Old habits die hard, and in 1930s France, they die all the harder
Tender is the Night begins in 1913 when Dick Diver falls for Rosemary Hoyt – an aspiring young film star, whilst he struggles to cope with his wife, Nicole’s, schizophrenia. We are then transported backward in time, from the Côte D’Azur and back into Dick’s days as a psychiatrist in Switzerland. We learn it is here he first met Nicole when she arrived as a patient; he fancied himself as the cure for her illness. This is revealed as the dark spark for their complicated relationship.
Tender is the Night is the literary equivalent of taking a moment at the top of a mountain to observe the world’s natural beauty, as not only is the story full of the complexities of the lives of the ever-youthful Divers, his turns of phrase are enchanting and can be appreciated with a thoughtful second, or even third, read. It is true that Fitzgerald certainly comes into his own on the Côte D’Azur – the place which mixes the fashion and scandal which we’ve come to think of as typical of the decadent 1930s – full of young, rich Americans who really know how to give ‘a BAD party. I mean it. I want to give a party where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette. You wait and see.’
Fitzgerald describes Cannes with such vivid primary colours we are transported into the glorious world he paints. Fitzgerald describes their hotel beach as a ‘bright tan prayer rug’, which accurately reflects the slow, disciplined love that Dick can only give to the fashionable Rosemary; the tender equilibrium of love that Fitzgerald creates; enough to hold Rosemary’s attention, but not enough to push Nicole back into a relapse. Fitzgerald handles this with a mastery of description that is bracing, causing the reader to fall in and out of love with each character. The clarity of his description burns one summer, on the Côte D’Azur, forever into the mind of the reader.