Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, American Dick Diver and his wife Nicole are the epitome of chic, living a glamorous lifestyle and entertaining friends at their villa. Young film star Rosemary Hoyt arrives in France and becomes entranced by the couple. It is not long before she is attracted to the enigmatic Dick, but he and his wife hold dark secrets and as their marriage becomes more fractured, Fitzgerald laments the failure of idealism and the carefully constructed trappings of high society in the Roaring Twenties.

This somewhat autobiographical novel is an interesting read, not only for the story itself, but also for the extra examination of Fitzgerald’s dependency on alcohol and his wife’s Schizophrenia.  This, his final and favourite novel is certainly a mixed bag but well worth picking up.

The old cliché about Americans who visit other countries is reinforced here as many of the characters retain a strong American identity but seem purposefully oblivious (and superior) to the cultures that surround them.  The locals tolerating their shenanigans partly because of America’s role in the war and, inevitably, the riches brought to a shattered continent recovering from the horrors of the First World War.

There is a vacuous nature to the majority of the characters, at one point I began to wonder if I would be bothered by the fates of any of them.  In a world filled with frivolous parties and empty conversations, the carefully manufactured and cultivated superficial facades mean so much to the characters, who like actors are putting on a well rehearsed show.

“When there were enough Americans on the platform the first impression of their immaculacy and their money began to fade into a vague racial dusk that hindered and blinded both them and their observers.”

This artificiality leads – or rather doesn’t – to a lack of character development. The stagnancy of the people met through the years is pitiful.  The squandered potential and sheer aimlessness of each day, the pointlessness of their routines,  and the overall meaningless lives they lead devoid of anything redeeming in quality is frankly staggering.

Fitzgerald’s writing is the highlight of the book, the way he composes his descriptions are delicate and poetic,  restrained yet often bursting with wonderful words.  Whilst the book sprawls over four hundred pages he packs a lot into his succinct descriptions.

Structured into three parts, the first sets the scene and I enjoyed getting familiar with the feel of time and place,  and the establishing of characters and themes, even though it felt devoid of a specific point.  The second part is where the book becomes more interesting as the reader learns about the history and lives of the Divers and their changing relationship with Rosemary,

Part three was the best part,  and was well worth all the build up,  yet it peters out in terms of a satisfying conclusion. Despite that I didn’t feel like my time had been wasted on the book, it leaves plenty for the mind to ponder on when the cover has been closed.

Its collected strands make this a fairly compelling read which I’m glad I undertook. Each individual factor within the sum however would encourage me to read other books if taken by themselves, but combined they make for a sufficiently satisfying read.

34 Replies to “Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald”

    1. From what I remember of reading The Great Gatsby (and it was years ago) it was a snappier read than this one, and the more enjoyable of the two. I am hoping to give it another read soon. It’s only 181 pages short, it seemed much longer back in the day.

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  1. Wow! This is one of my favorite book reviews you’ve done. You have a lot of interesting points that will surely make the readers give ‘Tender is the Night’ a go. This could be my next read as I am still enjoying The Great Gatsby. I didn’t know that his wife had Schizophrenia, another fact that makes the author’s novels intellectually arousing.

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    1. I prefer The Great Gatsby, but after reading this I’m looking to The Beautiful and Damned although we left that one back in Ph. It’s been a while since I had so much to say on a book, I do prefer these longer reviews but not sure if others do. I have many more intellectually arousing books to share with you.

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  2. I love Fitzgerald’s writing! I read this one years ago and remember I rather liked the way he had portrayed the sense of detachment that all the characters had from each other and from their own lives. I read it shortly before the BBC did a dramatisation of the book in the mid 80’s’, I think. It was one of the first TV adaptations that used original 1920’s music as the soundtrack and then released it on tape! I think they used ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ as the main theme tune.

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    1. I miss the old tapes, but I appreciate the attention the BBC gives to its drama, even if everything else the company does is a shambles these days. Most people would probably recognise I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles as a West Ham chant if you were to take a poll. I’m excited to reread TGG and experience his other novels for the first time.

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  3. I teach The Great Gatsby at the junior level and students either embrace it or become irritated with it. I gave up on The Last Tycoon and keep saying I’m going to read Tender Is the Night. Fitzgerald’s writing is sumptuous, yet a bit embarrassing due to its autobiographical foundation. His short stories are definitely worthwhile.

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    1. TGG is a novel that doesn’t have a middle ground, I find that strange but I’m firmly in the camp of loving it. I didn’t when I read it at eighteen but since then i have reflected and I really enjoyed it. It’ll be devoured again soon, so maybe my opinions will change again. I’ll add his short stories to my list, and get to them as soon as I can.

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      1. He wrote the short story “The Strange Case of Benjamin Button” that became the noted Brad Pitt film. I will have to say the Fitzgerald story was quite unlike his usual style, and that the film was better than the story. I know, surprising, right?

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        1. One of the rare cases when a film is better than the book its based on. I haven’t watched it or read the story either. Soon I will get to the short stories, at least.

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  4. At last I am back, my friend, and what a great surprise at your ‘ new look’…I love it! Great to see you still reviewing, and what a great one, since I have always wanted to read Tender is the Night and now more than ever, thank you.

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    1. Always happy to encourage you with the reading. A lot has changed in the last couple of months but the books remain big in my life, with many more reviews and other ideas still in the works. It’s great to see you back, I will do a blogging journey soon and catch up with you over at yours.

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  5. I was so interested to read that part three was your favourite section. For me, ‘Tender is the Night’ has always been about the first chapter, which is one of my favourites in literature. In hindsight I realise I very rarely re-read much more than this. You’ve inspired to keep on with it next time to see if I can appreciate the final act as you did.

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    1. I do like the earliest section, I was really into it but when it ended abruptly without going anywhere it bothered me. The last section also ends less than satisfactorily but had enough about it with actually telling a story and wrapping up the threads to make me feel like I was, at last getting somewhere.

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  6. What I find is that I’ve never read “Tender Is the Night” because I got exasperated with the Fitzgerald legend long before I got to it, and ran out of patience. As to teaching Fitzgerald to adolescents and young adults, as cricketmuse “muses” upon, I find that it’s the same sort of phenomenon, or related, as it is with teaching a book like Kerouac’s “On the Road”–those who want to join a sort of cult of drinking and drugging (or in Kerouac’s case, coming in in raggedy clothes with their hair unwashed, and drinking and drugging) find inspiration in it, and the conservative students are annoyed by them and by it, and it’s hard ot find a student who can get enough past their own issues to give it a fair assessment. I greatly enjoyed “The Great Gatsby,” but think it’s true that each good writer has probably one great book, while the rest are less good. And of course, one can’t deal with the Fitzgerald legend without also touching at least upon the Hemingway legend, because while enabling Fitzgerald’s dependency upon alcohol and decadence, Hemingway had the nerve to call him a drunk, which he might have been able to overcome if he’d had better friends than Hemingway. Anyway, H. got his, because he also died of alcohol-related debility. Round and round we go. Thanks for covering this book, I may actually get around to reading it soon. Hi to Crissy.

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    1. The Great Gatsby is a better novel, although I am saying that from memories of my reading a couple of decades ago, I will reread it soon as my mum has a copy I can borrow. I’ve never fancied reading On the Road, not so much because of the book itself, instead its more of the people who read it. From those I have seen or read interviews of, the uniformity of their ideas makes them dull, and I just don’t have time for that. Maybe one day I will filter all of that out and read it but those people…they just annoy me.

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      1. Well “On the Road” is a classic of the Beat Generation, but to be read only with a well-developed sense of irony. I can remember when I read it as an undergraduate: I went around for about a month in my oldest flannel plaid and torn blue jeans and drank a good bit of whiskey, thinking that I was living the life. Then, I read something else, probably Virginia Woolf’s comment about James Joyce’s being a “dirty undergraduate biting his fingernails,” or something like that, and I was off and running in another impersonation, this time of an Edwardian lady. You know how youth takes us, we engage in multiple impersonations until we gently settle into a genuine lifestyle. So much for that!

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        1. I must say I do like to drink when I write (although I hasten to add that I don’t drink when I write for the blog which is the majority of what I write), mainly because I get better ideas but I can’t do the whole blind drunk writing, it needs to be an appreciatively tipsy mind experience. I don’t think I was ever influenced by books enough to take many things to heart but the mind does forget what now seems cringeworthy.

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  7. Very interesting! Fitzgerald is seen a an important writer/cultural figure of his day.
    This review, in many ways, applies to the Great Gatsby.
    I designed the costumes for a movie about Fitzgerald, Last Call. It was about the last year of his life, when he had hired a young woman, Francis Kroll, to assist him in writing The Last Tycoon, his last, but unfinished novel. It was eventually published, a lot because of Francis, whom I met when we were shooting it. (It was based on a book she wrote about her experience, Against The Current. She was fascinating to talk to.)
    Jeremy Irons played Fitzgerald, and Sissy Spacek played Zelda (as an hallucination).
    I have this amazing book, The Romantic Egoists, which is a compilation of scrapbooks they created over their life together. You would love it! Jeremy gave it to me as a gift, and signed it for me.
    I met so man people who knew them, and mostly their daughter Scottie.

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    1. That’s made my day. It must have been amazing to be involved in such a project, film and literature are such a wonderful thing. Meeting Francis must have been wonderful, to chat to someone who has been involved with such a well known person and helped him. The insights are like gold. I am a bit jealous of you though!

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  8. This sounds like a really interesting one, although I believe this also reminds me of the great gatsby. I didn’t know about his alcoholism or his wife’s schizophrenia either. Nice review, I think I’ll check this book out:) I also really love Fitzgerald’s musical writing style.

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    1. I’ll get to a review of The Great Gatsby at some point within the year, I opted for this one having not read it before. I did like t but it doesn’t get to the heights of Gatsby for me.

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