About Me

My photo
I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 9 February 2014

"Tender is the night" by F Scott Fitzgerald


"Tender is the night, and haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne" wrote Keats in his Ode to a Nightingale. But who in Fitzgerald's complex novel is the nightingale who "wast not born for death"?

Is it the hero, the intriguingly-named Dick Diver (Fitzgerald has quite a lot of sometimes crude phallic imagery), who is the master of ceremonies and trend-setter at the Riviera beach in the opening scenes but whose infatuation with film starlet Rosemary Hoyt (who starred in Daddy's girl and is contractually and temperamentally unable to grow up) and the cares and worries imposed by looking after his wife Nicole (who is schizophrenic as the result of her father raping her when she was a little girl)  lead to his problems with alcohol, his eventual social death and final disappearance? Certainly Dick is the only who who seems to grow old in the novel. And so Dick represents the real world while the bright young things frolic in France.

Perhaps Dick is also Fitzgerald himself, worn down with his care of Zelda, and unable to fulfil the promise of his early work (Dick writers a medical text book as a young man which is a big hit but his muse deserts him and his work becomes an endless rearrangement of his first magnum opus).

If this is Dick's tragedy and he is the tragic hero, where did it all go wrong? His sin was, as a psychiatrist, to fall in love with a patient. As a father figure this is another reiteration of the incest theme. Does he have a tragic flaw? Perhaps it is that he allows himself to be bought too easily. There is a moment, in Paris, when he appears to have money troubles: he has to find the right bank teller to cash his cheque. But he seems to live his charmed and gilded life off his wife's money although Fitzgerald seems clear that this was not what prompted him to marry her. 

Did I enjoy the book? I found it difficult. It starts with meaningless people leading meaningless lives on a beach in the South of France (bizarrely, there is a duel fought) and then it moves to Paris where Rosemary, the perpetually reinvented virgin, throws herself at Dick and where there are two unexpected murders. The book then flashbacks to Dick meeting Nicole and rushes forward to their life after the South of France; Dick pursues Rosemary and ends up in jail. In part three Dick, urged on by Nicole, makes an appalling social gaffe, bribes two women out of a French jail, and becomes old. Since the society has no use for an old man he is thrown aside.

I adored the way Fitzgerald weaves colour into the narrative. On page 1 he mentions rose, pink, cream, purple, blue and pink again. The Riviera sea is described as agate, cornelian , green, blue and, in an obvious tribute to Homer, wine-dark. 

I was a little disappointed when I discovered that Dick "stripped off his clothes and dove literally into a heavy sleep" but perhaps this is the first use of the word literally to not mean literally. There are also clear moments of racism typical of the period when the book was written: "No mature Aryan is able to profit by a humiliation" for example. And Dick refuses to treat a homosexual although there seems to be an implicit assumption that homosexuality is a mental disease.

'Tender is the night' is a mature novel with a fascinating character at the heart of it but I found it neither a page-turner nor a great read. 

February 2014; 338 pages

Also reviewed on this blog:
Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon: still enigmatic but a little more straightforward; unfinished alas


No comments:

Post a Comment