F Scott Fitzgerald’s ode to the excess of the Jazz Age, Tender is the Night, is a character-driven odyssey, sitting by Mat Drogemuller’s bedside table, that cannot be resisted.
Tender is the Night
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Like all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, Tender is the Night is a tragedy of personal proportions. The characters are led to their destinies, whether to destructions or to enlightenments of sorts, not only by themselves but also by each other. It has that sense of romantic doom so prevalent in The Great Gatsby and there is that familiar intermingling of characters, tumbling one another off an inevitable cliff.
Fitzgerald is known to have slaved over Tender is the Night even after its publication. The subsequently revised version unfolds chronologically, beginning when the protagonist Dick Diver meets his soon-to-be wife Nicole Warren. She is committed to an institution in idyllic Switzerland and the novel then embarks upon their subsequent social and married lives.
The original version follows a fragmented route. The Divers are living in Paris in the midst of the Jazz Age. Dick is poised at a mental turning point and Nicole is suffering a relapse in secret. Reading more mysteriously, this version includes a foray into the past that both explains and deepens the significance of the Divers’ powerful relationship. Despite Fitzgerald’s wavering between them, both versions make exceptional novels that paint poignant, gut-wrenching pictures of the devolution of a long-term relationship.
Tender is heavy reading. The emotional clarity with which it strikes you can be confronting and Fitzgerald’s characteristically bejewelled prose is delightfully tiring to consume. Every word is calculated to drive home the reality of the characters and as such it can be emotionally draining. What makes it so crushing is the meticulous way Fitzgerald documents the crumbling of the Divers’ marriage; small details carefully told show the reader how, from the blossoming of the Divers’ love to its wrenching end, everything was inevitable.
As close to perfection as possible, Tender is the Night is not only an ode to the excess of the Jazz Age but an autobiographical reflection on Fitzgerald’s own life. An absolute must-read, the snowballing emotional insights in this character-driven odyssey are so beautifully flowing they cannot be resisted.
Tender is a book you will exalt with fondness.