IQ "They were still in the happier stage of love. They were full of brave illusions about each other, tremendous illusions, so that the communion of sIQ "They were still in the happier stage of love. They were full of brave illusions about each other, tremendous illusions, so that the communion of self with self seemed to be on a plane where no other human relations mattered. They both seemed to have arrived there with an extraordinary innocence as though a series of pure accidents had driven them together, so many accidents that at least they were forced to conclude that they were for each other. They had arrived with clean hands, or so it seemed, after no traffic with the merely curious and clandestine." Pg. 86
The non-linear structure and interspersed flashbacks did bother me (that seems to be a common theme in my reviews lately). I also didn't understand why certain incidents went down. I'm sure if I took a class with the book an English professor could have explained the deeper meaning behind things but some parts just seemed scattered and unnecessary. They did little to move along the little plot there was. As usual for Fitzgerald this novel is largely character-driven, delving into character's feelings and what makes them tick. However I do think some of his secondary characters fell by the wayside which is unusual. It goes beyond alcoholism this time to also candidly discuss sex which I found surprising but I wonder if the Jazz Age is when authors started more frankly mentioning it/using obvious metaphors? And then it discusses homosexuality and pedophilia, two topics rarely mentioned during this time. The conclusions drawn will not be satisfactory to the reader, at least to me, I felt that Fitzgerald could have dived deeper into Dick's psyche in this area.
I always like charmer characters and Dick Diver was no exception until you learn some of his very dark secrets and desires. And yet you still feel a twinge of sympathy for him as his life completely falls apart. He is a tragic hero, he attempts to 'save' Nicole and yet loses himself. I also liked that Dick was a psychiatrist who didn't psychoanalyze everyone, I've always hated that psychiatrists likely act that way outside of their offices and I found it refreshing that Dick was so blind to the causes of his own meltdown. Even the best and the brightest can't always clearly see themselves. I love love love Fitzgerald's writing oh my goodness. Just read that quote I highlighted at the beginning of the review, smooth as butter. He has a knack for drawing similes and metaphors that are a far cry from the cliched ones that existed at his time (not that I would really know I guess). He describes a sort of love triangle that has arisen over Nicole; "Later in the garden she was happy; she did not want anything to happen, but only for the situation to remain in suspension as the two men tossed her from one mind to another; she had not existed for a long time, even as a ball" (297), I love that bit. And you absolutely fall into the lavish world of the Divers on the French Riviera (I thought it was supposed to be sort of based on Gerald & Sara Murphy but other reviews said it's based off of Scott & Zelda which does make more sense since I don't think the Murphys were quite as f'ed up). Highly recommended for a vacation-setting that will transport you but creep you out a bit with the topics while enchanting you with the language.
Incredible Quote: “She couldn’t stay [in America]. Nor, she saw now, could she remain away [in Copenhagen]. Leaving, she would have to come back. ThisIncredible Quote: “She couldn’t stay [in America]. Nor, she saw now, could she remain away [in Copenhagen]. Leaving, she would have to come back. This knowledge, this certainty of the division of her life into two parts in two lands, into physical freedom in Europe and spiritual freedom in America, was unfortunate, inconvenient, expensive. It was, too, as she was uncomfortably aware, even a trifle ridiculous, and mentally she caricatured herself moving shuttlelike from continent to continent. From the prejudiced restrictions of the New World to the easy formality of the Old, from the pale calm of Copenhagen to the colorful lure of Harlem.” Helga pg. 125 Oh Helga, Helga, Helga. Helga Crane is incapable of embracing happiness; she’s never satisfied with her lot in life. She has been left a great deal of money by her white uncle (out of guilt) and so she can live comfortably for the rest of her days. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and wealthy enough to travel and she enchants men but she is still not happy. Much like Helga Crane this book flits from scene to scene and seems unclear of its purpose/appeal. What point is the author trying to make? Who is she trying to reach? Why is her story entertaining? I also hated the ending. In fact the ending is the reason I can’t give this book 4 stars. IT was completely out of Helga’s character. She decides to stay with this HORRID man who is completely different from her and it’s such an abrupt about face for Helga that I never recovered. The following passage is one that I really liked but it also demonstrates how quickly Helga’s feelings can change “For the first time Helga Crane felt sympathy rather than contempt and hatred for that father, whom so often and so angrily she had blamed for his desertion of her mother. She understood, now, his rejection, his repudiation, of the formal calm her mother had represented. She understood his yearning, his intolerable need for the inexhaustible humor and the incessant hope of his own kind, his need for those things, not material, indigenous to all Negro environments. She understood and could sympathize with his facile surrender to the irresistible ties of race, now that they dragged at her own heart. And as she attend parties, the theater, the opera, and mingled with people on the streets, meeting only pale serious faces when she longed for brown laughing ones, she was able to forgive him” (pg. 122). Of course, Helga soon grows dissatisfied back in Harlem, being surrounded by other Black people. I still adore Nella Larsen’s writing. The author doesn’t waste much time waxing poetically, there are some lovely bits of writing, people and objects described in exquisite detail while not being cheesy. I think I was able to further appreciate the book because I read George Hutchinson’s biography of Nella Larsen (I didn’t finish it but I got to the chapter on Quicksand) and some things I might have missed initially I was able to further savor. Such as Naxos, the college Helga teaches at. Simply reading it I personally wouldn’t be able to figure out what school it was based on. Having read the biography and Quicksand, I can see how Naxos was a lot like the Fisk University of the early 20th century. “These people yapped loudly of race, of race consciousness, of race pride, and yet suppressed its most delightful manifestations, love of color, joy of rhythmic motion, naïve, spontaneous laughter. Harmony, radiance and simplicity, all the essentials of spiritual beauty in the race they had marked for destruction.” (pg. 51), the descriptions of Naxos made ME feel repressive and Naxos was annoying to read about. Thus making it easier to relate to Helga and her disgust for Naxos, in fact I was amazed at how I grew to like Helga. She tries your patience with her flighty ways (and not the endearing kind of flighty where she travels a lot, the annoying kind where she complains a lot and changes her mind often) but except for the ending, I liked her well enough. The point is subtly driven home that it’s not easy being biracial in the early 20th century, even in the North. Another point might be showing how few options women had back then, there were very few careers they felt they could aim for and find career fulfillment in. The glamour and sophistication portrayed in this novel were what kept me reading, rarely do readers get to read about Black Americans in the middle class and I devoured the little details of the clothes, food, drinks, and activities that the privileged Black few could enjoy. Nella Larsen opens up a whole new, somewhat exotic world to readers, a world I wish more was written about, the good and the bad....more