Tender Is the Night

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The main characters in the book are Richard (Dick) Diver, a respected psychiatrist, and his wealthy wife, Nicole. In appearance they seem the perfect couple: attractive, loving, and successful. They conduct their lives as one continual celebration, surrounded by their friends, with Dick always in control.

The Divers are, in fact, not as happy as they seem. Nicole suffers from schizophrenia, the result of a brief incestuous relationship with her father. Dick first meets her as his patient and is attracted to her, in part, because of her dependency on him. It is suggested that he never wants her to be completely cured. Moreover, although Dick is regarded as a brilliant doctor, he has never fulfilled his early promise and has begun to devote more of his time to the social life he and Nicole enjoy than to his work.

The book details Dick’s moral collapse. The story is told in such a way as to make Dick appear charming to the reader; he seems to be the master of any occasion. After an introductory section, however, Fitzgerald employs a lengthy flashback to explain the truth of Dick and Nicole’s relationship and to show that neither is what he or she seems. The remainder of the novel traces the unraveling of their marriage as Nicole learns to live on her own terms, and Dick follows his private downward trajectory.

This extremely complex and thoughtful work, Fitzgerald’s last complete novel, draws heavily on his marriage to Zelda Fitzgerald; in particular, it utilizes Zelda’s mental illness and Fitzgerald’s own sense of failure and self-betrayal. Critical opinion of the book remains mixed, but most readers recognize it as a brave and splendid accomplishment, and many consider it one of the great novels of the 20th century.

Bibliography:

Bruccoli, Matthew J. The Composition of “Tender Is the Night”: A Study of the Manuscripts. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963. This definitive study of the text provides a comprehensive analysis of the novel’s seventeen drafts. By chronicling significant changes between versions, Bruccoli offers valuable evidence of the forces that influenced Fitzgerald’s creative process.

Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. Part of the Literary Lives series. Concise rather than thorough, but with some interesting details.

LaHood, Marvin J., ed. “Tender Is the Night”: Essays in Criticism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969. Offers a wide variety of criticism ranging from discussions of theme, symbolism, and dialogue to psychological topics. Two of the essays discuss connections between Fitzgerald and John Keats.

Metzger, Charles R. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Psychiatric Novel: Nicole’s Case, Dick’s Case. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. An intriguing psychoanalytic study of the novel that examines Nicole’s and Dick’s mental symptoms, discusses the effectiveness of their treatments, and debates whether they recovered from their psychological problems.

Stern, Milton R. Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night.” Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. Provides two discussions of Fitzgerald’s text, as well as critical responses to the novel in chronological order, beginning with contemporary reviews from the 1930’s. Includes valuable essays by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Malcolm Cowley, and Arthur Mizener, among others.

Stern, Milton R. “Tender Is the Night”: The Broken Universe. New York: Twayne, 1994. Provides literary and historical context for the novel, as well as a reading of various types of identities in the novel. Also contains a useful chronology of Fitzgerald’s life.

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