Intro-spectography in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.


The use of color in landscape and setting is a curious, dangerous, oftentimes inaccurate tool. When used incorrectly, these passages read like one of those kiddy menus they hand out at restaurants — sloppily crayoned in by a four-year-old, gummed at the edges, and smattered with marinara sauce. Let me be clear that by no means do I excuse myself from these sins. I am as guilty as any four-year-old out there, and am in frequent need of re-tooling my inner spectrometer. Whenever I do, I look at the following passage, the opening paragraph of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

I’ve marked up the passage to list the colors as I see them, though please note that my definition of “color” varies greatly from those found in dictionaries. The list of colors (or, “colors”) follows directly after the passage.

The Passage:

On the pleasant shore (1) of the French Riviera, about half-way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured (2) hotel. Deferential palms (3) cool its flushed façade (4), and before it stretches a short dazzling beach (5). Lately it has become a summer resort of notable and fashionable people; a decade ago it was almost deserted (6) after its English clientele went north in April. Now, many bungalows cluster near it, but when this story begins only the cupolas of a dozen old villas rotted like water-lilies (7) among the massed pines (8) between Gausse’s Hôtel des Étrangers and Cannes, five miles away (9).

The hotel and its bright tan prayer rug of a beach were one (10). In the early morning the distant image of Cannes (11), the pink (12) and cream (13) of old fortifications (14), the purple Alps (15) that bounded Italy, were cast across the water (16) and lay quavering in the ripples (17) and rings sent up by sea-plants through the clear shallows (18).

List of Colors:

  1. Shore
  2. Rose
  3. Bright palms
  4. Palms-shaded rose
  5. Bright beach
  6. Dusty beach
  7. Rotted water-lily
  8. Pine
  9. Distant pine
  10. Hotel and beach Tan (Expansive tan)
  11. Hazy Cannes
  12. Pink
  13. Cream
  14. Fortification Pink and Cream
  15. Alpine Purple
  16. Pink and Cream and Purple Water
  17. Pink and Cream and Purple Ripples-in-Water
  18. Sea Plant through Pink and Cream and Purple Ripples-in-Water

The image at the top of the page is from a digital atlas observed with the Fourier Transform Spectrometer at the McMath-Pierce Solar Facility at Kitt Peak National Observatory, and may be found here.

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