Tender is the Night


I finished Tender is the Night last night. Fitzgerald is at times—many times, really—exquisite in his phrasing of his observations. What he observes and relates is not so striking or unique, or shocking, but the way he puts it often is. His language is so refined that it’s difficult at times to determine whether or not he’s being euphemistic, in response to the moral scruples and prohibitions to direct graphic speech, to the politeness of his time. Or simply finely suggestive. When Nicole’s lover, Tommy Barban, takes her to a cheap hotel on the beach frequented by American sailors and French prostitutes Fitzgerald stigmatizes the location chosen for adultery with great economy: “Simplest of pleasures—simplest of places.” Later, after the lovers have made love for the first time, Tommy says, “This place seems to have outlived its usefulness, you agree?”


She agreed but they clung together for a moment before dressing, and then for a while longer it seemed as good enough a palace as any…


What makes this innuendo work so well, leaving the reader without any doubt as to what happened, is the following line:


Dressing at last Tommy exclaimed…


Now the reader is distracted by the brawl outside, below the lovers’ window, but after Tommy tires of watching the drunken fracas he returns to Nicole, and “gently surrounded her, pulling the shoulder strap of her slip into place with his teeth…”


This fine bit of eroticism, deftly delivered in the wider context—that of the cheap hotel and it’s other ‘common’ guests, where someone like Nicole, who has more money than she can ever hope to spend, chooses to consummate her infidelity—successfully trivializes what Nicole and Tommy are doing. And in making banal a romantic adventure Fitzgerald not only makes the escapade more real and down to earth, but at the same time condemns the choice, without condemning the characters

F. Scott Fitzgerald photo, circa 1921 by The World’s Work – The World’s Work (June 1921), p. 192, Public Domain,