Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: Tender Is the Night

Tender Is The Night
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charles Scribner and Sons 1934
313 pages
From the library

Tender is the Night

Dick Diver is a young psychiatrist who falls in love with a patient. Nicole is beautiful, brilliant, and a very broken young lady. This novel follows their marriage as Nicole goes through treatments, Dick gains notoriety in his field, and they travel to all of the most extravagant European vacation spots. When Nicole is feeling well and Dick isn't drinking, the couple draws people to their youth and beauty. One of those admirers is the young actress Rosemary Hoyt. Her presence in Dick and Nicole's lives is the beginning of the end of a very fragile marriage.

Tender Is the Night begins from Rosemary's point of view. We get to see Dick and Nicole in all their glory as they go from party to party among the wealthy and privileged people vacationing in Europe. Rosemary admires the beautiful and captivating Nicole, but falls in love with Dick. As she travels with them, she discovers that their perfection is only a cover for the trouble churning underneath. The perspective then changes to Dick in the beginning of his career, as he first meets Nicole. This change is tough to get into, and still somehow leaves the reader wanting more. I was curious about why we don't get a lot from Nicole's point of view. Despite ultimately being the story of their marriage, it's a rather one sided account. I suppose this makes sense since this novel, as usual with Fitzgerald, is heavily autobiographical. Fitzgerald is drawing on his own experiences partying through Europe with his family and his reaction to his own wife's mental illness.

This book could certainly be classified as a tragedy. You are watching a marriage dissolve before your eyes, slowly and painfully. The characters go through a complete reverse. When we get their earliest history, Nicole is a fragile shell of a woman, desperately needing Dick first as a doctor and then as her husband. As the story progresses, she starts to come into her own and it appears that there is not room in the relationship for two healthy individuals. Dick starts his own descent into alcoholism, ultimately ruining his career and his reputation. The couple find themselves slipping further away from each other with each passing day.

"There was little they dared talk about in these days; seldom did they find the right word when it counted, it arrived always a moment too late when one could not reach the other any more."

I had a hard time getting through this one this time around.This novel is about trying to escape unhappiness - through money, through travel, through affairs. I think the air of inevitability was really heavy and I found it difficult to read too much at a time. That doesn't mean that this isn't a beautiful novel. Out of all of Fitzgerald's novels, this one does the best job of showing the glitz and glamour of the rich and fabulous in juxtaposition to the pain it cannot alleviate and the problems it can cause. This is not a happy story, but it is a powerful story about the ways we scar each other and how we cannot save each other. 


  1. Ok, I'm thinking I should have added this to my classics challenge list instead of The Beautiful and Damned. I honestly can't say that I know much about Fitzgerald or his style as I read The Great Gatsby in high school and don't remember much about it. I'm trying to remedy that because I really think I would enjoy his style.
    This sounds really interesting especially considering that I would go into it thinking it couldn't work just from the setup (DR marrying patient with many problems). I'm increasingly interested in his life with Zelda as well.
    It sounds like you enjoyed it despite the content.

    1. It's always interesting to read Fitzgerald with knowledge of his life, especially if you read it in tandem with a biography. I always recommend Fitzgerald to everyone. I think he's a beautiful writer.