Tender Is The Night Summary

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tender Is The Night

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Tender Is The Night Summary

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American author Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald—better known as F. Scott Fitzgerald—published his fourth novel, Tender is the Night, in 1934. Though met with mild praise at the time, Fitzgerald considered it his best work, even beyond The Great Gatsby, his most famous work. Tender is the Night has since been ranked as one of the best books of the 20th century. Its themes include adultery, the dangers of fantasy, the meaning of true love, and the instability of financial and social success.

The novel takes place in the south of France, on the French Riviera. The third person narrator opens the novel with a description of the “rose-colored” hotel, or villa, where most of the conflict takes place. Rosemary Hoyt is the first character to appear. She’s a beautiful, up-and-coming actress who’s only 18. She’s vacationing with her mother.

While wandering through a less trafficked part of the villa, she meets handsome Dick Diver and his gorgeous wife, Nicole Warren Diver. Dick, the son of a minister, is a supremely intelligent psychiatrist who happened to marry one of his former patients. Nicole, the aforementioned former patient, is an extremely wealthy American. Nicole’s sister thinks Dick married her for her fortune, as she is an heiress from Chicago. But there’s evidence that Dick genuinely cares for Nicole. As Nicole continues to recover from an incestuous relationship with her father and the resulting mental meltdown, she relies on Dick for constant support.

As soon as Rosemary looks at the 30-something Dick, she falls in love. She instantly adores everything about Dick, from his equally sophisticated and wealthy friends, to his personal intelligence and (as far as she knows) his moral fortitude.

Rosemary admires Nicole and Dick as a pair. They seem so smart, fashionable, and glamorous. However, she also senses that there’s some great strain in their relationship, and she imagines having an affair with Dick. Rosemary inserts herself into Dick and Nicole’s marriage. The three of them all have a ball together, and overtime, Dick finds himself feeling similarly strong feelings toward Rosemary. He considers having an affair with her, but for the time being, resists.

The days and nights at the villa seem peaceful and tender, as the book’s title suggests, until Jules Peterson, a black man staying at the villa, is murdered and found in Rosemary’s bed. Dick moves the bloodied body, and makes the murder look like an accident so that Rosemary’s film career is not destroyed. The narrator then offers more backstory on how Dick and Nicole met. Dick was in his early 20s when he met a 16-year-old Nicole in the Viennese hospital where he worked. Dick helps Nicole overcome her fear of men, and for the next 15 years serves as both her doctor and husband. The couple have two children, travel extensively, and are visibly happy.

The murder of Jules Peterson has shaken Nicole, so when a Swiss mental clinic offers Dick a fellowship, the Divers agree to move there. Nicole pays for the move. Once they arrive in Switzerland, everything goes wrong almost immediately. A former patient accuses Dick of cheating on Nicole, and when Nicole hears this, she purposefully crashes their car. Dick receives news that his father died.He must travel to the States to attend the funeral.

After the funeral, without telling Nicole of his true intention, Dick travels to Rome in order to meet with Rosemary. Dick finds Rosemary, now in her early 20s, at a hotel. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to act upon the sexual longings they shared at the French Riviera.

Their affair ends abruptly, and a drunk Dick eventually gets in trouble with the police. He is thrown in jail, and Nicole’s sister wires money to meet his bail. Dick is humiliated to his core. After the affair and his time in jail, Dick increasingly feels that he is no longer in control of his life. His reliance on alcohol increases.

Back in Switzerland, the medical staff and his own patients recognize that Dick is often drunk or is reeking of liquor. The management at the clinic eventually pays for him to leave.He starts making scenes in public and Nicole realizes that he is longing for Rosemary, who now is a major star in Hollywood.

When Dick and Nicole return to the Riviera, Dick gets so drunk one night that he throws major insults at the couple’s old friends. Forced to support Dick and diffuse the situation, Nicole finds inner strength that she previously thought she lacked. She looks for ways to get away from Dick as his  callousness and cynicism increases daily. Dick can’t even keep himself from acting like a fool at family events.

Eventually, Nicole realizes that she is mentally capable of living independently from Dick. She has an affair with Tommy Barban, a half-French, half-American man without a drinking problem, and leaves Dick to marry Barban. Dick is not surprised she wants a divorce and quickly agrees.

Though divorced, Nicole still cares for Dick. She hears that he has returned to America and is living a nomadic existence. She wishes there was more she could do to prevent his downward spiral. The novel ends with an unclear picture of whether Dick will survive. While he longs for Rosemary Hoyt, it is implied that she does not return his affection, despite her contribution to the dissolution of his marriage with Nicole.