This is a difficult story for me to read. It always has been, it always will be. Fitzgerald understands and expresses the nature of love and loss better than any other writer I’ve encountered, and “Winter Dreams,” along with Gatsby, is the apex of that understanding and expression. It’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.
Just as Daisy doesn’t deserve Gatsby, Judy doesn’t deserve Dexter. But he still loves her – wholly, deeply, and with utter and passionate abandon. When she throws him over for the last time, he slowly recovers, converting his memories of her into what Fitzgerald, to quote from Gatsby, describes as “a melancholy beauty.”
It is hard enough to lose the person you love. But Dexter can somehow live with that pain, as long as his image of her – his dream of her – is not shattered. It is only when he realizes that the dream of her is dead, killed by time, by circumstance, by life…her spirit oppressed, her beauty faded, her existence rendered mundane…that the foundation of his youthful exuberance and ambition is destroyed, and he is broken.
It is only when our dreams die that we truly grow old.
“Often he reached out for the best without knowing why he wanted it – and sometimes he ran up against the mysterious denials and prohibitions in which life indulges.”
“…because the sound of a piano over a stretch of water had always seemed beautiful to Dexter he lay perfectly quiet and listened….The sound of the tune precipitated in him a sort of ecstasy and it was with that ecstasy he viewed what happened to him now. It was a mood of intense appreciation, a sense that, for once, he was magnificently attuned to life and that everything about him was radiating a brightness and a glamour he might never know again.”
“She was not a girl who could be ‘won’ in the kinetic sense – she was proof against cleverness, she was proof against charm; if any of these assailed her too strongly she would immediately resolve the affair to a physical basis, and under the magic of her physical splendor the strong as well as the brilliant played her game and not their own.”
“May at last. Dexter walked the streets at night when the darkness was damp as rain, wondering that so soon, with so little done, so much of ecstasy had gone from him….fire and loveliness were gone, the magic of nights and the wonder of the varying hours and seasons.”
“She was watching him closely and the silence was embarrassing, yet in this crisis he could find no casual word with which to profane the hour.”
“A million phrases of anger, pride, passion, hatred, tenderness fought on his lips. Then a perfect wave of emotion washed over him, carrying off with it a sediment of wisdom, of convention, of doubt, of honor. This was his girl who was speaking, his own, his beautiful, his pride.”
“…she communicated her excitement to him, lavishly, deeply, with kisses that were not a promise but a fulfillment….kisses that were like charity, creating want by holding back nothing at all.”
“Dexter was at bottom hard-minded. The attitude of the city on his action was of no importance to him, not because he was going to leave the city, but because any outside attitude on the situation seemed superficial. He was completely indifferent to popular opinion.”
“…he had tasted the deep pain that is reserved only for the strong, just as he had tasted for a little while the deep happiness.”
“He wanted to care, and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back any more. The gates were closed, the sun was gone down, and there was no beauty but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.”