Study Guide

Elsie Speers in Tender is the Night

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Elsie Speers

We feel a bit conflicted about Elsie Speers. As we discuss in Rosemary's "Character Analysis," Rosemary certainly loves Elsie. She has helped Rosemary break into acting, which Rosemary enjoys and which provides her with an income. Now Elsie is trying to get Rosemary psychologically independent, too, by pushing her out into the world of men. She’s full of advice for the budding starlet, like this:

You were brought up to work – not especially to marry. Now you’ve found your first nut to crack and it’s a good nut – go ahead and put whatever happens down to experience. Wound yourself or him – whatever happens it can’t spoil you because economically you’re a boy, not a girl.

This is when she tells her to go after Dick, you remember. Some of this is OK, right? Rosemary can marry for love if she wants to, not because she needs someone to support her. But, we can also see some disturbing elements in the quote. Elsie knows Dick is married, and freethinking aside, she could be sending Rosemary into a situation where she will probably cause pain and possibly receive it. Then Elsie suggests that money is a sufficient band-aid for a broken heart.

Here’s what Dick thinks about Elsie when she tells him she encouraged Rosemary to pursue him:

He saw that no provision had been made for him, or for Nicole, in Mrs. Speers’ plans – and he saw that her amorality sprang from the conditions of her own withdrawal.[…] She had not even allowed for the possibility of Rosemary’s being damaged […].

Well said. Dick essentially thinks she's amoral. What do you think? Could Elsie be right about some things? Or is she screwing up her daughter, and a bunch of other people, too?

One more thing about Elsie Speers. Like Abe McKisco, she represents writing, and the writing process, but in a less obvious way. Fancy literature people might say this next line as a meta-fictional moment in the text. Meta-fiction refers to stories or moments in stories that remind the reader that they are reading a work of fiction. This is a subtle one, but here’s the passage:

Saying good-by, Dick was aware of Elsie Speers’ full charm, aware that she meant rather more to him than merely a last unwillingly relinquished fragment of Rosemary. He could possibly have made up Rosemary – he could never have made up her mother.

See, there? We don’t want to confuse the author with the narrator, but here we have to remember that the author did write these, and he seems to be bragging about his own ability to create a fictional character. This would make Elsie a symbol of success in much the same way Albert McKisco is (see his "Character Analysis" for more). Albert is a successful novelist; Elsie is a successful fictional character.