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Thoughts on Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

tender is the night f scott fitzgerald1 Thoughts on Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

Tender is the Night, one of F Scott Fitzgeralds later works, was begun in 1925, but was not published until some years later. Indeed, the lapse between composition and publication had significant impact upon the books success: although the author considered it to be his masterpiece, it was met with little of the runaway success and critical accolades of a work such as The Great Gatsby, which arguably remains today Fitzgeralds seminal work. This in part was due to the temporal disconnect between the novels setting and themes and the emerging literary trends at the time. Rather than the novels of excess and delight that had so been in vogue in earlier years, the American literary horizon in the 1930s demanded greater austerity, greater restraint. Fitzgerald also considered the books structure to be commercially problematic, and as such, a significantly reworked second edition of the book was subsequently released after his death; it is this edition that is discussed in this review.

Tender is the Night covers some ten years in the life of Dick Diver, a brilliant psychiatrist of insignificant means whose intellectual and moral self-worth gradually crumble as he becomes materially successful through his marriage to Nicole, a schizophrenic ex-patient whose confused attributes of languid hedonism and crippling derangement gradually mire Dick in a world that traps and negates him as a person. Fitzgerald painfully, masterfully traces the transference of dominance in the relationship between Dick and Nicole: Nicole, once struggling and institutionalised and reliant on Dick to help navigate through her life, slowly becomes the usurper as Dick himself begins to lose his grasp on reality, falling victim to an absurdly inflated sense of self-importance and an increasingly diminished sense of agency or purpose. Its almost disturbing to watch this parabola of being unfold, as one cant help but wonder whether, and to what degree, Nicole uses her illness to manipulate her husband into such a state. Until the end of the novel, there seems to be no intentional cruelty to her actions, but the fact that the Divers live a life that is so far removed from reality is largely due to what is believed is needed for Nicoles continued convalescence.

But Dick is scarcely innocent in his fall from grace. It seems that from the time he first met Nicole he is quite content to hand over his agency: his marriage to Nicole appears to occur only in part from romantic interest, and rather more as a result of Nicoles sisters pragmatic suggestion that she needs some sort of protective force in her life. Dick, thus, knowingly enters a world in which he will be largely closed off from productive society, and his role changes quite dramatically from medical professional to companion and partner. He and Nicole spend the next ten-odd years of their married life doing little more than entertaining a series of acquaintancesfriends would be too strong a word for relationships so fleeting and superficialand Dicks gradual exit from reality can be seen in the fact that his contribution to the field of psychiatry stops short with the breathtakingly titled tome published before his marriage, and in the fact that his own personal income (aside from Nicoles splendiferous personal wealth) comprises little more than the royalties on this volume. The fact that Dicks only income now hinges on his part painfully highlights the increasingly irrelevance of his life, and the realisation of this descent into banality and futility leads Dick to a series of transgressions that inalienably alter his concept of self, and eventually his marriage to Nicole.

The inconsequentiality of the Divers lives is markedly obvious in their nomadic existence: they travel from what is essentially resort to resort, leaving little impact other than gossip or scandal. The acquaintances who move lazily in and out of their livesfor they too have little in the way of purpose or importseem to be a way of simply passing the time or assuaging boredom; their conversations are dull and pat, their actions ludicrous (a Pushkin-esque duel, for example, is held between two men, and is taken farcically seriously by all involved). Dick finds himself seeking some sort of psychic sustenance in the young actress Rosemary, whose sharp wit belies her youth, and the two begin a lurching affair that in itself is absurd and without depth. Dick, it seems, is reliving his erstwhile infatuation with the younger Nicole, rushing after a younger woman in the hopes of taming her with his psychiatrists intellect. The romance, however, is inevitably doomed, as Rosemary too, despite being a wealthy woman of her own efforts, unlike Nicole, whose wealth is hereditary and unearnt, offers Dick yet another escape from real life, and it is this very notion of escape that is slowly crippling him.

The degree to which Dicks life as a professional has become entirely untenable is highlighted through a series of cringingly awkward, socially inept, and generally unpleasant actions on Dicks behalf, all of which culminate in a painful instance where Dick is seen as unfit to practice psychiatry due to his own personal state. His accuser is the father of a man who has been sent to Dick in order to cure his homosexuality; Dick is ironically seen is less able to be turned around than the son, whose so-called condition is considered untreatable. Dick thus cuts all ties with his intellectual and professional life, finding himself adrift in a world that is entirely purposeless. Its unsurprising then, that Nicole, having gained strength from her husbands gradual descent into hopelessness, finds herself taken with another man, and quite intent on pursuing a relationship with him, but still utterly devastating to see Dick completely undermined and lost as a person, having become irrelevant to the one person whose world he once was.

Tender is the Night is a stunning work, and its one that demands careful rereading and consideration. The scathing wit with which Fitzgerald skewers his characters, dissecting each frivolous interaction with terrifying precision, and the confessional nature of the narrative are so beautifully counterposed against the desultory futility of the world he is examining that its at times painful to read. There is an almost clinical note to this book, as though the entire book is a consultative analysis, and the reader emerges feeling as though they themselves have been examined, and have come up wanting. Its a novel of desolation, futility, and disillusionment, and I cant help but feel that while it was perhaps not timely when first published, it certainly is now.

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  1. Glad to hear you liked it. I havent read it, my first, and only, Fitzgerald book Ive read was This Side of Paradise ( for a book club, which I didnt care for.

    • Stephanie /

      Id only read Gatsby before, which I enjoyed, but Im definitely inclined to check out the rest of Fitzgeralds work. Im impressed by how perfectly (and simply) he can assess and critique the most minor action or line of dialogue. It almost feels as though hes crawled inside ones head!

  2. I have read Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. After reading your great review, I want to read it again. I can only remember hating their marriage. I also remember Nicoles psychriatric problems. Cant wait to reread it. Thanks.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks so much for visiting, Tea!

      I would whole-heartedly recommend a re-read of this. I can see how their marriage might grate on a reader, but looking at it from afar its so just beautifully rendered. Its bleak and horrifying at times, yes, but so well done.

  3. I will eventually read Tender is the Night again, I think. I read it for school, which always seems to affect my enjoyment of books!

  4. Great post. I read The Beautiful & Damned a couple months ago and while writing my review of realized I still havent gotten to Tender is the Night. Your review is fantastic and also a timely reminder to push this book up on my TBR list.

    as a side note of sorts, im in love with the editions you show in your list of his works. i know im far from the only person drooling over these bookseven though ive read most of fitzgeralds stuff and dont need to go spending my money on new editions of his books, its hard to resist.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Ellen. Im definitely inclined to go out and get my hands on some more Fitzgerald (and am also very much tempted by the astonishingly beautiful covers shown in my posttheyre a far cry from the mangled Penguin classics edition from which I was reading!)

  5. Stephanie /

    Thanks for stopping by, Erin! I absolutely whizzed through this one to the point that Im disappointed that it was over so quickly. Perhaps it also has something to do with the particular edition that I readthis one has a much more straightforward narrative than the original version, which involves several extended flashbacks.

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