Sunday, September 2, 2007

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title: Tender Is the Night
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
ISBN: 0141183594
Publisher: Penguin Books/2001
Pages: 400

The story is set in Riviera, Europe, where the Fitzgeralds had lived in the 1920s. The story begins with Rosemary, a young woman who has recently attained fame and fortune as an actor in silent films. She is very beautiful but in many ways innocent. Rosemary holidays on the Riviera--where she meets Dick and Nicole Diver, who are rich and an attractive couple. Rosemary gives in to Dick Diver's charm falling in love with him, but Nick is connected to Nicole, with both responsibility and love. Nicole's flawlessness is a mask. Dick is a psychiatrist and his wife, Nicole, is his patient. She is mentally imbalanced.

In that apparent paradise of the Riviera, lay ghosts, drifting through splendour followed by self-imposed restrictions, ultimate denial, dissipation and death. The Divers show the ideal of the American Dream. Both are young, restful, in love with each other and life in general. Only on the surface. The cracks begin to show, one by one, until the carefully cultivated pretence is smashed and the sickness is exposed. This novel is mainly autobiographical. It draws its parallel from Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. The alcohol factor, in Zelda, is more likely the major factor for her suffering than some abstruse mental illness.

This part stands out:
"It was necessary to treat her [Nicole] with active, affirmative insistence, keeping the road to reality always open, making the road to escape harder going. However, the brilliance, the versatility of madness is akin to the resourcefulness of water seeping through and over and around a dike. It requires the united front of many people to work against it".

In Fitzgerald's work, the shimmering surface is a false front that the characters present to the world so that they maintain both their social standing and self-image. As the novel moves back and forth in time, we observe how Dick has married for money. The way he is torn between love for Nicole as a husband and care for her as a patient. When Nicole begins a final recovery--he initiates his own destruction. Somewhat dark in tone, Tender Is the Night is not so much disenchanting as it is nihilistic.

The Great Gatsby focused on the mask, Tender Is the Night strips that and focuses on the face. This is a poignantly astounding work, with lyrical prose and well-defined conflict, combined with insights into the impulses and inclinations of human mind in comparison to reality. A very powerful read.