Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)

Dick Diver is a psychiatrist married to a former patient, Nicole, whose wealth affords them an elaborate lifestyle and assures her the best care possible. Young actress Rosemary Hoyt becomes obsessed with Dick when they meet on the French Riviera, complicating a marriage that already strains as Nicole becomes more healthy and strong than perhaps her husband counted on.

Both professionally and personally, Dick is widely admired. When we are introduced to him in this novel he is always the center of the party and everyone wants to be acquainted with him. As time goes on he is floundering, professionally and personally, drinking heavily, and he's become much less appealing to be around. Colleagues no longer hold him in such high esteem (and for someone who is supposed to be so respected, he hardly works at all throughout the course of the novel) and he barely tries to be charming anymore. At one point when his friend Mary admonishes him for not listening to her he says "But you've gotten so damned dull, Mary. I listened as long as I could." Which went over terribly well, as you can imagine.

Dick and Nicole's marriage was fascinating, but dark, her mental illness casting a shadow over everything. Their relationship was unequal because of their age difference and relationship as doctor and patient. Dick acts rather paternal towards her, his admonishments going far behind what is required for her mental health. I can't tell if that's supposed to be a negative characteristic or is just symptomatic of Fitzgerald's own views on women. Early on he says of Rosemary: "Like most women she liked to be told how she should feel..." And he describes Nicole's older sister as "...a tall, fine-looking woman, deeply engaged in being almost thirty" and goes on to describe her spinsterish ways.

The spare but evocative style is familiar to anyone who's read The Great Gatsby, and a few passages stood out to me such as Rosemary and Dick's taxi ride together:

"But there was little time to cry, and lovers now they fell ravenously on the quick seconds while outside the taxi windows the green and cream twilight faded, and the fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs began to shine smokily through the tranquil rain. It was nearly six, the streets were in movement, the bistros gleamed, the Place de la Concorde moved by in pink majesty as the cab turned north."

I found the timeline of this novel incredibly confusing. In the first part, Rosemary meets and becomes quite fond of the Divers, falling in love with Dick. There's a lot of drunken debauchery with their friends that culminates in something very serious happening at the end of part one. When part two begins, it goes back to Dick first meeting Nicole and covers how their relationship began, and I expected that it would stop before the events of the part one, and then part three would continue the current story. But Rosemary appears in part two which means we've already rejoined the story in progress and I'm just not certain where that happens. Part three seems to pick up much later, though I could never tell how much time was passing at any point during the book. Furthermore, the events at the end of part one are never referred to again, which makes it even harder to place which parts of part two happened before or after that.

It took me a very long time to warm up to this book, and the whole time I kept thinking that i'd like it more the second time. I still think that though I did begin to really like it about 2/3 of the way through and more I think about it the more I like it. There's a lot to unpack and think about. I know that it's based on Fitzgerald's own relationship with his wife Zelda, and now I'm intrigued to read more about them. If anyone has a suggestion of a good book that covers their relationship, please let me know!

I read this for the Classic Book-a-Month Club. As I mentioned in my original post about that, I'm only planning to read along for 4 or 5 of the books. This is my second, after House of Mirth, and I'm looking forward to reading Raisin in the Sun next month. I've only ever read a few plays - there was all the Shakespeare I read last year and the only other one I can think of is The Cherry Orchard, which I read in college - so it should be an interesting change from my usual fare.


Anonymous said...

You might like Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda (, a collection of their letters; or anything by Matthew J. Bruccoli, a Fitzgerald scholar.

3goodrats said...

Thank you for those suggestions!