Buried Now, But Not Forever: Investigating The Residual In Tender Is The Night, Spellbound, And Disgrace

Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night explores the ways in which different buried pasts refuse to remain buried forever. Each of the characters is trying to bury some aspect about their past but ultimately because of either circumstance or his or her own undoing, these buried aspects are forced into the light. Rosemary establishes herself within the Diver’s glamorous group by keeping her modest past and upbringing to herself; the foundation of Nicole and Dick Diver’s marriage rests on shaky grounds. Similarly, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound Dr. Anthony Edwardes, the new director of Green Manors, is found out to be someone quite different from whom he claims to be. Fitzgerald’s work focuses on deception or burying that occurs in a conscious and purposeful manner, while Hitchcock’s film considers a subconscious one. Together they allow the reader and viewer to analyze, or perhaps psychoanalyze, the differences between a conscious and subconscious burying of the past. However, these two works discuss this idea on a very singular and personal level. Considering these two works alongside J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace allows one to expand the discussion onto a larger scale.

On the surface, this novel depicts the rapidly disintegrating life of David Lurie, an English professor in Cape Town, but simultaneously deals with the precarious situation that is post-apartheid South Africa. The two novels and the movie all occur during their own respective transitional period and this adds its own unique pressures to the situation and works as a catalyst in exhuming the hidden aspects. All three works suggest that buried pasts will ultimately come to light despite one’s best efforts to prevent them from doing so and that this is more likely to happen in moments of transition. In Raymond Williams’ essay Marxism and Literature, one of his sections focus on the idea of residual and emergent elements of a society’s culture. His definition of ‘residual’ is very appropriate for framing the discussion of Fitzgerald, Hitchcock, and Coetzee’s independent but linked works. He writes, “By ‘residual’ I mean something different from ‘archaic’,” he goes on, “Any culture includes available elements of its past, but their place in the contemporary cultural process is profoundly variable.” He distinguishes residual from archaic because he does not mean old-fashioned or old, but instead is interested in the idea of something left over. He describes a residual element as having ‘been effectively formed in the past, but it is still active in the cultural process’. The residual still has an influence in defining the present, despite being formed and established in the past, it is ‘an effective element of the present’. The residual event may be over but its residue can still be traced in present actions.

All three works deal with events and characters who are influenced by the residues of their own respective ‘residual’. With the backdrop of the French Riviera, Tender is the Night presents its readers with a picturesque and calm setting, one that is perhaps a little too relaxed, waiting for the inevitable storms and subsequent character unravellings. In Fitzgerald’s earlier work, The Great Gatsby, the glamorous Jay Gatsby is introduced to readers through the lens of Nick Caraway. Similarly, in this work, Dick Diver is introduced through that of Rosemary Hoyt who is an 18-year old starlet holidaying in France with her mother. Dick begins the novel on a virtually indestructible pedestal which is revealed, in due time, to be incredibly susceptible. This initial impression that Fitzgerald paints for his readers is done so because he is first known only through Rosemary’s very rosy view of the psychiatrist. Dick’s downfall is one that is quite Shakespearean: he is a victim of flaws in his character and external circumstances. Initially, Dick has this aura that surrounds him. He is the veritable golden boy with the proper education credentials, the charisma, and a beautiful wife and two children. However, behind this wonderful veneer lies something much darker. His wife is simultaneously the cause for his rise as well as his downfall. Nicole Diver, his wife, was once his patient. She is the one writing all of the cheques supporting their indulgent lifestyle. From this one can speculate that even Dick comes from a well-respected background but one that isn’t necessarily as indulgent as that of Nicole’s because Dick is unable to ignore the leisure and easy life that her money is able to buy. This also causes his work ethic to erode. He soon is unable to control his drinking and is asked to leave his psychiatry practice. All of this points to Nicole as having a significant effect on Dick’s downfall. Throughout their relationship, Dick is fully aware of Nicole’s mental instability that is caused by her childhood traumas involving her father. Despite this, Dick still submits to marrying her. Doing so, he is trying to help her and rid her of her fears of men and the mental instability that resulted. Her mental instability and past trauma is the residual element that is plaguing their entire existence as a couple and a family. Instead of trying to properly help her deal with things, both Nicole and Dick decide to take a more pleasurable route but one that only temporarily papers over the cracks. So for Dick, Nicole works as both an external circumstance and an emblem of his character flaws. Their situation seems to have stabilized until Rosemary enters their lives. Dick finds himself in a familiar indulgent situation that he, after first resisting, is unable to resist. Rosemary can be seen as a younger Nicole for one single reason: both of them are equally financially independent while Dick is not. Therefore it is even less surprising that Dick ultimately is unable to resist her youthful naiveté and beauty.

The fact that Rosemary meets the Divers and their group of friends at the hotel in the French Riviera is a telling one. All of these people were at some point key figures who belonged to the dominant culture. Rosemary, who has begun to force her way to a similar role, meets them while they are on the beginning of their journey to the margins of dominant culture. They are quite an important group that makes those looking in quite envious, such as the McKisco, and yet they are out of place. They do not belong in the country in which Rosemary finds them and they have made themselves far more comfortable there than seems appropriate. They should be back in America and yet they find themselves in various European countries after the first World War. In a sense, they are all residual elements of an older world that are slowly disappearing along with their ability to have a telling effect. Questionable mental states are something that Hitchcock’s Spellbound deals with as well. Dr. Edwardes, the newly appointed director of Green Manor, seems to have a mysterious past right from the beginning. It is through the protagonist, Dr. Petersen, that these questions of his past arise. She is the one who suspects that something is not right about the new director and she takes it upon herself to befriend him and figure out what is actually going on. It is slowly revealed that in fact Dr. Edwardes is an impostor and has killed the real Dr. Edwardes. This imposter is actually a man who goes by John Ballantyne. When he reveals to Dr. Petersen that he believes he killed Dr. Edwardes he tells her that he has no idea of his own identity. This sparks further questions for Dr. Petersen. The facts of what happened to Dr. Edwardes have been buried deep within Ballantyne’s mind. It becomes clear that this has been caused because of some traumatic incident that he went through earlier. Once Ballantyne and Dr. Petersen thoroughly investigate the fate of Dr. Edwardes, Ballantyne has a flashback. While skiing with his brother, he slides down and knocks him into pointed railings and kills him. This causes Ballantyne to develop amnesia and a generalized guilt complex. Ballantyne and Edwardes went skiing and the latter fell off the precipice to his death. This reminds Ballantyne of his childhood trauma and therefore to cope with it he assumes the identity of his fallen friend. The ultimate outcome in Spellbound differs quite drastically to that of Tender is the Night, which allows one to speculate the differences between a conscious burial of events and one that is subconscious.

In Fitzgerald’s work, it is Nicole who goes through the traumatic experience as a child but it is Dick who seems to be consciously trying to bury that and conduct himself and his married life as if it did not happen. John Ballantyne has little to no input whatsoever in the subconscious burial that takes place because of his two traumatic skiing experiences. Dick’s life rapidly disintegrates in front of his eyes while John is better served from his residual experiences coming to light. Published many years after Fitzgerald or Hitchcock’s works, J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace approaches the idea of time and temporality very similarly. This late modernist approach appeals to Coetzee because his novel deals with exactly these issues of transition and residual events but in a much larger and grander setting: new South Africa. English professor David Lurie looks forward to his Thursday afternoons with a prostitute named Soraya week after week. Lurie describes it as an ‘oasis’ amidst the ‘desert of the week’. This is the introduction to the English professor that Coetzee provides for his readers –not terribly flattering. From here things don’t really get better: he begins an affair with one of his students, Melanie Isaacs, who after a rather forceful sexual encounter reports him to the university. A committee is created to pass judgment on his actions and what his future role at the university will be. After refusing to apologize in a sincere manner, he is dismissed from his post and soon visits his daughter to take refuge on her farm in the Eastern Cape. This is where the residual truly begins to reveal itself. Immediately it is clear that David and his daughter Lucy do not have the perfect father-daughter relationship. David was most probably an absentee father throughout her upbringing. However, now spending a prolonged amount of time with his daughter and her rural life seems to have beneficial effects on David’s self-destructive nature. This does not last for long. Just as soon as David begins to get comfortable with rural life and his daughter’s ascetic way of life, both he and her daughter are attacked by three black South African men. David is beaten and locked in the bathroom. The reader is trapped there with him, while Lucy is being assaulted and presumably raped outside. Later, both David and the reader learn that she was in fact raped and impregnated by the men. David is adamant that she call the police and report the men but Lucy does nothing. This chilling act is completely circumstantial but is ultimately a cause of the grander residual elements at play.

Coetzee’s novel is set during one of the greatest periods of transition in South Africa: post-apartheid. Now things seem to have been equalized. Whites and Blacks can each do exactly as they please. However, there are still events that have occurred in the South Africa of old that are very much active in this new country. That is the extreme amounts of pent-up rage and emotion that this scene seems to embody. Lucy’s rape displays a reversal of power; the whites no longer have a hold over the blacks. Even the number is offset, three black versus two white. This scene in particular shows why the late modernist approach suits Coetzee very well. He is able to portray the much larger effects caused by a residual emotion of a whole people in a country through this one scene that consists of five people and a kennel of dogs. David’s downfall can almost be attributed solely to his own character flaws. He is bored with his life and unable to resist his more primal desires – in fact, at times it seems he actively seeks out ways to satisfy them. Coetzee presents his readers with an incredibly self-destructive protagonist and yet what destroys him completely is caused by external circumstance. With the racial tension, constantly present, Coetzee seems to suggest that there are times when even though one can do oneself a lot of harm the ultimate undoing might not having anything to do with personal actions but instead are completely tied to external events. Both David and Lucy can only be seen as victims of the residual. Lucy’s reaction to it makes the racial tension move from the background into the foreground. Her complete acceptance seems to not only reinforce the tense transition of the country but also highlights the gravity of the residual.

All three works show that these ideas of time and temporality are in fact universal and do not only belong to the modernist movement. The concept of the ‘residual’ is prevalent throughout all of the works. However, they operate in different ways, which could allow one to speculate whether or not the manner in which they operate affects the ultimate outcome. Fitzgerald presents a protagonist who’s buried past is quite consciously buried in an attempt to rectify things. While Hitchcock presents viewers with a character who has no control over burying past events. Finally, with Coetzee the buried past transcends one specific person and instead takes its form in the racial tension that exists in post-apartheid South Africa; a past that is not quite buried but very much residual as Williams defines it. The main aspect that is common throughout all three works is that no matter how hard one might try, nothing ever stays buried forever. Nicole’s mental instability is not something that Dick can cure all by himself. John Ballantyne ultimately finds out his true identity and what happens to his friend Dr. Edwardes. David Lurie and his daughter Lucy inadvertently fall prey to the backlash that is to be expected from the repressed half of South Africa. Fitzgerald, Hitchcock, and Coetzee’s respective works seem to identify periods of transition as the key moments when buried pasts are most likely to prominently resurface and move from residual to emergent.

18 May 2020
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