Nine years elapsed between the publication of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, and during that time Fitzgerald worked on his fourth novel in several stages, completing the final version in about a year. It is an ambitious novel, a multilayered work which charts the moral and psychological decline of Dick Diver, a young and promising American psychiatrist, set against the background of American expatriates in Europe during the 1920’s. In a sense, Fitzgerald is tracing two parallel cases of decay—an individual’s and a generation’s.
Tender Is the Night is divided into three books and covers the years 1925 through 1929. Dick and Nicole Diver are at the center of an amusing circle of friends, including the alcoholic composer Abe North, who has never fulfilled his early promise, and the sinister mercenary Tommy Barban, who is in love with Nicole. Through a flashback, Fitzgerald reveals that Nicole was originally Dick’s patient, placed in his care after being traumatized by being raped by her father.
It is an essential part of Dick Diver’s personality to feel loved and needed, and this causes him to marry Nicole. The dual pressures of being Nicole’s husband and her doctor, combined with the lure of Nicole’s inherited fortune, undermine Dick’s dedication to his work. Using Nicole’s money, Dick becomes partner in a psychiatric clinic in the Swiss Alps but is unable to concentrate on his duties. In the meantime, the master treatise that he has long planned goes unwritten, and he sinks deeper into pointless and frenzied activity, fueled by alcohol.
As his career sinks further into decline, Dick reaches bottom, symbolized by a drunken brawl and arrest in Rome. The Divers return to the Riviera, the scene of their earlier triumphs, but to no avail: Nicole leaves Dick for Tommy Barban, and Dick returns to the United States, losing himself in obscurity as an unsuccessful doctor, wandering from town to small town.
In Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald returns to the technique he employed so successfully in The Great Gatsby, that of gradually revealing the full nature of his characters—in...
(The entire section is 896 words.)