- Nicole Warren Diver and Alabama Beggs Knight:Women on the Threshold of Freedom
Despite Scott Fitzgerald's heated allegations that his wife Zelda had stolen his material for Tender Is the Night when she wrote and published Save Me the Waltz, her 1932 autobiographical novel, Fitzgerald scholars have generally failed to examine the similarities and differences between the two books. Although the situations and characters of Save Me the Waltz and Tender Is the Night are, in some ways, quite similar, the story each conveys is distinct. Critical examination of the two novels is most enlightening when they are viewed as a pair of perspectives on American womanhood in a decade of momentous change.
Zelda Fitzgerald wrote the entire manuscript of Save Me the Waltz, her only novel, during six weeks in 1932 while she was a patient in a mental hospital; Scott had already been working for seven years on the novel that was eventually to become Tender Is the Night.1 Although Scott managed to impose numerous revisions on Zelda's book before its publication,2 his rage over what he perceived as her infringement on his rights to the literary expression of their common experiences lingered. In 1933, during a conversation between the Fitzgeralds in the presence of Zelda's psychiatrist, Scott accused Zelda of "broaching at all times on [his] material" and stubbornly insisted that Zelda make "an unconditional surrender" to him, relinquishing her "idea of writing anything" in the interest of his career (Bruccoli, Some Sort 349-352).
Fitzgerald need not have been so upset. With the exception of Henry Dan Piper, who devotes a chapter of his critical biography of Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda's novel—noting that "Save Me the Waltz offers a more sensitive account of the deranged wife's view of her marriage than we find in her husband's version, Tender Is the Night" (204)—few of Scott Fitzgerald's critics examine Zelda's novel in any depth. But the feminist movement has given rise to a flurry of critical activity focusing on women's forgotten writings, and Save Me the Waltz, with its uncommon distinction of viewing from a woman's perspective events and characters made famous by a male author, has recently received considerable attention.3 [End Page 318]
Perhaps partly because Save Me the Waltz is a woman's creation, critics are inclined to view it from a feminine perspective—sympathizing with Alabama, resenting David. Similarly, Tender Is the Night, a man's creation, generally evokes sympathy for Dick Diver and distrust—if not outright hostility—toward Nicole. Although Coleman broke new ground in his 1971 article about Tender Is the Night by declaring that Nicole and her sister Baby are "innocent victims of their environment" (38-39), later critics have continued to view Nicole without compassion, berating her for her "emptiness" (Prigozy 214) and for her "materialism" (Grieff 63).
Save Me the Waltz and Tender Is the Night both focus on the late 1920s, when attitudes toward women and their traditional roles were undergoing rapid change. Zelda Fitzgerald was receptive to the changes that would eventually allow women to pursue work that interested them; Scott, who wanted much of his insensitivity toward Zelda pardoned on the basis of his efforts to support her financially, clearly accepted the traditional values of Western culture.
Both Save Me the Waltz and Tender Is the Night trace a changing marital relationship between a man who has achieved outstanding early success in his chosen career (David Knight as a painter; Dick Diver as a psychiatrist) and a woman who is growing tired of living in her husband's shadow. Both focus on American citizens living on the Riviera, and both are rich with garden imagery. In both books the husband's emotional and intellectual neglect of his wife contributes to her infidelity. Moreover, both novels contain the death of a father, and the deaths affect the adult children in similar ways: Dick is aware that "the earliest and strongest of protections is gone" (203) following the death of his father in the middle of Tender Is the Night; and Alabama, who leaves her own hospital bed to...