Tender is the Night

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tender is the Night

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When we first meet Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous married couple living a life of leisure in the south of France, we know nothing about who they truly are. We see them only through the eyes of Rosemary, a young actress who becomes completely infatuated with them. As she falls for Dick, we see the story begin to spiral towards disaster, but we aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen.

The second section of the book takes us back to the beginning of the story. We learn how Dick, a psychoanalyst, met Nicole because she was his patient. I think this is essential for the success of the story, because it’s important for the reader to understand that Dick knew what he was getting into when he married her. I didn’t become completely attached to the book until that second section. I need the back story in order to feel anything but distant interest in the characters. Once I was hooked I couldn’t looked away from the doomed love story.

(The Fitzgerald's home where F. Scott wrote part of Tender is the Night)

I’ve read The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, and most of Fitzgerald’s short stories, but this one has a level of rawness and beauty that really struck a chord with me. Some of the lines are just so lovely. For example, read the following and just try to tell me that isn’t the most eloquent way to say that someone liked to look in the mirror…

“He was enough older than Nicole to take pleasure in her youthful vanities and delights, the way she paused fractionally in front of the hall mirror on leaving the restaurant, so that the incorruptible quicksilver could give her back to herself.”

This novel was so fascinating because it’s so autobiographical. Fitzgerald talks about Dick drinks too much and Nicole “ruins” his genius and ambition. These are elements seem to come directly from his own life. That’s exactly how Hemingway described what Zelda did you F. Scott. It’s strange to think about writing a book that’s clearly a thinly veiled reference to your own dysfunctional life.

Apparently there are two versions of this book. The original was published in 1934, while Fitzgerald was alive. The revised version was created by a friend of Fitzgerald’s, Malcolm Cowley, using the author’s notes. It was published in 1951. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s strange to think of multiple versions of the same book being out there.

A few elements seem to spring from nowhere, but maybe I just missed something. There were a few references to Lanier and Topsy and at first I didn’t realize that they were their children. Also, their alcoholic friend Abe North’s story seemed to peter off until he only merited a mention later.

(A facsimile edition of the original galley proofs of The Great Gatsby
and me inside the Fitzgerald museum in Alabama)

Regardless, it is full of more brilliance than anything else. The writing completely captured me and in the end, that makes the book well worth reading. I think this may be my favorite Fitzgerald novel because it helps explain the tragedy of his own life.

“There were other letters among whose helpless caesuras lurked darker rhythms.”

“I am a woman and my business is to hold things together.” – Nicole

“A schizophene is well named as a split personality ­– Nicole was alternately a person to whom nothing need be explained and one to whom nothing could be explained. It was necessary to treat her with active affirmative insistence, keeping the road to reality always open, making the road to escape harder going.”

p.s. While we were in Alabama last week we got to visit the Fitzgerald's home, which is now a museum, see pictures above. Tender is the Night was written there.

*Photos by me and the Huz


Jessica said...

I loved this one as well. My version started with the second part which made more sense for me really. There was something more raw ans less structured than the Great Gatsby but I'm still completely unsure which one I prefer.

Very jealous you visited the museum btw

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jessica - That is so frustrating to me. I feel like it would be a completely different book with the second and first parts swapped. I think I would have actually liked that better.

nomadreader said...

I read Gatsby in high school and remember loving it, despite remembering very little about the actual book. As I look to read more classics next year, I'm hoping to revisit Fitzgerald. This one sounds like a great place to start.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I read Great Gatsby in high school but got absolutely nothing from it, because I was worried about my hair or something. Anyway, this is one author I need to experience as an adult. I would love to read this one, but I have a problem with reading a version that was not the original. Seems a little creepy to change it.

BookQuoter said...

I read this book ten years ago and remember wanting more from the story. I do still have the book, maybe I need to read it again. Thanks for the photos. It makes me want to visit Alabama:)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

nomadreader - I read Gatsby in high school too and loved it, but I think I need to re-read it.

Sandy - I know! It really bugs me that the order of the book is changed in different versions. I didn't know that when I read it.

BookQuoter - I can see that. It's a sad one and at times it feels like we are kept at arms length, but I loved the rawness of the characters. They're just so lost.

Allie said...

The only Fitzgerald novel I've read is Gatsby, but this one is on my shelf and my list. I've been eying it recently, so perhaps I will have to give it a try!

(But how can anything top Gatsby?)

Kat @ NoPageLeftBehind said...

While I love Gatsby, Tender is the Night is actually my favorite Fitzgerald. I think its partially due to the fact that I find Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda fascinating and that this book seemed to be his most autobiographical.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Allie - I think I need to re-read Gatsby soon, but this one feels different. It's much more raw, less polished. I think the structure and story is better in Gatsby, but this one is somehow easier to connect to.

Kat - I completely agree. I think they are fascinating and this one just seems to be so personal.

Shelley said...

This is one of those books that I think I read at the wrong time and have been wanting to reread. I was young and depressed trying to adjust to taking care of two small kids, and I think it was too heavy or something. Around the same time I read The Sound and the Fury. What on earth was I thinking?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Shelley - Oh my gosh, that's horrible timing! I hope you didn't read The Bell Jar around that time too.