Tender Is the Night (Fitzgerald)

Tender Is the Night
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780684801544

In Tender Is The Night, Fitzgerald deliberately set out to write the most ambitious and far-reaching novel of his career, experimenting radically with narrative conventions of chronology and point of view and drawing on early breakthroughs in psychiatry to enrich his account of the makeup and breakdown of character and culture.

First published in 1934, Fitzgerald's classic story of psychological disintegration was denounced by many as an unflattering portrayal of Sara and Gerald Murphy (in the guise of characters Dick and Nicole Diver), who had been generous hosts to many expatriates.

Only after Fitzgerald's death was Tender Is the Night recognized as a powerful and moving depiction of the human frailties that affect privileged and ordinary people alike. (From Scribner edition.)

In Tender is the Night, Fitzgerald distilled much of his tempestuous life with his wife Zelda, and the knowledge of the wrecked, fabulous Fitzgeralds adds poignancy and regret to this tender, supple and poetic portrait. To the just-fashionable French Riviera come Dick and Nicole Diver—handsome, rich, glamorous and enormous fun. Their dinners are legend, their atmosphere magnetic, their intelligence fine. But something is wrong. Nicole has a secret and Dick a weakness. Together they head towards the rocks on which their lives crash—and only one of them really survives. (From Penguin Essentials 2 Edition.)

Author Bio
Birth—September 24, 1896
Where—St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Died—December 21, 1940
Where—Hollywood, California
Education—Princeton University

F. Scott Fitzgerald was named for his famous relative, Francis Scott Key, though he was always referred to as "Scott." Minnesota born and Princeton educated, Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920 to critical and popular acclaim.

That same year, He married Zelda Sayre, the queen of Montgomery, Alabama youth society, and the two lived a boisterous, decadent life in New York City. (See LitCourse 5 with Fitzgerald's story "Babylon Revisited" for an idea of their life.) To better afford their extravagant lifestyle, the couple moved to France, where Fitzgerald befriended Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, becoming part of the legendary group of expatriate writers and artists, which Stein labeled the "Lost Generation." In Paris he wrote his finest novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).

Zelda was eventually hospitalized in 1930 for the first of many breakdowns, and Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood (William Faulkner was there, too), where his heavy drinking ended his screen writing career. In 1934 he published Tender Is the Night. He died there of a heart attack six years later at the age of 44.

The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. The Great Gatsby, Scott's masterpiece, was published in 1925. Hemingway greatly admired The Great Gatsby and wrote in his A Moveable Feast "If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one" (153). Hemingway expressed his deep admiration for Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald's flawed, doomed character, when he prefaced his chapters concerning Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast with:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. (129)

Much of what Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast helped to create the myth of Fitzgerald's eventual demise and Zelda's hand in that demise. Though much of Hemingway's text is factually correct, it is always tinged with his disappointment with Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scott rented an estate in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and began work on Tender Is the Night, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries one of his patients. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his material (their life together). When Zelda published her own version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and succeeded in getting her doctors to keep her from writing any more.

Tender was finally published in 1934, and critics who had waited nine years for the follow up to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about it. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but the book's reputation has since risen significantly.

Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, posthumously published as The Last Tycoon (based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg). Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the east coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a well-known gossip columnist, in Hollywood.

Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis. Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940, and on December 21, while awaiting a visit from his doctor, Fitzgerald collapsed in Sheilah Graham's apartment and died. He was 44. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
(Older works have few mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

For Fitzgerald desolation is a precondition of the lyrical. Hence the most distinctive impression of Tender: A beautiful novel about failure.
Independent (UK)

In the wake of World War I, a community of expatriate American writers established itself in the salons and cafes of 1920s Paris. They congregated at Gertrude Stein's select soirees, drank too much, married none too wisely, and wrote volumes—about the war, about the Jazz Age, and often about each other. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, were part of this gang of literary Young Turks, and it was while living in France that Fitzgerald began writing Tender Is the Night. Begun in 1925, the novel was not actually published until 1934. By then, Fitzgerald was back in the States and his marriage was on the rocks, destroyed by Zelda's mental illness and alcoholism.

Despite the modernist mandate to keep authors and their creations strictly segregated, it's difficult not to look for parallels between Fitzgerald's private life and the lives of his characters, psychiatrist Dick Diver and his former patient turned wife, Nicole. Certainly the hospital in Switzerland where Zelda was committed in 1929 provided the inspiration for the clinic where Diver meets, treats, and then marries the wealthy Nicole Warren. And Fitzgerald drew both the European locale and many of the characters from places and people he knew from abroad. In the novel, Dick is eventually ruined—professionally, emotionally, and spiritually—by his union with Nicole.

Fitzgerald's fate was not quite so novelistically neat: after Zelda was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and committed, Fitzgerald went to work as a Hollywood screenwriter in 1937 to pay her hospital bills. He died three years later—not melodramatically, like poor Jay Gatsby in his swimming pool, but prosaically, while eating a chocolate bar and reading a newspaper. Of all his novels, Tender Is the Night is arguably the one closest to his heart. As he himself wrote, "Gatsby was a tour de force, but this is a confession of faith.
Amazon Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. How would you describe the characters of Dick and Nicole Diver? What is the nature of their marriage? Do they love one another? Talk about how and why their marriage changes during the course of the novel?

2. Talk about Nicole's psychological state? Why did Dick marry her? As his patient, their relationship most likely would be viewed today as a violation of the the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) code of ethics. Why would marrying a patient concern the APA? How does Nicole's mental illness affect their marriage?

3. What do you make of Rosemary Hoyt? Is she a "provocateur" with regards to the Divers' marriage? Would you describe her as innocent, aggressive, duplicitous...or as a young, naive American out of her depth? Why is Dick Diver attracted to her? What, if anything, does she offer him? What does it say about Rosemary that she is also attracted to Brady right after professing her love for Dick?

4. Rosemary encounters two parties on the beach at the beginning of the book. What is the distinction she makes between the two—and what do two circles represent? What is your opinion of the two groups?

5. The book is concerned with the differences between Americans and Europeans. How does that difference present itself? Would you say that Dick is more European or more American?

6. The narrator refers to French Mediterranean Coast as a region in a state of flux. How so?

7. The book's narrator identifies with Rosemary in the first part of the novel. Thus we see the characters through her perspective. Starting in Book 2, however, the narrator is allied with Dick Diver...as we follow him into his decline. Why would Fitzgerald have used two perspectives?

8. Hollywood is, of course, the capital of acting. How does "acting" become a theme throughout the novel? Who besides Rosemary acts? What does Hollywood as "the city of thin partitions" mean? How might that descriptive phrase apply to the main characters?

9. How does McKisco change after the duel...and what inspires the change? Talk about the juxtaposition of his rise with Diver's fall.

10. What is the significance of the scene in the restaurant, where the Divers, Norths and Rosemary measure the "repose" of American diners? How does "repose" reflect on Americans' ability to maintain elegance and dignity? Are those qualities important?

11. In what ways can Dick be considered a father figure for women? Would you say he has a need to fulfill that role?

12. Does Nicole ruin Dick's potential to become a great psychiatrist? In other words, did she ruin his career...or is he the cause of his own downfall?

13. By the end of the novel, Nicole seems to have achieved a healthy mental state. Is Dick responsible for her cure?

14. Who loves whom in this book? Do Dick and Nicole love one another? Does Dick love Rosemary? Does Nicole love Tommy Barban?

15. Critics and scholars see Tender Is the Night as partially autobiographical, tracing F. Scott's and Zelda's marriage. Do a little research and discuss how the book parallels the Fitzgeralds' own lives.

16. Does Dick's disappearance in America resolve any problems raised in the novel? Why would Fitzgerald have ended his story in this way? Do you find the ending satisfying...or would you have preferred a different one?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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