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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: July 2017

10 - Gender Anxiety: The Unresolved Dialectic of Fitzgerald's Writing


I don't know what it is in me or that comes to me when I start to write. I am half feminine – at least my mind is. (Fitzgerald qtd in Andrew Turnbull)

Fitzgerald was the only one of the younger writers who wrote naturally in sentences. (Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas)

In her essay ‘“Half Feminine”: Modernism and the Politics of Emotion in The Great Gatsby ’, Frances Kerr suggests that Fitzgerald ‘asserts masculinity but confesses femininity’, and coins the phrase ‘artistic masculinity’ to describe his unique approach to gender (409). Indeed, ambiguity and ambivalence are key tropes in Fitzgerald's world-view. He famously remarked in The Crack-Up (1936) that ‘the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time’ (39). While Fitzgerald is still persistently linked to the male writers of his generation, most notably to his literary sparring partner Ernest Hemingway, this essay will contend that Fitzgerald's Woolfian tendency towards androgyny in fact aligns him more closely with female modernists of the period who explore gender as performance. As such, Fitzgerald can be said to be pursuing Hélène Cixous’ ‘ethics of bisexuality’ (Cixous defining bisexuality as ‘the location within oneself of the presence of both sexes, evident and insistent in different ways according to the individual’ [Sellers 41]) well ahead of his time.

Fitzgerald and female modernism

In many respects, Dorothy Richardson is a forerunner to Fitzgerald. Both writers were searching for ‘something really NEW in form, idea, structure’ (Turnbull, Letters 201). In Pilgrimage, traditional distinctions between objectivity and subjectivity are destroyed and the text continually refuses linearity. In fact, Richardson's novel has been called ‘one of the most sustained meditations on subjectivity within twentieth century literature’ (Radford 109). There is often a comparable dilemma in Richardson and Fitzgerald between narrative voice and writer: Miriam or Dorothy Richardson, Dick Diver or Fitzgerald? Gender issues dominate both: Miriam states, ‘I'm as much a man as a woman’ (Richardson 3.221). The question ‘which self?’ (Richardson 4.318) occurs literally in Pilgrimage and thematically in Tender Is the Night; both texts are versions of self-analysis. Dick Diver's self-assessment begins in Zurich when he is aged 26: ‘Most of us have a favorite, a heroic period, in our lives and that was Dick Diver's’ (Tender 116).