I’m not going to deny that Tender is The Night isn’t without its flaws (compared to The Great Gatsby) it took Fitzgerald nine years to write, yet arguably it reads as though it were still in draft state. However, I actually think that such flaws are appropriate! After all, the novel is all about flaws. Initially everything seems overtly romantic, idyllic! Between the settings of the French Riviera littered with gorgeous couples with glamorous names, and the title of the novel, taken from Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ an expectation for the devastatingly beautiful romance we know Fitzgerald masters is certainly put in place. Yet, below the surface of the title, and below the surface of the characters, there is darkness, secrets, infidelity, and devastating personality flaws.
Out of all the characters, Dick Diver frustrates me the most. I just cannot work out who he is, or why he behaves the way he does. However, I do know that I can’t help but have an annoying sympathy for him. It feels ridiculous to have any sympathy for Dick, he spends most of his time in the novel in an alcoholic stupor making it difficult to fully understand and engage with his character, and he is unfaithful to his wife. That said, I was still almost reduced to tears by him. I see Dick as a deeply troubled, perhaps even a reflection of Fitzgerald himself, I see him as a man who cannot bear himself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I excuse infidelity. However, I think that I only came to the conclusion that Dick has such a dark relationship with himself, because of his behavior. Rosemary Hoyt is 18, and Dick is a married man twice her age. It is interesting to analyze exactly how he reacts to her instantly falling for him. It is most interesting that initially he doesn’t entertain her advances, he’s married and she’s just a ‘naïve child’ compared to him. Yet, it really isn’t long before this changes, and before he quickly lets his ego take over. This makes me question whether his alcoholism and infidelity are ‘cries for help’ ( I suppose I like the irony of the psychiatrist who turns out to be the most mentally damaged) or whether he is in fact simply demeaning and disrespectful to women.
My interpretation of the sudden change in his course of action with Rosemary is that it is indicative of someone battling inner demons. The fact that his wife is also his mental patient makes it all so much worse. As a psychiatrist, one would expect Dick’s character to be the sanest; they may read his infidelity as being a selfish action by a selfish man. However, I still believe that Dick is possibly the most mentally troubled character in the novel. Spiraling deeper into alcoholism, he spends more and more time drunk, his prose becomes difficult to follow, his actions contradict. I suppose I also feel sympathy towards Dick because if I consider him as being ill, I can accept the way in which he can be seen to use women. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, and Fitzgerald has given us a character we are supposed to hate and that’s that. However, arguably he only married his wife because her mental illness provided him with the opportunity to write the psychiatry manual, that was his life’s most successful work. In terms of Rosemary, perhaps their affair was not purely blamable on Rosemary’s naïve behavior driven by an infatuation that blinded her morally. Perhaps Dick was using Rosemary as an ego boost, a validation of his virility? Who knows? Even so, I struggle to work out whether I despise him, or whether I feel sorry for him. Maybe I’m infatuated by him! (not that I get that emotionally invested in novels I read…).
Even if the novel has flaws, and even if the characters are flawed and they contradict. I am still in love with the novel, and its challenged. Tender is The Night certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of providing a rare and exquisite type of romance that glistens from every page. The moment whereby Rosemary instantly falls for Dick on the beach illustrates how magically Fitzgerald crafted and weaved words.
“He looked at her and for a moment she lived in the bright blue worlds of his eyes, eagerly and confidently”