30 Day Book Challenge: Book Most Like Your Life
The 2003 Scribner edition of Tender is the Night mentions the friend and contemporary of Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway once noted of this novel, “It is amazing how excellent much of it is.” This statement could not be truer. In devising a modernist classic, which reflects the life the author lived with his wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald in Europe as an expatriate, the novel shines in all aspects of elements that combine to create a masterpiece in fiction: plot, setting, characterization, conflict, and organization, all executed with precision. The tale focuses on Dick and Nicole Diver, who are said to be semi-autobiographical portrayals of the Fitzgeralds. Other characters, such as teenage actress Rosemary Speers, Mary Abrams, Frenchman Tommy Barban, socialite Mrs. Mickisco, and psychiatrist Dr. Dohmler play supporting roles in the drama that unfolds.
At the onset of the story, in part one, Fitzgerald introduces the reader to a bright and sunny beachside hotel in the South of France. Down the road from Dick and Nicole’s extravagant seaside home is also where Rosemary encounters, and ‘falls in love with’, the husband and wife pair. Both Dick and Nicole are magnetic, attractive, rich, and well-liked by everyone they meet. It doesn’t matter that neither of them have careers, or that they spend all of their time traversing France, Spain, Switzerland, living in hotels, frequenting cafes, and throwing parities-this is their life because it can be. No one questions them. Dick, especially, convinces people that his way is the correct way.
Fitzgerald makes the persons he depicts so convincing, that even his readers have the notion that they cannot argue with the personalities or emotions he describes. The author has insight into human interactions that readers may not have realized exist. In observing Dick’s thought processes, the narrator writes, “When the subject of Mr. Denby fell on its own weight, he essayed equally irrelative themes, but each time the very deference of Dick’s attention seemed to paralyze him, and after a moment’s stark pause, the conversation that he had interrupted would go on without him (33).” Not only is this observation something most people would not make, it completely encapsulates Dick’s experiences. It also foreshadows part two of the text, when the reader realizes Dick’s discontentedness with his life. He is not using his intelligence to feel fulfilled.
By part two of the text,which is a flash back, a completely new side to the story unfolds. A serious issue briefly broached about Nicole’s situation is brought to light. The reader soon finds that Dick, a young and successful psychiatrist, a met the wealthy, schizophrenic, and previsouly sexually abused, Nicole, while she was a patient at a hospital for the mentally ill. What appears as a loving and functional marriage to outsiders years later, began as a request by Dick’s fellow doctors for Dick to do everything he could to keep Nicole stable and happy. For her part, Nicole knew then, and as the marriage progressed, that Dick felt a dependency toward keeping her healthy.
In pairing this couple together the author makes both a likely and unlikely match. Both people need to be loved and need to be cared for, both have addictive personalities and need to feel in control, both are exceedingly intelligent, yet constantly make unintelligent decisions, and both want to save the other, but cannot save themselves. Still, some things will always divide them. The more Nicole’s health improves and the less she relies on Dick for support, and things fall apart for them as a couple.
The story is not just one of a couple’s rise and fall. It captures the larger image the Lost Generation in Europe, where people seek fulfillment they may never find. Similar to the ideas Woody Allen executes in Midnight in Paris, the novel poses the question: What is it people live for? As Nicole leaves Dick for Tommy Barban, and he moves back to the United States, the reader gets a sense there will never be an answer.
F. Scott Fitzgerald begins the novel with a line from Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.” The meaning of the novel’s title and introduction can only be fully realized until after one has read the novel. Keats wrote,
“Already with thee! tender is the night…
…But there is no light,
Save what from haven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.”
There is no better way to summarize the sad end of a man like Dick Diver, who despite the magnetism, beauty, intelligence, good intentions, and togetherness of his youth, became analogous to Keats’ nightingale in his older years. He inevitably became jaded, unlikable, unable to save himself or his wife, could no longer impress or influence others, his addiction got the better of him, he lost his family, and his goals of being a successful doctor never came true. Sadly, like all birds, his wings eventually failed him.
All humans want what they can’t have. Dick Diver wanted to save Nicole and live happily ever after, even though he knew deep down this was not possible. Dick could never be satisfied…is anyone? It may be pessimistic, but Keats said it beast, “There is no light.”
For more information:
Read Tender is the Night free On Project Gutenberg
F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography on Biography.com
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald Zeldafitzgerald.com
Watch Tender is the Night 1962 film
Tender is the Night 1985 TV Mini Series