Tender is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934)
You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books,
You’re very well read it’s well known
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
(Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”)
In the process of becoming very well read, I’m finally getting around to Tender is the Night, the Fitzgerald novel most likely to be cited by contrarians (including the author himself) as superior to The Great Gatsby. I’m only about a fifth of the way in, and already convinced that when I finish this and The Beautiful and Damned (the other Fitzgerald I haven’t read), I will know something is happening but I still won’t know what it is. Prospects are good, though, for it being a fine novel. Fitzgerald could turn a phrase with anyone, and it has passages like this, where his ex-pats are visiting the ruins of a Great War battlefield:
He went along the trench, and found the others waiting for him in the next traverse. He was full of excitement and he wanted to communicate it to them, to make them understand about this, though actually Abe North had seen battle service and he (Dick Diver) had not.
“This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer,” he said to Rosemary. She looked out obediently at the rather bare green plain with its low trees of six years’ growth. If Dick had added that they were now being shelled she would have believed him that afternoon. Her love had reached a point where now at last she was beginning to be unhappy, to be desperate, She didn’t know what to do–she wanted to talk to her mother.
“There are lots of people dead since and we’ll all be dead soon,” said Abe consolingly.
Rosemary waited tensely for Dick to continue.
“See that little stream–we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month. to walk to it–a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”
“Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,” said Abe. “And in Morocco–“
“That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancee, and little cafes in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”
“This western-front business couldn’t be done again….”
I imagine that was the kind of sentiment that left everyone scoffing in 1934 (when few saw it as prescient). No doubt they went right on scoffing up until May of 1940, when the Germans crushed the “western-front” Dick Diver said could never hold in a month, despite being outnumbered by two million troops.
One of the reasons Western Euros stay freaked about Russia-Russia-Russia these days is that if Putin ever decides to imitate Rommel, coming from a thousand miles further away, it won’t take him anything like a month.
And exactly no one will care to risk their life taking it back.
Somebody else’s life maybe. But not their own.
I mean, why would they?
Couldn’t we just nuke Moscow? Maybe trade it for London and Paris?
I guess we (and the Euros) better hope he thinks so.
Good thing I already know all this stuff. Otherwise, I’d be mightily depressed.