Tender is the Night
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in a friend’s copy of Tender Is the Night, “If you liked The Great Gatsby, for God’s sake read this. Gatsby was a tour de force but this is a confession of faith.” Set in the South of France in the decade after World War I, Tender Is the Night is the story of a brilliant and magnetic psychiatrist named Dick Diver; the bewitching, wealthy, and dangerously unstable mental patient, Nicole, who becomes his wife; and the beautiful, harrowing ten-year pas de deux they act out along the border between sanity and madness.
In Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald deliberately set out to write the most ambitious and far-reaching novel of his career, experimenting radically with narrative conventions of chronology and point of view and drawing on early breakthroughs in psychiatry to enrich his account of the makeup and breakdown of character and culture.
Tender Is the Night is also the most intensely, even painfully, autobiographical of Fitzgerald’s novels; it smolders with a dark, bitter vitality because it is so utterly true. This account of a caring man who disintegrates under the twin strains of his wife’s derangement and a lifestyle that gnaws away at his sense of moral values offers an authorial cri de coeur, while Dick Diver’s downward spiral into alcoholic dissolution is an eerie portent of Fitzgerald’s own fate.
F. Scott Fitzgerald literally put his soul into Tender Is the Night, and the novel’s lack of commercial success upon its initial publication in 1934 shattered him. He would die six years later without having published another novel, and without knowing that Tender Is the Night would come to be seen as perhaps its author’s most poignant masterpiece. In Mabel Dodge Luhan’s words, it raised him to the heights of “a modern Orpheus.”