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Tender Is The Night And ‘Do You Mind If I Pull Down The Curtain?’

Book cover

As I’ve stated a few times recently (so I will spare you repeated details) I’ve had trouble with Tender Is The Night but I’m currently giving it another go and it’s started to ‘work’, a bit; after a few dozen pages of good, linear, writing, that started around page 100 (a lot of people say that’s when it gets better and they’re right), it has unfortunately gone backwards towards relative incoherence.

I’ve noticed a repetition of a couple of lines that I want to explore, however I’m going to keep it brief; I think it has the potential to be fascinating but in acknowledging my lack of full attention to the text I feel it’s only right for me to stay away from my usual brainstorming of ideas and reasons. Anything too detailed and I know I will be running the risk of getting it horribly wrong.

The repetition is this: about a third of the way through there are a couple of times when the following is said:

-Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?
-Please do it’s too light in here.

Leaving the question of whether this is where the spurning of quotation marks in literature first began (it seems Fitzgerald uses them to denote flashbacks), where these two lines become important is in their next repetition just after the halfway mark.

The first time the lines are used is during ‘book one’ (the ‘books’ are Fitzgerald’s designations within the ~300 page novel), when Dick is spending time with the young actress Rosemary Hoyt. Collis Clay, a friend of Rosemary’s, tells Dick a story about Rosemary’s relationship with a young man. This makes Dick jealous. (My summary was paraphrased from another’s blog post, from which the following quotation is taken.)

Throughout the novel this quote has practically haunted Dick. When he first heard the story Dick became extremely jealous because he was just beginning to fall in love with Rosemary. In the book whenever Dick is with Rosemary or thinking about her this quote is often repeated. It reveals Dick’s concealed love that he has for Rosemary. (Vanvoorhis, 2011)

The idea of haunting is a strong one. ‘Book two’ details Nicole’s time in a sanatorium – this plotline is based on Fitzgerald’s relationship with Zelda – before reverting back to the present day. It’s when Fitzgerald reverts back that we see that despite Rosemary’s moving on (in location) and Dick’s outward show of relative contentment with it, he’s been set adrift.

But whether rightly or wrongly, in the context of what I’ve said above, I saw a possible other reason for the lines being used. As I made my way along the page and the quote cropped up as a repetition, I considered it a dialogue between Nicole and Dick, with Nicole asking the question, and that it was a show of Dick’s relationships in general.

I wonder if the reality is somewhere between the two, with more weight given to the idea of haunting. I wonder if Nicole did ask and that Fitzgerald’s usage of the extract same words is to ask you to consider Dick’s time with Rosemary, both for Dick as a flashback, and for the reader as a way of making them question and consider it something literary, perhaps a device.

Dick is definitely in a situation. He became involved with Nicole whilst he was her doctor (or one of her doctors – I couldn’t quite make that out) and whilst Fitzgerald takes a peek at the questions of morality – more so simple appropriateness and Dick’s general interest – Dick feels some pressure due to the fact that Nicole’s family is openly looking for a rich suitor for her, to match her own wealth. He’s not exactly out of love with Nicole by the time he meets Rosemary, in fact in many ways he’s very loyal, but Rosemary’s fun and really likes him and so by book two we’re seeing that this new affair echoes the beginnings of his marriage and that he’s fallen in love with Rosemary, far beyond the feelings it appeared he had for her in book one.

I wonder if there isn’t a comparison we’re supposed to make; the age gap between Dick and Rosemary and the care/caregiver ‘gap’ between Dick and Nicole is obvious, but the journey of Dick’s feelings aren’t so obvious, rendering it necessary for Fitzgerald to reuse a quotation.

Speaking of obviousness, it’s obvious why I like this thought:

It’s not clear what he wants us to think when he repeats “— Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?” but it is clearly a refrain that relates to Dick’s predicament while, in Paris, he negotiates his feelings. But this unsuccessful ploy underlines, as much as the historical references that are opaque now, the period of the book’s inception. A conscious effort on the part of the author to elicit modernity. (Silva, 2006)

But I think the ‘it’s not clear’ is very much… it. To move on to my thoughts whilst reading the book in general, part of the problem with analysing the book is that you have to take into account the fact that the chapters have been re-ordered over time. Wikipedia (n.d.) says the following, unfortunately without a source, though it seems well-known:

Two versions of the novel are in print. The first version, published in 1934, uses flashbacks; the second, revised version, prepared by Fitzgerald’s friend and noted critic Malcolm Cowley on the basis of notes for a revision left by Fitzgerald, is ordered chronologically and was first published posthumously in 1948. Critics have suggested that Cowley’s revision was undertaken due to negative reviews of the temporal structure of the first version of the book.

The version I’m reading is the first edition – it says so at the end, and it also says that that is the one now in use with the caveat that some revisions have been incorporated. I expect this is one of the noted-in-a-few-places 17 versions.

Whichever it is, the chapter order is a large part of why it’s hard to concentrate on this novel. You never know where you are and sometimes you don’t know who you’re reading about. Even when you know who, you can’t form an opinion because there’s not nearly enough to work with. Perhaps this adds a literary element to the fact the novel is steeped in Fitzgerald’s own life and experiences, but it makes it difficult. The next line following the above extract is incredibly interesting, though again sadly lacks a source:

Fitzgerald considered Tender Is the Night to be his greatest work. (ibid.)

Why – personally I can only suppose the melding of true life and fiction seems very good in some contexts. Perhaps those with in depth knowledge of Scott and Zelda can appreciate the nuances, but I do wonder if the chronological version of the book works better.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of the structure, or, if not, are you planning to read it?

Online References

Silva, Matthew da (2006) Review: Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934), Happy Antipodean, accessed 12th June 2017.

Vanvoorhis, Xenia (2011) Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?, Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald, accessed 12th June 2017.

Wikipedia (n.d.) Tender Is The Night, Wikipedia, accessed 12th June 2017.



June 15, 2017, 4:50 pm

Fitzgerald is an author for whom I seem to have a mental block. His world is not a time or place I’m particularly drawn to and what I know of his personal life is a bit off-putting.

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