"Oh, say can you see the tender color of remembered flesh?": Patterns of Desire in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night

Walshak, Catherine, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Brickhouse, Anna, English, University of Virginia

Fitzgerald’s body of work—which includes four novels, an unfinished novel, and more than 150 short stories—reads as one lifelong meditation on human desire, and Tender Is the Night (1934), his final published novel, remains his most ambitious attempt to represent romantic desire in all of its anguish and bliss. For Scott Fitzgerald, lover of Keats, romantic desire is sexual desire aestheticized, so that Tender Is the Night—his most “romantic” book—is also his most sexual. With one marriage, two affairs, and the murder of an unknown black man, Tender is a sprawling narrative with countless themes and motifs, all of which constellate around matters of love, lust, and longing. Set against the wounded landscape of postwar Europe—in the liminal space of 1920s American expatriate lifestyle—F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glittering narrative reveals how modern sexual desire is shaped by trauma and fantasy. Central to Fitzgerald’s novel is a complex, yet subliminal, discourse on psychosexuality and African blackness, all of which informs the sexual pathologies of Fitzgerald’s white characters. This thesis applies René Girard’s mimetic theory of desire to Fitzgerald’s novel, as a way to interpret protagonist Dick Diver’s desire for Hollywood starlet Rosemary Hoyt. Additionally, this thesis analyzes Nicole Warren Diver’s female sexuality, which is shaped by modernity and race, as well as her inevitable sexual desire for half-French mercenary Tommy Barban. While Dick and Nicole’s relationship psychosexually repeats her paternal incest trauma, and while Dick and Rosemary’s affair functions, essentially, as a sort of voyeuristic fantasy, Tommy and Nicole’s affair—and eventual marriage—gestures towards a Spenglerian decline of the West, as they become the new “rulers” of the French Riviera.

MA (Master of Arts)
Issued Date: