The New Yorker:
A writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose life can almost be said to have attracted more attention than his work, may have to wait a long time before his literary reputation finds its true level. Although “Tender Is the Night,” the novel Fitzgerald liked best of the four he published during his lifetime, was generally considered a failure when it first appeared (even by Fitzgerald, who tried to improve its standing by writing a revised version that nearly everybody agreed was much worse), it has been quietly assuming, over the years, something like the status of an American classic. Sales in the past twelve months exceeded five hundred and fifty thousand copies, or about forty-five times the sale of the original edition. The book, which was out of print when Fitzgerald died, in 1940, is now available in four editions, and is required reading in a large number of college courses in American literature. If many critics still regard it as a failure, they now tend to see it as a noble failure, a flawed masterpiece, and if they still complain that the disintegration of Dick Diver, its psychiatrist hero, is never satisfactorily resolved, most of them concede that Diver is one of those rare heroes in American fiction about whom the reader really cares, and that the account of his disintegration, ambiguous though it may be, is so harrowing that it makes the glittering perfection of plot in a novel like “The Great Gatsby” seem almost too neat. The real trouble with the book, as every college English major knows, is that Fitzgerald started out by using a friend of his named Gerald Murphy as the model for Dick Diver, and then allowed Diver to change, midway through the narrative, into F. Scott Fitzgerald. To a lesser degree, he did the same thing with his heroine, Nicole Diver, who has some of the physical characteristics and mannerisms of Sara Murphy, Gerald’s wife, but is in all other respects Zelda Fitzgerald. The double metamorphosis was readily apparent at the time to friends of the Fitzgeralds and the Murphys. Ernest Hemingway wrote Fitzgerald a cutting letter about the book, accusing him of cheating with his material; by starting with the Murphys and then changing them into different people, Hemingway contended, Fitzgerald had produced not people at all but beautifully faked case histories. Gerald Murphy raised the same point when he read the novel, which was dedicated “To Gerald and Sara—Many Fêtes,” and Fitzgerald’s reply, Murphy recalled the other day, almost floored him. “The book,” Fitzgerald said, “was inspired by Sara and you, and the way I feel about you both and the way you live, and the last part of it is Zelda and me because you and Sara are the same people as Zelda and me.” This astonishing statement served to confirm a long-held conviction of Sara Murphy’s that Fitzgerald knew very little about people, and nothing at all about the Murphy’s.
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