Fitzgerald awaited the publication of Tender Is the Night with all his customary intensity of expectation. Now he was worrying, not simply over sales and money, but over his morale, his ability to go on as a writer: “my Testament of Faith,” he called Tender Is the Night. To the end of his life he clung stubbornly to the conviction that Tender Is the Night was his best book, a judgment that a good many critics have since come around to.
Considering how much in the way of a renewed belief in himself depended for Fitzgerald on the success of Tender Is the Night, he had remarkably bad luck with its reception. The reviewers, with one ear cocked for the dialectic and the other for further evidences of the literary gossip about Fitzgerald’s disintegration, were mostly superficial and unfriendly. They judged the book “a rather irritating type of chic”;they said it had a “clever and brilliant surface but… [was] not… wise and mature”; they thought that “Fitzgerald’s contemporary, Stephen Vincent Benêt in ‘James Shore’s Daughter’ … is more happy in maintaining the level of his achievement.” There were serious and intelligent reviews by Malcolm Cowley, New Republic, June 6, 1934, John Chamberlain, New York Times, April 16, 1934, and C. Hartley Grattan, Modern Monthly, July, 1934.
Moreover the book struck Hemingway as an indication of how Fitzgerald was going wrong as a writer, and he tried to draw the moral for Fitzgerald in a strong letter (“Don’t you know,” says Dick Diver, “you can’t do anything about people?”). He was disturbed by the mixture of fact and invention about the Murphys; the importation into the character of Dick Diver, who had Gerald Murphy’s exterior, of Fitzgerald’s feelings about his own decline seemed to him a dangerous self-indulgence:
Forget your personal tragedy—he wrote. We are all bitched from the start… But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. … About this time I wouldn’t blame you if you gave me a burst. Jesus its marvellous to tell other people how to write, live, die etc…. You see, Bo, you’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you need discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It’s not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you’re a rummy. But you’re no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are…. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous…. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.
(Hemingway was far from alone in this view; as early as 1917, during their courtship, people who thought Scott only 'wild' were convinced Zelda was 'a bit crazy' (Major Dana Palmer to Arthur Mizener, February 11, 1951). H. L. Mencken took much the same view of Zelda (Charles Angoff, H. L. Mencken, pp. 98-99). 'I loved Scott very much,' Hemingway said, 'but he was extremely difficult with that situation he got himself into and Zelda constantly making him drink because she was jealous of his working well... He had a very steep trajectory and was almost like a guided missile with no one guiding him' (EH to Arthur Mizener, July 6, 1949). Fitzgerald once told Perkins that there had 'always been a subtle struggle between Hem. & Zelda' (May 14, 1932; The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Andrew Turnbull, New York, 1963, p. 229). The struggle was quite open. Hemingway thought Zelda crazy the first time he met her and told Fitzgerald so at once; Zelda said openly that she thought Hemingway 'bogus.')
This letter hurt Fitzgerald, but he answered it cheerfully and humbly: “… you may be entirely right [about the Murphys] because I suppose you were applying the idea particularly to the handling of the creative faculty in one’s mind rather than to the effect upon the stranger reading it.” But Fitzgerald was so constituted that he never wrote well except when he identified himself with someone he admired, and so far as the representation of the Murphys (for those who would recognize them) goes, Gerald Murphy himself wrote Fitzgerald later, “I know now that what you said in ‘Tender Is the Night’ is true. Only the invented part of our life,—the unrealistic part [of Tender Is the Night]—had any scheme any beauty.”
Hemingway, in his anxiety to help Fitzgerald, did his evaluation of the book less than justice, for a year later he went out of his way to write Perkins: “A strange thing is that in retrospect his Tender is the Night gets better and better.” He also began to write Fitzgerald again in their old joking, friendly way about his gloom:
If you really feel blue enough get yourself heavily insured and I’ll see you can get killed… and I’ll write you a fine obituary… and we can take your liver out and give it to the Princeton Museum, your heart to the Plaza Hotel, one lung to Max Perkins and the other to George Horace Lorimer… and we will get MacLeish to write a Mystic Poem to be read at that Catholic School (Newman?) you went to. Would you like me to write the mystic poem now. Let’s see.
It was, however, unfortunate that when Fitzgerald needed encouragement as much as he ever had in his life, both the reviewers and the contemporary writer he admired most spoke harshly of the book. Many friends were generous in their praise. '... you have all your old power,' Herbert Agar wrote him, 'of making me feel the temps perdu as an interesting but pleasant pain... You have an understanding and a thoughtfulness which you used to profess you would never acquire. I'm glad you have acquired it.' (Herbert Agar to F. Scott Fitzgerald, February 3, 1934.) Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings tried to explain to Perkins the book's 'overpowering effect' on her by saying, 'he visualizes people not in their immediate setting, from the human point of view - but in time and space...' (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to Maxwell Perkins, February 14, 1934.)
Not that Tender Is the Night has not its faults or that Fitzgerald did not see at least some of them for himself. He had had his reasons for putting a great deal of material into it: “[Tender Is the Night],” he wrote Bishop, “was shooting at something like Vanity Fair. The dramatic novel has cannons quite different from the philosophical, now called psychological novel.” But he knew that, in trying to write the philosophical rather than the dramatic novel, he had made mistakes of selection. He also knew that the frequent shifts in point of view were confusing and that the emphasis put on Rosemary Hoyt’s point of view by Book I might easily mislead readers into believing she was the central character. This last difficulty disturbed him so much that he eventually became convinced the story should be arranged in straight chronological order, rather than starting with Rosemary’s impression of the Divers,so that the reader would not meet Rosemary and her opinions until Dick and Nicole were firmly established in his mind. As early as 1936, when the Modern Library contemplated reissuing the book, he had considered this rearrangement, and among his books when he died was a revised copy of Tender Is the Night inscribed: “This is the final version of the book as I would like it,” in which he has carried it out. He did not complete this revision, getting only as far as Nicole's letters in Book II, chapter II. But besides making a number of minor revisions, he placed the whole of Book I after Book II, chapter X. This change is also described in the Notebooks (L), and on December 24, 1938, he wrote Perkins decisively: 'It's great fault is that the true beginning - the young psychiatrist in Switzerland- is tucked away in the middle of the book. If pages 151-212 were taken from their present place and put at the start the improvement in appeal would be enormous.'
But this change clears up the confusion caused by the book’s starting with Rosemary by sacrificing suspense, by telling us too soon what lies beneath the brilliant surface life Dick more and more desperately contrives. Hartley Grattan made this point in his review, and Bishop wrote Fitzgerald: '... it was right - to see the Divers through Rosemary's romantic and naive eyes.' (JPB to F. Scott Fitzgerald, April 4, 1934.) Moreover, if the shifts in point of view are sometimes confusing, they are also sometimes very effective, as when Fitzgerald bridges the gap in time and character between the Nicole who marries Dick in September, 1917, and the Nicole of six years later whom Rosemary sees on the beach at the beginning of the novel, by suddenly shifting to Nicole’s first-person summary. The book needs more of this kind of thing than it has. The failure to impress on the reader the passage of time and the change of character in the last part is one of the worst consequences of Fitzgerald’s living “in the individual part of the book rather than in … the whole” while he was writing it.
There were other consequences of Fitzgerald's writing under these conditions - the disproportionate detail about minor elements, such as McKisco's reappearance (pp. 268-69) and Baby's rescue of Dick (pp. 296-303), the repetition of phrases ('lesions' of enthusiasm, vitality, and anxiety occur at pp. 271, 290, 352: the phrase was one he had first used in THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED, p. 284), inaccuracy (A and P for AP, p. 403). The difficulties caused by his failure to indicate the passage of time clearly are evident when the chronology is set forth. The book begins, chronologically, in 1917 (p. 151); Dick and Nicole are married in September, 1919 (p. 207); Nicole's soliloquy mentioned in the text covers the six years from their marriage to June, 1925 (p. 4), and indicates the course by which Dick has been driven to the edge of destruction. We follow the Divers closely from June, 1925, to December, 1925 (p. 224). But from this point on the slowness of Dick's disintegration and Nicole's return to her whole Warren self is unclear. We hardly notice that a year and a half passes between chapters XIII and XIV of Book II. The length of Nicole's third breakdown (p. 253) is not in itself important, but the length of Dick's exhausting struggle to save her is (it lasts somewhere between six and nine months), as is the additional year and a half before his final defeat in June, 1929 (p. 359). Perhaps Fitzgerald took the time scheme too much for granted because he was following his own 'lesion of vitality' so exactly and knew it too well.
He was also aware that he had failed to make Dick’s character clear. “I did not manage, I think in retrospect, to give Dick the cohesion I aimed at. … I wonder what the hell the first actor who played Hamlet thought of the part? I can hear him say, ‘The guy’s a nut, isn’t he?’ (We can always find great consolation in Shakespeare.)” Mrs. Jarrett had made a dramatization of the book. But Fitzgerald was quite clear about what he wanted to do. 'It is absolutely necessary,' he wrote Perkins, 'for the unity of the book and the effectiveness of the finale to show Dick in the dignified and responsible aspect toward the world and his neighbors that was implied so strongly in the first half of the book... It is legitimate to ruin Dick but it is by no means legitimate to make him ineffectual' (to Maxwell Perkins, February 5, 1934; The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Andrew Turnbull, New York, 1963, p. 240)
But if Tender Is the Night fails to make its central character completely coherent, and if its structure is damaged by a failure to solve the problem of point of view and by inadequate selection, these faults are at least in part the result of Fitzgerald’s attempting to write a very ambitious novel. The book’s defects are insignificant compared to its sustained richness of texture, its sureness of language, the depth and penetration of its understanding—not merely of a small class of people, as so many reviewers thought, but of the bases of all human disaster. With all its faults, it is Fitzgerald’s finest and most serious novel.
It is evident from what we know about the book’s writing that he began, as he always did, with an interest in particular people in particular places. As always too, he seems to have felt rather than reasoned his way to an appreciation of what their experience meant, to an understanding of how, for them in particular, and for an age in general, “things were getting thinner and thinner as the eternal necessary human values tried to spread over all that expansion.” In order to write a philosophical novel on this subject, as he desired to, Fitzgerald needed a logical ordering of this felt experience, a careful arrangement of it into a structure which would indicate how each of the elements of experience presses on Dick Diver and contributes to his destruction. He never quite achieved that ordering of his material except in Book I.
There, detail by detail, the sterility and deadness of his chosen world is established—dramatically, because Rosemary hardly ever grasps its full implications. Campion shakes his monocle at Royal Dumphry, saying: “Now, Royal, don’t be too ghastly for words”; Violet McKisco explains that McKisco’s novel is “on the idea of Ulysses. Only instead of taking twenty-four hours my husband takes a hundred years. He takes a decayed old French aristocrat and puts him in contrast with the mechanical age—“Out of this corruption and affectation flowers the little group which Dick holds together and at its best by his apparently effortless social gift, his “trick of the heart.” And through Rosemary’s dazzled love of the intelligence and grace of these people, we catch an occasional glimpse of the desperation just under the surface. “Do you know what time it is?” Rosemary asks. “It’s about half-past one,” Dick says. “They faced the seascape together momentarily. ‘It’s not a bad time,’ said Dick Diver. ‘It’s not one of theworst times of the day.’ “Or Mary North says, “I used to think until you’re eighteen nothing matters.” “‘That’s right,’ Abe agreed. ‘And afterwards it’s the same way.’ “All these elements are represented by a wealth of detail so fully ordered that the smallest demonstration of manners is a revelation of Fitzgerald’s evaluation of his society: “The two young men are reading the Book of Etiquette together,” says Dick after passing Campion and Dumphry on the beach; “Planning to mix wit de quality,” Abe remarks. Thus we come to know concretely the ducal perversion and ingrown virginity of the Chicago aristocracy of the Warrens, which is more terrible because stronger than its English counterpart in the Campions and Lady Caroline Sibley-Biers; the Mama Abrams, “preserved by imperviousness to experience and a good digestion into another generation”; the pathetic, belligerent anxiety of the McKiscos to keep up with what “everybody intelligent knows”; the cultivated, anarchic nihilism of Tommy Barban, to which Nicole turns when she becomes her whole self again; the controlled despair and self-destruction of Abe North, which forms a quiet anticipatory parallel to Dick Diver’s destruction. This is the representation of a world which is free to be anything it chooses, and chooses to honor lack of moral imagination until it reduces all but the perverted and the stupid to despair.
If the varied insights which constitute Fitzgerald’s awareness of this world are not so well ordered throughout the rest of the book, they are almost always beautifully realized, until, in the end, he has created for us a whole society’s disintegration:
See that little stream—says Dick as he stands on one of the battlefields of the first World War—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowlybackward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation… This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia… There was a century of middle-class love spent here.
At the heart of this description of a society’s collapse is Dick Diver, alive—as the society is not—with the inheritance of the past his father has transmitted to him, “‘good instincts,’ honor, courtesy, and courage.” This, Fitzgerald thought, was his inheritance as his description of his own father shows. However often he failed, he always tried again to live up to this inheritance; Dick Diver’s manners that are “a trick of the heart” are his. How important a part of Fitzgerald they were has been too little stressed.
The essential Fitzgerald was a man of great pride and a strong sense of personal dignity who believed deeply in the manners that express a man’s own self-respect as well as his respect for others. The too-well remembered escapades make us forget how much of the time he practiced these manners, often, even, when he was drinking. Of the evening James Thurber spent with Fitzgerald in April, 1934—not a happy moment in Fitzgerald’s life—Thurber observed, “The Scott Fitzgerald I met was quiet and pleasant too, and not difficult. … of the four or five eminent writers of the Crazy Decade with whom I have spent the night hours drinking, Scott was the best behaved, the least menacing, and the quietest…” Perhaps he was sometimes too ready to assume people would regard destructive pranks as merely high-spirited gaiety, but he was quick to apologize, with difficult honesty, when he understood he had behaved badly. Moreover, the older he became (and the more, perhaps, he came to distrust his immediate responses to experience), the more important he came to feel good manners were. By 1929 there was an almost old-fashioned formality about him. “His manner was correctly courteous. All the little gentlemanly amenities seemed to be important to him. There was nothing lazy or slovenly about his speech or his movements.”
These manners were not just an act or even a habit; they were the expression of a deeply felt attitude. “My generation of radicals and breakers-down,” as he wrote his daughter, “never found anything to take the place of the old virtues of work and courage and the old graces of courtesy and politeness.” “A great social success,” as he wrote her on another occasion, translating his own intentions into her terms, “is a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain.” To the end of his life his sense of his own dignity and his consideration for others expressed themselves in this formal courtesy of manner, which, when it was illuminated by his vivid sympathy, as it so often was, gave him great distinction, a realized understanding and sympathy for others that seemed to them unique in their experience: Sheilah Graham’s description of the impression he made on her is representative of the way he affected people at such times.
More and more, however, throughout the thirties he began to feel that the exercise of such understanding was useless, perhaps meaningless in the world he found himself in after 1930, an enormous expenditure of emotional energy for which he had nothing to show. “Once I believed in friendship,” he said near the end of his life, “believed I could (if I didn’t always) make people happy and it was more fun than anything. Now even that seems like a vaudevillian’s cheap dream of heaven, a vast minstrel show in which one is the perpetual Bones.” In exactly the same way Dick Diver feels that in this society he is living off inherited moral capital—when he senses instinctively “all the maturity of an older America” in the gold-star mothers and “almost with an effort… turnedback to his two women [Nicole and Rosemary] at the table and faced the whole new world in which he believed”; when, at Gstaad, “he relaxed and pretended that the world was all put together again by the gray-haired men of the golden nineties” and “for a moment… felt that they were in a ship with a landfall just ahead”; when above all, he remembered “his father [who] had been sure of what he was.”
It is his possession of the kindness, the understanding, the manners of his inheritance which makes Dick give himself to the task of revivifying this dying society; “It was themselves he gave back to them, blurred by the compromises of how many years.” A harder, less sensitive man could have resisted, but Dick, “wanting to be brave and kind… wanted, even more, to be loved.”
There are many pressures on him—the corrupting force of Nicole’s money; the inclination, because he loved Nicole till she was “the drought in the marrow of his bones,” to let husband and psychiatrist get confused; the weight of the whole society’s habitual disorder. But none of these pressures is the primary cause of his defeat; what really destroys Dick is emotional bankruptcy. As the society had exhausted its power on the western front, as Abe, precisely because he is kind and understanding, has been reduced to despair, so Dick uses up the emotional energy which is the source of his personal discipline and of his power to feed other people. “I thought of him,” said Fitzgerald, “… as an ‘homme épuisé,’ not only an ‘homme manqué.’ “
Because he thought of Dick as an homme épuisé, Tender Is the Night becomes Fitzgerald’s first full exploitation of the most important of all his convictions about experience. He was a man for whom nothing existed at all if he did not feel strongly about it. Like the Troilus of Shakespeare’s play, therefore, he was committed by his nature to the doctrine that value dwells rather in the particular will than in a thing’s being precious of itself. Like Troilus, he risked sentimentality,absurdity, and in the end tragedy for this conviction, because he was incapable of existing at all except according to its terms.
This characteristic gave the past a special value for him; “that terrible door into the past,” he called it, “through which we all must go.” It was terrible to him because the past was himself, was what he had invested his vitality in irrevocably. “He had come to realize recently,” as he says of the hero of one of the stories written while he was at work on Tender Is the Night, “that life was not always a progress, nor a search for new horizons, nor a going away. The Gunthers were part of him; he would not be able to bring to new friends the exact things that he had brought to the Gunthers. If the memory of them became extinct, then something in himself became extinct also.”
He also began to fear the exhaustion of his emotional, his spiritual, energy, a final “lesion of vitality.” This idea may have been suggested to him by Zelda’s tragedy, for his first use of it occurs in a story he wrote for the Josephine series just when he was beginning to grasp what had happened to Zelda; the story is called “Emotional Bankruptcy.” It is the story of how Josephine meets “the love of her life” and discovers that, because she has spent her emotions so prodigally in her early youth, she can now “feel nothing at all.” “When you kissed me,” she tells him, “I wanted to laugh.” “It made her sick to say this, but a desperate, interior honesty drove her on.” The occasion provided by this Josephine story for the definition of Fitzgerald’s feeling is trivial; but the feeling itself is not. It is the same one that dominates Dick Diver when, at the end of Tender Is the Night, he makes a last effort to be his old, sensitive self for Mary North: “But the old interior laughter had begun inside him and he knew he couldn’t keep it up much longer.”
This possibility of vitality’s exhaustion led Fitzgerald gradually to think of vitality as if it were a fixed sum, like money in the bank. Against this account you drew until, piece bypiece, the sum was spent and you found yourself emotionally bankrupt. “I am not a great man,” he wrote his daughter late in his life, “but sometimes I think the impersonal and objective quality of my talent and the sacrifices of it, in pieces, to preserve its essential value has some sort of epic grandeur. Anyhow after hours I nurse myself with delusions of that sort.” It became habitual with him to consider people’s lives in the light of this feeling. The post-war Robert E. Lee was, he thought, an emotional bankrupt. His own father seemed to him a clear case:
One afternoon—I was ten or eleven—the phone rang and my mother answered it. I didn’t understand what she said but I felt that disaster had come to us. My mother, a little while before, had given me a quarter to go swimming. I gave the money back to her. I knew something terrible had happened and I thought she could not spare the money now.
Then I began to pray. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please don’t let us go to the poorhouse; please don’t let us go to the poor-house.” A little while later my father came home. I had been right. He had lost his job.
That morning he had gone out a comparatively young man, a man full of strength, full of confidence. He came home that evening a broken man. He had lost his essential drive, his immaculateness of purpose. He was a failure the rest of his days.
But above all he saw himself, at the time of his own most severe crisis of morale, as a case of emotional bankruptcy.
I began to realize—he wrote in The Crack-Up—that for two years my life had been drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt. What was the small gift of [physical] life given back in comparison to.that?—when there had once been a pride of direction and a confidence in enduring independence.
I realized that in those two years … I had weaned myself from all the things I used to love—that every act of life from the morning tooth-brush to the friend at dinner had become an effort. I saw that for a long time I had not liked people and things, but only followed the rickety old pretense of liking. I saw that even my love for those closest to me was becoming only an attempt to love, that my casual relations—with an editor, a tobacco seller, the child of a friend, were only what I remembered I should do, from other days.
He then goes on to give the specific illustrations of that
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit
which constitute this state, and remarks: “All rather inhuman and undernourished, isn’t it? Well, that, children, is the true sign of cracking up.” “At three o’clock in the morning,” he concluded, remembering St. John of the Cross too (or perhaps remembering that Eliot had remembered him) and thinking ironically of what he called in The Great Gatsby that “neat, sad little waltz” which was popular the year Gatsby gave all his parties—“At three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work—and in a really dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”
The importance to him of this conviction is indicated by his metaphor, that monetary image which is consistently elaborated in his remarks about vitality. What, for instance, except as a symbol, is that quarter doing in his memory of his father’s loss of “immaculateness of purpose”; why, if he did not understand his mother’s telephone conversation, did the eleven-year-old boy pray that they might not have to go to the poorhouse? Somewhere very deep in his imagination that complicated tangle of feelings he had about the rich interlocked with his feelings about the delight of vitality and the horror of its exhaustion.
If his talent was dependent on his vitality, then his popular writing had been a waste of something more precious than time. “What little I’ve accomplished,” he wrote his daughter, “has been by the most laborious and uphill work, and I wish now I’d never relaxed or looked back—but said at the end of The Great Gatsby: ‘I’ve found my line—from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty—without this I am nothing.’” There was nothing he did not know about his failure to stick to this line; the knowledge haunted the darkness of his sleepless nights: “In the dead of the night … I see the real horror develop over the roof-tops, and in the strident horns of night-owl taxis and the shrill monody of revelers’ arrival over the way. Horror and waste—Waste and horror—what I might have been and done that is lost, spent, gone, dissipated, unrecapturable…. The horror has come now like a storm….”
Thus, by the time he came to write Tender Is the Night, he was haunted by the idea of emotional bankruptcy and made it the central meaning of Dick Diver’s history. Dick yields to the other pressures that his world puts on him only after the slow, unavoidable devitalization that takes place inside him has done its work. That “lesion of vitality” is the heart of his mystery, and Fitzgerald traces it minutely in the book. At its beginning Dick is actually near exhaustion, hanging on to his self-discipline and his charm only by an effort of the will. “Did you hear I’d gone into a process of deterioration?” he says to Rosemary later. “Oh, no,” Rosemary says. But he contradicts her. “It is true. The change came a long way back—but at first it didn’t show. The manner remains intact for some time after the morale cracks.” As his emotional energywanes the cracks in the order he has imposed on himself begin to show. The first is his falling in love with Rosemary. His yielding to this anarchic impulse is followed almost immediately by a period of terrifying, uncontrollable, childish jealousy—“Do you mind if I pull down the curtain? Please do. It’s too light in here”—and he is helpless.
He knew that what he was now doing marked a turning point in his life—it was out of line with everything that had preceded it. … But… behaving as he did was a projection of some submerged reality: he was compelled to walk there, or stand there, his shirt-sleeve fitting his wrist and his coat sleeve encasing his shirt-sleeve like a sleeve valve, his collar molded plastically to his neck, his red hair cut exactly, his hand holding his small brief-case like a dandy…. Dick was paying some tribute to things unforgotten, unshriven, unexpurgated.
He was facing the truth that “… if you spend your life sparing people’s feelings and feeding their vanity, you get so you can’t distinguish what should be respected in them.” “He had lost himself—he could not tell the hour when, or the day or the week, the month or the year…. Between the time he found Nicole flowering under a stone on the Zurichsee and the moment of his meeting with Rosemary the spear had been blunted.” After that his self-discipline slowly fissures and crumbles until he is completely ruined. At first this breakdown shows as little, random wanderings of feeling; he notices a pretty girl at Gstaad and plays to her; he is appealed to by an unknown woman at Innsbruck—“He was in love with every pretty woman he saw now.” He lets his submerged judgments of the world come to the surface in bitterness, to the young Englishman at Gstaad, to Mary North—“But you’ve gotten so damned dull, Mary”—to Lady Caroline. He begins to drink, now not in a controlled way but as a kind of fumbling gesture of protest.
This loss of discipline is a loss of pride, because the emotional energy which gave him a meaning in terms of which he could discipline himself is exhausted. He is a hollow man, like Abe North who says with bitterness at the end, “Tired of friends. The thing is to have sycophants.” So it has become with Dick. Fitzgerald described the state from his personal experience with clinical minuteness in “Pasting It Together.” “… the question,” he wrote, “became one of finding why and where I had changed, where was the leak through which, unknown to myself, my enthusiasm and my vitality had been steadily and prematurely trickling away.” And, like Dick, when he found out, he decided to cut his losses.
The decision made me rather exuberant….
I felt like the beady-eyed men I used to see on the commuting train from Great Neck fifteen years back. … I was one with them now, one with the smooth articles who said:
“I’m sorry but business is business.” Or:
“You ought to have thought of that before you got into this trouble.” Or:
“I’m not the person to see about that.”
And a smile—ah, I would get me a smile. I’m still working on that smile. It is to combine the best qualities of a hotel manager, an experienced old social weasel, a headmaster on visitors’ day, a colored elevator man, a pansy pulling a profile, a producer getting stuff at half its market value, a trained nurse coming on a new job, a body-vendor in her first rotogravure… and of course the great beam of loving kindness common to all those from Washington to Beverly Hills who must exist by virtue of the contorted pan….
“I have now,” he concluded, perhaps remembering Hemingway’s admonition (“All we are is writers”), “at last become a writer only.” In exactly the same way Dick Diver at last becomes a doctor only.
For years he has poured out his energy and imagination making a world for people to live in, above all for Nicole. For six long years when she “roared in a voice so abandoned that its louder tones wavered and cracked, ‘And sit and think that we’re all rotting and the children’s ashes are rotting in every box I open? That filth!’ “and then begged him to help her, he had answered her by “restating the universe for her.” Nicole lived in that universe until her whole personality grew solid again, even the part of it Dick had never known, the Warren part of it which “welcomed the anarchy of her lover,” Tommy Barban, and taught her how to stare at Rosemary deliberately and then speak “in her grandfather’s voice,” slowly, distinctly, insultingly. At the moment when Nicole has recovered and can move out of Dick’s world, Dick has reached the end of his power. For an instant he is tempted to take Nicole with him to destruction. Then he deliberately turns her over to Tommy.
His face, wan in the light that the white spray caught and tossed back to the brilliant sky had none of the lines of annoyance she had expected. It was even detached; his eyes focussed upon her gradually as upon a chessman to be moved; in the same slow manner he caught her wrist and drew her near.
“You ruined me, did you?” he inquired blandly. “Then we’re both ruined. So—“
But as Nicole thinks, “all right, then” she will die with him, “she was unexpectedly free and Dick turned his back sighing. ‘Tch! tch!’” He deliberately breaks his hold over her and then watches while she struggles to free herself from “the old hypnosis of his intelligence.” When she succeeds and walks away, “Dick waited until she was out of sight. Then he leaned his head forward on the parapet. The case was finished. Doctor Diver was at liberty.” By a terrible irony it has turned out that what he had refused to treat as a merely professional situation is just that; the case was finished. Baby Warren, whohad from the start thought that the Warren millions were simply buying a doctor for Nicole, speaks Dick’s epitaph for them all. “That’s what he was educated for.”
The scope of Tender Is the Night is such that, for all the book’s faults, its “philosophical” impact is unforgettable. It makes The Great Gatsby, which in structure so perfectly satisfies “the cannons” of the dramatic novel, seem neat and simple.