Tender Is The Night was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925 but was not published until 1934. This novel is the most reflective of Fitzgerald’s life. And, it is depressing in the sense that Fitzgerald relays the story like he is sitting by a fire recounting his life, knowing all the mistakes but being resigned that there is nothing to be done to change any of the circumstances. It is destiny. The French Riviera, Paris, Zurich, and Rome witness the opulence and the decline of these expatriates’ lives. Dick Diver is the main character, a doctor trained in psychology. He marries Nicole a woman from a wealthy Chicago family. They are stunning people who live on the French Riviera occasioning Paris when the mood dictates and always in extravagant style. Since money is no object, their lives consist of socializing with other affluent people and artists, artists being the only acceptable poor people the rich feel inclined to entertain. The bronzed, handsome couple have two children who wander in and out of the story just as in real life they are ushered in and out by nannies.
Soon the couple meet a young American actress named Rosemary on the Riviera. She becomes part of their circle and is in love with the Diver’s sophisticated cosmopolitan lifestyle. “The Divers represented externally the exact furthermost evolution of a class, so that most people seemed awkward beside them.” Rosemary is much like Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (but with a practical financial side having come from nothing) in the sense that she is whimsical and foolish acting much of the time. The first day she meets Dick she is madly in love and confesses her hopeless situation to her manager mother. Oddly enough, her mother encourages her to go for it without reservation. Rosemary is quite forward and throws herself at Dick when she is invited to a party at the Diver’s Villa. Dick pretends he doesn’t know what she’s getting at and tries to enforce that she is just a kid and he and Nicole would be happy to have her friendship. Everything seems perfect, two beautiful people, in beautiful surroundings, who are actually in love. The crack in the façade appears when one of the dinner guests, Mrs. McKisco, returns to the dinner table and announces that she has just seen Nicole in the powder room and something is definitely wrong. On the precipice of her revelation, she is figuratively slapped down by Barban, a blood lusting mercenary who frequents the Diver’s social scene. He holds Nicole Diver on a pedestal and will not see it tipped over. Mr. McKisco, (who is described earlier in the book as an author who wrote a guide to “Ulysses” of all things and then plans to write a new version but instead of the story taking place in one day, it takes place over 100 years in the mechanical age!! OMG!!) jumps to his wife’s defense and ends up in a real duel with Barbon. This is just one example of the little anecdotes that Fitzgerald throws out, leaving one wondering if these are true stories.
The book is divided into three sections. The first dealing with the most happy time in Dick Diver's life. I think Fitzgerald wanted to start out with the best memories of his own life and his relationship with his wife Zelda. Fitzgerald writes, “But to be included in Dick Diver’s world for a while was a remarkable experience: people believed he made special reservations about them, recognizing the proud uniqueness of their destinies, buried under the compromises of how many years. He won everyone quickly with an exquisite consideration and a politeness that moved so fast and intuitively that it could be examined only in its effect.”
Part two describes how the Divers' came to find themselves together. Nicole was a patient in an institution in Zurich, suffering from schizophrenia (Zelda also suffered from schizophrenia). Placed in the hospital by her father, it is revealed that her emotional breakdown was precipitated by the death of her mother and the subsequent sexual molestation by her father. Dick is a doctor returning from World War II, an American who has decided to stay in Europe. Nicole is stunning, desirable and there is something in Dick that wants to save her. He is a mentally, intellectually, and emotionally strong man. And, for many years he can bear the weight of Nicole’s repeated breakdowns.
Part Three reveals the eventual degeneration of Dick Diver into alcoholism as he is wasted away by his wife’s needs as well as the resentment of being a kept man. In the novel Dick’s father was without means, but his mother did inherit enough to make the family comfortable. This is an exact parallel to Fitzgerald’s life. When Dick married Nicole he gave up his aspirations to be a great psychologist and made his wife his career. When Fitzgerald ran out of money to pay for his wife’s reoccurring hospital bills, he was forced to forgo his writing to do screenplays in Hollywood. Nowadays this would akin to Robert Deniro having to do soap operas for money. Fitzgerald was the preeminent writer of his time. The resentment that builds in Dick Diver’s character turns him more and more to the bottle and he starts to rapidly deteriorate where he is spoken about as an embarrassment and a bore. Did Fitzgerald hear these kind of rumors about himself?
The book ends with Dick simply and quietly drifting away, the last fluttering sparks of an extraordinary firework. The reader is left not knowing what really becomes of him but assuming the worst.
The most interesting aspect of this novel to me is the intense examination of the downward spiral into alcoholism and all its tragic outcomes that only through experience can be retold. It is as though Fitzgerald’s fate was so intertwined with this book that he believed it could have no other ending. There would be no recovery, comeback or happy ending for Dick Diver. Fitzgerald and his wife were both, according to many sources, degenerate alcoholics and lived extremely destructive lives. There co-dependency probably kept them together regrettably to a unfortunate premature end.