Tuesday, December 29, 2009

308. Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

History: It was first published in Scribner's Magazine between January-April, 1934 in four issues. In 1932, Fitzgerald's wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was hospitalized for schizophrenia in Baltimore, Maryland. The author rented the "la Paix" estate in the suburb of Towson to work on this book, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychoanalyst and his wife, Nicole, who is also one of his patients. It would be Fitzgerald's first novel in nine years, and the last that he would complete. While working on the book he several times ran out of cash and had to borrow from his editor and agent, and write short stories for commercial magazines. The early 1930s, when Fitzgerald was conceiving and working on the book, were certainly the darkest years of his life, and accordingly, the novel has its bleak elements.
Plot: Dick and Nicole Diver are a very glamorous couple who take a villa in the South of France and surround themselves with a circle of friends, mainly Americans. Also staying at the resort is Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress, with her mother. Rosemary gets sucked into the circle of the Divers, and falls in love with Dick and also becomes adopted as a close friend by Nicole. Dick first toys with the idea of an affair with Rosemary at this point, which he finally acts upon years later.
However, Rosemary senses something is wrong with the couple, which is brought to light when one of the guests at a party reports having seen something strange in the bathroom. Tommy Barban, another guest, comes loyally to the defense of the Divers. The action involves various other friends, including the Norths, where a frequent occurrence is the drunken behavior of Abe North. The story becomes complicated when an unnamed man is murdered and ends up in Rosemary's bed, in a situation almost of high farce. This nearly compromises the situation with Rosemary and Dick.
Once into the book, the history of the Divers emerges. Dick Diver was a doctor and psychoanalyst and had taken on a complicated case of neuroses. This was Nicole, whose complicated, incestuous relationship with her father is suggested as the cause of breakdown. As she becomes infatuated with Dick, Dick is almost driven to marry her as part of the cure. But strong objections are raised, as Nicole is an heiress and her sister thinks Dick is marrying her for her money. However they do marry, and Nicole’s money pays for Dick's partnership in a Swiss clinic and for their extravagant lifestyle. They have a good marriage, living in France until Dick falls in love with Rosemary. They have rendevous until Dick tells her he cannot be with her because of Nicole’s fragile mental condition, and her suspicion and jealousy could cause her to have another breakdown. Dick gradually develops a drinking problem. He gets into fights and trouble with the police in various incidents and is bought out of the clinic by his partner. The opening episode almost marks the cross over point whereby Dick becomes the weaker partner, progressively failing in what he attempts while Nicole becomes stronger. The book is now told in Nicole’s point of view. Dick's behaviour becomes embarrassing as he mishandles situations with the children and friends. Eventually Nicole has an affair with Tommy Barban, and divorces Dick to marry him. Nicole survives, while Dick drifts into ever diminishing circumstances. The underlying theme is then how one person has become strong by destroying another—a point emphasized cynically by Nicole's sister, who having seen Dick originally as the parasite, finally remarks that "That was what he was educated for".
Review: We're tempted to look at Tender as the Night as a thinly-veiled gloss on the autobiographical dirt of the Fitzgerald marriage. But, Tender is the Night tries to be more than just the simple story of the characters: much is made here about class and its pretensions (Mary North and Nicole Diver's sister both defer outrageously to titles and ceremony, and in one fairly good sequence Dick Diver intimidates a policeman by asserting that the woman he's just arrested is related to America's "Lord Henry Ford"), and much is equally made about the World War and its aftermath, particularly about Dick Diver's non-role in the fighting.
Additionally, it's probably the case that Fitzgerald wants to make some point about the relationship of America to the Old World: virtually the entire book takes place overseas, from Nice to Zurich to Rome, and the most charged scenes all involve clashes between the befuddled, braggart Americans and the codified restraint (or lack thereof) of the Europeans.
Opening Line: “On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half-way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured hotel.”
Closing Line: “Perhaps, so she like to think, his career was biding its time, again like Grant’s in Galena: his latest note was post-marked from Hornell, New York, which is some distance from Geneva and a very small town; in any case he is almost certainly in that section of the country, in one town or another.”
Quotes: "she only cherishes her illness as an instrument of power."
"So delicately balanced was she between an old foothold that had always guaranteed her security, and the imminence of a leap from which she might alight changed in the very chemistry of blood and muscle, that she did not dare bring the matter into the true forefront of consciousness."
Rating: Good

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