Title: Tender is the Night
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Page Count: 315
Publication Date: 1933
Please be aware that this review discusses traumatic situations involving sexual abuse that may be triggering for some readers.
What is there to say about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night? There’s actually a lot to say, but not much of it is good. Tender is the Night is Fitzgerald’s attempt at personal redemption through fiction. But, Dick Driver, Fitzgerald’s interpretation of himself in this novel, is anything but redeemable.
My boyfriend and I binge watched the first season of “History of Swear Words” on Netflix during the COVID winter lockdown, so I know that the nickname Dick did not develop a seriously negative connotation until the 1950’s and 60’s. With this knowledge, I find a level of poetic justice in the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald gave his autobiographical character a name that would grow into a colloquial term for “asshole.”
This novel is broken down into three books and in each book you are slowly exposed to the self-righteous psyche of Dick that justifies every messed up action he makes throughout the novel. In book 1, we’re introduced to Rosemary, an 18-year-old actress that becomes infatuated with Dick, who’s 33 at the time and married. Throughout their affair, Dick is constantly justifying it by believing that Rosemary has all of the control over the situation. He is the slave to her charms and there is nothing he could have done to stop the sexually-driven teenager from throwing herself at him– which in some twisted way must justify the creepiness of the whole thing.
In book 2, you learn more about his relationship with his wife, Nicole. You find out that Dick met her while she was in an insane asylum. This would be only a little iffy if he had been a regular civilian, but Dick was a practicing psychologist and one of her doctors. This relationship is super unethical but Driver justifies it by saying Nicole’s family forces them together to keep Nicole at bay when she re-enters the world. If you think their very relationship crosses the line as much as I do, Fitzgerald catapults over the line when he goes into exuberant detail about Nicole’s trauma and explains that her insanity was induced when her father raped her as a child.
It’s abundantly clear that Dick’s wife, Nicole, is Fitzgerald’s interpretation of Zelda, which makes this portion of the book even harder to swallow. For some historical background, Fitzgerald had Zelda committed to Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore in 1932. This is where she wrote Save Me the Waltz. Tender is the Night came out two years later in 1934– and after Zelda’s novel. So, this novel is pretty much a bougie 1930’s version of a bitter guy trying to prove his ex is crazy after they have a nasty break up.
Book 3 has some redemptive qualities, but Fitzgerald’s underlying implications toward Zelda and is overly dramatic story telling (there is an affair, two murders and a duel before page 150 of a 315 page book) makes this novel hard for me to enjoy. To put a cherry on top of all of this, the underlying racism in this novel is about ten times worse than the racism I mentioned in Save Me the Waltz.
Fans of Fitzgerald might be really angry with my interpretation of this novel, but I’m too pro-mental health awareness and too pro-woman to ever be able to give this book a fighting chance. I’m honestly amaze I finished this book– but I think I only did it out of sheer stubbornness. If anyone wants my copy, let me know. I’d rather not keep it.
After finishing Tender is the Night and Save Me the Waltz, I’ve come to the conclusion that Zelda is the winner of my Fitzgerald Showdown by a narrow margin. Neither Fitzgerald was happy with their marriage in the early 1930’s, that much is clear, but is the underlying emotions in each novel that made me decided which writer to support. Save Me the Waltz invokes a sense of sadness and imprisonment while Tender is the Night invokes a sense of revenge and defense. Zelda wanted freedom while F. Scott wanted complacency. Zelda knew who she was and F. Scott knew who he wanted her to be– and the two worlds could not coexist without chaos. Zelda wins for her self-awareness and F. Scott Fitzgerald loses for being a petty jerk.
You can purchase Tender is the Night here if you are interested in reading. I will be reviewing Charming Billy by Alice McDermott for the month of March, which you can purchase here if you’d like to read along. The review will be up March 28th. Stay tuned for my first attempt at a dueling florilegium, coming out next Sunday! Happy reading!