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7 - ‘A Unity Less Conventional But Not Less Serviceable’: A Narratological History of Tender Is the Night

William Blazek
Affiliation:
Liverpool Hope University
Laura Rattray
Affiliation:
University of Hull
Kirk Curnutt
Affiliation:
Troy University in Montgomery
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Summary

The putative faults of Tender Is the Night are widely known: since its 12 April 1934 publication, F. Scott Fitzgerald's fourth novel has been criticized for its amorphous structure and unwieldy form; for the non-chronological presentation of Dr Dick Diver's ‘dying fall’; and for the inconsistencies in characterization that (supposedly) obscure both the etiology of the chief protagonist's dissolution and the attendant rehabilitation of his mentally unstable wife, Nicole Warren Diver. Although not without its early defenders (particularly the New York Times's John Chamberlain and Modern Monthly's C. Hartley Grattan), the novel was greeted with lukewarm reviews due mainly to its diffuseness, which was alternately attributed to its nine-year incubation, its multiple aborted drafts, and even its author's financial dependency on the commercial short-story market (which, it was said, distracted him from mastering the craft of novel writing).

During the Fitzgerald revival of the 1950s, at the height of New Criticism, Tender was deemed the red-headed stepson compared to The Great Gatsby's perfect child. In that same period, biographical readings inspired by the popularity of Arthur Mizener's The Far Side of Paradise (1951) insisted that the book's flaws were byproducts of Fitzgerald's alcoholism and the strains of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald's breakdown, which had kept her institutionalized for much of 1930 on.

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Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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