My readings of modern literature continue, this time with my journey through “Tender Is The Night,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is the author of “The Great Gatsby,” and I consider him to be one of the consummate writers of mental anguish, guilt and greed in the 20th Century. In my opinion, he gives Ernest Hemingway a run for his money, as I think Hemingway is too self-involved, and intentionally obtuse when it comes to examining feelings and motivations. Where Hemingway sticks to a default cynicism and leaves it at that, Fitzgerald graces his cynicism with a hopeful examination of motivation that uncovers some of the reasons why we do the things we do. I think of him as the Shakespeare of the 20s.
Before there were writers like Tom Wolfe, who dissected the hedge fund and stock market largesse in “Bonfire of the Vanities,” Fitzgerald crawled through the consciousness of the nouveau riche and the petty hangers-on that clung to their coattails and lapels during the heydays of the Roaring Twenties and the doldrums of the Great Depression. He linked the Victorian elements of grandiose literature and the decadence of the rococo vanity writing of the late part of that era with the insightful psychoanalysis that people like Freud and Jung made popular with their scientific exegesis.
This book examines expatriate life in sunny Cannes, on the French Riveria, in the 1920s, and probes the undercurrents of insanity, irrationality, infidelity and rash thinking that made that era a monument to human frailty and hyperbole.
The core of the first part of the book is about a young Hollywood actress who falls in love with a married, and very dashing, doctor educated at Yale. Their affair boils lukewarm, until there is a murder in a hotel one afternoon. Then, the story lurches into the second part, where we learn just what drives the good doctor’s dalliance in infidelity.
Clue: it’s not really about money. It’s about the fragile existence each of us lives. Money just lubricates the moments.