Being a fan of Fitzgerald, I was excited about reading this novel for the first time. Tender is the Night was his fourth and final novel, published in 1934.
The story arch of the novel follows his life during the writing. When he first started the novel, before the crash of 1929, the scenes represent the opulence of the 20s. Then the Depression sets in. More importantly, some of the darkest days of Fitzgerald’s life happened in the early 30s. In 1932, Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda was diagnosed and hospitalized with schizophrenia. Sometimes you’ll see Tender described as an autobiographical novel because a character dealing with a mentally ill wife. This leads to some heart-wrenching scenes that I can only guess come right out of Fitzgerald’s life.
The story follows Dick Diver, a genius psychologist, and his wife Nicole as they live a life of luxury in the south of France (amongst other locations). They meet young movie stars, veterans of the war, and the rich while having large parties at their home. The story then goes into flashbacks of how Dick and Nicole met. Finally, we see the slow destruction of Dick with the novel ending on more of a whimper than a bang like The Great Gatsby.
What really impressed me most about this novel was how different points of view and more backstory can give the reader such a different outlook on a character. There’s one character in particular that is seen as such a strong, independent spirit at first but is ultimately found out to be a broken, abused, and mentally ill patient. With the little information I gave you about the novel and Fitzgerald’s backstory, you should be able to guess which character I’m speaking about. That said, it’s still worth the read because Fitzgerald does such a depressingly beautiful job of portraying mental illness from both sides of the coin.
Up next is a trilogy by James T. Farrell that is grouped together under the name The Studs Lonigan Trilogy. Onwards we go.