Abstract

Although no evidence suggests that F. Scott Fitzgerald read Edgar Allan Poe’s little-known tale “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” (1845), his posthumously published story “Nightmare (Fantasy in Black)” offers riveting textual opportunities to read it as a development of Poe’s concern for the lunatic, uncontrolled forces within and without the individual that threaten selfhood. Released in 2017 as part of a “lost stories” collection, “Nightmare” has received little critical attention. It provided some material for Tender Is the Night, but reading it as part of an ominous conversation with Poe positions it as an example of Fitzgerald’s darker vision of American ambition: how it cannibalizes the self. This article explores what J. Gerald Kennedy calls the “imaginative genealogy” between both writers, first by contextualizing the composition of their respective stories against the backdrop of personal adversity, professional instability, and an American ethos, and then, by comparing key scenes and characters in the texts themselves. “Nightmare” and “Tarr and Fether” play with the proverbial understanding of reason and madness finally to suggest that, as Fitzgerald’s subtitle implies, there is a “Fantasy” on the other side of the “Nightmare.”

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