Review: ‘Tender is the Night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Being a lover of all things ‘Gatsby’, I felt that I should acquaint myself with some of Fitzgerald’s other works. Having tried this with ‘Tender is the Night’, I’m not convinced it was the right decision. 

Dick and Nicole Driver are a couple clinging to one another in an attempt to find themselves – both psychologically, but both crossing over paths and diverging throughout the novel. Beginning with an encounter with film star Rosemary Hoyt and ending with a sudden reappearance of everyman Tommy Barber, the novel explores the difficulties of a love challenged by mental and physical suffering; similar to Fitzgerald’s own experiences later in life with his wife Zelda. In fact, reading ‘Tender is the Night’ is much like reading a confessional; the affair with Rosemary, the descent into despair and alcoholism, and the loss of a partner to a psychological disease all echo Fitzagerald’s own troublesome life. 

Perhaps its that quality which makes it difficult to follow the plot at times; if a confessional, it could represent Fitzgerald’s own turmoil as much as it does Dick’s, showing a descent into a chaos beyond his control. Likewise, the limited viewpoint of Nicole perhaps shows that lack of insight available into Zelda’s mind, whereas the understanding of Rosemary’s childish nature and her growth into a society girl is documented such as to represent the intense relationship he formed with a young woman whilst working on a film set. Regardless of representation, this is a difficult novel to trawl through – there are no contrasts of ups and downs, highs and lows; instead, everything becomes intermingled and, whilst life is never quite as simple as the labels I’ve offered, it does make it difficult to follow character and plot development. 

As well as this, I find Dick an entirely unsympathetic character. Whether this is on purpose as retribution for failings or accidental, the conceited nature of attempting to control the world around you, selecting company which represents your powers at making the world a more interesting place, and failing to deal with your children in a manner appropriate or loving, is somewhat unbearable in this. By the end, I was willing Nicole to leave and realise she was only unwell because she was dependant on her husband’s validation, and his depression deepened hers psychosis. I suppose it’s a difficult thing to judge contextually though; in 1930s America the woman could legitimately be dependant upon the males in her life, so perhaps in the beginning Dick was a sympathetic character, but social evolution has drained him of this, much as Nicole drained him of strength. 

 

I feel like I could talk about this book forever and end up nowhere, which is how I felt as I was reading – that I was reading for a while and nothing was happening. The shift in perspectives from Rosemary to the Drivers made it hard to understand who I was following and why I was interested in their narrative, and a lack of insight into motives made it difficult to establish this. That could be a flaw in my reading, or just a novel that was never meant to be deconstructed in such an impersonal manner. Either way, I’m not sure my nights reading this were tender, more puzzling. 

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Review: ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set in a time of decadence and debauchery, ‘The Great Gatsby’ highlights the beauty of a superficial life alongside the death of the American Dream. 

The 1920s saw a post-war boom in industry, building America up to roaring heights before the devastating crash of 1929. Gatsby symbolises America in this period: he is a creation of his own mind, existing on his external appearances, and when the internal functions finally need tending to, demise is inevitable. 

Nick, on the other hand, represents the struggle between the delight of the exterior mixed with an inherent need to identify how the interior works. This is why he is the only one stood by Gatsby, even after the tragedy: Gatsby’s other associations only care for his outer worth, and have no interest in celebrating his character. Whilst being sucked into Gatsby’s extravagance, Nick remains aware of his artificial surroundings, and is constantly at war with his feelings over this: his own home and work ethic show he is committed to being his own man, unlike Gatsby who is dependant on his ‘gonnegtions’. 

Likewise, Daisy shows the corruption of ideals. Her heart is compromised by the need for instant security and material wealth. She cannot abide the life Gatsby promises, which means destroying the social circle she inhabits. Despite the heartbreak of Tom’s affair, she cannot bear the face of social scandal; her exterior is valued above her emotional state, again showing the dream for happiness as one pushed aside for the illusion of happiness. 

In all, this is a haunting book: the American Dream is seen as just that – a dream, insubstantial and not available in conscious reality. It’s a question of morals and the dividing line between achieving happiness and achieving status – which is truly more important?