Tender is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
At the beginning of the novel Albert is something of an annoying pest. He walks around feeling inferior and butting heads with everyone. When we hear from his wife that he’s trying to write a novel, maybe we aren’t too eager to read it. But, Albert actually goes through a transformation. He does finish his book and another and becomes a huge success. And he becomes a likeable human being.
This seemingly minor character is one of the few men who do get what they want out of life. Like Elsie Speers, Albert McKisco is also a meta-fictional character. He reminds us that we are in a book, written by a writer. His wife tells us that Albert was the first person to write critical essays on James Joyce’s Ulysses a seminal modernist work. Apparently, Fitzgerald "worshipped" Joyce, but was afraid to talk to him. When he did talk to him at a dinner party, Fitzgerald reportedly got down on one knee and said, "How does it feel to be a great genius, Sir? I am so excited at seeing you, Sir that I could weep" (source). As such, Albert can be seen as a stand in for Fitzgerald himself, an aspiring writer who writes about, and even aspires to be like, the author he admires.
But it’s a little more complicated. Tender is the Night actually describes McKisco’s books. We have books within books. Look:
His novels were pastiches of the work of the best people of his time, a feat not to be disparaged, and in addition he possessed a gift for softening and debasing what he borrowed, so that many readers were charmed by the ease with which they could follow him.
Pastiche is a literary device. An author "borrows" whatever he or she needs from other books (style, tone, structure, quotes, etc.) in order to get across whatever he or she wants to get across. Like Fitzgerald "borrowing" from the John Keats poem for his epigraph and title. (See "What’s Up With The Epigraph," and "What’s Up With The Title" for more).
There is another element to the above passage. It says that McKisco used pastiche to make the works of other authors understandable to everyday people. Isn’t that what Fitzgerald is trying to do here, with psychology? And come to think of it, isn’t that a little like what Dick is trying to do in his book about psychology, A Psychology for Psychiatrists? That’s why Franz looks down on it. Dick’s book breaks down specialized knowledge so the average person can understand it. And wait a minute. Dick and McKisco are also physically similar – both are skinny and have red hair. Albert is a weird mixture of Dick and Fitzgerald. In terms of the reality of the novel, he is a foil for Dick – he is the less charming, less obviously brilliant, less good looking skinny redheaded man that becomes the successful, famous writer that Dick is supposed to become.