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Literature / Tender Is the Night

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"Her naïveté responded whole-heartedly to the expensive simplicity of the Divers, unaware of its complexity and its lack of innocence, unaware that it was a selection of quality rather than quantity from the run of the world's bazaar; and that the simplicity of behaviour also, the nursery-like peace and good will, the emphasis on the simpler virtues, was part of a desperate bargain with the gods and had been attained through struggles she could not have guessed at."

Tender Is the Night is a 1934 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of his most famous, it's also by some accounts (including the author's own) his greatest.

It tells the story of Dick and Nicole Diver, a pair of wealthy and glamorous American expatriates living in France in the 1920s. At first sight they are the very image of success and connubial harmony, but all isn't as it appears; Dick is in fact a psychoanalyst and Nicole is a former patient of his, a young woman who following her mother's death had a sexual relationship with her father and who suffers from recurring bouts of trauma-induced schizophrenia. Dick develops a drinking problem and, even as his wife recovers, his own life begins to fall apart. Nicole eventually leaves him for her lover, an assertively macho younger man, while Dick vainly tries to start over.

The novel's story actually mirrors Fitzgerald's own life as he was writing it, moving from the height of success and self-confidence to existential breakdown. It is also infused with a sense of postlapsarian wistfulness, as the hero feels that he is living in a world in which his values are no longer relevant.

A film adaptation was released in 1962, directed by Henry King and starring Jason Robards and Jennifer Jones as the Divers. There was also a 1985 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation starring Peter Strauss and Mary Steenburgen.

Contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Abe North is one from the start, and Dick Diver develops a drinking problem as the story unfolds.
  • Anachronic Order: The 1934 edition opens with Rosemary meeting the Divers, with volume II jumping back to when Dick and Nicole first met. The 1951 edition averts this.
  • Anti-Climax: The farcical duel between Barban and McKisko. They both miss.
  • Author Avatar: Dick might as well be one of these, considering how much he has in common with Fitzgerald.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The Divers as seen through the star-struck eyes of young debutante Rosemary Hoyt. Their parties are the best, their friends are the smartest, and they form such a pretty couple...
  • Bittersweet Ending: Nicole leaves Dick for Tommy and apparently lives her life much more happily. But Dick continues to descend into alcoholism and ruins his reputation even more, fading further and further until he's a lowly doctor in a backwater town.
  • Descent into Addiction: Dick begins to drink heavily as a coping mechanism due to Nicole's mental illness, eventually becoming The Alcoholic.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: When she was institutionalized at Dohmler's clinc, Nicole falls in love with Dick while she is his patient. Dick reciprocates and the two eventually marry. However, it gets deconstructed as Nicole's mental health issues, the reason she ended up institutionalized in the first place, strains both their marriage and Dick, who struggles to care for her despite being her psychiatrist.
  • Foreshadowing: Abe North's fate foreshadows that of Dick Diver.
  • French Jerk: Tommy Barban is enough of an honorary French to qualify as one.
  • Gay Paree: The Paris of The Roaring '20s is depicted in all its splendor. So is the French Riviera.
  • Gold Digger: Subverted. Baby Warren thinks Dick Diver is a gold digger who married her wealthy sister for her money even though in reality, he married her out of love.
  • Hypocrite: Dick Diver has his moments.
    • He gets mad when he hears that Rosemary probably had had something with another man before she even met Dick. Dick himself is cheating on his wife with Rosemary.
    • He gets mad at Nicole because supposedly, by now she can see a fit of her schizophrenia coming and stop it. He treats alcoholics, but fails to notice his own drinking problem until his patients start to complain, and even then he doesn't do much about it and eventually succumbs to alcoholism.
  • In Medias Res: The 1934 edition opens when Rosemary is meeting the Divers for the first time in the Book One section, which in the book's timeline occured halfway through the plot. Book Two explores the events that took place before Rosemary meeting the Divers (when Dick and Nicole first met at Dohlmer's Clinc) and Book Three is a Time Skip after Book One.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is from a line in "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats. Other references to nightingales pop up here and there.
  • Maiden Aunt: The ironically named Baby, Nicole's older sister who has never married or dated anyone.
    [T]he American Woman, aroused, stood over him; the clean-sweeping irrational temper that had broken the moral back of a race and made a nursery out of a continent, was too much for him. He rang for the vice-consul — Baby had won.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted; Rosemary mentions her cramps once.
  • Parental Incest: When she was twelve, Nicole was raped by her father shortly after her mother passed away.
  • Pet Homosexual: Campion, as the Camp Gay of Dick Diver's social circle.
  • Posthumous Sibling: Dick Diver was born after the deaths of his two sisters. Assuming that Dick's mother will try to spoil him because of that, Dick's father became a moral guide for him.
  • Rape as Backstory: Nicole was raped by her father at the age of twelve shortly after her mother's death. It led to her developing schizophrenia and becoming the child in her marriage with Dick as she transfers her feelings of paternal authority to him.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Nicole's statutory rape by her father leads to her developing schizophrenia.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Nicole Diver's schizophrenia was inspired by that of Zelda Fitzgerald, just as Dick Diver's gradual breakdown was inspired by F. Scott Fizgerald's own.
  • Re-Cut: Two editions of the book exist. The 1934 edition is more well-known and held in higher esteem. A later edition was overseen by Malcolm Cowley based on Fitzgerald's notes and released in 1951 (among other things, it tells events in chronological order) - it was less favourably received.
  • Shout-Out: One of the secondary characters, a hack writer, intends to write a new version of Ulysses.
  • Stage Mom: Played with – Rosemary's mother does push her into being an actress, but the narrator makes it quite clear that she's not motivated by a failure to become a successful actress herself.
  • Time Skip: Several, as when Dick discusses founding his own mental institution with Franz, and the next chapter opens with the institution having been up and running for a year and a half.