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Glaucous and Tender is the Night

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adj Tech or Lit 1) A dull greyish-green or blue colour 2) Covered with a powdery bloom like that on grapes

Glaucous Sea

covered in a bloom?

“It was past four and under a blue-gray sky the first fishing boats were creaking out into a glaucous sea.”

Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I had this underlined from Tender is the Night not only to memorise my new vocabulary, but also beause I feel it is a wonderful example of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose. It is a simple phrase, setting the scene on the Côte d’Azur, simple but so beautifully put.  I fell in love with Fitzgerald whilst reading Tender it the Night, enjoying the quality of his language as well as his storytelling.

We follow Rosemary, a young American actress, as she holidays with her mother in the sun-drenched south of France. She starts to mix with the other wealthy guests from her hotel and soon becomes embroiled in their lives, falling in love for the first time with Dick Diver, a married man.

Soon, I was also swept off my feet by another description of an afternoon sea:

” It was pleasant to drive back to the hotel in the late afternoon, above a sea as mysteriously colored as the agates and cornelians of childhood, green as green milk, blue as laundry water, wine dark.”

The contrasts in this phrase are striking. Its anodyne beginning (is there a word more harmless than pleasant?) prepares the way perfectly for the torrent of images in the intriguing second part. We can see the multicolored water as if it were painted for us in watercolor yet I wonder what green milk actually is, and the innocent, unassuming word ‘childhood’ is slipped in there too before the dramatic ‘wine-dark sea’, laden with its classical connotations.

With hindsight, I can almost imagine this one sentence is the key to the whole novel. It starts by easing us into the facile, unoffensive life of Rosemary, we trust in her as our protagonist, before slowly opening the doors to the complicated, mysterious lives of the actual subjects of the story; Dick and Nicole.

“She clung nearer desperately and once more he kissed her and was chilled by the innocence of her kiss, by the glance that at the moment of contact looked beyond him out into the darkness of the night, the darkness of the world.”

I found the book beautiful and disturbing as we see this shining example of a perfect couple slowly taken apart and their characters revealed to us; the history of abuse, the future of alcoholism. Dick’s descent into alcohol dependence is perfectly paced, like so often with alcohol abuse, we are as unaware as Dick of his slow downward slide. The narrator initially offers up the scorn that is shown to Abe, a heavy drinking friend of the Divers, and later we feel this same emotion toward Dick.

“There is something awe-inspiring in one who has lost all his inhibitions, who will do anything. Of course we make him pay afterward for his moment of superiority, his moment of impressiveness.”

sea at sunset

less south of France, more south of Scotland. But still beautiful.

All in all, I thought it was a great character novel and I was left questioning the entire story and the characters’ motives and actions. And of course, for an English speaker living in France, Fitzgerald has to be seen as a great reference for expat life. I chuckled along with Nicole as she explained:

“In French you can be heroic and gallant with dignity…But in English you can’t be heroic and gallant without being a little absurd.”


2 responses »

  1. Adding this book to my ‘to read’ list…great review!


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