Tender is the Night (1935) is one of the masterpieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the greatest novelists of "the roaring twenties" in America. This novel brought immense reputation and critical acclaim for the novelist after the tremendous success by The Great Gatsby (1925). Tender is the Night is a great novel both in its physical volume and in the thematic weight.
In one hand it deals with the crass materialist attitude of the business class of the Americans that the novelist attempted to criticize, and on the other hand, it attempted a comparative study between the Americans and the Europeans with respect to their social culture. But in addition, it spun a wonderful love-plot on which the intricate psychological appeal was built.
The locale of the novel is intercontinental America and Europe - where the scenes from one place to the other: Paris in France, Zurich in Switzerland and Vienna in Austria. It tells the story of the tragic fall of the central protagonist Dr. Dick Diver, after his meteoric career.
In his life, there were two women Nicole Warren (or Nicole Diver) and Rosemary Hoyt whose debatable roles were responsible for the catastrophic end in the life of Doctor Dick Diver. Hence the search as to who was more responsible in the process.
The love affair of Dick with Nicole (first his patient and then wife) and the extra-marital affair with Rosemary was of crucial significance because the two love-cases were of two magnitudes.
Dick's love for Nicole was drab, colorless and absolutely passionless; whereas his love for Rosemary had spontaneous fire and glow: one was a perfunctory drab burden and the other was all a profound passion drawing out of life-blood.
This love-issue was a foremost factor in bringing about Dick's eventual ruin, but certainly there were some other related factors that operated in the process. They were the insults and abuses that were mercilessly dumped on Dick by Baby.
Of course, we also see that Dick met his tragic discomfiture as a consequence of his alcoholism but that was only a surface cause; the real causes had deeper roots. Baby's money, which generated her tremendous conceit affecting even Nicole's personality, turned to be a potential agent leading Dick towards his ruin.
The degradation that Dick suffered from was elementally initiated by the abusive treatment by Baby who tried to master over him in her sister's psychiatric treatment.
It was, however her utter idiocy to consider that a specialist neurologist like Dick Diver could be purchased only by money; it was a pity that she lacked the least sense as to how to value an eclectic person like Dick. Once she boastfully threatened Dick that they "purchased" him for Nicole.
The essential agent that caused Dick's ruin lay in Dick's split love for Nicole and Rosemary. He was caught between Nicole Diver and Rosemary Hoyt and met his catastrophe being brutally treated by both the two in which Baby Warren and Mrs. Speers acted as a heinous catalyst.
We know that neurologically cracked Nicole was taken to Zurich where Dr. Dick working as an apprentice, was given the responsibility of her medical care by his superior Dr. Dohmler, the owner of the only psychiatric clinic in Europe then.
Through investigation, it was revealed that Nicole's father Mr. Devereux, a Chicago merchant caused the crack while attempting to molest the daughter. We cannot forget that Dr. Gregory called Mr. Devereux a "peasant" for such an inhuman act and mentioned that he had never heard such a case in his thirty five years experience.
But Nicole's sister Baby Warren, an over authoritative, materialist and highly conceited and obsessive lady intervened in a robust fashion and started handling Dr. Dick. Once she openly declared to Dick that they had hired him for money and so he was bound to provide Nicole all care for her complete recovery, just a materialist calculation. She wanted to mean that Dick had to slave for their purpose, simply a business-man-like perception.
But Dick was an intellectual whose service could not be any commercial commodity to be traded in "Chicago stock market".
Dick showed deeper concern for Nicole and a greater commitment than what Baby could exact by exerting uncouth devices. His unconditional care and diagnosis took a smooth track for recovery and in that delicate process a bond between Nicole and Dick started developing ending through their marriage.
We see how crassly Baby Warren handled Dick, about his education, parentage and social status as Dick really hailed of a lower status as far as his family's money was concerned.
She did it in order to justify if Dick had had the suitable status of "aristocracy" for Nicole, when the question of marriage came up. It was learnt that Dick's father was a humble parish priest though his ancestor (grandfather) was a State Governor.
Nicole, on the other hand, had so great wealth that they were a "rail-way tycoon" in Chicago. Her grandfather Sid Warren was a great horse trader. They had numerous sources of wealth in America and Europe; Baby even planned to buy a share of the clinic for Dick by investing huge cash.
All what she had in mind, was her financial gain as a mammon does. Added to her pride of money Baby had her superiority complex inherited from the family.
One of the prime drives of the novel is the bitter criticism towards the business class of America, as Sinclair Lewis did in his novels like Babbitt. We know that F. Scott Fitzgerald attempted such a critical attack on the Film Industry (in The Last Tycoon) in Hollywood, where in his last days he was writing for films.
Baby's repeated interruption and over-imposing directives told on Dick quite bitterly. But after Nicole's recovery, she shifted her interest in Tommy Barban which was inspired, motivated and instigated by Baby. We are greatly surprised and shocked to find Nicole's change as she cast Dick away just as a piece of dirty rag and jumped into Tommy's hand.
We see that Nicole's utter neglect and Baby's sheer insults drove Dick to alcohol drinking aggravating his professional position there. It was surely a ruinous lead for him, because it brought a great deal of ill repute for him. This even crashed his good image in the mind of Doctor Dohmler, who cautioned him in hard terms. Dr. Diver was even taken under police custody, added to physical assault because of his alcohol drinking.
The other figure Rosemary Hoyt, a young film star fell in Dick's love while they were swimming in the Riviera Beach. We must recall that Rosemary Hoyt was but a toy in the hand of her mother (Mrs. Speers), who operated and directed her career line considering only the financial matters.
It was Mrs. Speers who was a catalyst like Baby Warren in the dwindling process of Dr. Dick. Rosemary developed her love for Dick through her mother's full knowledge and pampering consent though Mrs. Hoyt instructed her daughter to go cautiously.
As a matter of fact, Rosemary had no individuality, no personal choice or opinion; she was absolutely under the command of her mother. And this is what hindered any genuine progress in her love to be consummated with Dick. Nicole and Rosemary , in the following phases grew friendship on good understanding; they toured up to Paris for shopping; they dined together and shared time in friendly fashion, but the split occurred as Nicole started suspecting that her husband was being stolen away.
Rosemary, like a true coquet behaved in sheer shameless and selfish manner and paved the way for Dick's downfall. We never find any remorse or repentance in her; she was so shallow that she never realized that it was her selfish cast-away that took Dick to alcoholism. She disappeared like a meteor as her tactful and strategic operation on Dick turned a failure and she failed to win him as she schemed.
Of course, Nicole's full knowledge of the love between Rosemary and Dick caused a great crisis in her, from the shock of which she considered Tommy Barban for her shelter.
But it showed her utter selfishness and sheer moral vacuity. She did not show any gratitude towards Dick who so carefully treated to cure her up. Rather it showed that Nicole was none other than Baby whose morals were grounded on her paternal wealth.
In the extreme last part of the story, when Dick and Nicole got formally separated and Nicole got married to Tommy Barban, when Dick humbly settled at an office and ran on a humble bicycle in an obscure town Buffalo, then Nicole wrote him a letter that she would send him money if he would ask for any.
We can realize that that letter added salt to the sore and multiplied Nicole's crass materialist attitude to life typifying the essential American money-oriented culture. Professor Dr. William A. Fahey rightly observed: "It is a world filled with trivial pleasures and gaudy baubles, a society whose only bond is the cash nexus."
In fine, we may say that Tender is the Night charts the tragic tale of Doctor Dick Diver that draws heavily on the novelist's biographical facts and realities. F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife Zelda Sayer was a psychiatric patient taken to Vienna for treatment.
The novelist was then toiling as a screen writer in Hollywood and sent all his money there for her expensive treatment. But after her recovery, we know Zelda burnt herself to death at her parents' home in Alabama. So Nicole can be taken for the fictional version of Zelda and the whole discourse of that part of the novel is what happened in Zelda and Scott's real life.
The novelist however died of heart failure owing to heavy drinking in Hollywood in 1941. We are amazed to see the superb skill of the novelist who converted some crude facts of personal life into so refined art that made the universal appeal to readers and reached so perfect aesthetic supremacy.
The writer is a Professor, Department of English, Daffodil International University, Dhaka