F. Scott Fitzgerald, like his contemporary Ernest Fleming- way and their predecessor Mark Twain, was the product of a troubled marriage between a socially ambitious mother and an ineffectual father, who was a failure in his family’s eyes. Fitzgerald was torn in his emotional allegiance, though ultimately identifying, as did Hemingway, most closely with his father, a figure linked to the romantic past by his descent from the aristocratic Scotts and Keys of Maryland, his stories about the Confederacy, and his southern code of manners. Scott Fitzgerald romantically insisted that these lapsed ideals—lost causes all because no longer relevant to progressive America—were more admirable than modern successes, yet he was also embarrassed by his father’s business failures, which required the family to live more frugally than their neighbors.
When Fitzgerald moved from the family home in St. Paul, Minnesota, to the East for preparatory school (at Newman, in Hackensack, New Jersey, from 1911 to 1913), he soon attached himself to a surrogate father who combined Edward Fitzgerald’s romantic qualities with worldly success. Father (in 1918, Monsignor) Cyril Sigourney Webster Fay was a Catholic priest with a private income and a network of socially prominent friends who shared a love of Catholic ritual, intellectual conversation, and fine living. As a protege of Fay, whom he had met at Newman in 1912, the young Scott Fitzgerald became a part of this exclusive social circle, which was to shape his attitudes more extensively than has generally been realized. Beginning in late 1914, Fay’s friends included Henry Adams, who noted approvingly to Elizabeth Cameron that the “delightful Father Fay … has an Irish love for the 12th century and our Chatelain [de Coucy]” (Letters 6:670). Fay attended the musical evenings that Adams hosted as head of the “Scuola Cantorum” during his last years. Adams slyly noted in a 1915 letter to Elizabeth Cameron that “Father Fay … has an idea that I want conversion, for he directs his talk much to me, and instructs me … [but] he had best look out that I don’t convert him” (Letters 6:681)—a threat that Adams could have pursued had he chosen, since Fay “was very much about the house” (Letters 6:781) according to Adams in a 1918 letter.
While visiting Fay in Washington (where Fay lectured at Catholic University), the teenaged Fitzgerald met Adams. Subsequently he “read and studied The Education of Henry Adams” (Piper 44). Yet surprisingly little attention has been paid to Adams’s influence on Fitzgerald, despite Fitzgerald’s acknowledgment in a 1919 letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, that Adams appears in his autobiographical first novel This Side of Paradise (1920) as one of the minor characters: “Thornton Hancock is Henry Adams—I didn’t do him thoroughly, of course—but I knew him when I was a boy” (Letters 138). Henry Dan Piper draws only a tenuous connection between Fitzgerald and Adams, asserting that “there is no evidence … that Fitzgerald was consciously borrowing from the Education” and arguing that “more probably, This Side of Paradise reflects … assumptions about human nature and human society that Fitzgerald at the time shared with both Adams and Fay” (44).
Prominent among these shared assumptions was the construction of the modern age and the Middle Ages as historical opposites, though Adams’s conception was more sophisticated than either Fay’s or Fitzgerald’s. Like the nineteenth century for Twain, the twentieth century expressed an energy and excitement that exerted a seductive pull on Fitzgerald, who became the spokesman for the time he named the Jazz Age— “the greatest, gaudiest spree in history,” as he described it in his 1937 essay “Early Success” (es 87). While World War I was a culmination for Adams, providing horrible evidence of the validity of his historical theory, it was a commencement for Fitzgerald, who left Princeton in 1917 during his senior year to accept an army commission but was untouched by the horrors of trench warfare, seeing action only on the romantic front at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, Camp Sheridan in Alabama, and Camp Mills in New York.
For the “restless generation” (tsp 278) that inherited the postwar world, World War I provided a rupture with the past, just as the Civil War had for the generation of Twain and Adams, yet at a geographical remove that foregrounded its social implications. World War I liberated the young from traditional mores, Adams’s radical New Woman metamorphosing into the glamorous vamp who grasped not only political and economic power but sexual freedom that hearkened back not to the sexual generativity of the Virgin but forward to the glamorous destruction of the dynamo—sexuality as promiscuity, in Fitzgerald’s queasy formulation. Fitzgerald recognized early that the feverish pace of the modern age had a destructive quality, that it used people up, bankrupting them (to appropriate one of his metaphors) emotionally and morally just as it ultimately bankrupted society economically during the Great Depression. Though the young Fitzgerald was powerfully attracted to the possibilities offered by his era, yearning for success in its terms at least as strongly as had Twain, the Middle Ages as celebrated by Adams and Fay provided him with an alternative worldview, a set of standards against which he could compare his own day. As time went on and the destructive aspects of twentieth-century life revealed themselves ever more clearly in his life, Fitzgerald increasingly turned to the earlier period, using it as both nostalgic escape from the present and apocalyptic portent of the future.
In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald presents a slyly affectionate portrait of Henry Adams as “the Honorable Thornton Hancock, of Boston, ex- minister to the Hague, author of an erudite history of the Middle Ages and the last of a distinguished, patriotic, and brilliant family” ( tsp 26). In this self-indulgent novel Hancock-Adams is condescendingly praised for his perceptiveness in recognizing the special qualities of Amory Blaine, an autobiographical projection with a vengeance (as suggested not least of all by the omniscient narrator’s late lapse into first-person narration [see tsp 223]): “ ‘He’s a radiant boy,’ thought Thornton Hancock, who had seen the splendor of two continents and talked with Parnell and Gladstone and Bismarck—and afterward he added to Monsignor: ‘But his education ought not to be intrusted to a school or college’ ” ( tsp 26)— this last a self-justifying observation by Fitzgerald, who had failed to graduate from Princeton, alluding to Adams’s criticism of educational institutions.
Hancock provides a counterpoint to the more important Monsignor Darcy, the character based on Monsignor Fay, to whom the novel was dedicated. Doubly Amory's soul-father as both priest and onetime true love of Amory’s mother, Beatrice, the paternal Darcy contrasts his faith in Catholicism, which he predicts Amory will someday adopt, with the agnosticism of Hancock, who yearns to believe in the religion that provided the foundation on which medieval society constructed itself. “The war… ha[ving] made [Amory] a passionate agnostic” (tsp 162), at least temporarily separating him from Catholicism, “whose American sponsor was Ralph Adams Cram, with his adulation of thirteenth-century cathedrals” ( tsp 125), Amory is troubled by the contradiction between Hancock’s cynicism and his religious yearnings, considering the ambivalence of this “authority on life,” “adviser to Presidents,” and “educator of educators” ( tsp 264) an embarrassing weakness rather than the product of an intellectual integrity that refuses to deny emotional desire. Agreeing with both Darcy and Hancock that Catholicism is “seemingly the only assimilative, traditionary bulwark against the decay of morals,” Amory fears that it has become “an empty ritual” ( tsp 281).
By the end of the novel, book 3 of which is pertinently subtitled “The Education of a Personage,” Amory feels that he has outgrown Hancock, along with all his earlier teachers, thereby ironically recapitulating the very responses of the young Adams in the Education, yet he identifies both himself and Hancock as types of the “spiritually unmarried man” ( tsp 271) who is “a part of progress” ( tsp 272), offering a final proclamation that sounds remarkably like Adams’s Conservative Christian Anarchy: “Modern life … changes no longer century by century, but year by year, ten times faster than it ever has before—populations doubling, civilizations unified more closely with other civilizations, economic interdependence, racial questions, and—we’re dawdling along. My idea is that we’ve got to go very much faster” (tsp 272). Torn between Darcy and Hancock, Amory the “mediaevalist” (tsp 105)—with his “reverent devotion” (tsp 53) to Princeton’s neo-Gothic architecture, symbolic of “lofty aspiration” (tsp 53)—recapitulates Fitzgerald’s unassimilated response to Fay and Adams, medievalists both, though with competing visions.
Despite the explicitness of Fitzgerald’s portrait of Adams in This Side of Paradise and his metaphoric identification of the autobiographical Amory with the autobiographical Hancock, critics have generally paid only cursory attention to the Adams-Fitzgerald connection. Yet Adams’s influence also colors Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922), whose male protagonist, Anthony Patch, is an Adams figure seen through the distortions of a carnival mirror (to appropriate another of Fitzgerald’s metaphors). As the grandson of the wealthy Adam Patch— certainly that first name gives pause—Anthony belongs to an American aristocracy with links to Boston, headed by a prominent grandfather whose approval he seeks.
Many of Anthony’s early experiences parallel those described in the Education. Anthony watches his father’s death, accompanied by “much sweating and grunting and crying aloud for air” (bd 6), in a Lucerne hotel, just as Adams watched his sister Louisa’s horrible death from convulsions in a Bagni di Lucca hotel. Anthony responds initially by falling into “a panic of despair and terror” (bd 6); Adams felt “violent emotion” (eha 288) at the “terror of the blow” (eha 287), which is a “personal horror” (eha 289). Like Adams, Anthony visits first Washington and then a historic Virginia house (the Lee mansion standing in for Adams’s Mount Vernon) whose atmosphere he prefers to that of the city. Anthony goes to Harvard (not Fitzgerald’s Princeton) because “there was no other logical thing to be done with him” (bd 7) and it would “give him innumerable self-sacrificing and devoted friends” (bd 7); Adams attended Harvard because “custom, social ties, convenience, and … economy, kept each generation [of Adamses] in the track” (eha 54). Both Anthony and Adams are disappointed in the matter of friends, though in their senior years both suddenly gain a measure of unexpected success and popularity.
Immediately after their Harvard graduations, both travel to Europe where both fall passionately in love with Rome. Both immerse themselves in the medieval atmosphere, Anthony dallying in architecture, painting, and music, even writing “some ghastly Italian sonnets, supposedly the ruminations of a thirteenth-century monk on the joys of the contemplative life” (bd 8). Anthony later decides to write a history of the Middle Ages, but his grandfather, a pragmatic businessman, cannot see the relevance of this study to modern American life: “Why you should write about the Middle Ages, I don’t know. Dark Ages, we used to call ’em. Nobody knows what happened, and nobody cares” (bd 15). Adam counsels Anthony to write instead about the Civil War or the Revolutionary War—events specifically American in identity (indeed events like those that Adams explored in his American histories).
Anthony briefly contemplates committing himself to science but is put off by the fundamentals of physics and chemistry, and he considers elective politics in order to be “a power upon the earth” (bd 55), but the political system of the early twentieth century gains no more respect from him than the Grant administration gained from Adams, who provides no more damning indictment of the transformation of American democracy than the following: “[Anthony] tried to imagine himself in Congress rooting around in the litter of that incredible pigsty with the narrow and porcine brows… Little men with copy-book ambitions who by mediocrity had thought to emerge from mediocrity into the lustreless and unromantic heaven of a government by the people—and the best, the dozen shrewd men at the top, egotistic and cynical, were content to lead [them]” (bd 56). Rejecting politics and science as areas where he might “accomplish some quiet subtle thing that the elect would deem worthy” (bd 3), Anthony dedicates his limited energy to his historical project on the Middle Ages, ultimately selling a single essay on the twelfth century. Like Adams, though with more reason, Anthony considers himself a failure. Only in the final pages does he change his opinion, having gained fabulous wealth by breaking his grandfather’s will, for money has become the measure of success in the Jazz Age. But his delusion is all too evident. However wealthy, he is a broken man.
Adams’s influence on The Beautiful and Damned is even more significantly evident in the portrait of Maury Noble, whose life does not superficially replicate Adams’s, as does Anthony’s, but whose attitudes about life do (all three figures associated with the eighteenth century). These beliefs appear in a monologue that Maury introduces by stating, “I think I shall tell you the story of my education” (bd 252), culminating as follows: “Experience is not worth the getting. It’s not a thing that happens pleasantly to a passive you—it’s a wall that an active you runs up against. So I wrapped myself in what I thought was my invulnerable scepticism and decided that my education was complete. But it was too late. Protect myself as I might by making no new ties with tragic and predestined humanity, I was lost with the rest” (bd 254). Like Adams, Maury feels that man is caught between two unattractive possibilities: “[I felt] a ghastly dissatisfaction at being used in spite of myself for some inscrutable purpose of whose ultimate goal I was unaware—if, indeed, there was an ultimate goal” (bd 254).
Ultimately rejecting the notion that life has meaning, Maury acknowledges man’s urge toward truth yet fears that the quest will lead to nothingness. At the same time, he celebrates art, which though intrinsically meaningless gives life meaning of a sort, and he acknowledges the power and beauty of Catholicism, which provides an ordered moral system enabling the masses to function. But in spite of these relatively optimistic assumptions, Maury projects a bleak future for humanity. Like Adams, he denies the sovereignty of the human intelligence, his illustrative example noteworthy because it recalls Adams’s dynamo: “There are people who say that intelligence must have built the universe—why, intelligence never built a steam engine! Circumstances built a steam engine” (bd 257). Maury suspects that man, in his attempts to master the energies of nature, will be destroyed in an apocalypse that partakes of the Adams brothers’ racism. According to Gilbert Seldes’s astute contemporary review in The Dial, Maury’s long speech about the meaninglessness of life and the coming apocalypse “reads like a resume of The Education of Henry Adams filtered through a particularly thick page of The Smart Set” (330). Milton Stern suggests that this speech serves as “Fitzgerald’s explicit attempt to follow up the self-conscious, lost-generation vision of all wars fought, all faiths shaken, and all gods dead” (134) that concludes This Side of Paradise. The apocalypse, or at least its premonitory rumblings, is later given concrete form by an allusion to World War I in a chapter ironically entitled “A Matter of Civilization.”
Though Adams’s influence on The Beautiful and Damned is perceptible in the central characters of Anthony Patch and Maury Noble, it would be a mistake to draw too easy an identification between the views of Fitzgerald and Adams. Particularly as a young man, Fitzgerald’s irony and pessimism were more than balanced by an excited optimism at the possibilities offered by modern life, an optimism that Adams seldom felt if we can believe the evidence offered by the Education. Indeed this uneasy mixture of pessimism and optimism is often thought to be the central flaw of The Beautiful and Damned. Fitzgerald’s youthful impatience with Anthony’s effete antiquarianism and Maury’s exaggerated cynicism is sometimes evident, an impatience consistent with the narrative criticism of Thornton Hancock in This Side of Paradise. Much later, Monroe Stahr, the hero of Fitzgerald’s unfinished last novel, The Last Tycoon (posthumously published in 1941), expresses a similar impatience at the mention of Henry Adams’s brother. When told that Charles Francis Adams knew “Gould, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, [and] Astor… [and] said there wasn’t one he’d care to meet again in the hereafter” (lt 16), the pragmatic Stahr dismisses Adams as “a sourbelly” and suggests that “he wanted to be head man himself, but he didn’t have the judgment or else the character” even if he did have the “brains” (LT 17).
Yet granting the criticism of the Adamses implied in these portraits, Fitzgerald used Henry Adams’s pessimistic interpretation of history as a touchstone, as William Wasserstrom rightly notes: “When and how F. Scott Fitzgerald … homed in on Adams’s autobiography … is uncertain. What is almost beyond disproof, however, are the effects on his imagination of Adams’s scholarly fusion of his own fate with the general condition of mankind as well as Adams’s denunciation of progress, Adams’s dogma of degradation—dramatized by womankind and womanhood in America” (166). Particularly relevant to this dogma of degradation is an early title for The Beautiful and Damned—“The Flight of the Rocket”—for it suggests not only adventure, aspiration, and the progress associated with modern science but the inevitable degradation of energy that causes the rocket to come crashing back to earth. Like the comet that Adams provides as an objective correlative for human history, Fitzgerald’s rocket suggests an accelerating movement that reaches its apex, then reverses itself, descending at speeds beyond man’s control. In “The Crack-Up” (1936), one of a series of autobiographical essays about Fitzgerald’s emotional breakdown in the thirties, he describes his own ego in metaphorically similar terms as “an arrow shot from nothingness to nothingness with such force that only gravity would bring it to earth at last” (cu 70).
Fitzgerald repeatedly provides rockets in the form of his novels’ male protagonists. Not only Amory Blaine and Anthony Patch but Jay Gatsby, Dick Diver, and Monroe Stahr ultimately come crashing back to earth, the novels recounting their decline and fall in painful detail. Diver’s name suggests a rapidly accelerating plunge that parallels his life’s direction in Tender Is the Night (1934), and Stahr is a kind of falling star whose metaphoric as well as literal descents (he is to die in a plane crash) are recounted in The Last Tycoon. It is a critical commonplace that Fitzgerald was a master at depicting the Keatsian dying fall, yet however compelling these failures are on the personal level of the protagonists, their larger symbolic resonances are equally significant since “Fitzgerald believed in a one-to-one relationship between personal and historical tragedy” (Lehan, Craft 134), seeing his own rise and fall as parallels for the era of the 1920s and 1930s. Fitzgerald was, according to Wasserstrom, “the first of our writers—after Henry Adams—to insist that his private failure to survive his own apocalypse registered intimations of an American disaster” (163-64).
Because Fitzgerald was, according to his daughter Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, “fascinated by the poetic aspects of early times” (496), he read more in history than in any other discipline outside literature, exploring various theories of history. While at Princeton he was “deeply influenced by the Celtic world-historical pessimism … in the war books of Shane Leslie” (Sklar 223). Like Fitzgerald, Leslie was a protege of Father Fay (who had hired him to teach at Newman) whom Fitzgerald first met during a visit to Newman from Princeton in 1917. In “Homage to the Victorians,” a 1922 New York Tribune review of Leslie’s The Oppidan, Fitzgerald wrote in detail about his first impressions of Leslie, one of the three men to whom he later dedicated The Beautiful and Damned: “He first came into my life as the most romantic figure I had ever known. … He was a convert to the Church of my youth, and he and another [Monsignor Fay], since dead, made of that church a dazzling, golden thing, dispelling its oppressive mugginess and giving the succession of days upon gray days, passing under its plaintive ritual, the romantic glamour of an adolescent dream” (hv 134). Shane Leslie had learned his pessimistic philosophy of history in part from Henry Adams, whom he had known for years, visiting him when both were in Paris in 1902 while Adams was rewriting Chartres and beginning the Education. Leslie’s The Celt and the World (1917) was “worked out in close harmony with Fay under Adams’s influence (perhaps even including some of Adams’s dictation),” according to Owen Edwards (204).
Fitzgerald’s early assimilation of the historical pessimism in the works of Adams and Leslie (whose The Celt and the World Fitzgerald reviewed for the May 1917 Nassau Literary Review) was later reinforced by Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, which Fitzgerald bought and began to read early in 1927 at the suggestion of Max Perkins. Spengler’s theory of history, like Adams’s, denies the existence of historical teleology. But unlike Adams, who sometimes seems to posit eternal regression and degradation (as his metaphoric appropriation of the second law of thermodynamics would suggest), Spengler suggests that history moves through thousand-year cycles. Kermit Moyer notes that “the distinction between ‘Culture’ and ‘Civilization is central to Spengler’s concept of historical cycle, … [with] the biography of any civilization including] a pivotal shift from Culture to Civilization” (242 n. 11). A culture is “destiny- driven, vibrant, religious, intuitive, and aristocratic”; a civilization is “rigid, irreligious, money-controlled, soulless, moribund” (Moyer 242 n. 11).
In The Decline of the West, Spengler celebrates culture, concurrently criticizing civilization, which inevitably develops from and subsumes culture; “Civilizations are the most external and artificial states of which a species of developed humanity is capable. They are a conclusion, the thing-become succeeding the thing-becoming, death following life, rigidity following expansion, intellectual age and the stone-built, petrifying world-city following mother-earth and the spiritual childhood of Doric and Gothic. They are an end, irrevocable, yet by inward necessity reached again and again” (31).
In a 1940 letter to Max Perkins, Fitzgerald expressed the powerful effect Spengler’s historical theory had on him: “I read him the same summer I was writing The Great Gatsby and I don’t think I ever quite recovered from him. He and Marx are the only modern philosophers that still manage to make sense in this horrible mess” (Letters 289-90). Though Fitzgerald’s memory was probably playing him false—Fitzgerald did not read German, and the English translation of Spengler’s first volume did not appear until 1926, several years after Gatsby's 1924 composition—Fitzgerald’s 1940 comment bears witness to Spengler’s powerful impact. Some years earlier, Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, had asked him in a 1931 letter what he would like to be doing, “to be reading Spengler, or what?” (Correspondence 256), and she asked him to send The Decline of the West to her at Prangins, the Swiss sanatorium where she was being treated for schizophrenia. Fitzgerald declared in a 1932 letter to Mrs. Bayard Turnbull that “if one is interested in the world into which willy-nilly one’s children will grow up, the most accurate data can be found in the European leaders, such as Lawrence, Jung, and Spengler” (Letters 433). Fitzgerald later made Spengler the centerpiece of the educational program that he created for Sheila Graham, with whom he had an affair beginning in 1937 and ending with his death in 1940, fictionalizing this program in The Last Tycoon, where Katherine Moore (based on Graham) recounts the educational program created for her by a lover: “He wanted me to read Spengler…. The history and philosophy and harmony was all so I could read Spengler” (lt 91).
Fitzgerald was doubtless attracted to Spengler’s theory of history because it can be read as embodying a combination of pessimism and optimism, a combination that Fitzgerald himself frequently manifested in unassimilated form. In contrast to Adams’s more pessimistic theory of history, Spengler’s theory provides some cause for comfort. Just as, according to Spengler, each culture must inevitably give way to civilization in a generational fashion, so must a new culture necessarily spring from the ashes of a civilization that has suffered an apocalypse. Constructed as opposites, cultures and civilizations grow from one another. While despairing at the horrors of civilization, an adherent of Spengler can look forward optimistically to the new culture shining on the horizon, a new spiritual childhood filled with new promise. What could have been more attractive to Fitzgerald, like Twain a celebrant of golden youth, Fitzgerald celebrating not boyhood but young manhood in its first flush of personal power?
Like Spengler, Fitzgerald regarded twentieth-century America as an example of a civilization in its death throes, observing as early as 1920 that “modern American civilization is death,” as recorded in his Princeton friend Alexander McKaig’s diary (quoted by Milford 103). During a 1927 interview with Harry Salpeter for the New York World, Fitzgerald discussed his Spenglerian views, startling the reporter, who expected something quite different from this quintessentially contemporary figure: “Here was I interviewing the author of This Side of Paradise, the voice and embodiment of the jazz age, its product and its beneficiary, a popular novelist, a movie scenarist, a dweller in the gilded palaces, a master of servants, only to find F. Scott Fitzgerald, himself, shorn of these associations, forecasting doom, death and damnation to his generation” (274).
The doom, death, and damnation of modern civilization is particularly evident in Tender Is the Night, “a novel about the decline of the West, about the collapse of Western Civilization into Caesarism and moral anarchy” (Moyer 242), in which Fitzgerald explores various Spenglerian themes. The terrible anarchy of World War I serves as a backdrop for the action of the novel, set in Europe some six years after the war’s conclusion. Dick Diver is particularly sensitive to the apocalyptic aspect of this war, which has destroyed the genteel civilization of his American youth: “This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time… This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes…. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. … All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love” (tn 57). Climaxing horrifically in a gesture at once sexual and suicidal, the war has created a “new world” ( tn 101) of love and death, with which Dick identifies himself and his friends, out of the “older America” (TN 101), with which he identifies the previous generation, as represented by the Gold Star Mothers and his father.
However intrinsically admirable, the old values—“dignity” and “maturity” (tn 100, 101), “honor, courtesy, and courage” (tn 204)—are irrelevant in the postwar world of the sons (whose own children have only a shadowy existence, like virtually all children in Fitzgerald’s fiction, thereby protecting the essential youthfulness of these postwar fathers and mothers). Dick embraces the excesses of the dawning Jazz Age, a decade that Fitzgerald in his valedictory essay “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931) calls “the most expensive orgy in history” (eja 21), an era when the “whole race [was] going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure” (eja 15). Tender Is the Night catalogs these pleasures as the Divers move among glamorous resorts, sunning on the French Riviera, skiing at Gstaad, and visiting movie sets in Paris and Rome. Since Fitzgerald in “Echoes of the Jazz Age” images this era as a “carnival” (eja 15), it is singularly appropriate that a pivotal scene in Tender Is the Night occurs at a carnival where Nicole, who was “a carnival to watch” (tn 149), rides a Ferris wheel while laughing hysterically. An early version of Tender Is the Night was entitled “The World’s Fair,” recalling Adams’s claim in Chartres that the cathedral has been replaced by the world’s fair, which “tends more and more vigorously to express the thought of infinite energy” (msmc 106) with no promise that the energy will be put to constructive use. The Divers are on an endless round of activities (as suggested by the recurring metaphor of the circle) that briefly entertain but lead nowhere. As Dick obsessively seeks the pleasures available in this postwar world, he also experiences a marked sense of loss, expressed in a growing bitterness and uncertainty, which in turn motivates his desperate search for distracting entertainment.
The postwar world is “the broken universe of the war’s ending” (tn 245), marked irrevocably by the violence of the war. Fitzgerald’s fascination with this violence is suggested by his “collection of World War I pictures depicting executions and corpses” (Diliberto 193), a collection that he showed to Ernest Hemingway at a luncheon in 1925. According to Michael Reynolds, Fitzgerald and Hemingway “talked frequently about the war” during the twenties, and “Scott, who admired Hemingway’s scars and damaged knee, felt he had missed the primal experience for his generation” (Homecoming 68).
Attempting to incorporate this experience into This Side of Paradise— first written at Princeton in 1917, then revised at officer’s training camp at Fort Leavenworth in 1917 and in St. Paul after demobilization in 1919— Fitzgerald adopted the characteristic tripartite structure of World War I novels and memoirs but compressed the middle section (characteristically devoted to the war experience) to a mere few pages—its diminished significance aptly suggested by the title “Interlude”—composed exclusively of letters and poems, “this tiresome war” ( tsp 102) relegated to the white space between a poem written on the night of Amory’s embarkation for France and a letter written after the armistice. Drawing the novel’s title from a poem by Rupert Brooke, the tragically doomed British golden boy of World War I with whom Amory is repeatedly compared, Fitzgerald offers brief and frequently jejune allusions to the war: Amory’s “sporting interest” (tsp 55) in military battles that are compared to prizefights and football games; the equation drawn between “another ship sunk” and “somebody flunking] out” (tsp 121) of Princeton; the collection ostensibly taken up for French war orphans but used to purchase brandy; the “No Man’s Land” ( tsp 174) of Rosalind’s bedroom (a particularly tasteless pun) and the “disastrous battle” (tsp 210) that ends their engagement; more powerfully, the death of the aristocratic Humbird, “like those pictures in the Illustrated London News of the English officers who have been killed” (tsp 78), in an automobile accident that functions as an objective correlative for the war.
Fitzgerald’s stateside army experiences during the war provided him with the material for the lengthy “Matter of Civilization” chapter in The Beautiful and Damned, a depressing account of Anthony’s tedious military training and sordid extramarital romance while at “Camp Hooker” somewhere in the Deep South, Anthony’s regiment “ignominious[ly] return[ing]” (bd 372) to camp after farcically missing embarkation for France because of the armistice. “This interminable war” (bd 221) is presented largely as a welcome interruption in Anthony and Gloria Patch’s marriage, the armistice’s greatest impact being the brief “False Armistice” (bd 354) that it initiates for the warring couple.
Not Fitzgerald’s army experiences but his postwar expatriate experience in France revealed to him the apocalyptic quality of World War I, which he incorporated into later works. Though “‘I Didn’t Get Over’ ” (1936) is set at a twentieth college reunion and focuses on a couple of alumni whose regiment, like Anthony Patch’s, had remained stateside during the war, it is filled with chaos, death, and survivor guilt. In Tender Is the Night, Dick Diver, like Fitzgerald, has seen no battle service, but his initial belief that “the war didn’t touch him at all” (tn 115) is incorrect, as suggested by his nightmare: “His dream had begun in sombre majesty; navy blue uniforms crossed a dark plaza behind bands…. Presently there were fire engines, symbols of disaster, and a ghastly uprising of the mutilated in a dressing station. He turned on his bed-lamp … and made a thorough note of it ending with the half-ironic phrase: ‘Non-combatant’s shell-shock’ ” (tn 179-80). Dick’s irony reveals a deep truth, as does the nightmare, which subverts “the romantic glamour of an adolescent dream” (hv 134) to which Fitzgerald had referred in another context in 1922.
As Carl Jung (Fitzgerald’s alternate choice as consulting psychiatrist on Zelda’s case) said of his similar nightmare in 1926: “The happenings in the dream suggested that the war, which in the outer world had taken place some years before, was not yet over, but was continuing to be fought within the psyche” (quoted by Fussell 113).
“Symbols of disaster” and “the mutilated” abound in the outer and the inner worlds of Tender Is the Night. Just as Eliot’s Waste Land stands behind The Great Gatsby's (1925) “waste land” (gg 24)—the famous valley of ashes—it stands even more insistently behind the sterile modern world of Tender Is the Night.
The characters who populate this world are cracking up (to use one of Fitzgerald’s characteristic metaphors). Nicole Diver’s mental illness, diagnosed as “split personality” (tn 191), is only the most obvious example of what Fitzgerald calls in “Echoes of the Jazz Age” the “wide-spread neurosis … evident [by 1927]” (eja 19), much of the action of the novel taking place at two psychiatric hospitals. Nicole, divided even here in her roles as “half a patient” (tn 239) and half the hospital’s owner and psychiatrist’s wife, is only one of the psychologically wounded characters— the sick in search of a cure, the broken in search of repair. But the supposedly normal characters, those outside the discrete (and discreet) confines of the hospital, are revealed to be abnormal as well, just as the universe that they inhabit is broken by violence unleashed by the war, which reverberates through their lives: Abe North is beaten to death; Jules Peterson is shot to death; Maria Wallis shoots an Englishman, resulting in “assez de sang pour se croire a la guerre” (tn 86).
Normal sexuality (in Fitzgerald’s terms) is also a casualty of the war: Baby Warren has “something wooden and onanistic about her” ( tn 152); Royal Dumphry and Luis Campion are homosexuals; Mary North Minghetti and Lady Caroline Sibly-Biers engage in a lesbian transvestite adventure; even Rosemary Hoyt serves to recall Nicole’s incestuous relationship with her father, for she stars in the movie Daddy’s Girl and is attracted to Dick because he reminds her of her father.
Finally, Dick, whose professional and personal task is to fix broken people, is himself a broken man: an alcoholic in need of a “leave of abstinence” (tn 256); perhaps a latent homosexual, given his “pansy’s trick” of “transparent black lace [swimming] drawers” (tn 21) and his “associati[on] with a questionable crowd in Lausanne” that leads some to judge him “a notorious——” (tn 272); certainly a man who has gradually suffered a “lesion of his own vitality” (tn 222) and whose “morale [has] crack[ed]” (tn 285), as suggested by the dissolving of his professional ethics and the unspoken guilt that leads him to admit falsely to the rape of a five-year-old girl; no longer Dick but “Dicole,” one half of the Dick-Nicole pairing who can no longer “watch her disintegrations without participating in them” (tn 191). Though Dick initially exempts himself from his judgment that the psychiatric profession attracts “the man a little crippled and broken” (tn 137), he is revealed to be mutilated in exactly this fashion. While initially able to create for others the illusion of a coherent world by “restating the universe” (tn 191), Dick ultimately exhausts his store of energy, as Henry Adams would have predicted. Though he protests against the notion that “everybody is so tender that they have to be handled with gloves” ( tn 178), the evidence of the novel reveals that individuals living in the modern world are just that tender, “Doctor Diver’s profession of sorting the broken shells of… egg[s] ha[ving] given him a dread of breakage” (tn 177). Broken shells in a broken universe perfectly describes the postwar world of Tender Is the Night. When a disastrous dinner party hosted by Dick and Nicole is described by Royal Dumphry as “the most civilized gathering … I have ever known” ( tn 246), the Spenglerian adjective is telling.
If Tender Is the Night presents Fitzgerald’s pessimistic Spenglerian vision of modern civilization, his next projected long work—Philippe, Count of Darkness, an unfinished historical novel begun in 1934 and composed of four short stories—presents his optimistic Spenglerian vision of medieval culture. Just as it had for Twain and especially Adams, the medieval setting provided Fitzgerald with a “feeling of escape from the modern world,” as he notes in a 1934 letter to Max Perkins (Dear Scott 209). Fitzgerald plunged into historical research for this project. In escaping the modern world, he felt that he was escaping the breakdown of civilization, whose premonitory symptoms were manifested in world war, economic depression, and the immorality of the young. This last is ironic given Fitzgerald’s early reputation as an agent of immorality whose fiction had led young people astray, yet Fitzgerald considered himself a moralist, and he was profoundly disturbed by the breakdown of traditional moral values in post-World War I society, presenting himself in the three Crack- Up essays as an emblem of the dangers of Jazz Age life.
Rather than choosing to escape into a Keatsian dream world, Fitzgerald chose at a psychologically vulnerable time to escape like Adams to medieval France, specifically the Dark Ages of the ninth century rather than the High Middle Ages of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that had attracted Adams’s attention. Fitzgerald was most interested not in a culture’s apex but in a new culture’s development and consolidation upon a preceding civilization’s disintegration.
Fitzgerald sets his first Philippe story—“In the Darkest Hour, a Poignant Romance of Chaos and Leadership”—in a.d. 872, the title foregrounding his focus on a historical nadir when society is at its lowest ebb after the breakdown of a civilization, and he characterizes the period following the decline and fall of Roman civilization as follows:
There were two hundred years so brutal, so ignorant, so savage, so dark, that little is known about them. It was the time when Europe was so overrun by Northmen, Moors and Huns that it had fallen into … helpless and sub-bestial degradation. Leaderless, the wretched farmers had no protection from the fiercest hordes from the north and the east, or from more skillful and better organized Saracens from the south. You could ride for two days across France without meeting a man who could read, write or count to ten; the inhabitants had nothing to offer to the new invaders except their scrawny livestock, their scanty grain, their womenfolk—their lives. (dh 9)
Because such a situation compels the rise of a new culture, Fitzgerald provides its agent in the person of his protagonist, Philippe, count of Villefranche:
There are epochs when certain things sing in the air, and certain strong courageous men hear them intuitively long before the rest. This was an epoch of disturbance and change; all over Europe men were thinking exactly like Philippe, taking direction from the arrows of history, that seemed to float dimly overhead. Each of those men thought himself to be alone, but really each was an instrument of response to a great human need. Each knew that the spirit of man was at low tide; each one felt in himself the necessity of seizing power by force and cunning. (dh 94)
At the beginning of “In the Darkest Hour,” Philippe rides into the Loire Valley, returning home from Spain after eighteen years as the prisoner of a Moorish chieftain. The firstborn son of the count of Villefranche, he is, with his tawny hair and cruel gray eyes, clearly an aristocrat—one who resembles Fitzgerald, who felt great affection for Philippe, noting in a 1938 letter to Max Perkins that “in spite of some muddled writing, he is one of the best characters I’ve ever ‘drawn.’ He should be a long book” (Letters 281). The comment about “muddled writing” is an understatement (note the “floating arrows” in the passage above), for the Philippe stories are among the least successful of Fitzgerald’s works. Janet Lewis notes that they are “overly-busy in plot, often trite and stilted in diction, inaccurate and inconsistent in detail” (7). Fitzgerald’s commitment to the project over a period of years is thus noteworthy, suggesting that it performed a psychological rather than aesthetic function. Having cut himself off from the present in these stories, Fitzgerald cut himself off from his artistic gift of being absolutely in tune with his own time—a separation that provided him with a necessary psychological escape, however deleterious its effect on his art.
Fitzgerald was most attracted by his protagonist’s rage for order, the very characteristic ascribed to medieval man by Henry Adams. Philippe embodies the “spirit which in the course of the coming century would draw the scattered fragments of civilization into the beginnings of a new order in which would be contained, like a portent, the pattern, the characteristic tensions and contradictions of Western Civilization itself,” as Moyer suggests (243). In the course of the four stories—“In the Darkest Hour,” “The Count of Darkness,” “The Kingdom in the Dark,” and “Gods of Darkness”—Philippe establishes a feudal hierarchy that he heads, creates a band of men who are “in effect, his knights” (gd 31), drives out the pillaging bands of Northmen, builds increasingly sophisticated castles, and establishes an economic system based on taxation. Philippe is necessarily tough because he must deal with tough situations, but his toughness enables him to establish the beginnings of an ordered society where in a few centuries chivalric knights will ride.
Fitzgerald based Philippe on Ernest Hemingway, provocatively enough, specifying that the “Mediaval [sic] [novel] … shall be the story of Ernest” and querying, “Just as Stendahl’s [sic] portrait of a Byronic man made Le Rouge et Noir [sic], so couldn’t my portrait of Ernest as Phillippe [sic] make the real modern man” (Notebooks 159). Hemingway was for Fitzgerald the quintessential tough guy, powerful, brave, and adventurous despite the fact that, according to Fitzgerald, “the dark was peopled for him” (Notebooks 153). Hemingway’s personal darkness and the Dark Ages thus combine in the motif that structures the titles of the Philippe stories and links the Dark Ages and the modern age in a paradoxical whole.
Just as Philippe's prototype was a twentieth-century American tough guy, the dialogue is a pastiche of twentieth-century slang. The effect of a medieval knight speaking like a cowboy (a connection already drawn in Twain’s Connecticut Yankee and Wister's Virginian), a hard-boiled detective (a connection later drawn in numerous detective novels, as signaled by protagonists named Marlowe and Spenser), and a gangster—like a Hemingway caricature, in fact—is certainly incongruous, but Fitzgerald’s purpose (however disconcerting the effect) was to draw a linkage between the Dark Ages and modern America, “the Dark Ages serv[ing] as a metaphor for the troubled Thirties,” as Janet Lewis points out (17).
If American civilization had reached its apex and was now, as Fitzgerald feared, hurtling toward apocalypse, then a new Dark Ages was about to descend. As the editors of Redbook pedantically noted in the blurb accompanying the final story: “Witnessing the barbarities of today and foreseeing the chaos that threatens our world, Fitzgerald turned to the far-away past in search of inspiration and new courage” (appended to “Gods of Darkness” 31). In writing “Philippe, Count of Darkness,” Fitzgerald was providing America with a model, a pattern to be followed when those dark days again arrived, just as Twain had projected the return of the Dark Ages in an American context in “The Secret History of Eddypus, the World-Empire” (written in 1901-2 and posthumously published), which like Spengler posited a cyclic movement—between Ages of Light and Ages of Darkness, in Twain’s terminology.
Having drawn a series of lessons from various historical theories, Fitzgerald recognized the historical significance of his day and related it to the history of Western civilization. These theories, so different from the meliorism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, gave him a means of understanding and interpreting his experience of diminishing physical energy, personal and professional disappointment, and the degeneration and enervation of American society. Yet for Fitzgerald, Spengler's cyclic theory concurrently held out the glimmer of hope, promising a new beginning where “lost youth” would be regained, offering the “pleasure of losing it again” (tsp 258). Famously asserting that in American literature there are no second acts, Fitzgerald desperately clung to the belief that second acts were a historical inevitability.
In establishing the beginnings of an ordered society, Philippe is the precursor of the chivalric knight of the High Middle Ages who will have the comparative luxury of acting in accordance with an elaborately defined code of martial behavior. Philippe notes that “there are no habits [at present]—I make the habits” (cd 21).
Philippe is also the precursor of the courtly knight, Fitzgerald providing several scenes depicting his romantic relationships with medieval ladies, represented by the characters Letgarde and Griselda. Philippe’s relationship with Letgarde is disastrous from the first: “She had never, from the most ruthless marauder, received such treatment…. She came from a civilized province of old Roman Gaul… [and she had been] treated … always as a sort of queen. But this man!” (cd 22). Rather than submit to such uncultured treatment, Letgarde commits suicide, Philippe later acknowledging ruefully, “I must be pretty much of a tough” (cd 70, 72). When Philippe meets the aristocratic Griselda, he puts to good use the lessons he has learned about the courteous behavior appropriate with a lady: “‘I'm different,’ he promised. ‘I’m not after you, baby. All I want is to know where you’re going. I’m a gentleman—honest, I am—I’m a count’ ” (kd 58). Such reassurances, coupled with Philippe’s promise of protection, attract Griselda, who chooses to become his lady—their relationship a vestigial courtly love relationship that marks a cultural advance. Consistent with the courtly tradition, the lady is revealed to be her knight’s superior. Griselda eventually identifies herself as “the chief priestess of the Witches of Touraine” (gd 90). As the leader of a secret cult recalling the Cathars, she is worshiped, even adored. But perhaps as a concession to the rough and primitive times in which she lives, Fitzgerald allows Griselda to remain a vivid physical being rather than a disembodied ideal. Griselda is thus a relatively attractive character, for all the infelicities of dialogue and action that plague these stories.
Fitzgerald is the most romantic of novelists insofar as the courtly love tradition characterizing the apex of medieval culture (vestigially represented in the Philippe stories) is the implicit standard against which he judges the relationships that develop during the decline of modern civilization. To the degree that these modern relationships deviate from the medieval ideal of courtly love, they are presented as failures, with the blame implicitly assigned. Andre Le Vot notes that Fitzgerald’s aesthetic “was based on a keen sense of the past’s survival in the present” (193) and that “with The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, the romance of chivalry for a while dethroned the epic, [with] the woman-idol t[a]k[ing] the place of the traditional bestiary in American literature’s coat of arms” (xi).
While writing The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald commented hyperbolically to Thomas Boyd (literary editor of the St. Paul Daily News) in 1924: “I’m going to read nothing but Homer + Homeric literature—and history 540-1200 a.d. until I finish my novel … [which] grows more + more extraordinary” (Life in Letters 68). Yet his joking comment about medieval history reveals a deep truth because in Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald created an absolutely modern hero who closely approximates the medieval knight, adhering to the medieval conventions of the courtly love tradition insofar as that is possible in the modern world. The courtly knight, according to C. S. Lewis, must manifest humility, practice courtesy, engage his beloved in an adulterous relationship, and practice the religion of love—all requirements that Gatsby meets.
The son of unsuccessful midwestern farmers, Gatsby is acutely aware of his inferior social position relative to the southern debutante Daisy. Gatsby’s “palace” (gg 49) with its “feudal silhouette against the sky” (gg 92), his “high Gothic library … transported complete from some ruin overseas” (gg 45), his fabulous parties, even his expensive shirts—all are purchased to attract Daisy. When she first visits his house, “he revalued everything … according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” (gg 92), and he stops giving parties because “the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes” (gg 114). Gatsby cares about how he appears in Daisy’s eyes because in his eyes Daisy is the superior lady who gives meaning to his existence.
In his service to Daisy, Gatsby obeys the rules of courtesy that made love an art in the High Middle Ages. After five years of separation he approaches her in an elaborately indirect way, asking Jordan Baker to ask Nick Carraway to ask Daisy to tea. When Jordan suggests a much simpler plan, Gatsby is horrified, as she reports to Nick: “’I don’t want to do anything out of the way!’ he kept saying” (gg 80). In preparation for Daisy’s visit he makes elaborate arrangements, “dress[ing] for the rendezvous in a seeming semblance of shining armor,” as Elizabeth Morgan points out (167). Gatsby behaves with extraordinary courtesy in his last encounter with Daisy. He shields her from responsibility for Myrtle Wilson’s death—first taking the blame upon himself; later saying of the hit- and-run accident, in a revealing locution, “I tried to make her stop, but she couldn’t” (gg 145) rather than that she “wouldn’t,” thereby protecting her even psychologically from responsibility for her behavior (and concurrently protecting himself from knowledge of her callousness).
Gatsby’s adulterous relationship with Daisy, like courtly love as described by C. S. Lewis, is “a ‘kind of chastity,’ in virtue of its severe standard of fidelity to a single object” (34). After “tak[ing]” Daisy in Louisville, Gatsby feels “married to her” (gg 149), though his previous sexual relationships have left him “contemptuous” (gg 99) of women. This dual attitude of commitment and contempt replicates the attitude of the medieval knight, who adored his aristocratic lady while scorning women (as given literary form in the courtly romance and the pornographic fabliaux, respectively). Gatsby has been ennobled by his courtly commitment, which is consummated sexually—the dream made flesh, or, rather, the flesh made dream. Meyer Wolfsheim calls him “a perfect gentleman” (gg 72) and offers as evidence Gatsby’s “careful[ness] about women,” noting that “he would never so much as look at a friend’s wife” (gg 73). Although Wolfsheim’s comment resonates ironically, given Gatsby’s subsequent affair with the married Daisy, it nonetheless has the ring of truth because Gatsby does not take advantage of the girls at his parties, waiting for his meeting with Daisy, after which their affair resumes, as evidenced by his attempts at discretion: ‘“I hear you fired all your servants.’ ‘I wanted somebody who wouldn’t gossip. Daisy comes over quite often— in the afternoons’” (gg 114). This discretion in the service of the lady’s reputation is a requirement of the courtly knight, for “no article of the code is so important as this, and none is insisted upon so much” (Dodd 5).
In loving Daisy, Gatsby practices the religion of love, finding that like an Arthurian knight, “he ha[s] committed himself to the following of a grail” (gg 149). Louisville becomes a pilgrimage site, the sun “spread[ing] itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath” (gg 153). Later, “his count of enchanted objects” (gg 94) includes the famous green light on the end of Daisy’s dock, and he practices a nightly ritual of adoration because the light seems “as close [to her] as a star to the moon” (gg 94). Daisy is repeatedly associated with stars and “star-shine” (gg 149), for she is the Stella to Gatsby’s Astrophel, the star to his star lover in an image first employed by the stilnovisti poets of the thirteenth century. After the hit-and-run accident he eagerly stands a “vigil” on her lawn that partakes of the “sacredness” (gg 146) appropriate to adoration.
Gatsby is not the only character to be involved in an adulterous relationship with a married woman. Tom Buchanan, in his affair with Myrtle Wilson, provides an illustrative contrast. Rather than manifesting humility, Tom is arrogant to Myrtle, a social inferior to whom he condescends. Rather than practicing courtesy, he is brutal, physically assaulting her. Rather than engaging in an adulterous relationship that is paradoxically faithful, he participates in a series of indiscreet affairs. Rather than practicing the religion of love (with its implication of transcendent meaning), he is interested only in casual and meaningless sexual relationships. Morgan notes that Tom and Myrtle’s affair “is the very stuff out of which fabliaux are made” (173), and it thereby offers a peculiarly appropriate contrast to the courtly romance of Gatsby and Daisy.
Because Gatsby functions as a courtly knight, he is ennobled by his adulterous affair rather than diminished, as is Tom. While the illegal activities by which Gatsby earns his wealth cannot be ignored, his “incorruptible dream” ultimately displaces the reality of his “corruption” (gg 155, 154) in Nick’s judgment, as in that of many readers. This conflict between dream and reality is central to Gatsby, just as the related conflict between unity and multiplicity was central to Adams’s Chartres and the Education. Gatsby poses the eternal question: Which is truly real—the dream, the ideal, the essential; or the material, the accidental, the existential? Fitzgerald, whose favorite poet was John Keats, was intimately familiar with Keats’s climactic formulation in “Ode to a Nightingale” (which also provided the title of Tender Is the Night): “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? / Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?” Fitzgerald absorbed much of his romanticism from Keats, whose “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (the title taken from a ballad by medieval poet Alain Chartier) and “Eve of Saint Agnes” are set in the Middle Ages and present relationships between knights and their ladies.
Denis de Rougemont’s analysis of the underlying motivation of courtly love provides a revealing gloss on Gatsby’s behavior. Rougemont locates in courtly love a commitment to the dream, the ideal, the essential, rather than the material, the accidental, the existential. At its base he locates a desire for mystical transcendence, a wish to escape this world for the absolutely Other world, arguing that implicit in this desire is a death wish. He sees in the beloved lady of courtly poetry the vestiges of a transcendent ideal—“the Lady of Thoughts, the Platonic idea of a feminine principle” (no)—which can never be realized in this world. Since the actual lady is only a substitute for the ideal (which remains as a trace in the poetry), courtly love is “the passion that is tasted and savoured for its own sake, in a kind of indifference to its living and external object” (Rougemont 152). This indifference reveals that “the passion of love is at bottom narcissism, the lover's self-magnification, far more than it is a relation with the beloved” (Rougemont 260). Suffering is necessarily the hallmark of the courtly lover since “to love more than the object of love, to love passion for its own sake, [is] to suffer and to court suffering” (Rougemont 50).
Gatsby’s desire for mystical transcendence is manifested in his desire to escape the constraints of time and therefore history (a desire also implicitly manifested in Twain’s Connecticut Yankee): “He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’ After she had obliterated four years … they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house—just as if it were five years ago. … ‘I wouldn’t ask too much of her,’ [Nick] ventured. ‘You can’t repeat the past.’ ‘Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’ ” (gg 111). The vehemence of Gatsby’s response to Nick’s commonsensical commonplace bears witness to the intensity of his desire. In escaping from time, he hopes to escape to a statically perfect realm, one where he can “fix everything just the way it was before” (gg 111). The verb is particularly revealing because it suggests Gatsby’s desire both to perfect the imperfect and to arrest time (this desire also metaphorically presented in the famous scene where he almost drops a broken clock during his reunion with Daisy).
Gatsby’s desire for mystical transcendence is revealed most powerfully, however, in the truly extraordinary scene of his first kiss with Daisy, worth citing in full:
One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder. His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (gg 112)
This scene is extraordinarily rich with images from the courtly literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The blocks of the sidewalk “really” (that is, ideally-essentially rather than materially-accidentally) form a “ladder” of love reminiscent of that appropriated from Plato by the medieval Neoplatonists of Chartres (especially in the work of Alain de Lille, later translated by Henry Adams in Chartres [MSMC 357-58], and poetically realized in Dante’s Divine Comedy). In the sidewalk Gatsby sees the rungs of that ladder, leading in a step-by-step progression from human to divine love. In loving Daisy he stands on the first rung; his desire to climb higher reveals his desire for mystical transcendence. Yet as C. S. Lewis notes of the Neoplatonic original, “The very first step upwards would have made a courtly lover blush, since it consists in passing on from the worship of the beloved’s beauty to that of the same beauty in others” (5). Courtly Gatsby thus chooses instead to commit himself absolutely to Daisy, to climb no further. However, in doing so he does not abandon his desire for mystical transcendence, here symbolized as the feminine principle by breast imagery. Instead he embodies mystical transcendence in Daisy: “The incarnation was complete.”
The several references to the heavens in this passage culminate with a sound akin to the medieval music of the spheres, which metaphorically suggests that this is a moment of perfect harmony, indeed perfection. The stars that “stir and bustle” to witness the lovers are here signaling their approval (at least in the eyes of Gatsby, whose version of this climactic moment Nick recounts). Gatsby’s experience of this mysterious night, when lights hum and stars stir and a Daisy blossoms, is completely and mystically transformative, its memory simultaneously transfixing and motivating him. When he locates Daisy after five years, he locates the vestiges of the ideal for which he has lived, whose intensity casts into the shadows his materially real life: “In her actual and astounding presence none of it [his possessions] was any longer real” (gg 92).
But because Daisy embodies a transcendent ideal, Gatsby does not so much love her as what she represents. In one sense she is simply a later version of Dan Cody’s yacht, which “to young Gatz … represented all the beauty and glamour in the world” (gg 100-101). Yachts are conventionally designated by the feminine pronoun (hence the imaging of Adams’s Esther and Hemingway’s Brett Ashley as yachts, and the overdetermined significance of the impoverished Amory Blaine’s ejection from the Hudson River Yacht Club). This embodiment of the ideal in the feminine is reinforced by the fact that young Gatz met his “destiny in Little Girl Bay” (gg 100). Gatsby’s history is one of striving for an ideal embodied in feminine form. As the last and most sophisticated of Gatsby’s embodiments, Daisy has elicited the most powerful response. Relishing his passion for the “idea” (gg 93) of Daisy, he is disconcerted when the materially real woman threatens to supplant his idealization by “tumbl[ing] short of his dreams” (gg 97). Having waited five years to touch her again, he is remarkably disinterested when they finally meet: “Daisy put her arm through his … but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said [about the green light on her dock]” (gg 94). The materially real Daisy is unable to distract him from the idea of the green light representing her and, more specifically, the idea of her.
Ultimately, however, it is Gatsby’s “idea of himself” (gg 111) that he wants to recover. The narcissism at the base of his love is thus laid bare (a more sublimated version of Amory Blaine’s narcissism, repeatedly revealed in section titles such as “The Romantic Egotist” and “Narcissus Off Duty”). Just as Gatsby “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” (gg 99), he requires a Platonic ideal in the form of a lady whom he can endow with his passion if he is to continue his process of self- realization. James Gatz became Jay Gatsby “at the specific moment … when he saw Dan Cody’s yacht” (gg 98), and Jay Gatsby becomes the Great Gatsby at the moment when he commits himself to the idea of Daisy. She is the vehicle by which he realizes himself. Like Twain’s Hank and Sandy and King Arthur intermittently, Gatsby more permanently inhabits a mythical plane, his passion’s intensity drawing Daisy into that plane.
Fitzgerald provides several analogues for Gatsby and Daisy, most obviously Nick and Jordan, foils who exist by contrast in the realm of quotidian reality. But a much closer parallel is provided by two minor characters—the Star (also identified, like Daisy, by a flower designation) and her director: “‘Perhaps you know that lady,’ Gatsby indicated a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman who sat in state under a white-plum tree. Tom and Daisy stared, with that peculiarly unreal feeling that accompanies the recognition of a hitherto ghostly celebrity of the movies. ‘She’s lovely,’ said Daisy. ‘The man bending over her is her director’ ” (gg 106). The mystical quality of this surreal passage, like their professions as dream makers, suggests that these two also inhabit a transcendent realm. Their entire relationship is encapsulated in a second scene that provides a gloss on Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship: “Almost the last thing I remember was standing with Daisy and watching the moving-picture director and his Star. They were still under the white-plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between. It occurred to me that he had been very slowly bending toward her all evening to attain this proximity, and even while I watched I saw him stoop one ultimate degree and kiss at her cheek. ‘I like her,’ said Daisy, ‘I think she’s lovely’” (gg 108). In this surreal scene—the white-plum tree, the white faces, the white moonlight all seem to glow—this particular courtly lover chooses to forego consummation of an ideal love in the materially real world, placing an obstacle in its way that recalls the sword placed between Tristan and Iseult. This obstacle enables his dream, the dream that he directs, to continue.
Gatsby’s dream, however, dies when Daisy, loving Gatsby, is unwilling to eradicate the past by denying her love for Tom. Though “the dead dream fought on” (gg 135) in the face of the complexities of life in the materially real world, it is from this moment doomed: “[Gatsby and Daisy] were gone, without a word, snapped out, made accidental, isolated, like ghosts” (gg 136). And Gatsby cannot be “Gatsby” without his dream. When he must confront “a new world, material without being real” (gg 162), he necessarily and inevitably dies. George Wilson is merely the accidental (in both senses of that word) agent of a death that has already occurred. When Nick discovers Gatsby’s body in the swimming pool, he notices only a pneumatic mattress on “its accidental course with its accidental burden” (gg 162), since the ideal and essential “ ‘Jay Gatsby’ had [already] broken up like glass” (gg 148).
It is only when Nick willfully chooses not to focus on the material— “One night I did hear a material car [at Gatsby’s house] … but I didn’t investigate” (gg 181)—that he is able truly to confront Gatsby’s ideality and his necessary death: “The inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. … As I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him” (gg 182).
The excesses of Gatsby’s idealism are certainly presented ironically, Fitzgerald recognizing its impractical nature in the real and problematic world and thereby giving dramatic form to Auerbach’s observation that when courtly love “has to do with the practical business of the world, it proves inadequate” (136). It is clear, moreover, that Gatsby’s idealization of Daisy is misguided. He chooses to love her not because of intrinsic merit but superficial qualities. But despite the ironic undercutting of Gatsby’s idealism—a task that narrator Nick Carraway frequently performs—he remains the most admirable of the characters, the one who is, in Nick’s climactic words, “worth the whole damn bunch put together” (gg 154). Fitzgerald’s presentation of Gatsby, then, is to a degree ambiguous. Gatsby seems a bit of a fool for not recognizing the unsuitability of Daisy as love object, for not recognizing that she is “[in]commensurate to his capacity for wonder” (gg 182), yet Gatsby’s ability to wonder, to dream, and to quest is presented as admirable. Though Gatsby is culpable for dedicating himself to the wrong object, his dedication itself is presented as praiseworthy. Were Gatsby a Dutch sailor viewing the “breast of the new world” (gg 182) for the first time (the essentialized America here identified with the feminine principle, itself identified as essentially maternal, just as for Adams)—or were he a medieval knight serving a true lady as defined by the courtly tradition—his actions would be unqualified by authorial irony.
Fitzgerald’s response to a 1925 letter of congratulation about Gatsby from novelist Roger Burlingame is relevant here, for he indicates unironically that nostalgia was the motivating emotion of the novel: “I was tremendously pleased that it moved you in that way ‘made you want to be back somewhere so much’ because that describes, better than I could have put it myself, whatever unifying emotion the book has, either in regard to the temperment [sic] of Gatsby himself or in my own mood while writing it” (Correspondence 159-60). Gatsby is the right man at the wrong time, a tragic victim of history whose romantic quest inevitably fails, though not because of personal culpability. Although Gatsby comes in for his share of ironic undercutting, the strongest criticism is thus reserved for the unworthy object of his knightly quest—Daisy, the tarnished modern lady who, for all that she “gleam[s] like silver” (gg 150), is actually a false grail undermining the successful operation of courtly love as a system of values in modern America (no longer a fresh new world, but now a “faithless land” [tsp 243] according to Amory Blaine). The medieval figure whom Daisy Fay Buchanan ultimately most resembles is thus not the courtly lady but the Arthurian “fee” or “fay,” who in the person of Morgain la Fee (or Morgan le Fay) “undermin[es] the very foundations of the Arthurian world” (Westoby 385). The Middle Ages are again revealed to be not the opposite of modern America but its mirror image.
One need not be a particularly sensitive reader to recognize that Daisy is fickle and selfish, her moral carelessness perfectly symbolized by her bad driving (a failing shared by Gloria Patch), which has all too literal consequences when she kills Myrtle in a hit-and-run accident. Daisy’s flaws are revealed most shockingly after this climactic automobile accident, one of a series in the novel that serve to characterize the accidental rather than the ideal nature of the reality these characters inhabit (much as Louisa Adams Kuhn’s fatal carriage accident does in the Education). Having allowed Gatsby to take the blame for Myrtle’s death, Daisy retreats with Tom to her mansion, where they hold hands over cold fried chicken and ale—the grossness of the meal suggesting authorial evaluation— while they plot their escape from a messy scene.
Gatsby, meanwhile, stands vigil outside the house, ready to come to Daisy’s rescue. Yet this modern knight is “watching over nothing” (gg 146), as Nick bitterly notes. This truth is metaphorically revealed the next morning when Nick notices in Gatsby’s house the “inexplicable amount of dust everywhere” (gg 147), thereby linking it with not only the modern Valley of Ashes but also the “foul dust [that] floated in the wake of his dreams” (gg 2). When Gatsby finally realizes that he is “watching over nothing”—when he realizes “what a grotesque thing a rose is” (gg 162) in the modern world (in contrast to Dante’s fourteenth-century world where Beatrice is seated in the celestial rose, or Henry Adams’s twelfth-century construction where “the Rose is any feminine ideal of beauty, intelligence, purity, or grace,—always culminating in the Virgin” [msmc 247], the rose being “Mary’s emblem” [msmc 115] because she is in Adam de Saint Victor’s words “Super rosam rosida” [quoted by Adams, msmc 117])—his death is inevitable.
Like Guillaume de Lorris’s thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose, which according to Adams owes its “interest only to the constant effort of the dreamer to attain his ideal,—the Rose,—and owes its charm chiefly to the constant disappointment and final defeat,” Gatsby has “an undertone of sadness” (msmc 248). But Gatsby still more closely approximates Jean de Meung’s fourteenth-century addition to the Roman de la Rose, where, according to Adams, “the Woman and the Rose became bankrupt” (msmc 249-50)—a metaphor with powerful resonance for Fitzgerald. Most readers of Gatsby thus join with the author and the narrator in finally pitying the modern knight manque and reprehending the bankrupt modern woman who makes his quest unachievable, the Jewish Wolfsheim’s tuneless whistling of “The Rosary” (gg 171) ironically providing the perfect commentary on Gatsby's death. Such judgments are eminently just in terms of the courtly love tradition. Joan M. Ferrante notes in a paraphrase of a poem by the troubadour Bertran de Born: “Since [the lady’s] worth depends on her receptiveness” to the man defined as “best,” then “she must not reject him if she would remain worthy” (69). Daisy reveals her lack of such worth when she chooses Tom over Gatsby. Like Adams, Fitzgerald presents this choice as a diminishment or degradation of womanhood. The lady Daisy Fay is revealed to be only superficially distinct from the prostitute Jill Wayne, whom Amory recalls as Jill “Fayne” in the stream-of-consciousness passage at the end of This Side of Paradise.
Gatsby does not get the girl, and this failure kills him, despite the lesson offered by the “romanticist” (bd 73) Anthony Patch in Fitzgerald’s preceding novel: “Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know—because once I wanted something [Gloria] and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly … and when I got it it turned to dust in my hands” (bd 341). The Patches’ marriage becomes a valley of ashes that leaves them empty shells, the blame relatively equally apportioned between Anthony and Gloria because Anthony’s Adams-like modernity inhibits his ability to function as a Gatsby-like knight to the flawed Gloria. In Fitzgerald’s subsequent novel, a Gatsby-like figure does get the girl, but his success also proves metaphorically fatal.
Dick Diver, of Tender Is the Night (at one point subtitled A Romance), is a self-described “old romantic” (tn 58) who opts for love to the exclusion of his other aspirations upon a transformative kiss from Nicole reminiscent of Gatsby and Daisy’s: “Wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved. So it had been. So it would ever be” (tn 302). The tag line suggests a mythic inevitability to this relationship, love “provid[ing] Fitzgeralds idealists, Gatsby and Diver, a way into the timeless, the ideal world” (Callahan 15). Yet however romantic the initial motivations, the relationship between Dick and Nicole is quintessentially modern rather than medieval. Its objective correlative is World War I (just as Fitzgerald described himself and Zelda in 1934 as “war survivals” [Correspondence 356] and offered himself to Zelda’s psychiatrist in 1938 in the role of a military “topographer” analyzing the “terrain” of his marriage [ Correspondence 500]).
Before meeting Nicole, Dick is a contemporary incarnation of Grant in Galena, “ready to be called to an intricate destiny” (tn 118). Grant’s destiny was the Civil War; Dick’s parallel destiny is marriage to Nicole. Dick is repeatedly compared to Grant, whose “invent[ion of] mass butchery” (tn 57) in the Civil War is presented as a precursor to World War I. Though Dick “didn’t see any of the war” (tn 119), he certainly sees action on the battleground of his marriage, “scent[ing] battle from afar, and subconsciously … hardening and arming himself” (tn 100). Nicole is first attracted to him when she sees him in his military uniform (recalling Daisy’s initial attraction to the uniformed Lieutenant Gatsby and Zelda’s initial attraction to the uniformed Lieutenant Fitzgerald), and he later soldiers on through a marriage that, like World War I, becomes a war of attrition.
The war and the marriage are thus collapsed: Dick's study of the Battle of Thiepval results in a “simplif[ication of] it always until it bore a faint resemblance to one of his own parties” (tn 59), like the Villa Diana party, whose outcome is a psychotic episode and a duel; the travels of the Diver contingent are compared to “an infantry battalion” on the move ( tn 77); in Paris, Dick “march[es] along,” his stick at “a sword-like angle” (tn 94); Dick frequently gets drunk, just as, according to McKisco, “everybody was drunk all the time during the war” (tn 50). The mercenary soldier Tommy Barban makes explicit the connection between the Divers’ marriage and modern war: “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” (tn30).
Battle in modern wars—whether World War I or the Divers’ marriage—leads not to ennobling self-realization, as in chivalric warfare, but to waste and destruction. One of Dick’s patients gives voice to the cost of the war between modern men and women:
“I’m sharing the fate of the women of my time who challenged men to battle.”
“To your vast surprise it was just like all battles,” [Dick] answered, adopting her formal diction.
“Just like all battles.” She thought this over. “You pick a set-up, or else win a Pyrrhic victory, or you’re wrecked and ruined—you’re a ghostly echo from a broken wall.”
… “Are you quite sure you’ve been in a real battle?” [he asked] …. “You’ve suffered, but many women suffered before they mistook themselves for men.” (tn 184)
Though Dick represses the truth of what this woman (who ultimately dies of her “wounds”) is saying, denying her meaning “as a symbol of something” ( tn 185), he too is ultimately a casualty of this modern sexual war. He does battle with the archetypal “American Woman”—most frequently in the person of Nicole but also as incarnated in Baby Warren, Mary North, and Rosemary Hoyt—who is critically described by the omniscient narrator as having “broken the moral back of a race and made a nursery out of a continent” (tn 232). Judith Fetterley points out that “here, as in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald indicts America, identifying the nation as female and blaming the woes of American men on the character of American women and on the feminization of American culture” (121). In the marital arena of battle, the destruction is inevitably sexual: Dick is transformed from “Lucky Dick, you big stiff” (tn 116) to a man who “avoid[s] high diving” (tn 282) and regards his wife’s lover “with a curious impotence” (tn 308). His alter-ego is the seedy American war veteran who appears at two critical points in Dick’s romantic life—when he first contemplates an affair with Rosemary and when he accepts Tommy’s demand that he divorce Nicole. Close to Dick’s age, the unnamed veteran is identified with locales (barber shops and theater lobbies) and activities (watching people) with which Dick is also identified. By the end of the novel, Dick is wandering aimlessly around the state of New York just as the veteran has wandered around France since the war ended— failures both.
In direct contrast to Daisy, who twice rejects Gatsby—a rejection that destroys his dream and therefore his very self—Nicole marries Dick. Yet just as Daisy is blamed for Gatsby’s destruction, Nicole is blamed for Dick’s, a blame that she accepts: “Some of the time I think it’s my fault— I’ve ruined you” (tn 267). Nicole is presented throughout the novel as a type of vampire who absorbs from Dick what “she had thought of… as an inexhaustible energy, incapable of fatigue” (tn 300-301), depleting him to make herself psychologically well and then casting him aside for another man. In her lack of guilt, she is similar to Rosemary, another vampire who wants to “devour” (tn 66) Dick. Nicole and Rosemary serve as Keatsian belles dames sans merci for Dick (who shares Fitzgerald’s love of Keats’s poetry). In this regard they are similar to Gloria Patch, who is identified explicitly as “the beautiful and merciless lady” (bd 255) and “la belle dame sans merci” (bd 329), and who is revealed to be a vamp—defined as “a picker up and thrower away of men, an unscrupulous and fundamentally unmoved toyer with affections” (bd 95)— who “struck to kill” (bd 80), drawing blood when she bites Anthony’s thumb in a gesture of castration.
Like Nicole, Dick absorbs others, but he paradoxically expends his own energy in so doing rather than replenishing it, as does Nicole. In serving Nicole and the other women in his life, Dick recalls the courtly role, but rather than being ennobled, he is weakened and enervated by his service to modern women, just as Anthony Patch is depleted by his service to Gloria. Tender is the knight indeed in the modern world, which offers an inhospitable environment for courtly behavior and unsuitable objects for courtly adoration. Though Dick cannot be a true courtly knight, neither can he successfully act the part of a modern man in the postwar world, for his attempts at casual affairs with other women are always undermined. His initial attempt at an affair with Rosemary is forestalled by Peterson’s death; the consummated affair is summarily ended because of his anger at her relationship with another man; and his resumption of the affair is forestalled by his otherwise pointless fight with the cabdrivers. His contemplated fling while in Innsbruck is forestalled by his father’s death; his potential fling with an English girl is forestalled when he gets drunk; and his potential affair with Mary North Minghetti is forestalled when he abandons the Riviera. Dick is a man caught between the medieval world of the courtly knight, which endows the romantic relationship with transcendent significance, and the modern world, which accepts meaninglessness as a given and celebrates all sexual activity as a simple marker of existence.
Tommy Barban, Dick’s replacement in Nicole’s life, seems at first glance the most truly knightly figure that the modern world has to offer. “Heroic and gallant” (tn 269-70), he quite seriously takes up the gauntlet in defense of Nicole’s honor when the “code duello” (tn 44) is casually invoked by McKisco. After Dick agrees to the divorce, Tommy formally proclaims, “I stand in the position of Nicole’s protector” (tat 310), and he warns Dick not to touch Nicole, just as Gatsby stood vigil to protect Daisy from Tom’s touch. Yet Tommy is hardly a true knightly model in the courtly tradition. His duel with McKisco is only slightly less farcical than the later “duels” that a drunken Dick fights with a taxi driver and a cook. His heroism in war is in the service not of idealism but economics. A mercenary whose name suggests “barbarian,” Tommy plunders Nicole in barbaric fashion: “She lay across his saddle-bow as surely as if he had wolfed her away from Damascus and they had come out upon the Mongolian plain” ( tn 297-98). Tommy’s success brings honor to neither himself, Nicole, nor the modern world. Like Tom Buchanan, Tommy Barban is yet another harbinger of the decline and fall of Western civilization, just as the barbarians at the gates had foretold the destruction of “The Grandeur that was Rome” ( tn 207)—notably, the title of the movie in which Rosemary stars.
Like her counterpart in The Great Gatsby, the modern American woman of Tender Is the Night deviates radically from the medieval courtly ideal. Though superficially different, Daisy and Nicole (like the other female characters in these novels) are united in their inability or unwillingness to serve as ladies. This refusal necessarily undermines the knightly behavior of the male protagonists, rendering it either meaningless (Gatsby) or impossible (Dick). The American woman is thus held largely responsible for the male protagonists’ failures. Fetterley notes that “to read Tender is the Night is to participate in the evocation of sympathy for Dick Diver,… and to engage in the concomitant hostility toward that which has destroyed him” (114), and Mary A. McCay similarly asserts that “there is more hostility underlying Tender Is the Night than there is in any other [of Fitzgerald’s] work[s]” (319).
Given that the object of that hostility was largely based on Zelda Fitzgerald (as was Daisy), it is clear that Tender Is the Night functions at one level as an apologia (as does Gatsby), serving to explain the failure of the Fitzgeralds’ marriage by apportioning a larger share of the blame to Zelda (whereas the earlier and more evenhanded Beautiful and Damned functions as a chillingly accurate prediction of the future of the Fitzgerald marriage, the novel a failed attempt to ward off that future by displacing it into fiction). Just as Daisy chooses Tom over Gatsby, Zelda had become involved with French aviator Edouard Jozan while Fitzgerald was writing Gatsby. Just as Nicole undergoes psychological breakdowns that enervate Dick, Zelda suffered psychological breakdowns that drew on Fitzgerald’s emotional and financial resources.
It is psychologically telling that when “Zelda began to plan a novel [Save Me the Waltz] in 1933 dealing with insanity, it seemed to Scott that she was covering some of the same ground as Tender Is the Night in order to justify herself and make him look bad” (Donaldson, Fool 84). Fitzgerald was to some degree projecting his own motivations onto Zelda, though she doubtless shared them. Fitzgerald’s frustration is evident in a 1934 letter to Dr. Harry M. Murdock, psychiatrist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore: “[Dr. Meyer] could never seem to appreciate that my writing was more important than hers by a large margin…. In other words, he encouraged the damn woman’s desire to express herself” (Correspondence 381). Fitzgerald reserved for himself the right to express Zelda, blocking Zelda’s right to express herself and certainly her right to express Fitzgerald. Just as the courtly lyric is a “masculine performance” whose “context is validation by other males” (Cholakian 57), Tender Is the Night is a recounting of the Fitzgeralds’ story from Scott’s male perspective, and he was enormously disturbed at Zelda’s attempts to tell their story from “the damn woman’s” point of view, since perspective largely determines sympathy.
Insofar as the female protagonists of Gatsby and Tender Is the Night are blamed, like Zelda, for inhibiting successful knightly behavior, they are similar to female characters in the self-consciously contemporary world of Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise. In this autobiographical Kunstlerroman, female characters mark stages in the development of the male protagonist, whose name suggests that amorous adventures will be the locus of his education. As a young man, Amory decides that sex is “a rather unpleasant overpowering force” ( tsp 238), associating it explicitly with moral evil, as dramatized by two experiences bringing him into actual contact with the devil—a literalization of his later expressed desire to “let himself go to the devil” ( tsp 262).
In the first experience, he is saved from sexual temptation by a vision of a man whose “unutterably terrible” ( tsp 113) feet are cloven—a lurid detail whose significance is eventually clear to Amory and immediately clear to the reader (prepared by this section’s title, “The Devil”). His vision is given external validation by his friend Tom d’Invilliers, who notes, “Had a hell of a dream about you last night. … I had an idea you were in some trouble” (tsp 118), and who suddenly sees “something” (tsp 119) looking at Amory.
Amory’s second experience occurs when he sees “an aura,… a horror, diffusively brooding” ( tsp 247) over him, his friend Alec Connage, and the prostitute Jill Wayne. This vision is accompanied by another vision of “something else, featureless and indistinguishable, yet strangely familiar” (tsp 247), which later is revealed to be Monsignor Darcy’s spirit. External validation is again provided since Darcy has unexpectedly died that very evening. In the ensuing psychomachia, the devil and Darcy’s spirit battle for Amory’s soul. The devil is vanquished when Amory, innocent of sexual sin in this encounter, decides to sacrifice himself in Alec’s place. Amory’s admission of a false guilt (here anticipating Dick Diver’s similar admission) paradoxically reassures him of his sexual innocence, an innocence also valued by Anthony Patch, as evidenced by the talismanic importance he ascribes to his pseudomedieval “Chevalier O’Keefe” allegory, which links sex with death and then damnation. Like the sexual temptation that fatally lures the “romantic” (bd 89) Chevalier O’Keefe from his vow of chastity, sexual temptation inevitably returns to Amory: “He felt an overwhelming desire to let himself go to the devil—not to go violently as a gentleman should, but to sink safely and sensuously out of sight. He pictured himself in an adobe house in Mexico, half-reclining on a rug-covered couch, … [while] an olive-skinned, carmine-lipped girl caressed his hair… There were so many places where one might deteriorate pleasantly … all lands of sad, haunting music and many odors, where lust could be a mode and expression of life” ( tsp 262).
It is telling that Amory here embodies sexual temptation in an “exotic” woman, just as his visions of the devil appear during his encounters with party girls and prostitutes. Amory thus differentiates between these women, with whom he associates sexual activity and thus evil, and the society girls he dates. But the differentiation does not hold. The debutantes reject the role of belle (a model with roots in the Middle Ages, the lady of the plantation self-consciously styled on the lady of the castle) for that of vamp (a contemporary model with roots in World War I). “The ‘belle’ had become the ‘flirt,’ the ‘flirt’ had become the ‘baby vamp.’ The ‘belle’ “had five or six callers every afternoon. If the P. D. [ “popular daughter,” used interchangeably with “vamp” ], by some strange accident, has two, it is made pretty uncomfortable for the one who hasn’t a date with her. The ‘belle’ was surrounded by a dozen men in the intermissions between dances. Try to find the P. D. between dances, just try to find her” ( tsp 59).
Unlike the belle, the vamp is associated with sexuality, as Fitzgerald explains in “Echoes of the Jazz Age”: “The old standard prevailed until after the War… Only in 1920 did the veil finally fall—the Jazz Age was in flower, … the word jazz … mean[ing] first sex, then dancing, then music” (eja 15-16).
Rosalind, described several times as a “vampire” (tsp 170, 180), offers a historical discourse on this new sexual freedom: “There used to be two kinds of kisses: First when girls were kissed and deserted; second, when they were engaged. Now there’s a third kind, where the man is kissed and deserted. If Mr. Jones of the nineties bragged he’d kissed a girl, every one knew he was through with her. If Mr. Jones of 1919 brags the same every one knows it’s because he can’t kiss her any more. Given a decent start any girl can beat a man nowadays” ( tsp 181). Amory is certainly titillated by the sexual freedom of these contemporary girls: the kissable thirteen- year-old Myra St. Claire; the “Speed” ( tsp 62), Isabelle Borge; the fickle Rosalind Connage, who has kissed dozens of men; and the “Bohemian” ( tsp 232) Eleanor Savage.
In a 1921 interview with Frederick James Smith, Fitzgerald offered similar observations about his attraction to the contemporary girl: “We find the young woman of 1920 flirting, kissing, viewing life lightly, saying damn without a blush, playing along the danger line in an immature way—a sort of mental baby vamp. … I prefer this sort of girl. Indeed, I married the heroine of my stories. I would not be interested in any other sort of woman” (244-45). Yet although Fitzgerald was titillated by watching the modern girl “play along the danger line,” he was disturbed by the possibility that she might cross it, wanting her vampishness to remain “mental.”
Amory too is ultimately disturbed by the sexual freedom claimed by modern girls. His first kiss provokes initial enthusiasm, then “sudden revulsion, … disgust, loathing for the whole incident” (tsp 14). The intensity of Amory’s response is striking, as is his passionate refusal when the “young witch” (tsp 13) Myra demands, “Kiss me again” (tsp 14). He later encounters another “witch” (tsp 227) in the allegorically named Eleanor Savage, who recites poetry “in a weird chant” (tsp 224), reads Amory's mind, and blasphemes. Imaged as a “little devil” (tsp 235) and a “lunatic” (tsp 227) with “a crazy streak” (tsp 240), this Maryland debutante is “evil … under the mask of beauty” (tsp 222). When she acts upon a “crazy” suicidal impulse and nearly rides her horse over a cliff (thereby anticipating Nicole’s suicidal attempt at crashing the Diver car), Amory is horrified. Eleanor is sister to those ladies from medieval romances who are “revealed as devils in disguise,” such as the “women who tempt [knights], trying to destroy their chastity so they will fail in the quest,” and who when “rebuffed by the knights … literally go up in smoke, leaving only a foul odor behind” (Ferrante 119).
Rosalind Connage has an even more powerful impact on Amory's life. The archetypal debutante (as suggested by the title of the chapter devoted to her), she is also a “vampire” who “play[s] with men” (tsp 181), devastating Amory when she breaks their engagement because he is too poor: “I can’t be … cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you. You’d hate me in a narrow atmosphere…. I wouldn’t be the Rosalind you love” (tsp 195). Rosalind’s analysis is proved accurate, for Amory later asserts that “the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody” (tsp 216). Yet narrative sympathy lies not with Rosalind but Amory, as revealed by several authorial interjections in the form of stage directions: “There is a difference somehow in the quality of their suffering” (tsp 195); “Rosalind feels that she has lost something, she knows not what, she knows not why” (tsp 197). This scene, a fictionalization of Fitzgerald’s experience when Zelda broke their engagement because of his lack of financial prospects prior to the publication of This Side of Paradise, had powerful significance for Fitzgerald, who returned to it not only in Gatsby (where Daisy cries over Gatsby’s love letter but marries Tom the next day) but in various short stories, notably “‘The Sensible Thing’” (1924), in which Jonquil Cary breaks her engagement to George O’Kelly.
Though O’Kelly (like Fitzgerald) ultimately succeeds financially and the engagement is resumed, he continues to feel a certain bitterness and loss, emotions that Fitzgerald expressed in the Crack- Up essay “Pasting It Together” (1936):
It was one of those tragic loves doomed for lack of money, and one day the girl closed it out on the basis of common sense. During a long summer of despair I wrote a novel… so it came out all right, but it came out all right for a different person. The man with the jingle of money in his pocket who married the girl a year later would always cherish an abiding distrust, an animosity, toward the leisure class—not the conviction of a revolutionist but the smouldering hatred of a peasant…. I have never been able to stop wondering where my friends’ money came from, nor to stop thinking that at one time a sort of droit de seigneur [sic] might have been exercised to give one of them my girl. (pt 77)
Though Fitzgerald admits to distrusting the leisure class as a result of this experience, the real focus of his displaced distrust must inevitably have been Zelda, the girl who rejected him when he was poor only to marry him when he was rich. Fitzgerald similarly displaces his sense of transformation, asserting only that he had become a “different person,” though Zelda too must have been transformed forever in his eyes. Fitzgerald wrote in an unmailed 1939 letter to Zelda, “I never wanted the Zelda I married” (Correspondence 559). Unlike Fitzgerald and his fictional alter- ego George O’Kelly, Amory (like Gatsby) will be forever prevented from getting the girl, no matter how successful he becomes, for Rosalind (like Daisy) marries another man. Fitzgerald’s anger at Zelda is manifested in Amory’s imaginative murder of Rosalind: “Never again could he … [want] her… Amory had wanted her youth, the fresh radiance of her mind and body, the stuff that she was selling now once and for all. So far as he was concerned, young Rosalind was dead” (tsp 253).
The modern American girl is thus imaged variously as a witch, a devil, a vampire, a madwoman—seductive and enticing, yet dangerous to the men they encounter. For all of her superficial difference from the prostitutes and loose women whom Amory associates with evil, she is revealed to behave in uncomfortably similar ways. Her sexual freedom allows her to “make love” ( in that wonderfully ambiguous Fitzgeraldian phrase) with many men; her sexual favors imply no commitment, nor any special worthiness in her male lover; she often takes an aggressive rather than a passive role in the romance. In rejecting the traditional female role, she has escaped male control (except insofar as the male author has constructed her to serve his purposes) but not male opprobrium. Each of Amory’s relationships with these baby vamps ends predictably in disaster for him, an outcome that leaves him bitter about modern women and the “real moral letdown” ( tsp 59) their actions suggest.
Yet Fitzgerald also presents a female character who approximates the medieval ideal. Clara Page plays the part to perfection by allowing herself to be idealized and worshiped by the male protagonist. Her given name like that of Astrophel’s Stella allegorically suggesting “light,” and her surname manifesting her primary function as literary material for a male author, Clara is the goddess Amory adores from afar in the paradigmatic courtly love relationship. Residing on the allegorically named Ark Street, the Catholic Clara becomes a locus for Amory’s spiritual aspirations, his faith in her reviving his faith in God. And his is not the only life that she transforms in her “court” of “adorers” (tsp 139). Clara provokes not sexual temptation but “innocent excitement” in “one of the greatest libertines in that city” (tsp 138). Amory thus figures her forth in a poem as St. Cecilia (the same figure that Catherine Brooke sits for in Adams’s Esther), where he associates her with the rose (an association inappropriate to the ironically named Rosalind and later, Rosemary), and he thinks of her as inhabiting a transcendent plane where she partakes of “Mary’s eternal significance” (tsp 145). A contemporary madonna to whom Amory proclaims, “I love you—or adore you—or worship you—” ( tsp 145), Clara functions as a projection of male desire, satisfying Amory’s unspoken nostalgia for courtly love and Mariolatry while garnering narrative celebration.
Yet the section detailing Amory’s relationship with Clara is by far the briefest of all those devoted to women in This Side of Paradise—perhaps because despite the narrator’s protestations of her obsessive fascination for men, this ideal lady is inherently dull, a construct rather than a fully realized character. Even in this last characteristic, ironically, she is true to the medieval model, for the lady that the medieval troubadour adores is also defined by a few conventional attributes: “Feminine characteristics exist principally to inspire and validate the poet, … leaving in the text a woman whose unique function is to gratify a love which requires of the male little more than sublimated admiration, and of the female, little more than creative inspiration” (Cholakian 174).
Provocatively enough, Amory at some level seems to recognize these limitations of the medieval ideal. He puzzles over “how coldly we thought of the ‘Dark Lady of the Sonnets,’ and how little we remembered her,… and [how] now we have no real interest in her” ( tsp 236), but he is unable to articulate the reason. His unconscious recognition of the limitations of the medieval ideal is expressed more personally in a dream that occurs after he contemplates marrying Clara: “Once he dreamt that it had come true and woke up in a cold panic, for in his dream she had been a silly, flaxen Clara, with the gold gone out of her hair and platitudes falling insipidly from her changeling tongue” ( tsp 141). Yet the insight embedded in this dream is immediately repressed, covered over by a narrative threnody of praise of Clara’s virtues. When Amory does propose to Clara, he learns that she has embraced widowhood and will never remarry. Thus does Fitzgerald spare this ideal lady the test of reality—a test that she would inevitably fail. In a 1924 article for McCall’s provocatively entitled “Does a Moment of Revolt Come Some Time to Every Married Man?” Fitzgerald wrote: “No sooner does a man marry his reproachless ideal than he becomes intensely self-conscious about her” (dmr 185). By negating any possibility of marriage for Clara, Fitzgerald makes it possible for the courtly love tradition to remain intact as a subtextual model in the novel.
The widowed Clara is a dream mother whose unseen “precious babies” (tsp 146)—incarnations of Gloria Patch’s “ghostly children” (bd 393), her “dear dream children” (bd 147)—are the result of immaculate conception, at least in Amory’s mind, given her confession that she has never been in love. Untouched by “the reality, the earthiness … of childbearing” (bd 392), which so repels Gloria Patch, who notes with disgust the “alive, mechanical, abominable” (bd 361) fertility that makes “motherhood … also the privilege of the female baboon” (bd 393), Clara has nothing of the “feminine animality” (bd 389) so abhorrent to Anthony Patch, who identifies “females, in the word’s most contemptuous sense, [as] breeders and bearers, exuding still that faintly odorous atmosphere of the cave and the nursery” (bd 104). While celebrating the emerging sexuality of the postwar vamp, Fitzgerald concurrently feared a promiscuity that would render these girls “unclean” (a metaphor repeatedly employed in his fiction), Anthony and Gloria Patch holding multiple confused conversations in which they attempt to distinguish between “clean” and “unclean” promiscuity. Fitzgerald also found distasteful the “female animality” that gives to childbearing its “earthiness,” thereby transforming glamorous dream girls into real women, madonnas into mothers.
Fitzgerald’s presentation of onetime dream girls—most notably Rosalind, Gloria, Daisy, and Nicole—reveals his fascination with a particular kind of lost cause. In none of these novels does a romantic relationship work out well. Nor did Fitzgerald s relationship with Zelda, which was marked not only by their fractured engagement but by destructive arguments (the “splits in the skin that won’t heal,” as Fitzgerald described them [Notebooks 192]) and separations resulting from Zelda’s psychological breakdowns and Fitzgerald’s alcoholism. In a 1938 letter to Dr. Carroll, Zelda’s psychiatrist at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, Fitzgerald wrote: “Certainly the outworn pretense that we can ever come together again is better for being shed. There is simply too much of the past between us. When that mist falls—at a dinner table, or between two pillows—no knight errant can transverse (sic) its immense distance” (Correspondence 487).
In acknowledging his own inability to serve as “knight errant” to Zelda, Fitzgerald was relinquishing a role that he had played for years, a role Zelda had alluded to in her autobiographical novel Save Me the Waltz (1932) when she named the male protagonist (clearly based on Fitzgerald) first Amory Blaine and then David Knight. Yet Fitzgerald’s renunciation of this role is particularly interesting because he tacitly blames Zelda for his inability to function as a knight, as implied by his judgment that “no knight-errant” (emphasis mine) could succeed in this task. In Fitzgerald’s fictional worlds, the only way that the modern woman can escape criticism is not by accepting the worthy knight (as do Gloria and Nicole), and certainly not by rejecting him for an unworthy knight (as do Rosalind and Daisy), but by rejecting him for some larger ideal (as does Clara) that precludes sexuality and fixes her status as inspiration for knightly self- realization.
When the courtly model fails to operate successfully in the modern world, the blame is laid largely at the feet of modern women who refuse to behave according to the courtly conventions and therefore make it impossible for modern men to be knights—an important source of what John S. Whitley terms the “deep distrust of women” (177) in Fitzgerald’s fiction. Aldrich notes “the irony… that Fitzgerald, that incessant brooder on women and Woman, was not particularly good at rendering full or convincing women characters in his long fictions” (152). Of The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald “confessed” in a letter to Max Perkins before publication that “‘it may hurt the book’s popularity that it’s a man's book’ [by which] he meant that his best characters were men and that his women faded out of the novel” (Keath Fraser 61). “To Gatsby, to Diver, and to Stahr”—to Blaine and Patch as well—“women are rarely personalities, rarely individuals, rarely human beings; above all, they are rarely women,” according to Callahan (211). Certainly the same could be said of the courtly lady, who is in Cholakian’s memorable phrase “topos by absence” (188).
In his novels Fitzgerald explores the cost of a modern allegiance to the courtly model. Yet the validity of the model itself is not seriously called into question. Only in Fitzgerald’s unfinished last novel, The Last Tycoon, does he suggest that the male protagonist perhaps errs in desiring a courtly relationship, that his desire for a courtly lady rather than a modern woman may be misbegotten. Fitzgerald thereby elaborates the insight that Amory expressed in dream form (and that Fitzgerald unconsciously expressed in his limited narrative attention to Clara) so many years before, calling into question the validity of courtly love as a model, however tentatively.
In a 1939 letter to Kenneth Littauer, fiction editor of Collier’s, Fitzgerald drew an explicit comparison between The Last Tycoon and Gatsby: “If one book could ever be ‘like’ another I should say it is more ‘like’ The Great Gatsby than any other of my books” (Life in Letters 412). Perhaps in part an expression of his desire to regain the mastery he had exhibited in writing Gatsby (and to expunge the painful nine-year experience of writing Tender Is the Night), this comparison is nonetheless apt, as a brief survey will reveal. The Gatsby-like main character, Monroe Stahr, is a man of humble beginnings and limited education who succeeds financially and radiates glamour. His story is told by a first-person narrator who offers admiring commentary punctuated by irony. Though Stahr has involved himself in corrupt activities to maintain his position, at the last opportunity he will repudiate a murderous plan, thereby bearing out his mother’s judgment, “We always knew that Monroe would be all right” (lt 147). Stahr is given mythic significance by the narrator, who describes a metaphoric flight where, Icarus-like, he “fl[e]w up very high to see, on strong wings,… [and] looked on all the kingdoms, with the kind of eyes that can stare straight into the sun” (lt 20). Fitzgerald’s letter to Littauer outlining the novel reveals that Stahr is to die in a plane crash, to come crashing back to earth. But like Gatsby, whose impact on Nick continues after his death, Stahr’s impact also continues, to be drawn out in a subtle “parable or moral lesson” (lt 157) that Fitzgerald projected in his working notes as the conclusion of his novel.
Before his death, Stahr has two important romantic relationships— with his wife, Minna Davis (recounted solely as memories), and with Kathleen Moore. While Gatsby wants to repeat the past but is unable to do so, Stahr is vouchsafed that unusual opportunity, for Kathleen is virtually the dead Minna’s double in appearance—“not Minna and yet Minna” (lt 59). When he and Kathleen first make love, he wants “passionately to repeat yet not recapitulate the past” (lt 88), a meaningless distinction. Stahr collapses Minna and Kathleen, thus mourning anew for Minna, who “died again” (lt 98) when Kathleen breaks off their relationship. Stahr’s feelings for Minna are therefore doubly significant: “He had never lost his head about Minna, even in the beginning…. She had loved him always and just before she died, all unwilling and surprised, his tenderness had burst and surged forward and he had been in love with her. In love with Minna and death together—with the world in which she looked so alone that he wanted to go with her there” (lt 96). Minna’s attraction for Stahr was not the attraction of life, then, but death. Stahr embodies his death wish in Minna, also expressed in his “definite urge toward total exhaustion … [which] was a perversion of the life force” (lt 108) and his persistent transformation of life into film (whether literally in the production of movies, or metaphorically in his treatment of his life as though it were a movie complete with props and dialogue).
Stahr uses his courtship of Minna as a model in courting Kathleen, but his cautiousness causes him to lose the woman who might have saved him (he is in failing health from heart trouble, appropriately), just as Minna had tried to save him from his impulse toward death. A voice—the narrator’s? God’s? Fitzgerald’s?—cries out a warning: “It is your chance, Stahr. Better take it now. This is your girl. She can save you, she can worry you back to life” (lt 115). But only when he has lost Kathleen to another man will he commit himself to her, as revealed in Fitzgerald’s proposed outline to Littauer: “Realizing how much he needs Thalia [that is, Kathleen], things are patched up between them. For a day or two they are ideally happy. They are going to marry, but he must make one more trip East” (Life in Letters 41). Inevitably, he will die before the commitment that would put an end to ideal happiness can be realized.
Like Gatsby, Stahr is “a romantic” (lt 114), but more so than Gatsby he seems to recognize at some level that his quest for the lady is not a desire for the corporeal reality (with its life-affirming powers) but for the transcendence that is death, which she symbolizes to him. Stahr, who “had grown up dead cold” (lt 97), thinks of Kathleen and is reminded “of the fresh iced fish and lobsters [at a restaurant]” (lt 114) in a telling image of luxury and death. Because Minna and Kathleen serve not only as objects of his desire but also as expressions of his death wish, he attempts to transform both Minna and Kathleen into versions of the courtly lady, but neither woman wishes to serve in this role, for they are committed to life. Though Kathleen chooses to marry another man, she does so only because Stahr finds it impossible to make a commitment to life with her. Were Stahr to marry her, he would find himself with “a good wife, a real person” (lt 111). But he does not want “a real person,” as Kathleen comes to realize. He wants the “perfect girl” (lt 41) he demands for his movies, where “the dream [is] made flesh” (lt 50). He wants his dead wife again, whom he could love only when she was dying.
The Last Tycoon is unique among Fitzgerald’s novels in that the male protagonist bears primary responsibility for the failure of the relationship. Though Kathleen is unwilling to be the lady that Stahr has constructed, she is not blamed for this refusal, as so many of Fitzgerald’s earlier female protagonists had been. Fitzgerald asserted in the 1939 letter to Littauer, “My present conception of her should make her the most… sympathetic of my heroines” (Life in Letters 410). Fitzgerald’s treatment of the Stahr- Kathleen relationship suggests at least a questioning of the validity of courtly love as a model, but “the full implications of that love affair were still not clear in Fitzgerald’s mind” (Piper 280), as evidenced by Fitzgerald’s working notes on the novel. Perhaps the implications of his affair with Sheilah Graham were not yet clear either. In 1935 he had told Laura Guthrie, “I am always searching for the perfect love,” and when she asked if that was because he’d had it as a young man, he answered, “No, I never had it. … I was searching then too” (quoted by Donaldson, Fool 110). Donaldson notes that “such a search worked to prevent him from committing himself fully to any one person, for, as common sense dictated and his fiction illustrated, there could be no such thing as the perfect love, up close” (Fool 110). Fitzgerald’s 1937-40 affair with Graham may have represented in its last stages a renunciation of that search. In any case, it provided a measure of comfort and stability to Fitzgerald in his final years during which he conceived and began writing The Last Tycoon.
Dying at forty-four of heart disease, Fitzgerald wrestled to the end of his life with the nature of love, the courtly love tradition providing an important context within which he explored love—and death—in the modern world. The figure of the knight profoundly attracted Fitzgerald because knighthood offered two ways to win the lady—by birth, to be sure (as Twain obsessively insisted), but also by deeds. Ostensibly aristocratic by birth, Amory Blaine betrays on virtually every page Fitzgerald’s middle-class background (however much Fitzgerald insisted upon his father’s aristocratic connections). Amory’s hatred of the class system (source of his bogus Marxist pronouncements) subsists uneasily with his frank desire to be at the top of a system that would award him the golden girl by right—the droit du seigneur. But the knightly code also offered the opportunity to ennoblement through deeds—a somewhat riskier path to be sure, less certain of rewards, and bifurcated since they could be deeds of courtly love or chivalric valor. This European system had particular attractions for an American audience, now allied with Europe not only by national birth but by martial deeds in World War I, uncertain of its social status in the fluidity of democracy, resenting unwritten rules that inhibited access to the upper reaches yet yearning to attain the heights. Knighthood earned by deeds offered a rarefied version of the Horatio Alger myth, celebrating the power of the individual man who was already part of the American mythology in the figure of the cowboy (beloved by young James Gatz in the person of Hopalong Cassidy). Slight of build, more or less bereft of physical courage except when drunk, and denied access to the martial arena of World War I, Fitzgerald capitalized on his personal attributes—golden good looks, charm, and literary genius—in his quest for knighthood via courtly deeds, becoming the troubadour of the Jazz Age who won the golden girl in the person of Zelda Sayre.
Fitzgerald’s literary rival and alter-ego Ernest Hemingway took a different path, not rejecting knighthood but attempting to earn it via deeds of chivalric valor, obsessively seeking out martial arenas in war and blood sport. Whereas Fitzgerald dealt with the primal experience for his generation largely via metaphor, allusion, and objective correlative (his technique of treating romance like war itself rooted in the Middle Ages), Hemingway prided himself on the firsthand experience that enabled the flat descriptive style he made famous. Yet Hemingway, like Fitzgerald, discovered the high cost of an allegiance in the modern world to medieval ideals, a cost that Hemingway felt should be borne with grace under pressure.
bd The Beautiful and Damned
cd “The Count of Darkness”
cu “The Crack-Up”
dh “In the Darkest Hour”
dmr “Does a Moment of Revolt Come?…”
eja “Echoes of the Jazz Age”
es “Early Success”
gd “Gods of Darkness”
gg The Great Gatsby
hv “Homage to the Victorians”
kd “The Kingdom in the Dark”
lt The Last Tycoon
pt “Pasting It Together”
tn Tender Is the Night
tsp This Side of Paradise
 Donaldson notes that “Edward Fitzgerald’s sympathies, and Scott’s, rested with the Confederacy, … [for both were] imbued with the romance of the lost Southern cause” (“Romance” 15). Kuehl suggests that Fitzgerald’s “financially inept but ‘Old American stock’ father came to symbolize pre-Civil War southern aristocracy while his mother’s financially successful but ‘black Irish’ relatives came to represent post-Civil War northern nouveaux riches” (Apprentice Fiction 35).
 West states that “the title The Education of a Personage may have been suggested by Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams” (44 n. 4).
 Princeton’s coolness to Fitzgerald’s success paradoxically reinforced his “idealized picture” (Donaldson, Fool 40). Fitzgerald acknowledged in his 1929 essay “Princeton” that it “had become for him a ‘myth’, … situated enrapturingly amid ‘the loveliest riot of Gothic architecture in America’ ” (Lee, Promises 8). In a 1935 letter he suggested new lyrics for a Princeton song, “the idea being, of course, that Princeton to Princeton men lies outside of time and space” (Correspondence 400). While dismissing his own conception as “over-sentimental,” he suggested that it “might mean something to the older alumni,” of whom he was one (Correspondence 400).
 See, for example, Lehan, Craft of Fiction (82).
 Whitley points out that Fitzgerald “could have been alerted [to Spengler’s Decline of the West] earlier [than 1926] through his relationship with [a] Princeton professor, Christian Gauss, or through various magazine articles about Spengler prior to the first English edition” (158). See also Lehan (“Romantic Destiny”) and Gross.
 Eble notes that “the curriculum he set up for Sheilah Graham in 1939 was both a recapitulation of his own reading and a considered judgment of what books would best serve Sheilah Graham’s beginning and his own continuing education” (83-84). For a firsthand account, see Graham, The Rest of the Story and College of One.
 Moyer speaks for this optimistic reading: “Spengler had not only corroborated Fitzgerald’s sense that the West was in a state of decline; he had also suggested that world history was like the story of the phoenix. … If it was the fate of every Civilization to die, it was also certain that… a new Culture would inevitably rise from the dead ashes of Civilization” (253). However, Kirby offers a more pessimistic reading, arguing that “Spengler’s delineation of the development and evolution of any given culture is rectilinear” but acknowledging that since “he sees all civilizations as following this pattern, his concept of history is often called circular” (163). This “circular” aspect of Spengler’s theory provides the basis for the optimistic reading.
 For a detailed discussion of these themes, see John Lewis, Stern (289- 462), Lehan (“Romantic Destiny”), Donaldson (“Short History”), Moyer, Kirkby, Gross, and Whitley.
 See Audhuy for a discussion of Eliot’s influence on Fitzgerald. Parker reminds us, however, that “the image of the waste land was as much a possession of the Victorian sensibility as it is of the modern” (33) in an essay comparing Gatsby to Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.”
 Fitzgerald provides a similar list drawn from his own experience in “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (see eja 20).
 Fitzgerald employed the same locution without the dashes in a 1933 letter to Dr. Adolf Meyer, Zelda’s psychiatrist at the Phipps Clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital: “For a month Zelda had Dr. Forel [her psychiatrist at Prangins Clinic] convinced that I was a notorious Parisien homo-sexual ” (Correspondence 306).
 See Janet Lewis for a listing of his sources, ranging from Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Belloc’s Europe and the Faith, Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, and Murray’s The Witch-cult in Western Europe to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica where “he checked articles on armour, castles and Charlemagne, on feudalism, fortification and Viking ships” (9).
 Fitzgerald wrote regretfully in a 1940 letter to Neal Begley of having had to abandon his original intention “to carry Philippe through a long life covering the latter part of the ninth and early part of the tenth century, a time that must simply be vibrant with change and would be intensely interesting in view of new discoveries (such as the new data on the witch cult) and the new Marxian interpretation” (Correspondence 590). Only his editors’ lack of interest led to his decision to stop work on the series. But he continued to play with the possibility of “publish[ing] a shorter book to begin with” (Correspondence 590).
 Catharism differed in many respects from Griselda’s witch cult, but each was “a secret society” (GD 33) with a “secret lingo” (GD 88), “a powerful underground league” (GD 90) that the Roman Catholic Church wanted to suppress. Both the witch cults and Catharism were also associated with women, as were other heretical movements of the era. Unlike Roman Catholicism, which severely limited the role of women in the church, sects like the Cathars “encouraged them to take part and to preach” (Ferrante 8). Whereas Griselda’s witch cult is “pagan worship—left over from the days before we had the Holy Word” (GD 33), Catharism (also known as the Albigensian heresy) developed as a dualistic reaction against Christianity; it was characterized by an absolute split between this world (regarded as absolutely evil) and the Other world (regarded as absolutely good). In contrast to Christianity, Catharism insisted that salvation could not come through this world (as symbolized by the incarnation of Jesus Christ) but only by transcendence of this world. The threat of Catharism and other heretical cults was such that the Pope preached a crusade, beginning in 1209 and lasting for twenty years, with enormously destructive consequences for Provence, “its native aristocracy largely dispossessed, its courtly society almost destroyed, its independence destined to disappear at the death of the reigning count of Toulouse and the Inquisition established to root out the Cathar heresy” (Topsfield 241). Denis de Rougemont identifies courtly love poetry as the secret means, necessitated by the repressive power of Roman Catholicism, by which Catharism was spread. The “Lady” of such poetry was thus the symbol for the mystical ideal—the uncreated light of that wholly Other world—toward which the soul strove, according to Rougemont.
 Noting that English literature is “full of ballads and songs about squires of low degree who long for the love of a great lady” (122), Morsberger offers a suggestive if not well-documented discussion of possible literary influences on Fitzgerald. Kuehl argues in an early influential article that Fitzgerald largely derived his romanticism from the English romantic poets and the Victorian romanticists, and he suggests that “Fitzgerald thought of [Gatsby] as a hero in the older sense of demigods and knights of myth, romance, and fairy tale” (“Romantic” 413). He explains the enduring appeal of Gatsby by reference to “the memories of legend and fairy tale that permeate the book, lift[ing it] out of time and place as if the novel were a story celebrated for ages in song, folklore, and literature, a story deeply rooted in the psyche of the western world” (“Romantic” 414). Most important for my purposes, Morgan places Gatsby squarely within the medieval courtly love tradition, elucidating parallels between Fitzgerald’s novel and the medieval romance, concluding that “the residual romantic depths of Western culture are revealed [by Fitzgerald] to be bankrupt” (176). Morgan’s interpretation differs from mine insofar as she finds in Gatsby a criticism of courtly love, whereas I find a criticism of the modern world that makes courtly love impossible.
 Mandel notes that “medieval romance is flush with splendid descriptions of gorgeous clothes” (547 n. 10).
 Mandel regards the “obvious vigils, quests, and grails” as “the visible portions of a medieval iceberg that lies beneath the surface of the novel” (544). He makes no attempt to present “a ‘new’ reading of The Great Gatsby” (544 n. 4), instead offering a suggestive list of parallels with medieval romance—some convincing, others far-fetched. Mandel concludes, rather tentatively: “We may never know the extent to which Fitzgerald conceived The Great Gatsby—either consciously or unconsciously—as the myth of America retold as medieval romance. We can only identify the medieval trappings with which he dressed the tale” (555-56). These medieval trappings are identified even more specifically by Hoffman, who argues that “Gatsbys grail quest is influenced directly or indirectly by the tradition of Troilus” (156), which Fitzgerald had doubtless studied in his 1916 Princeton course, “Chaucer and His Contemporaries.” After elucidating structural and thematic similarities, she argues that “Troilus’ lesson for Gatsby is that the pursuit [of Daisy] is pointless, for even the Troiluses of this world (if there are any) can never long possess the Criseydes” (157). She asserts that “the meaning of Troilus’ epilogue [is] that all human endeavor comes to nothing when potential for greatness, when gentilesse, is wasted on that which is unworthy of it,” and she more tentatively concludes that “this is possibly the meaning too of Gatsby” (157). Hoffman’s interpretation of Troilus clearly derives from patristic exegesis; in applying the same interpretive method to Gatsby, she inevitably draws from Fitzgerald’s novel the lesson that one must reject “the medieval courtly love code, and the seeds of corruption that it spawned within itself” (149).
 See Ferrante (3, 123, 126-27) for a discussion of the “image of the lady as a star” (148) in stilnovisti poetry. In a comment also true of Gatsby, she notes that in stilnovisti poetry “women are separate entities, instruments of greater forces which work on man’s inherent nobility or weakness to save or destroy him” and that “the union of man and woman, whether literal or figurative, has little importance in this literature” (127).
 See Budick for a discussion of Gatsby’s desire “to unwrite history and to replace it with an ideal vision or myth” (143).
 See Chambers (8-82, 142, 186) for an exploration of Plato’s influence on Fitzgerald.
 Gatsby’s bizarre comment about Daisy’s admitted love for Tom—“It was just personal” (gg 217)—is one manifestation of his idealism, for he regards his love for Daisy as suprapersonal or transcendent. Although the excessiveness of this claim may signal an ironic intention on Fitzgerald’s part, Fitzgerald often denigrated the merely personal, writing, for example, to Scottie in 1939: “I am not a great man, but sometimes I think the impersonal and objective quality of my talent and the sacrifices of it, in pieces, to preserve its essential value has some sort of epic grandeur” (Letters 62). The motif of the impersonal recurs with some frequency in the letters that Fitzgerald and Zelda exchanged. Zelda alludes, for example, to a discussion about this issue in a 1934 letter to Fitzgerald: “Besides, anything personal was never the objective of our generation—we were to have thought of ourselves heroicly [sic] ” (Correspondence 337).
 This puzzling assertion has attracted various other critical explanations. Noting that “roses are particularly associated with Daisy” (43), Langman suggests that late in the novel “the rose ceases to be regarded as an emblem, a conventional image of passion, romance, glamour, and is seen as simply itself, an object, unlike any preconceived notion, and therefore grotesque” (44). Mandel rightly notes that “the ‘locus classicus’ for the Middle Ages is Le Roman de la Rose,… which Fitzgerald may have known in Chaucer’s translation,” and he points out that “the poem epitomizes courtly love and the longing of the lover for the beloved, who appears in the poem as a literal rose in an allegorical garden” (556). Mandel suggests that “without the dream of love, the rose is grotesque” (556).
 Bewley offers a particularly harsh criticism of Daisy, whose “emptiness … we see curdling into the viciousness of a monstrous moral indifference as the story unfolds” (19). For a rare sympathetic reading, see Fryer, who argues that Daisy “is a victim of a complex network of needs and desires [who] deserves more pity than blame” (“Beneath the Mask” 165).
 Fitzgerald announced in a telegram to Max Perkins on 9 November 1933: “I have definitely decided on title please spread the word around as widely as seems necessary” (Correspondence 321). Perkins wrote on the telegram, “Tender is the Night A Romance” (Correspondence 321).
 Giddings sees in the Diver-Grant comparison the influence of Adams: “[Fitzgerald] shows that [Diver], like Adams’s failed hero, succumbed to temptation when he found himself surrounded with the wealthy and socially distinguished. Like Grant, Diver is a dreamer destroyed by realities which he is too frail to combat” (88).
 See Pitcher for an examination of “Fitzgerald’s effort to make [Nicole] the representative of the twentieth century” (76). He notes, for example, that “she is born in 1901 and therefore enters her tenth year in 1910, her twentieth in 1920, and her thirtieth in 1930” (76), and he correlates the major events of her early life with modern historical events.
 See Tuttleton for a discussion of the motif of female vampirism in Tender Is the Night, a constant in Fitzgerald’s fiction that “expresses one of Fitzgerald’s recurrent anxieties about woman’s consuming power [and that] takes its form from a literary source—the poetry of John Keats” (238). Tuttleton argues that in Tender Is the Night Fitzgerald merged Keatsian vampirism (in the form of la belle dame sans merci) with his faulty understanding of the psychoanalytic process of transference.
 Wasserstrom identifies the power shift from Dick to Tommy as evidence of social degradation: “Against a background of war talk, pogroms, purge trials, he deposed Diver and installed Barban as the master spirit of modern times” (178). Callahan suggests more specifically that “Diver and Barban bear some resemblance to the weakening, self-indulgent, self- deceiving Western democracies between the wars on one hand and the emerging fascist coalitions of ruthless, recessive power on the other” (174). He “explain[s] the transfer of dominion from Dick Diver to Tommy Barban” by proposing that the Diver-Barban shift is “a male version of Henry Adams’s notion of the evolution of historical energy from virgin to dynamo” (164).
 In a provocative feminist reading, Fetterley points out that “the story Fitzgerald told [in Tender Is the Night] differs significantly from what actually happened” (113), and she argues that this “self-serving” novel “intends toward the perpetuation of male power” (114).
 Fryer compares Tender Is the Night and Save Me the Waltz, arguing that “because Save Me the Waltz is a woman’s creation, critics are inclined to view it from a feminine perspective—sympathizing with Alabama, resenting David,” while “Tender is the Night, a man’s creation, generally evokes sympathy for Dick Diver and distrust—if not outright hostility toward Nicole” (“Threshold” 319). While acknowledging the criticisms of Nicole, she offers a more sympathetic analysis, arguing that Nicole “takes small but important steps toward her own personal freedom in a world dominated by men” and further arguing for a reconsideration of the common critical view that Fitzgerald was “extremely unsympathetic toward his female characters” (“Threshold” 325).
 Aldrich notes that “This Side of Paradise ostensibly chronicles the progress of its hero … but with remarkable self-consciousness the novel confesses … its real subject: the use of women in the making of a writer” (134). She states that each female character “can contribute more … by her absence (causing the sick heart that enables the page of words); her service … is to impress and attract by her beauty and then to be gone” (134).
 Fairey correctly notes that Stahr “loses the girl through the complicity of his own reservations—unlike Gatsby or any of Fitzgerald’s sad young men who are so totally at their ladies’ bidding and mercy,” but she proceeds to blame Kathleen in familiar terms: “Kathleen’s elusiveness and her failure to wait for Stahr … may indicate some resemblance to Fitzgerald’s undependable flappers, [and] it can be said that Kathleen lets Stahr down just as Daisy lets down Gatsby” (71). Fairey ends by essentially absolving both Stahr and Kathleen: “We have such a clear sense of the conflict in both lovers between attraction and caution, that we move beyond Fitzgerald’s earlier notion of men being destroyed by their women to a more impartial and judicious sense of life simply being very difficult” (71).
Published as chapter 4 in The Medievalist Impulse in American Literature: Twain, Adams, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway by Kim Moreland (University Press of Virginia Charlottesville & London).