Sunday, August 7

The Essence of a Continent

She smiled at him, making sure that the smile gathered up everything inside her and directed it toward him, making him a profound promise of herself for so little, for the beat of a response, the assurance of a complementary vibration in him.  Minute by minute the sweetness drained down into her out of the willow trees, out of the dark world.
She stood up too, and stumbling over the phonograph, was momentarily against him, leaning into the hollow of his rounded shoulder. 
"I've got one more record,"she said.  "Have you heard 'So Long Letty'?  I suppose you have."

"Honestly, you don't understand - I haven't heard a thing."

Nor known, nor smelt, nor tasted, he might have added; only hot-cheeked girls in hot secret rooms.  The young maidens he had known at New Haven in 1914 kissed men, saying "There!", hands at the man's chest to push him away.  Now there was this scarcely saved waif of disaster bringing him the essence of a continent...
Part II, Chapter V, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published 1934.
I certainly never realised what a gorgeous and moving passage this was until I had to press open the book with one hand and type it all out slowly and tortously with the forefinger of the other. 

There are so many lines in this that are so poignant.  And I feel that I know the first half of the first paragraph from myself.  Smiling a smile that gathers up everything inside.  And the contrast of the girls from 1914 feels so brutally frank, doesn't it?  I know what he means because I've seen it.  Never experienced it, mind, but I've seen that sort of unemotional, meaningless coquettishness, and to then think of something deeper and lovlier, sweet, with the essence of a continent...  It's a moment made for a movie that will become the best loved romance, but then yes - the very subtle and fragrant beauty of this passage will slip between the craps in a movie.  Pity. 


  1. Wow! This was so breathtaking! I thought the exact same thing, you know, they could make a really lovely movie out of this, but movies only hint at the mental imagery books lay bare. Lovely passage, this. Totally worth troubling that forefinger. :D

  2. Thankyou! And I agree. It's the perfect set up, the perfect people, the perfect little awkward beautiful moment for a movie, but then those words! Don't they make it something completely magnificent and refreshing that a movie couldn't be... It's sad, isn't it, that we sacrifice reading for movie-watching, and miss out on moment like this.

  3. That is such a beautiful passage! I just got that book actually, itching to start it after I finish Oliver Twist :)


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