Thursday, 6 January 2000

F. Scott FitzGerald: Tender is the Night (1934)

Edition: Everyman
Review number: 413

Tender is the Night is famous for two things: its unusual temporal structure andits masterly depiction of mental instability (both Freudian psychosis caused by the trauma of incest, and alcoholism). The two central characters, Nicole and Dick Diver, initiall appear to be a happy couple, the soul of the parts among the rich Americans based on the French Riviera. Their stabillity seems only marginally affected by the young film star Rosemary who falls in love with Dick. However, at the end of the first part the reader sees that the reality behind the facade is rather more fragile, for reasons which become apparent in the flashback which makes up the second part. Dick is an immensely successful psychiatrist, and Nicole was one of his patients, unable to live a normal life after abuse by her father. She developed a crush on Dick, to which he eventually responded by marrying her - a bad mistake, according to Freudian ideas on transference, the process by which a patient's dependence on the psychiatrist is reflected by inappropriate feelings of desire towards him/her. The final part, increasingly blurred chronologically, catalogues Nicole's gradual recovery from trauma and her need of Dick while he pursues a parallel course downwards (as prophesied by his surname) into alcoholism.

While not appearing dated, after over half a century Tender is the Night does not seem as difficult to understand as many critics considered it when it first appeared. It's chronology was a particular source of confusion, but this is not longer something which appears particularly innovative (as the idea of a non-linear chronology is one which underlies much of the literature of the later twentieth century).

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