Monday, September 22, 2014

Tender is the Night

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:


  1. Thanks for your review, Fanda. I tried to read this book a few months ago and put it down halfway through, which I almost never do when it comes to a classic. In this book I felt that the themes were chosen because they were shocking, but a sort of titillating type of shocking. And in any case, my decision to discontinue was not solely based on this revelation. While Fitzgerald has moments of interesting description, the whole story seems fragmented and just not believable. I feel that it was poorly written and at times, objectionable.

    What confuses me is that in this book, if indeed it is autobiographical, Fitzgerald lumps himself in with all these shallow people that have nothing better to do but party, cheat on their spouses and try to ignobly wiggle out of any trouble they find themselves in. It's odd.

    With him, it's as if there is a wall between him and his reader. He doesn't really speak to you as a narrator, neither does he connect through his characters. It's a very sparse, removed style that lacks any impact. Yes, there are moments of beauty in his prose but even these sometimes seem contrived. In the Great Gatsby his "prose moments" blended well with the story but in this book they appear to be random sprinklings without making anything cohesive.

    I may try to finish it one day, but I will have to force myself. However, your review helped me see some of the positive things I should be looking for!

    1. Cleo, I had similar feelings when I read this book. Maybe you should read analysis from cliffsnotes, then you'd be able to see more of what Fitzgerald has wanted to speak. I think this book is not pure autobiographical, but he used his own life experience & conflict to criticize American's morality at that time: how those people are partying, and how they regarded money and business over humanity; things like that.

      I agree that The Great Gatsby is much better than this, but in Gatsby Fitzgerald seemed to compress his writing into a poetic prose; like he intended to pack the story with beauty. While in Tender is the Night, I think he was lamenting his trouble with Zelda, and analizing (and critisizing) what has caused it.

      In cliffsnote you would find a lot of hidden metaphors in this book, and I began to understand why Fitzgerld wrote it that way. I think, I respect him more and more along my reading of his books.

      Do you have any suggestion, what next should I read? :)

    2. With most of Fitzgerald's characters that I've met, I simply cannot connect with them. I've hear alot of criticism about him with regard to this point. How can you expect to connect to your reader, if you are unable to construct a person, or animal or thing that the reader can care about? And I don't mean just like, I mean also hate. With Fitzgerald's characters I usually find myself going, "meh". I don't like them, I don't really hate them, and I don't find them interesting. With this book, since he is dealing with mental illness, alcoholism, divorce and adultery, I would expect even the most average writer to be able to evoke some sort of emotional response from his reader. Nope! The most I felt was irritation and that's only partly because of my previous experience with Fitzgerald.

      I do appreciate your encouragement, Fanda. This book is on my Guardian's 1000 Novels list, so I should finish it at some point. I will definitely look at the Cliffnotes if I do. Who knows, between the Cliff notes and your review, I might finish it and perhaps like it just a little!

      What to read next? Well, I've just finished Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev and really enjoyed it. He's a toned-down Tolstoy and his prose is, at times, beautiful! What about a Shakespearian play (everyone seems to be reading one at the moment) or even a Greek play ..... Sophocles' Theban Trilogy or Aeschylus' The Orestia? Or an Elizabeth Gaskell ....... Ruth was a great book but pull out the tissues, and Cranford was fun if you haven't read either yet.

      In any case, whatever you choose, I hope you really enjoy it! I'm looking forward to your next review!

  2. Hello Fanda! I am glad that you were able to take something positive away from this novel but it failed to register with me at all. Cleo pretty much sums up my feelings in a much more eloquent manner than I could ever hope to achieve. Just to set the record straight, this novel is completely autobiographical; Fitzgerald even admits it in several letters to friends and his editor at the time. The names have obviously been changed, various plot details tweaked, but at its core, the novel represents what he called "a confession of faith" that was meant to relieve the burden he carried around with him because of his tumultuous relationship with Zelda. As Cleo so articulately pointed out, there seems to be "a wall between him and the reader" which makes sense, because Fitzgerald is more concerned with his own personal reflections, we as readers are kept at a distance. It's like reading somebody's diary in novel form. There might be certain parts that the reader can connect with but the prose is often disjointed, the author is trying to put together his fragmented memories into some sort of cohesive narrative, which didn't work for me. To me, it felt as if Fitzgerald was writing for himself, not an audience.

    Here's my review if interested:

    Btw, I love your blog and consider me a new follower. Glad to see others focusing on the classics! :)

    1. Hi Jason, thanks for stopping by my blog.
      It's true that the book felt unconnected to the readers sometimes, I felt that too. But I won't judge it too soon; I believe Fitzgerald's books need further readings to be understood (as with my experience with The Great Gatsby). Maybe Fitzi wanted to say something under the veil of metaphors? (I hope) my further reading will tell me...


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