Once or twice a year you would have stumbled upon a book that leaves your soul troubled. This year Tender is the Night was it for me. This book is the last completed novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald; he was in the writing process of The Last Tycoon when he died in 1940. I am not quite sure whether Fitzgerald has intended this book to be his semi-autobiographical story, but the characters and the conflicts have a lot of similarities with the writer’s private life. Doctor Richard “Dick” and Nicole Diver was a lovely couple among the upper-middle class of Americans, who, in the 1920s had great interest in travelling to Europe to learn the culture and expand their businesses.
Although it seems, at first, that the story would be narrated by an adolescent Hollywood actress, Rosemary Hoyt; it would turn out on the second and third book, that it was all actually about the Divers. Dick Diver was a psychiatric, while Nicole was his wife as well as his patient. She was a patient in a psychiatry clinic when Dick first met her; a very pretty young girl with schizophrenia. She was very in love with Dick, and though he first declined, Dick finally agreed to marry her after she was released from the clinic. It was easy to assume that Nicole represented Zelda, Fitzgerald’s schizophrenic wife; while Dick’s faith in this story was how Fitzgerald saw Zelda’s mental disorder which has ruined their marriage and, at certain point, the writer’s personal life and career.
Apart from her beauty, Dick married Nicole also for her money. Witnessing his father’s life in poverty apparently encouraged young Dick to pursue his ambition as a famous medical doctor. He might have been successful, and his marriage might have been a happy one, if their course did not accidentally cross with that of Rosemary Hoyt. Young, innocent, beautiful; she had just the perfect combination to corrupt a reserved man (son of a Reverend) who was struggling with his schizophrenic wife. After the short affair, Dick seemed to lose balance of his life. He fell to alcoholism and neglected his career; he became bitter and cynical to others, that his friends excluded him. On the contrary, as he was weaker, Nicole became stronger. She found that she could slowly detach herself from her husband’s influence, and found another love from her longtime suitor.
Nicole is like a parasite to her husband, although she did not do it on purpose, as it was because of her mental illness and instability. But I think the struggles to protect and to balance his wife for more than ten years of marriage have absorbed Dick’s vitality and morality. Nicole’s mental illness was triggered by the incest committed by her father. Maybe this had something to do in Dick’s fall, like a poison that never completely vanishes from the air once it is polluted. In the end what Dick has done to Nicole is a sacrifice; no matter whether he has done it purely for love, or innocently for his ambitions. Whichever it was, I think Dick, or (if this story truly represents the writer’s feeling) Fitzgerald, has done a goodness in bringing a schizophrenic person to reach her fullness of life at last. Sometimes, great deeds demand greater sacrifice….
It was really heart-wrenching to follow Dick’s struggle after Nicole left him. I kept asking myself, how Nicole could be so selfish towards her husband after what he has given her. But to expect an unbalanced woman to guide her husband back to the right path is impossible. So I guess, in the end, I could not blame any of the two. Their faith is inevitable. I think Fitzgerald himself only wanted to express his feeling to the world by this story.
Just like in The Great Gatsby, I think Fitzgerald used a lot of metaphors in this book. Things which I thought were irrelevant to the plot, might have been these metaphors. I felt there were a lot more than what I could grab now. Compared to Gatsby, Tender is the Night is slower and sometimes rather flat, but maybe it’s me who still cannot find the deeper meanings; I don’t think Fitzgerald has ever wasted sentences to no purpose. I think it’s a good excuse to read the book again in the future; then, perhaps, I might find it more beautiful than what I think now.
Nevertheless, I give four stars for Tender is the Night in this first reading.
I read Penguin Classics hardback edition
This book is counted as:
79th book for The Classics Club Project
6th book for Back to the Classics 2014 (American Classic)
78th book for 1001 Books You Must Read Before YouDie