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Friday, December 19, 2014

Tender is the Night (1934) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, was the obvious inspiration for Nicole Divers, the wife in Tender is the Night(1934.)  The character Nicole is institutionalized in Switzerland when Dick Divers meets her, Zelda Fitzgerald was institutionalized in Maryland while F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night.

Book Review
Tender is the Night (1934)
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  Tender is the Night is the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver and his marriage and divorce from the fabulously young and fabulously "crazy" Nicole.  Generations of scholars have pointed to Tender is the Night as ALSO being about the rise and fall of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote Tender is the Night while his fabulously young and fabulously "crazy" wife Zelda Fitzgerald was institutionalized for schizophrenia for a couple years in the early 1930s.  I believe it is fair to observe that Tender is the Night hasn't aged particularly well for reasons to related its un-politically correct treatment of women and mental illness, but as a similarly aged male who has also experienced a divorce after a marriage of roughly a decade, it's hard for me to simply turn my back on this book and say, "Don't bother."

 After all, is F. Scott Fitzgerald not a major American novelist?  Whether you agree is likely to depend on how you feel about the role of hits in establishing an artistic legacy.  If you are OK with hits being the defining measure of artistic greatness, than The Great Gatsby is likely, by itself, to secure a spot of Fitzgerald in any canon of 20th century novelists.

  If however you are someone who champions the "avant garde" or likes high modernist authors like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, you would probably rank Fitzgerald as second class, and you might use Tender is the Night as Exhibit "A" in your argument, if you don't outright call him a "one hit wonder" and disregard him on those grounds alone.

  I'm not a huge fan of Gatsby personally, but I do adhere to the believe that hits define an artistic legacy, and that, coupled with the "relatability" of Dick Divers to my own personal experiences leave me inclined to recommend Tender is the Night to someone on the fence.   I don't believe Tender is the Night is a "taught" book, especially when you consider how popular The Great Gatsby is as a teachable text.  I'm not sure that modern woman reader would appreciate the frankly misogynistic OVERTONES of Dick Divers, he's like Mad Men's Don Draper without the wink and nod.

  Tender is the Night is a fun read, you won't be bored or challenged by the text, though the shift between narrator perspective gives it some feeling of modernism.  I think a sophisticated contemporary reader should possess the wherewithal to both acknowledge the retrograde attitudes about women and mental illness and appreciate the place and time of Tender is the Night (1934) as a work of art.

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