Sunday, 27 March 2011

Oh, So Tender is the Night

Even if F. Scott Fitzgerald had only written The Great Gatsby, he would have stayed in the anali of world literature as one of the most prominent American writers. Yet, his final novel, Tender is the Night is considered by the author himself as his masterpiece. He struggled for 9 years to create a deep psychological and philosophical piece, which discusses the issues of talent, his feelings about money and the different levels of American society, his struggle with alcoholism, his worries of becoming an emotional bankrupt, and his wife's illness. All of these themes feature the glamourous life of the Divers in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dick Diver is a clever and up-and-coming young psychiatrist, who after graduating, takes on a complicated case of neurosis. After a terrible accident with her father in her youth, Nicole remains a mental invalid for the rest of her life. Nicole is beautiful and rich; Dick is infatuated with her and decides to marry despite her sister's opposition that he is taking her only for the money. At the beginning, the Divers live a glamorous and extravagant lifestyle. They are surrounded by people, mostly Americans, who worship them, and especially Dick. The prominent psychiatrist now abandons his studies and dedicates his life to taking care of his wife and her emotional outbursts. A natural idealist, the doctor reaches the top of the social class, living in a society which is both romantically attractive and undeniably corrupt. His life becomes more shallow and hollow and Dick turns to dissipation and alcohol. At the end, the parasite is not Dick, but Nicole, for his only purpose in their marriage was to make her stronger at the expense of his own life and dreams. Dick is a man of almost limitless potential who makes the fatal decision to marry a beautiful but mentally ill woman, and who ultimately sinks into despair and alcoholism when their doomed marriage fails

Tender is the Night is largely biographical. It reflects the tense relationship between Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, who was hospitalized for schizophrenia in 1932. The writer learned a lot about psychology from the doctors treating her and this knowledge served as a basis for his novel. He spent a lot of time in the French Riviera (just like the Divers) working on the novel. Fitzgerald finished Tender is the Night in 1934, pouring into it his disappointment of his wasted talent, his problems with alcohol, his problematic relationship with his father (reflected in Dick's relationship with his own father, who, like the author's, dies), his struggle with alcohol, and his life with a mentally unstable woman. Dick's affair with the younger actress Rosemary resembles the intense relationship of Fitzgerald with the teen actress Lois Moran.

In fact, the American writer changed the plot and the constitution of the novel several times. Thus, there are two versions published. The first one features flashbacks of the characters, while the second one, published postmortem, is in chronological order. Fitzgerald left his notes on the alteration of the book, which were then taken as a basis for the second version. Even after The Great Gatsby, the author still felt he hadn't reached his professional apogee. He wanted to make Tender is the Night the best American novel ever written.

To be honest, I don't like Fitzgerald. I had to read The Great Gatsby in high school and I have only vague memories from it mainly because I read every other chapter. Nevertheless, Tender is the Night appears quite similar. In both novels the author discusses the devastation effect of money on one's idealism and personality. Ultimately, the haute bourgeoisie is glamorous but corrupted. The shallowness of this extravagant life style leads to the moral degradation of the characters. Dick, as well as Gatsby, enter this world with hopes and dreams only to exit it disillusioned and despaired.

Fitzgerald created the Jazz Era, lived in it, and criticized its main flaws. He is an author of immerse potential but still, his topics are not a bite for every mouth. Certainly, not for me.


  1. Sad to see you did not enjoy it. For me it was a beautiful book.

    The characters are like spaghetti, sticky, have deep running issues and are all curled together in an inseparable way.

    And how much like a weird but beautiful dream does the Jazz era seem?

    But I guess I am always falling in love with the most depressing books. On my list of top books I also have Remarque's Arc of Triumph and 1984.

  2. I also like depressing books (mostly) and Remarque and Orwell are amongst my favorites. However, Fitzgerald just doesn't do it for me. Maybe I am still to young for him and will think differently when I grow up.