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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: July 2011

48 - The novel of crime, mystery, and suspense

from PART THREE - MODERNISM AND BEYOND

Summary

About a third of the way through Tender is the Night (1934), as Dick Diver is about to begin the precipitous decline that is the subject of Fitzgerald's novel, the young psychiatrist encounters a displaced American veteran in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. The man reminds Dick of

a type of which he had been conscious since early youth … [i]ntimate to garages, where he had vague business conducted in undertones, to barber shops, to the lobbies of theaters … Sometimes the face bobbed up in one of Tad's more savage cartoons – in boyhood Dick had often thrown an uneasy glance at the dim borderland of crime on which he stood.

This scene plays a minor yet structurally significant role in Fitzgerald's novel. The unnamed veteran – who provides a “menacing,” working-class counterpoint to Dick's romantic memories of the war and to his visions of personal and national destiny – will return in the novel's final pages as a reminder of Dick's fateful collapse. But he is also more broadly representative of some of the salient qualities of American literary modernism, which is full of similarly menacing marginal figures. Meyer Wolfshiem in The Great Gatsby (1925), Sam Cardinella in Hemingway's In Our Time (1925), Faulkner's Popeye (in Sanctuary [1929]) or Joe Christmas (in Light in August [1932]) – all are, like the nameless veteran of Tender is the Night, examples of the ambivalent fascination with which the modernists regarded the development of a transient urban working class.

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