Places Discussed

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*French Riviera

*French Riviera. Resort area along France’s Mediterranean coast that the novel refers to as the “home” of Dick Diver and his wife. The novel opens there, and the Divers periodically return there, and there the novel concludes with Dick blessing the beach from a terrace. As a literary device, the Riviera and its cities represent various aspects of the characters, the lives they lead, and the kinds of people they are becoming. The Riviera is pictured as a playground for the rich and famous, a place where Rosemary attends empty, pretentious parties with the Divers; where Nicole Warren spends money prodigiously—an indication of the relentless materialism of her family; where Dick repeatedly shines as glib host at dinner parties; where Mary North and Lady Caroline Sibly-Biers are arrested for their careless, condescending shenanigans; and where Nicole’s infidelity with Tommy Barban occurs.

Gausse’s Hôtel des Étrangers

Gausse’s Hôtel des Étrangers (gos-es oh-tel day-say-trahn-jay). Hotel on the French Riviera located somewhere “between Marseilles and the Italian Border” in which the novel opens. The hotel’s beach is where the initial infatuation begins between Dick Diver and film star Rosemary Hoyt and is the site of many scenes juxtaposed to indicate both the Divers’ charm as a couple and the ultimate disintegration of their marriage.

The hotel is significant as a gathering place for an elite group of wealthy and fashionable people, of whom Dick Diver is the indisputable star. Initially Diver’s “talent” is described as an ability to bring out the best in people and make them feel inexplicably satisfied with themselves without too much self-examination. It is his idealism that draws people to him. The hotel also serves as a meeting place for the disparate symbolic elements in Tender Is the Night in which an older, worldly, aesthetically and morally bankrupt Europe—which is epitomized in the Hotel, the Riviera, Paris, and Rome—is contrasted with a “diseased” America, epitomized by Nicole Diver’s mental illness brought on by a betrayal of her innocence. Although Dick represents all that is vital, charming, hopeful, and best in America, he is unable to save his “home” (an Old World sense of tradition and values) and himself (American idealism). Instead, he sacrifices his own spiritual depth and potential to revitalize his psychologically sick wife (an irrevocably materialistic America).


*Zurich. Swiss city that is the site of the novel’s first flashback (to 1917), which delineates how Dick Diver meets and decides to wed—and rehabilitate—Nicole, the mental patient. It is also the site of Nicole’s internment after falling ill later in the novel.

Zurich may represent parallels with Fitzgerald’s own problems with his wife Zelda, who was hospitalized in a Swiss sanatorium until her death. The novel’s book 2 opens in Zurich, where Dick is to complete his studies. Switzerland is described as an “island” and implies isolation from the complications of a more morally bankrupt world. Switzerland is also where the couple finally retreats when Nicole’s sister, Baby Warren, finances Dick’s interest in a mental clinic. Finally, the city and its country also represent the field of psychoanalysis (Dick’s profession), his dedication to his wife, and ultimately his inability to cure himself of his incipient alcoholism.


*Rome. Italy’s capital city is the site of Dick Diver’s brawl with police, his affair with Rosemary, and a physical representation of his apparent deterioration. A horrific scene of violence in the Italian jail is symptomatic of the morally degenerating Dick—who can be saved only by the influence and money of Baby Warren—evidencing his moral degradation at being “bought” (implied throughout the novel every time Nicole’s money is mentioned.)...

(This entire section contains 688 words.)

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The final irony, foreshadowed by Rome, is that by “consecrating” himself to his marriage, Dick is destroyed, while Nicole is cured. The cure, however, is representative of a prosperous America—robust, powerful, eminently capitalistic—just as Nicole herself has become, and who spends frivolously because she can. This “cure,” however, is achieved at a terrible cost, for Dick’s idealism and essence are lost.

Historical Context

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Set in Europe between 1925 and 1935, and with flashbacks that cover the years 1917 to 1925, Tender Is the Night describes a group of wealthy and idle American expatriates who, like their counterparts of the “Jazz Age” and the “Roaring Twenties,” have little else to do but eat, drink, attend parties, and survive their personal crises.

When Dick Diver first arrives in Zurich, a war is raging across Europe. Although there are references to an earlier time when he was studying in Vienna and had a firsthand experience with the shelling and its resultant discomforts, Diver is largely unaffected on a personal level by the war. Europe, however, was recovering from the devastating effects of the war that was to have ended all wars. Millions of Europeans were killed, and entire cities were ruined. During the decade in which the book largely takes place, Europe as a whole was still working to rebuild its infrastructures.

Meanwhile, in America, the period known as the Roaring Twenties was well under way. With the stock market surging, a generation of “nouveau riche” Americans found their way to the European shores and cities with lots of money to spend. Desperate for the infusion of capital, Europe was forced to pander to these Americans, though not without some cultural conflicts. Tender Is the Night describes typical wealthy Americans who live idly off the European continent. Although the term “ugly American” would not be coined for many years, Tender Is the Night chronicles the early years of how that term may have evolved.

Fitzgerald himself was a member of what was called the Lost Generation of writers—a group of mostly young men that included Ernest Hemingway, among others. Coined by poet Gertrude Stein, the Lost Generation referred to writers who left their native America after World War I and settled in Europe, mostly France, where they wrote and claimed a rejection of the materialistic values that had engulfed America. Although Fitzgerald was immersed in the culture of the wealthy and was largely known as a chronicler of the “Jazz Age,” his work can be seen as a serious indictment of the wealth that arose during those years.

Tender Is the Night, which had its genesis in letters and notes Fitzgerald wrote as early as 1925 shortly after The Great Gatsby, was not published until 1934. In that time, the great wealth that had come to define his subjects had suddenly disappeared in the crash of 1929. By the time the book was finally finished, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, and the country’s literary tastes had shifted radically. The movement of social realism had begun to take hold, and Fitzgerald’s work was suddenly seen by some as anachronistic and petty. Although Tender Is the Night was deeply critical of the wealthy and the effects of their money, because it was not a “political” book, per se, it was not taken as seriously as it might have been had it been written before the crash.

With the greater perspective that the years have afforded, Tender Is the Night can now also be seen, on one level, as a chronicle of the effects the war had on an entire generation. While standing in the midst of what was recently a great battlefield where tens of thousands died, Dick Diver says:

This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer . . . See that little stream—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.

Tender Is the Night is also very much a critique of the burgeoning psychiatric industry to which the wealthy had access. When Dick Diver traveled to Zurich, Europe was being greatly affected by the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries. Fitzgerald, because of his wife’s long-standing psychiatric problems, became something of an expert on psychiatry and its various theories and cures. Although psychiatry was making huge theoretical and practical leaps during the time Tender Is the Night takes place, the fact is that it was very much a cure for the very wealthy, a point that Fitzgerald clearly recognizes and effectively criticizes throughout his work.

Ideas for Group Discussions

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While many critics and general readers believe that Gatsby takes the palm as Fitzgerald's greatest literary achievement, many others view Tender Is the Night (a title taken from Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale," a fact that invites discussion) as the more insightful and fully developed novel. Consideration might be given to a careful comparison of these works, with an eye toward deciding which is indeed the more penetrating vision of the human condition. Also, the novel was published in a revised version in 1948; in this text, the antecedent information is taken from its interjected position and presented entirely, along with the rest of the plot, in chronological order. Readers might find it instructive to compare these texts, to determine whether the device of antecedent information "works" better than a linear presentation of the plot, or whether the revision was an improvement on the original publication.

1. If Amory Blaine's life can be seen as a striving for "selfhood/' might Dick Diver's be viewed as a loss of that quality?

2. Does the European setting for much of the novel contribute to the effect of the book — for example, the clash with the Italian that Dick experiences?

3. One theme of Tender Is the Night is said to be "the tyranny of the weak." Does the relationship between Dick and Nicole really support this claim?

4. In view of modern attitudes, does the "psychology" found in the novel seem genuine and believable? What symptoms appear to be the most realistic?

5. Does the parallel, found by some readers, between Dick's "fall" and Fitzgerald's "failures" emerge as valid? Are there "holes" in the theory?

6. Apart from the discord between Dick and Nicole, what is the principal conflict in the novel? Does it enhance the thematic impact of the text?

Literary Style

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The title comes from a line in John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”: The poem, with its forlorn images of drinking, fits the character and tone of the book. As a young writer Fitzgerald was profoundly influenced by Keats. While in Italy, in chapter XXII of Book Two, on his way back to his hotel where a note from Rosemary is awaiting him, Dick feels his “spirits soared before the flower stalls and the house where Keats had died.”

Three-Part Narrative Structure Tender Is the Night is divided into three sections, or Books. Although the novel is narrated in the third person, Book One opens from the perspective of Rosemary Hoyt and focuses on the glittering surface of Dick and Nicole Divers’ life. Just as Rosemary is seduced by the glamour and luxury of that life, so is the reader; though, as the perspective evolves, there are hints that not all is well with Nicole and Dick and that the life they lead is not all glitz and glamour.

Book Two moves back in time to reveal what lies beneath the surface of the Divers’ charm. It effectively unveils Nicole’s case history for the reader just as it does the evolution of her relationship to Dick. Finally, in Book Three, Dick is shown trying to make sense of his life. The brilliant sheen of Book One has worn off, and the events told in Book Two have taken their toll, and now, in Book Three, it is time for Dick to move on.

The first sense that we have that something is not right with the Divers’ marriage comes in Book One, when Mrs. McKisco comes upon a “scene” between Dick and Nicole in the bathroom during the party. The event foretells Nicole’s emotional problems and is the first of many such “scenes.”

Also in Book One, Tommy Barban meets Rosemary Hoyt for the first time and tells her that he is very fond of the Divers, “especially of Nicole.” Barban eventually takes Nicole away from Dick and marries her.

A foreshadowing of the violence that is about to enter the Divers’ lives takes place in the train station as Abe North is about to depart. A woman whom Nicole knows shoots an Englishman for no obvious reason. The next day, Jules Peterson is found dead on Rosemary’s bed, and Dick must hide evidence to keep scandal from engulfing them.

The Symbolism of Names
Fitzgerald uses names and titles to add to the development of character and plot and to elaborate on the book’s metaphors and themes. For instance, Rosemary Hoyt’s film is called Daddy’s Girl, an obvious reference to the incest theme that pervades the book. Nicole is a victim of sexual abuse by her father, and the allusion to the much older Dick being a father figure to Rosemary is obvious. Nicole is as much “daddy’s girl” as is Rosemary; not only has she been sexually abused by her father, but Dick, an older man, assumes the father role in his treatment of his wife’s psychological problems.

The name Dick Diver is suggestive of the dual role his character plays in the book. The vulgar associations of “Dick” and “Diver” fit well with his unabashed womanizing, and by the book’s conclusion, his character has become something of a social “diver” as opposed to a social “climber.”

Tommy Barban, a mercenary soldier who seems somewhat ill-fitting amongst the sophisticated crowds that surround the Divers, has a name that echoes “barbaric.”

Book Two employs flashback to reveal the history of Nicole’s illness and her relationship with Dick. Fitzgerald was criticized for this structure when Tender Is the Night was first published, and following the book’s publication, Fitzgerald began reconsidering the flashback sequence. In 1951, Tender Is the Night was reedited by Malcolm Cowley and published “With the Author’s Final Revisions.” Among those revisions was the placing of Nicole’s case history, and much of Books Two and Three, at the start of the book and pushing the beach scene and most of Book One back. Cowley’s revisions received tremendous criticism, and the original sequence of the book was eventually restored.

Compare and Contrast

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1920s: Having just experienced the devastating effects of World War I, Europe is working to rebuild its economies and infrastructures.

Today: After the fall of Communism in the 1990s, European countries form the European Union—an economic organization that brings European countries under a consistent monetary system and economic policies. The European Union today has the potential of becoming one of the strongest economic entities in the world.

1930s: Many Americans who amassed fortunes in the stock market surges of the previous decade have lost everything because of the crash of 1929.

Today: After the stock market decline of 2000 and the “dot com” crash, many of the young Americans who became rich with stock options in the 1990s have lost much of their wealth.

1930s: Although many American blacks had relocated to France to avoid the discrimination in the United States, discrimination against blacks still exists, and blacks have a difficult time entering some businesses and public establishments.

Today: Discrimination is illegal in France and is considered a human rights violation.

1930s: By the time Tender Is the Night is published, many readers and critics have come to embrace the new movement of “social realism” in literature and the art.

Today: Social realism is not a viable artistic movement, per se, although elements of the movement and working class themes abound in contemporary literature and art.

1920s–1930s: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s long-standing relationship with his editor at Scribners, Maxwell Perkins, is instrumental to his career. Perkins helps to guide virtually every aspect of Fitzgeralds’ life, including his writing, finances, and health-related issues.

Today: The role that editors in large publishing firms once held has been primarily replaced by agents. The “Maxwell Perkinses” of the past are mostly long gone.


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The 1962 film version of the novel (enhanced by a superb background musical score, which was nominated for an Academy Award) starred Jennifer Jones as Nicole, Jason Robards as Dick Diver, and Paul Lukas as the Swiss psychologist who tries to "save" Dick. The movie was directed by Henry King, who achieved some fine visual effects (especially scenes on the Riviera); but, the general critical judgment was that the story moved too slowly, despite several striking episodes, but supplies a seemingly realistic image of Europe in the 1920s.

Media Adaptations

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In 1955, Tender Is the Night was adapted as an hour-long television special, starring Mercedes McCambridge as Nicole Diver. In 1962, the novel was adapted as a Hollywood film by Henry King. Produced by Twentieth Century Fox Studios, the film stars Jennifer Jones, Jason Robards, Jr., Joan Fontaine, Tom Ewell, and Jill St. John and is available on video. A 1985 three-hour miniseries adaptation, starring Peter Strauss, Edward Asner, and Sean Young was directed by Robert Knight.

A ten-cassette, unabridged reading of the novel was produced by Sterling Audio out of Thorndike, Maine.

Of related interest, “Last Call: The Final Chapter of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” starring Jeremy Irons and Sissy Spacek, was released as a Showtime Original Picture in 2003 and is available on video. This video depicts the last few months of Fiztgerald’s life.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph, with Judith S. Baughman, “Introduction,” in Reader’s Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night,” University of South Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 1–48.

Chamberlain, John, “Book of the Times,” in “Tender Is the Night”:Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 68–70; originally published in New York Times, April 13, 1934.

Colum, Mary M., “The Psychopathic Novel,” in “Tender Is the Night”: Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 59–62; originally published in Forum and Century 91, April 1934.

Gray, James, “Scott Fitzgerald Re-Enters, Leading Bewildered Giant,” in “Tender Is the Night”: Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, pp. 64–66; originally published in St. Paul Dispatch, April 12, 1934.

Gregory, Horace, “A Generation Riding to Romantic Death,” in “Tender Is the Night”: Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, pp. 72–74; originally published in New York Herald Tribune, April 15, 1934.

Rogers, Cameron, “Fitzgerald’s Novel a Masterpiece,” in “Tender Is the Night”: Essays in Criticism, edited by Marvin LaHood, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 64–66; originally published in San Francisco Chronicle, April 15, 1934.

Further Reading
Allen, Frederick L., Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s, HarperCollins, 2000 (rev. ed.). First published in 1931 and reissued in 2000, Only Yesterday is, as the book’s subtitle suggests, an informal account of the decade that has come to be known as the “Roaring Twenties.” The book has a special focus on the rising market and its subsequent crash and gives a good account of the atmosphere of the times in which Fitzgerald was writing.

Berg, A. Scott, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, Riverhead Books, 1977. Winner of the National Book Award, Berg’s biography of Fitzgerald’s editor reveals the profound influence Perkins had not only on Fitzgerald but also on Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and many of their contemporaries.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, University of South Carolina Press, 2002 (rev. ed.). First published in 1981, Bruccoli’s biography of Fitzgerald has long been considered the definitive work on the author. In the revised edition, Bruccoli adds new material from more recently discovered manuscripts and papers.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed., Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, University of Alabama Press, 1997. Although F. Scott Fitzgerald was the more wellknown writer of the family, his wife Zelda wrote a novel, Save Me the Waltz, and many stories and poems, some of which were published during her life. Bruccoli’s collection brings these writings together and helps to round out Zelda’s character.

Milford, Nancy, Zelda: A Biography, HarperPerennial, 2001 (rev. ed.). Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation, the book offers the most complete picture of Zelda Fitzgerald from her youth as a southern belle through her tumultuous marriage to Fitzgerald, and to her death in a sanatorium fire.

Wheelock, John Hall, Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell Perkins, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1987. Taken as a whole, the letters by Fitzgerald’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, show the profound love and respect Perkins had not only for his writers but for literature in general. Perkins’s relationship with Fitzgerald is revealed in dozens of letters he wrote to him, or about him, over the years.


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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.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide