I was re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night (1934) and ran across this masterful description of the great divide between rich and poor, in the 1920s and now:
… She bought a dozen bathing suits, a rubber alligator, a traveling chess set of gold and ivory, big linen handkerchiefs for Abe, two chamois leather jackets of kingfisher blue and burning bush from Hermes — bought all these things not a bit like a high-class courtesan buying underwear and jewels, which were after all professional equipment and insurance — but with an entirely different point of view. Nicole was the product of much ingenuity and toil. For her sake trains began their run at Chicago and traversed the round belly of the continent to California; chicle factories fumed and link belts grew link by link in factories; men mixed toothpaste in vats and drew mouthwash out of copper hogsheads; girls canned tomatoes quickly in August or worked rudely at the Five-and-Tens on Christmas Eve; half-breed Indians toiled on Brazilian coffee plantations and dreamers were muscled out of patent rights in new tractors — these were some of the people who gave a tithe to Nicole, and as the whole system swayed and thundered onward it lent a feverish bloom to such processes of hers as wholesale buying, like the flush of a fireman’s face holding his post before a spreading blaze …
Not to be reductive, but I think the novel is partly about the the author’s struggle to appreciate beauty as something that exists above and beyond the trappings of wealth and power. Fitzgerald may not have successfully made this leap in his short life, but his best works are testaments to how well he succeeded in his art.
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