Tender Is the Night By F. Scott Fitzgerald Summary and Analysis Book 1

After this novel's original publication, Fitzgerald suggested a reorganization that would have been ordered chronologically and would thus have moved this section farther into the book. The power of the Rosemary Hoyt perception, however, is undeniable, despite the fact that many critics have agreed with Fitzgerald that Rosemary Hoyt, while an interesting character and functional in the narrative, is by no means central, and that beginning with her only misleads the reader into thinking that she will constitute an important segment of the book. Fitzgerald had hoped to publish a version that would have placed the initial chapters of Book 2, which contain Dick Diver's history, as the opening of the novel.

It can easily be argued, however, that this first published version is preferable and that Fitzgerald's first conception of the action was correct. Rosemary Hoyt introduces us less to herself than to the other characters; it is through her eyes that the reader first perceives the action, and as a medium Rosemary is perfect. She is in many ways an innocent: she is but 17 years old, she has been famous for only six months because of the success of her first movie, Daddy's Girl, and, in addition, she is an American and therefore presumably a bit ingenuous and far more trustworthy than a sophisticated European. So the effect of having the Divers' complexity dawn gradually on her is like easing into the Mediterranean setting; we, as readers, can identify with Rosemary more easily than with an impersonal narrator, since we too are as yet uninitiated into the complications of the novel.

Rosemary Hoyt's observations are filtered through her own naïveté. Little knowing how important the Divers will become to her, she and her mother, Elsie Speers, arrive at the Riviera offseason and expect to stay there only three days. We are slowly introduced to the characters of the novel when Rosemary goes down to the beach in front of the hotel where she and her mother have registered. She observes from a distance — both a psychological one, since she is not involved with them, and a physical one, since she belongs to no clique. It is a peculiar lineup of people with their own social geography: one set is obviously established, for they are tanned and comfortable and sit drinking and gossiping under large beach umbrellas. The other group is pale (a sign that they are arrivistes and could not have been there very long), sit under ordinary parasols, and are located well back from the sea, where the sand is still filled with gravel and debris. It is the unestablished group that approaches Rosemary, rather like autograph seekers, and thus we are first introduced, via the young actress, to the least important characters of the novel, the defensive McKiscos, a couple of homosexuals (Luis Campion and Royal Dumphrey), and a cheerful elderly lady, Mrs. Abrams. This is a boring, bickering set, and Rosemary is wise in trying to put some distance between them and herself.

Rosemary Hoyt's perception is again faultless when she picks out the leader of the established set as a man in a jockey cap who is, while he entertains his friends, carefully raking the sand and clearing the beach. He seems to be the center of the group less because he talks a lot or shows off but rather because everyone seems to refer things to him, and his quiet cheer seems to constitute the matrix of his party. As in many cases in this novel, this actual event has a basis in F. Scott Fitzgerald's own history: Gerald Murphy, to whom with his wife, Sara, the book is dedicated, did indeed endeavor to clear the beach in front of the Riviera hotel that stayed open in the summer as a courtesy for him and his friends.

Dick Diver, the man in the jockey cap, has caught Rosemary's eye, but he is enigmatic to her, just as in some ways he is for the reader. He is courteous, though aloof. When he awakens Rosemary, after she has been sleeping on the beach and getting sunburned, she would like to converse with him because she finds him attractive. He, however, politely puts away his beach cleaning tools and departs.

Perhaps it is again a mark of Rosemary's innocence and youth that she still believes in love at first sight, for, back at the hotel at lunch, she hints to her mother a bit facetiously that she has fallen in love, almost not understanding that she has done just that. We are to feel Dick Diver's immense magnetism through Rosemary. He is so attractive that she is already in love.

The question that the reader must ask is whether Rosemary can be trusted, whether our first sight of the hero, for example, would have been so unquestioning. The answer can only be stated in artistic terms, for the presence of an intermediary narrator gives texture; one has to become concerned with at least two sets of problems — what is going on and who is witnessing it. The opening chapter sets up, then, two parallel chronicles, that of Dick Diver and that of the woman he will love, Rosemary Hoyt. Just as Tender Is the Night examines Dick Diver's eventual fall from good fortune, so it witnesses Rosemary's loss of innocence, in nearly every meaning of the word.

The Hollywood ingénue encounters, in the persons of Dick and Nicole Diver, "the exact furthermost evolution of a class." It is a somewhat Jamesian theme, the confrontation between complex and simple, and between old and new. But, whereas Henry James often pitted an American innocent against a more worldly, civilized, and often sinister European, Fitzgerald is working primarily with Americans. Nicole Warren Diver is representative of the new, wealthy, brutal America, for the Warrens are from Chicago, calling to mind the brawling industrial center portrayed so vividly by such writers as Theodore Dreiser and James Farrell. Dick Diver symbolizes the older, established families of Virginia, which, like Fitzgerald's own paternal heritage, ran long on tradition and often short on cash. The two Divers, then, are from diverse backgrounds, and, moreover, they are transplanted or, as it were, Europeanized Americans, adding to their complexity even further. They have created a beautiful life on the Riviera in the south of France, where they have persuaded the owner of Gausse's Hotel to stay open in the summer to accommodate their friends. Customarily, in summer, the upper Riviera, around Deauville, was the center of tourist interest, so the Divers' portion of the sun is, in effect, a retreat. They have built a house, the Villa Diana, with Nicole's money. The villa is, interestingly enough, reconstructed in part from the smaller houses that were already there, as if to preserve that which was native about the spot. The only new part of the villa is the garden, which has a quality that makes the villa seem a world of its own. Indeed, when Rosemary comes to the Divers' party, she feels not only that her hosts have created a world of their own, but also that theirs must be the very center of the world.

Once again Rosemary is more accurate than she knows. Dick Diver's party certainly functions as a way for us (and Rosemary) to get to know the characters. But it also is at once a celebration of Rosemary's growing up and an initiation into the larger world, since it is at the party that she discovers how passionately she loves Dick and also begins to suspect the mystery behind him. But if the Villa Diana is the center of the world, the world is balanced on a rumbling volcano, for the events at the party begin to suggest the history behind the Divers.

Our first extended look at Dick Diver occurs during the party that he gives for all the people on the beach. Here, as before, Dick seems to be the integrator of others, the matrix of the group, the host with social ease and generous impulses. Just as he can bring out an individual's best self by his attentiveness and carefully placed verbal encouragement, so is he able to cohere the diverse factions that have gathered at his home. All the people, except Albert McKisco, who is hopelessly egocentric and aggressive in every conversational attempt, become quite engaged in each other and bask in the glow of Dick's presence.

Not only is the party important to us because Rosemary proclaims her love, and Dick Diver's magic is revealed, but it is crucial to the novel's movement as well. The mystery of what Violet McKisco saw in the bathroom is before us. Had Fitzgerald rearranged the novel as he later desired, he would have sacrificed the dramatic energy of the early mystery. One would be sorry to see the interest lessened by placing this scene later in the book, for it sets up a functional intrigue, the unfolding of which is actually the history of the Divers.

The duel is the first manifestation of that intrigue, since it seems that Tommy Barban is defending the honor of Nicole Diver against the onslaughts of Violet and Albert McKisco. Fitzgerald does a superb job of supplying mystery by not providing explanations in this first book of the novel. The reader learns about the duel from Rosemary, who learns from Campion only that there will be a duel and then, finally, she hears a more complete version from Abe North. An exhausted Abe North is to be McKisco's second because the night before, on the way home from the Divers' party, Violet McKisco had attempted to relate what she saw in the bathroom; Tommy Barban, obviously protecting the Divers in some way, tells her to be quiet before she has a chance to describe the sight; McKisco's response is to challenge Barban to a duel in order to preserve his wife's honor.

So perfectly are we seeing the story through Rosemary's eyes that not only do we not understand why essentially the duel is being fought, but we see the confrontation itself from the sidelines, where she and Campion have secreted themselves. The duel itself is an amusing example of inverted chivalry, for a duel is at least an anachronism, a way of settling an issue that depended for its continuance on such ideals as female honor. McKisco does not really want to fight; he is the least likely candidate for a bloody defense of someone's honor, but he knows that his wife will not forgive him if he does not sustain his challenge, and, melodramatically, he stays up all night putting the finishing touches on his novel, as if he were putting pen to paper for the last time. The duel is a travesty of honor, for once at the site, McKisco, drunk and shaking, is observed not by ranks of chivalric-minded men, but rather by a woman — Rosemary Hoyt — and a homosexual — Luis Campion, who faints at the suggestion of violence. The exchange of shots injures neither party, so the duel is a charade.

But the scene does provide an introductory look at Tommy Barban, whose finely honed sense of violence makes him propose such crude encounters as this, armed with his own magnificent dueling pistols. There is, as well, a peculiar male sense of honor that is not altogether a charade. Although Fitzgerald once described Tender Is the Night as a "woman's book," the many references to violence, war, and, here, the duel, are telling ones. McKisco is overwhelmed with a sense of pride at his "conquest" in the duel as he staggers off the field. Fitzgerald, seemingly without a sense of irony, says later in the book that the duel was the basis of McKisco's eventual success, since it gave him a basis for self — respect. It is a self-respect cheaply earned, of course, for only a shallow character could purchase pride so easily.

Rosemary Hoyt is perceptive enough to sense the hollow honor in McKisco and to scorn it; she is suddenly seized with laughter after the duel. But it is Dick Diver's seeming completeness that overwhelms her, and with him she has no controlling reservations. His magnetism draws her with the Divers on their trip to Paris.

It is often through seemingly desultory conversation that this novel reveals some interesting insights into its characters. As the scene unfolds in Paris in Chapter xii, for example, one should be aware that Fitzgerald is trying to portray Dick's personality as he sits in restaurants or cafes. As the party sits waiting to be served, for example, they are testing Dick's claim that he is the only American male in the restaurant who has repose, and as various men enter, each exhibits a tic or a physical quirk to reveal underlying tension. His repose is a clue to the Dick Diver personality at its height, and the gentle solidity, which informs his relaxed demeanor, is the reason women love him and men admire him. His sense of order is paramount, and his active mind encircles everyone with whom he converses. The women who surround him are parasites to the host of his strength, because they are, Fitzgerald says, women who "were all happy to exist in a man's world," dependent for their strength on another. This unquestioned strength of Dick's, which seems to engender dependency from others, is a theme that appears again and again and will be examined more thoroughly later.

It would be a mistake, however, to paint Dick merely as a broad-minded and secure individual whose history will constitute the book. Fitzgerald has freighted this character with symbolic values that should not be overlooked. One of the author's favorite books at the time was Oswald Spengler's Decline and Fall of the West, a fatalistic reading of history that examines the rise and fall of great civilizations. Fitzgerald tries, by showing Dick Diver's sense of history and by exploiting his past to give breadth to his character, to enlarge his hero to become somehow representative of an age, a symbol of completeness that is subject to decay. It would be an error to say that Dick Diver is a twentieth-century Everyman, but it is undeniable that Dick's sense of the past and of his own postwar existence makes him typical, so his fall, therefore, is not simply the fall of a single man, but of a man who might have succeeded in another time.

Dick's preoccupation with the historical past is first revealed in Chapter xiii, when he and Nicole, Rosemary, and the Norths visit the battlefields of World War I. There, in the trenches, he gives the party a running commentary of the battle, then asserts that the war was a "love battle." The phrase strikes us oddly, since war is usually associated with violence, death, and horror. But Dick insists that only the most profound love of one's country would have made men do what they did in that place. By love of country he does not mean a theoretical patriotism mouthed by politicians; he means that only individuals in love with the minute, local romance of everyday life would have had enough spirit to try to defend their homes — this, the case on both sides, explains the intensity of the fight and the desire for victory. The combatants were fighting for their memories, memories it took civilization centuries to construct. In a sense, the disintegration of those memories and dreams was what the war meant; the shattered world could never put itself quite together again. Because Dick understands this fact so deeply and feels civilization's gradual disintegration so keenly, he becomes representative of that decline. As the novel progresses, the reader will see that just as the war haunts Dick because it exploded the values of the modern world, so does the Civil War recur as a kind of refrain to him.

Rosemary Hoyt is so drawn to Dick's compelling presence at the battlefield, so moved by his taking care of a lost woman looking for her brother's grave, so impressed by his being a doctor (which he reveals in the taxi after dinner) that, when they return to their hotel, she offers herself to him. It is a simple and pure act, an example of honest love, freely given, but to her chagrin, Dick refuses her offer. Perhaps this is the beginning of Rosemary's worldly wisdom, for she soon realizes that a beautiful body and untarnished sexual impulses are not enough to conquer Dick Diver. At the height of his self-assuredness and mature self-respect, Dick is able to say "no" to an affair that would hurt Nicole, destroy Rosemary's virginity, and lower his own self-esteem. It is a decision of simple strength of character that is soon to be eroded.

Rosemary's change has begun. That her frank offer to Dick Diver is in startling contrast to her earlier self is revealed by her movie. In Paris she arranges to have a private showing of her immensely popular film, Daddy's Girl, and, on the screen, the party sees the original, saccharine-sweet Rosemary, before whose tiny fist the forces of lust and corruption rolled away." It is an example of the Shirley Temple type of child beauty that Americans fell in love with for a while. Such simplicity has a sinister side, of course, because however much one might wish that simple beauty and virtue would triumph, they rarely do in the real world. The "Daddy's Girl" theme, moreover, has its dark Freudian underside that makes Dick, and all present-day readers with him, flinch — the theme of incest. In a sense, the phrase "Daddy's Girl" is the catchword for all the females in the book; at this point in the novel, however, it is the foreshadowing of the Nicole Diver mystery soon to be unfolded.

Rosemary, however, currently retains some of her film screen "innocence," for she wants to give Dick a screen test so that someday he can perhaps come to Hollywood and be her "leading man" — that is, her "daddy." Again, Dick refuses, but Rosemary's beauty has begun to work on him, and the first crack in his character has begun to show. Rosemary's tenacity finally conquers, for, having taken her to a party given by some ambitious and "arty" Americans, he finally acknowledges his love for her during the taxi ride home.

Another hint of the less-than-innocent Rosemary Hoyt comes in the person of Collis Clay, who has joined the party in Paris. Collis is a Yale student who dated Rosemary in America. He seems good-natured and uncomplicated, content to be near his vision of loveliness, since it is clear that Rosemary is not in love with him. His objectivity about Rosemary comes to haunt Dick, however, since be begins, during a conversation in a cafe to tell him about an episode on a train the previous year. Rosemary and Hillis, an acquaintance of Collis from New Haven, desiring to be alone in their train compartment, locked the door and closed the curtain, an act that the train conductor viewed as an impropriety, since the two were not married. An argument ensued, which Collis was able to stop, but the scene haunts Dick, and the suspicion that Rosemary is not a virgin recurs to Dick as a kind of refrain:

— Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?

— Please do. It's too light in here.

Collis Clay is a walk-on character; he seems to be introduced and to be paraded whenever Fitzgerald wants to purvey some information — in this case, the suggestion that Dick has not perceived Rosemary correctly and also the suggestion that goodness is not always what it seems. With the Collis Clay episode, as well, the novel passes out of Rosemary's voice, since she, as a preceptor, has outworn her usefulness.

Until this point in the novel, Nicole Diver has been seen only fleetingly. One knows little about her except that she is very beautiful and has a deep love for Dick, an example of which occurs in a whispered conversation (Chapter xii) which Rosemary overhears while she is in a phone booth making a call. The Divers set an assignation later at the hotel, an act which has all the passion and freshness of young, unmarried, even illicit love; Rosemary envies this quality of amorousness. Again, during a shopping trip with Rosemary, a bit more information is revealed when Nicole sees the hotel in Paris where she stayed during her teens. Nicole, though American, has lived in Europe much of her life. These are the only bits of information that Rosemary has garnered about Nicole.

Largely because Rosemary is also in love with Dick and cannot, therefore, view Nicole completely, Fitzgerald changes his narrative perspective in Chapter xix, excluding Rosemary from the major action. In the preceding chapters the actress has not actually narrated the action, but the reader has the feeling that she is present and that the author is trying to recount events as she would have seen them. Both to proceed with the action and to strengthen the character of Nicole, several scenes follow which are narrated impersonally,

There are some early clues to Nicole's nature in the scene with Abe North in the Gare Saint Lazare. Abe North, the debilitated and alcoholic musician and composer, is supposed to leave Paris by train, and he has asked Nicole to come early to be with him. The dissipated musician wants, we suspect, to confess his love to Nicole, but he is unable to do so; finally he says that he is "tired of women's worlds." It is an obscure comment for most readers. Abe probably means that women are continually integrating things and that Abe, because he is an artist, must explode or even destroy things to discover newness. Almost immediately after his comment, a woman quite literally destroys something, however, for she shoots a man down.

At this point it would be fair to say that Fitzgerald wants us to think that in women's worlds, men succumb. The murderess was Maria Wallis, an acquaintance of the Divers; in fact, Nicole had just spoken with her shortly before the shooting. Her victim is an Englishman, presumably her lover. It is a startling and grim metaphor for the future of the male/female relationships during the rest of the novel.

Equally as chilling is Nicole's response to the event. Dick, in what we can presume to be a typical, concerned action, is about to follow Maria to the police station to secure her release and to help her, when Nicole intervenes with a curt comment that the best-and only-thing to do is to phone Maria's sister and let her manage it. Nicole is suddenly revealed not only as being sensible, but, more significantly, as having power over Dick. The party leaves the Gare Saint Lazare (where, like Lazarus, men die and rise again), the violence echoing within them.

In a certain sense, Tender Is the Night is the great book of sadness that it is because it is a novel about endings — farewells, death, disintegration, and a falling from honor. The episodes following Chapter xxii are particularly representative of this continual leave-taking, since here Fitzgerald seems to introduce new characters only to have them swept off the stage.

Abe North, who, the morning of the previous day was supposed to have left Paris for America, did not actually leave. He returned to Paris, a fact unknown to the Divers, and drank all night. Though Fitzgerald supplies few facts, apparently there had been a quarrel in which Abe North thought he was being robbed; he accused a black man, and the police (mistakenly, it is revealed) jail a black restaurateur, a Mr. Freeman. The ironies abound. The name Abe North is redolent of all the racial tension of the South, both before and after the Civil War. In one of the earlier versions of Tender, Abe appeared as "Abe Grant," so the complex of the Northern white man becomes, in a sense, Abraham Lincoln/Ulysses S. Grant/ and the North. This same (composite) person is responsible for the unjust arrest of a "free man," which, of course, the black man would always have been had it not been for the white man. In addition, Abe calls the Divers to tell them of his mistake and to indicate that he hopes another black emissary, a Jules Peterson who witnessed the "crime", will solve the trouble. Mr. Peterson manufactures shoe polish; the fact that the shoe shine boy has typically been black, linked with the fact that Jules Peterson is from Scandinavia, which we associate with blonds, compounds the irony: a free man, having been jailed by the freedom-bestowing North, is to be freed by a black man who wants to be free of his blackness by manufacturing shoe polish in a land of blonds.

When Peterson goes into the hall to wait until Rosemary and the Divers have been able to talk to Abe North, he is punished for his complicity with the whites (and all white America, represented by Abe North): when Rosemary returns to her room, she finds Peterson, murdered, lying across her bed. Other black men, originally responsible for the misdeed followed Peterson and, to silence his testimony, murdered him. The misdeed itself comes into question, for acquaintances of Abe North said that the "criminal" was guilty only of taking a 50-franc note out of Abe's hand to pay for a round of drinks which Mr. North had ordered. A murder has been committed because of a misunderstanding.

The cracks in Dick Diver's personality occurred when he began to make tentative love to Rosemary. His submission to Nicole's suggestion about Maria Wallis is a second clue to his possible demise. The third clue to Dick Diver's disintegration comes at the end of Book 1, when, in an attempt to save Rosemary's honor, he removes the corpse from her bed and places it in the hall, changes the sheets, then calmly calls the hotel manager to report an unfortunate murder victim in the hall, extracting from the manager the promise that the matter will be handled discreetly, both for his sake and for the establishment's.

On the one hand, we observe the courteous and insightful Dick Diver, for he is quick to realize the implications of the crime and he knows that Rosemary's career would be ruined if her name were linked in any way to the murder of a black man; thus he acts quickly to save her. But it is a morally ambiguous act. Is Rosemary's so-called honor worth saving? And the fact remains that a man has been murdered. The crime will never be sufficiently investigated because the Divers and Abe North will never tell the truth. The scene is a dramatic comment on moral complexity; no act is simple, and Dick Diver, who earlier seemed to be a paragon of responsibility and virtue, leaves the last scene with his hands.

When we finish Book 1, Fitzgerald has suggested to us many of Dick Diver's future difficulties. In the final scene, Rosemary sees the sight that Violet McKisco witnessed earlier: Nicole is swaying madly beside the bathtub, talking incoherently, and accusing Dick. Rosemary now knows the Divers' secret — that Nicole has periods of madness. Book 1 comes full circle, ending with Rosemary's perception, as it began with her observations on the beach in front of Gausse's Hotel. The difference now is that the mystery is out, and the rest of the novel will be an exposition of how the Divers came to be where they are and what will happen to them from that point.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

According to Baby Warren, the English are the most __________ people in the world.




Quiz