Or: Of Love and Loss: the Sacrifice for Gain. *Tender is the Night,* F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic fourth novel, shimmers with palpable autobiographical pain; it is catharsis, plain as day, for the regrets and reduction of a personal life, and the era that encompassed it. Fragmentary yet fully contained, brilliantly lucid as it describes the derailment of sanity, via incest-trauma or the alcoholic haze - *Tender is the Night* flows like a tone poem, vividly capturing the illusions and sickened foundations of its flawed protagonists, and the escapist existence in which they dwell. Herein lay ghosts, drifting through splendor, oblivious until it is too late, and then insensate still, crippled by self-imposed restrictions: the patterns of denial, dissipation and dream-death.
The novel concerns the relationship between married couple Dick and Nicole Diver, the husband a promising young psychiatrist with obscure goals about published research, the wife a fragile flower soiled early in life, the 'damaged goods' he takes on to teach, heal, and subconsciously reap in turn. At first, presented through the innocent gaze of child-actress Rosemary, the Divers seem like the quintessence of their sophisticated era: clever, classy, both elegant and subtly sensual, people so comfortable with themselves as to avoid the games and struts of the current 'season.' Young, restful, in love with each other and life in general, the Divers exhibit the ideal of the American Dream, if expatriat-ed from American soil . . . but the cracks begin to show, one by one, until the cultivated artifice is shattered and the sickness beneath exposed: the author therein chronicles the dissolution of this relationship, from beginning to end, drawing significant parallel from both his own life and the turbulent age in which he lived.
*Tender is the Night*: A requiem for a dream. Certainly the fallout with his wife Zelda influenced the novel's course; but I believe there is more to it. F. Scott Fitzgerald, and by extension his work, was/is inescapably tied with the exuberant façade of the Jazz Era, an era defined (at least in the socialite sense) by its splendor and waste, its heedless optimism blind of cost. And though Scott basked in the cradle of this opulent "season," the author seething beneath the fly-by-night exterior could not help but be keenly aware of its follies and hypocrisies: his novels and short stories savagely depict the inward condemnation he felt. But unlike earlier efforts, this, Scott's last completed novel, was composed between 1925 and 1934, and the disintegration of the roaring 20's into the dust-bowl Depression of the 30's seems to me clearly represented in the progression from *Tender's* first to third books - the illusion has crashed and there is no regaining it, despite the determined dissipative efforts contrary. This is a personal impression, one I read between the lines; and even considering the fact that Fitz lived overseas and that the events of this novel occurred almost completely in France and Switzerland, the metaphor is quite stark - to my mind, at least.
A more literal analysis, in any regard, clearly shows the price of atrophy, lost ambition and alcoholism; despite the 'happy' resolution to Nicole and Dick's co-dependency, the pain of loss - on both a psychic and physical level - is harrowingly delineated. Having recently been in the position of Dick Diver - that is, faced with the temptation of sacrificing personal goals in order to 'save' another from the manic-spiral - I can sympathize with the capitulation of his dreams for more immediate concerns: genetic-inspired attraction as strong a demand as the survival-instinct drive. Yet Nicole's rise, surmounting both the Father and the Father Figure in her quest for identity, is just as poignant. The antagonist here is simply _weakness_, and how it can be shared to disastrous result.
To define the myriad qualities of *Tender is the Night* into simplistic buzz-word recommendation: this is a haunting, occasionally stunning work, with beautifully lyrical prose and well-defined conflict, interspersed with casual insights into the urges/constructs of human reality. All in all it's a fantastic read, and perhaps my personal favorite of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work; (...)