first season it sold twelve thousand copies, or less than one-fourth as much as This Side of Paradise. In the following seasons the sale dwindled and stopped.
Fitzgerald didn’t blame the public or the critics. It was one of the conditions of the game he played with life to accept the rules as they were written; if he lost point and set after playing his hardest, that was due to some mistake in strategy to be corrected in the future. He began looking in a puzzled fashion for the mistake in Tender is the Night. There must have been an error in presentation that had kept his readers from grasping the richness and force of his material; for a time he suspected that it might merely be the lack of something that corresponded to stage directions at the beginning of each scene. In 1936 the book was being considered for republication by the Modern Library. The new edition, if it appeared, would have to be printed from the plates of the first edition in order to reduce the manufacturing costs, but Fitzgerald begged for the privilege of making some minor changes. These, he said in a letter to Bennett Cerf, “would include in several cases sudden stops and part headings which would be to some extent explanatory; certain pages would have to be inserted bearing merely headings…”
“I know what printing costs are,” he added humbly. “There will be no pushing over of paragraphs or disorganization of the present set-up except in the aforesaid inserted pages. I don’t want to change anything in the book but sometimes by a single word change one can throw a new emphasis or give a new value to the exact same scene or setting.”
The new edition didn’t appear and Tender seemed to be forgotten, although it really wasn’t; it stayed in people’s minds like a regret or an unanswered question. “A strange thing is that in retrospect his Tender is the Night gets better and better,” Ernest Hemingway told Maxwell Perkins, of Scribners, who was the editor of both novelists. In scores of midnight arguments that I remember, other writers ended by finding that they had the same feeling about the book. Fitzgerald continued to brood about it. In December 1938, when he was in Hollywood and was drawing near the end of his contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, he wrote to Perkins suggesting that three of his novels might be reprinted in one volume. This Side of Paradise would appear with a glossary that Fitzgerald planned to make of its absurdities and inaccuracies. Gatsby would be unchanged except for some corrections in the text. “But I am especially concerned about Tender,” he added, “—that book is not dead. The depth of its appeal exists—I meet people constantly who have the same exclusive attachment to it as others had to Gatsby and Paradise, people who identified themselves with Dick Diver. Its great fault is that the true beginning—the young psychiatrist in Switzerland—is tucked away in the middle of the book.”
The first edition of the novel had opened with the visit to the Cap d’Antibes of a young moving-picture actress. Rosemary Hoyt, and her meeting with the circle that surrounded the Richard Divers. It was the summer of 1925 and Antibes was enjoying its days of quiet glory. Rosemary had been entranced with the Divers and their friends, had fallen in love with Dick in a pleasantly hopeless fashion, and had become aware that there was some mystery about his wife. Then, on pages 151-212, the story had gone back to wartime Switzerland in order to explain the mystery by telling about Doctor Diver’s courtship and marriage. Fitzgerald now proposed to rearrange the book in chronological order. “If pages 151-212 were taken from their present place and put at the start,” he said in his letter to Perkins, “the improvement in appeal would be enormous.”
It must have been about the same time that Fitzgerald made an entry in his notebook, outlining the changed order and dividing the novel into five books instead of three. The entry reads:
Analysis of Tender:
|I Case History||151-212||61 pps. (change moon) p. 212|
|II Rosemary’s Angle||3-104||102 pps. (p. 3)|
|III Casualties||104-148, 213-224||55 pps. (-2) (120 & 121)|
|IV Escape||225-306||82 pps.|
|V The Way Home||306-408||103 pps. (- 8) (332-341)|
I haven’t been able to find the moon that was to be changed in Book 1; perhaps Fitzgerald gave some special meaning to the word, and in any case it doesn’t occur on 212. That was, of course, the last page of “Case History” and it had to be revised in order to prepare the reader for 3, which was the first page of Book II and also needed minor revisions. The page numbers in parenthesis—(120 & 121), (332-341)—were passages that the author planned to omit. All these changes were made in Fitzgerald’s personal copy of Tender is the Night, which is now in the manuscript room of the Princeton University Library. In that copy the pages are cut loose from the binding and rearranged as suggested in the notebook; but Fitzgerald bad some afterthoughts while working over them. Pages 207-212, instead of being the last chapter of Book I, are now the beginning of Book II. The necessary small revisions are made on pages 3 and 212. Book III, the one he thought of as “Casualties”, begins on 74, with the Divers visit to the battlefield of the Somme—and it is a good beginning, too, since it sets the tone for what will follow. There are many small changes and corrections in the text, especially at the beginning of Book I. On the inside front cover Fitzgerald has written in pencil:
“This is the final version of the book as I would like it.”
The words “final version” are underlined, but they have to be taken as a statement of intention rather than as an accomplished fact. It is clear that Fitzgerald had other changes in mind besides his rearrangement of the narrative and the minor revisions already mentioned: he also planned to correct the text from beginning to end. One can see what he intended to do if one reads the first two chapters of the Princeton Copy. There he has caught some of his errors in spelling proper names, has revised the punctuation to make it more logical, has sharpened a number of phrases, and has omitted others. Small as the changes are, they make the style smoother and remove the reader’s occasional suspicion that the author had hesitated over a word or had failed to hear a name correctly. Near the end of Chapter II there is a pencilled asterisk and a note in Fitzgerald’s handwriting: “This is my mark to say that I have made final corrections up to this point.” Beyond the mark arc a few other corrections but only of errors that happened to catch his eye.
It is too late now to make the changes in phrasing that, as he said, “can throw a new emphasis or give a new value to the exact same scene or setting.” It is not too late, however, to correct the mistakes in spelling and punctuation, and sometimes in grammar and chronology, that disfigure the first edition of Tender. On this mechanical level the book was full of errors; in fact, a combination of circumstances was required to get so many of them into one published volume. Fitzgerald had a fine car for words, but a weak eye for them; he was possibly the worst speller who ever failed to graduate from Princeton. His punctuation was impulsive, and his grammar more instinctive than reasoned. Maxwell Perkins, his editor, was better in all these departments, but had an aristocratic disregard for details so long as a book was right in its feeling for life. Since Fitzgerald was regarded as one of his special authors, the manuscript was never copy-edited by others. The author received the proofs while his wife was critically ill. He worked over them for weeks, making extensive changes and omitting long passages, but he was in no state to notice his own errors of detail. Scores of them slipped into the first edition and, though they were unimportant if taken separately, I suspect that they had a cumulative effect on readers and ended by distracting their attention, like flaws in a window through which they were looking at the countryside. That the novel continued to be read in spite of the flaws was evidence of its lasting emotion and vitality.
Now that it is being reissued with Fitzgerald’s changes I have tried to give it the sort of proof reading that the first edition failed to receive. I used dictionaries and Baedekers and consulted several of the author’s friends; two or three of them had made their own lists of errors in the text. For a long time I hesitated over the two passages that Fitzgerald had marked for omission. One was the episode of the American newspaper vendor, on pages 120-121 of the first edition, and I ended by feeling that the pages could be dropped without much loss (although the newspaper vendor reappears on page 399 and once again serves as a herald of disaster). A longer omission was the Divers’ visit to Mary Minghetti on pages 332-341. That change was not so easy to make, because it would have required an explanation in a later chapter of how the former Mary North had become very rich and a papal countess; besides, the episode is good in itself and that was a further reason for retaining it. Except in this instance I have tried to follow Fitzgerald’s wishes at all points and to provide, so far as possible, the permanent text of a book that will continue to be read for a long time.
The question remains whether the final version as Fitzgerald would like it is also the best version of the novel. I was slow to make up my mind about it, perhaps out of affection for the book in its earlier form. The beginning of the first edition, with the Divers seen and admired through the innocent eyes of Rosemary Hoyt, is effective by any standards. Some of the effectiveness is lost in the new arrangement, where the reader already knows the truth about the Divers before Rosemary meets them. There is a mystery-story element in the earlier draft: something has passed between Nicole Diver and Mrs McKisco that is shocking enough to cause a duel, and we read on to learn what Nicole has done or said. There is also the suggestion of a psychoanalytical case study: it is as if we were listening behind the analyst’s door while his two patients, Nicole and Dick, help him to penetrate slowly beneath their glittering surfaces. But the mystery story ends when Rosemary discovers—on page 148 of the first edition—what Violet McKisco had seen in the bathroom at Villa Diana. The psychoanalytical case study is finished by page 212, when the reader has all the pertinent information about the past life of the Divers; but meanwhile half of the novel is still to come. The early critics of Tender were right when they said that it broke in two after Rosemary left the scene and that the first part failed to prepare us for what would follow. By rearranging the story in chronological order Fitzgerald tied it together. He sacrificed a brilliant beginning and all the element of mystery, but there is no escaping the judgement that he ended with a better constructed and more effective novel.
One fault of the earlier version was its uncertainty of focus. We weren’t quite sure in reading it whether the author had intended to write about a whole group of Americans on the Riviera—that is, to make the book a social study with a collective hero -or whether he had intended to write a psychological novel about the glory and decline of Richard Diver as a person. Simply by changing the order of the story and starting with Diver as a young doctor in Zurich, Fitzgerald answered our hesitation. We are certain in reading the final version that the novel is psychological, that it is about Dick Diver, and that its social meanings are obtained by extension or synecdoche. Dick is the part that stands for the whole. He stands for other Americans on the Riviera, he stands for all the smart men who played too close to the line, he even stands for the age that was ending with the Wall Street crash, but first he stands for himself. The other characters are grouped around him in their subordinate roles: Rosemary sets in operation the forces waiting to destroy him, Abe North announces his fate, and Tommy Barban is his stronger and less talented successor. From beginning to end Dick is the centre of the novel.
All this corresponds to the plan that Fitzgerald made early in 1932, after working for years on other plans and putting them aside. At first he had intended to write a short novel about a young man named Francis Melarky, a movie technician who visited the Riviera with his possessive mother. He met the Seth Pipers, a couple much like the Divers; he fell in love with the wife, followed them to Paris, went on a round of parties, and lost control of himself. The last chapters of this early draft are missing—if Fitzgerald ever wrote them—but it seems that Melarky was to kill his mother in a fit of rage, run away from the police, and then meet his own death—just how we aren’t certain. In later versions of the story Melarky was somewhat less the central figure, while Abe Grant (later Abe North) and Seth Piper moved into the foreground. Then, at the beginning of 1932, Fitzgerald drew up the outline of a more ambitious book. “The novel should do this,” he said in a memorandum to himself that was written at the time: “Show a roan who is a natural idealist, a spoiled priest, giving in for various causes to the ideas of the haute bourgeoisie, and in his rise to the top of the social world losing his idealism, his talent and turning to drink and dissipation. Background one in which the leisure class is at their truly most brilliant and glamorous…” In finishing the book Fitzgerald changed and deepened and complicated his picture of Dick Diver, but his statement of purpose is still the best short definition of the finished novel. His final revision brings the book even closer to the plan made in 1932.
It has to be said that Fitzgerald could never have revised Tender into the perfect novel that existed as an ideal in his mind. He had worked too long over it and his plans for it had changed too often, just as the author himself had changed in the years since his first summer on the Riviera. To make it all of a piece he would have had to start over from the beginning and invent a wholly new series of episodes, instead of trying to salvage as much as possible from the earlier versions. No matter how often he threw his material back into the melting pot, some of it would prove refractory to heat and would keep its former shape when poured into the new Mould. The scenes written for Francis Melarky, then reassigned to Rosemary or Dick, would retain some marks of their origin. The whole Rosemary episode, being rewritten from the oldest chapters of the book, would be a little out of key with the story of Dick Diver as witnessed by himself and by his wife. But a novel has to be judged for what it gives us, not for its defects in execution, and Tender gives us an honesty of feeling, a complexity of life, that we miss in many books admired for being nearly perfect in form.
Moreover, in Fitzgerald’s final revision it has a symmetry that we do not often find in long psychological novels. All the themes introduced in the first book are resolved in the last, and both books arc written in the same key. In the first book young Doctor Diver is like Grant in his general store in Galena, waiting “to be called to an intricate destiny”; meanwhile he helps another psychiatrist with the case of Nicole Warren, a beautiful heiress suffering from schizophrenia, and learns that the Warrens have planned to buy a young doctor for her to marry. In the last book he finishes her cure, realizes that the Warrens have indeed purchased and used him—“That’s what he was educated for,” Nicole’s sister says—and is left biding his time, “again like Grant in Galena,” but with the difference that his one great adventure has ended. The Rosemary section of the novel no longer misleads our expectations; coming in the middle it simply adds fulness and relief to the story.
Although the new beginning is less brilliant than the older one, it prepares us for the end and helps us to appreciate the last section of the novel as we had probably failed to do on our first reading. That is the principal virtue of Fitzgerald’s new arrangement. When I read Tenderin 1934 it seemed to me as to many others that the Rosemary section was the best part of it. The writing there was of a type too seldom encountered in serious American fiction. It was not an attempt to analyze social values, show their falseness. tear them down—that is a necessary attempt at all times when values have become perverted, but it requires no special imaginative vitality, and Fitzgerald was doing something more difficult; he was trying to discover and even create values in a society where they had seemed to be lacking. Rosemary with her special type of innocence offered the right point of view from which to reveal the grace and manners and apparent moral superiority of the Diver clan. The high point of her experience—and of the reader’s—was the dinner at Villa Diana, when “the table seemed to have risen a little toward the sky like a mechanical dancing platform, giving the people around it a sense of being alone with each other in the dark universe, nourished by its only food, warmed by its only lights.” Then came the underside of the Divers’ “little world”, as revealed in Abe North’s self-destructiveness and in what Violet McKisco had seen in the bathroom at Villa Diana, and everything that followed seemed a long anticlimax or at best the end of a different story.
Coming back to the novel long afterward and reading it in the new arrangement I had a different impression. The Rosemary section had its old charm and something new as well, for it now seemed the evocation of an age first condemned, then forgotten, and finally recalled with pleasure in the midst of harsher events; but the writing seemed to be on a lower level of intensity than the story of the hero’s decay as told in the last section of the novel. That becomes the truly memorable passage: not Dick as the “organizer of private gaiety, curator of a richly incrusted happiness”; not Dick creating his group of friends and making them seem incredibly distinguished—“so bright a unit that Rosemary felt an impatient disregard for all who were not at their table”; but another Dick who has lost command of himself and deteriorates before our eyes in a strict progression from scene to scene. At this point Fitzgerald was right when he stopped telling the story from Dick’s point of view and allowed us merely to guess at the hero’s thoughts. Dick fades like a friend who is withdrawing into a private world or sinking to another level of society and, in spite of knowing so much about him, we are never quite certain of the reasons for his decline. Perhaps, as Fitzgerald first planned, it was the standards of the leisure class that corrupted him; perhaps it was the strain of curing a psychotic wife, who gains strength as he loses it by a mysterious transfer of vitality; perhaps it was a form of emotional exhaustion, a giving of himself so generously that he went beyond his resources, “like a man overdrawing at his bank,” as Fitzgerald would later say of his own crack-up; or perhaps it was something far back in his childhood that could only be discovered by deep analysis—we can argue about the causes as we can argue about the decline of a once intimate friend, without coming to any fixed conclusion; but the point is that we always believe in Dick and in his progress in a circle from obscurity to obscurity. With our last glimpse of him swaying a little as he stands on a high terrace and makes a papal cross over the beach that he had found and peopled and that has now rejected him, his fate is accomplished and the circle closed.