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The following is from S. Fitzgerald's novel Tender is the Night:

No friendship worth the name was ever destroyed in an hour without some painful flesh being torn -- so Franz let himself believe with ever-increasing conviction that Dick traveled intellectually and emotionally at such a rate of speed that the vibrations jarred him -- this was a contrast that had previously been considered a virtue in their relationship. So, for the shoddiness of needs, are shoes made out of last year's hide. Yet it was May before Franz found an opportunity to insert the first wedge.

What does the italicized sentence mean?

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3 Answers 3

I don't know if the sentence is technically accurate from a tanner's perspective (as I believe quality leather must be aged like wood), but Fitzgerald's meaning seems to be that:

  Those who set the lowest of expectations will be served the lowest of quality.

In this instance, it implies that Franz colludes in allowing himself to be taken advantage of (or abused) by Dick by not setting higher standards of friendship.

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At the end of chapter I in Book 3 of Tender is the Night, at his wife's prompting Dr. Gregorovius (Franz) concludes Dr. Diver (Dick) is not a serious person and begins looking for an excuse to break with him. As the next chapter begins, Dr. Diver has been working extra hours at their clinic, and (from the sentence just before those quoted in the question) “Franz, trying to break with him, could find no basis on which to begin a disagreement”.

It seems to me that “shoddiness of needs” is intended to refer to the odiousness of Franz's desire to discard his friend. “Shoes made out of last year's hide” apparently is meant to imply things made from leftovers, or from whatever is at hand. Implicit in the sentence is a criticism of Franz for the lowness of his aim and the thinness of his excuse (which is, different speeds of intellectual travel). However, neither the sentence nor either part of it is idiomatic or well-known, and the sentence is awkward; for example, shoddiest might make better sense than shoddiness.

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I'm no tanner, but I imagine last year's hides would generally be considered inferior material for shoe-making, having degraded over time. I'd rather have my shoes made from this year's leather.

Apart from Fitzgerald's own usage, I find no relevant references to last year's hides in Google Books, so it's probably just a turn of phrase of his own invention. And no-one else has ever written about anything being done for the shoddiness of needs either.

I think what he means is that out of necessity, inferior (but easier/cheaper) choices were made, but this particular text is old, poetic, and not representative of normal English. So it's really just Lit Crit.

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