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In 1934, F. Scott Fitzgerald published his fourth and final (completed) novel, Tender Is the Night. Considered by the author to be his masterpiece, the book captures the same Jazz Age-prose style and Lost Generation philosophy as his previous novels, with the added depth of being arguably his most personal novel. Unlike The Great Gatsby, which was published in the middle of the 1920s, Tender Is the Night reflects upon the Roaring Twenties after they have ended and the Great Depression has begun. The book captures the angst and ideology of the artists and writers of the Lost Generation, who left the dissatisfying superficiality of America after World War I. The novel is often considered to be Fitzgerald’s most sophisticated and complex.
Content Warning: The source text contains passages dealing with alcoholism, incest, mental illness, and violence.
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Vacationing for the summer in the south of France, Dick and Nicole Diver meet a group of Americans and invite them over for dinner. One of the Americans is a 17-year-old movie star, Rosemary Hoyt, whose first foray into Hollywood has made her a celebrity. Rosemary is comparatively innocent and idealistic, and she is extremely devoted to her mother and enjoying her newfound wealth. She falls in love with Dick immediately.
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After a scene nearly breaks out at the end of the dinner party, the Divers travel with Rosemary up to Paris. Although Dick begins to fall in love with her, she eventually returns to her mother after a series of misadventures. There is a shooting at a train station, and one of their friends, Abe North, is pursued by a group of Senegalese individuals who suffered wrongful accusation and imprisonment because of him. However, the group tracks Abe’s movements to the wrong hotel room. When a dead body appears in Rosemary’s room, Dick acts fast to clear up the matter with the hotel and spare Rosemary’s reputation as a movie star. Before Rosemary leaves, she witnesses a strange scene of erratic behavior from Nicole and realizes that Nicole has a mental health condition.
The book shifts into a long flashback to 1918 when Dick is starting his career as a psychologist in Zurich. He exchanges letters with a young woman named Nicole Warren, initially without realizing she is one of the patients at Dr. Dohmler’s clinic. He now returns to Dohmler’s clinic to discuss Nicole’s condition and prepares to see Nicole again.
Dick and Nicole fall in love. However, Nicole’s past trauma makes it difficult for her to trust men, and Dick struggles between seeing Nicole as a lover and regarding her as a patient. After confessing his feelings to the presiding doctors and agreeing to separate from Nicole, Dick discovers that he truly does love her and decides to continue the relationship anyway.
After marrying, the Divers travel, have children, and enjoy a lavish lifestyle owing to the Warren family fortune. Nicole’s sister Beth (Baby) Warren keeps a close eye on the couple, always nervous about Nicole’s condition. Nicole also attracts the romantic attentions of Tommy Barban but remains faithful to Dick, even amidst relapse and disillusionment.
As the story returns to the aftermath of Rosemary’s departure, Dick accepts a new job offer and the couple moves to Zurich. Over time, Dick’s relationship with Nicole becomes strained. He is dissatisfied with his career and frustrated with his dual roles as Nicole’s husband and therapist. Nicole begins to suspect that Dick is having extramarital affairs with some of his patients. His colleague Franz notices that Dick is under strain and suggests a leave of absence.
Dick travels to Germany, where he receives news that his father has died. After the funeral in America, he returns to Europe and runs into Rosemary in Italy. They resume and consummate their love affair. Dick begins abusing alcohol as a coping mechanism with the pressures in his life. One night, drunk, Dick gets into a brawl with the Italian police and is badly injured. When he returns to Zurich, Franz no longer trusts Dick and ultimately facilitates his departure from the clinic. Dick is upset that he is no longer recognized as a serious psychiatrist.
When Rosemary returns to the Riviera, Dick attempts to reform himself. He shows off for Rosemary, attempts physical feats of strength he could easily do when he was younger, and contemplates the meaning of his life. He eventually concludes that too much time has passed and that Rosemary no longer has anything to offer him. As he sinks into disillusionment, Nicole, now annoyed with Dick for the way he has deteriorated, begins an affair with Tommy Barban.
Dick and Nicole eventually divorce. Dick moves back to America but stays in touch with Nicole. The novel closes with an open-ended image of Nicole reading Dick’s letters.
By F. Scott Fitzgerald