Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapters 1-10
The first ten chapters of this section establish the chronological background for Book 1, and it is in this portion of the novel that the reader at last begins to understand the complicated history behind the Divers' facade of pure and simple marital love; here is a more complete unfolding of the mysterious scene in the bathroom witnessed by Violet McKisco in Chapter vii and by Rosemary Hoyt in Chapter xxv of Book 1.
It is necessary to briefly summarize Dick Diver's past in order to understand how Fitzgerald is trying to create his hero. The period before Dick's marriage to Nicole had seemed to be a "heroic period," for this was the time of his youth when he was a promising young psychiatrist. His credentials for success seemed unassailable — an education at Yale, a year as a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, a degree from Johns Hopkins University, and, starting in 1917, an interval in Zurich which would yield a degree and a book, published in 1920, a work which was to become a standard textbook in the field of psychiatry. His climb to success has been filled with good fortune. Fitzgerald describes Dick as the "complete hero," a man who has had every advantage and has succeeded. He is the Western man whose destiny is the fall from good fortune, just as the destiny of the Western world seems to be disintegration after the great "love war" of 1914–18. The only way Dick Diver can go is "down" (indeed, his very name is a clue to his spiral descent), for his position in the world has been postulated on his own seemingly infallible strength and reason, on the world's beneficence, and "the lies of generations of frontier mothers who had to croon falsely, that there were no wolves outside the cabin door." The frontier metaphor is especially appropriate here, for the bravery of early Americans has made the generation of Dick Divers possible.
At 29, Dick Diver might have been, Fitzgerald says, like Grant in Galena, a metaphor from the Civil War that needs explaining. After eleven years in the U.S. Army, Ulysses S. Grant was asked to resign because of a severe drinking problem. He spent the time before he was recalled for the Civil War as a clerk in a leather goods store in Galena, Illinois; he was called to duty in 1861 and embarked on a course which was to catapult him to leadership of the Northern armies, to the defeat of the Confederate cause, and, eventually, to the presidency of the United States. The author means by the metaphor that the creative lull between two periods of greatness is what Dick Diver thought was his condition. His past, while satisfactory and full of promise, should have been but a prelude to a distinguished future. But the Dick Diver whose story we are reading is not to have the success that Grant did as a general.
Dick Diver's history at this point includes Nicole, and if Dick's past is full of promise and distinction, Nicole's is just the opposite. It is from the comparison of the two lives that are to merge that the reader first sees how the novel is to embody the principle of transference: Dick and Nicole start at opposite corners of a rectangle — she at the low side, he on the high. And as Dick's line goes down, Nicole's rises. Just as Dick Diver begins his adult life whole and full of hope, Nicole starts hers as a shattered and empty woman.
Nicole's plight is revealed by a conversation in Chapter ii between Dick and Franz Gregorovius of the Dohmler Clinic; Dick has been consulted on the case of a young woman, and her illness is being discussed as the two doctors travel toward the clinic in Zurich. The patient in question is Nicole Warren, daughter of a wealthy Chicago industrialist; Nicole's mother died when Nicole was eleven years old. Her father brought his daughter to the clinic for help because she wasn't "right in the head." Doctor Dohmler's subsequent interviews with the father had revealed a case of incest. And, while there was a seeming normalcy for many years, it is now clear that this initiation into sex presumably scarred her for life.
Dick Diver was early drawn to Nicole, before he even knew that she was a patient, because of her beauty. This is a sinister fact, for it suggests that Dick, wooed by her physical sensuousness will be out of intellectual control when he deals with her. After their initial acquaintance, the young woman writes letters to Dick, in which the principle of transference begins to work, since she begins placing herself and her problems in someone else's hands. It should be noted, by the way, that many portions of these letters were taken from letters that Zelda Fitzgerald wrote her husband during her stay in a mental hospital in Switzerland, and she had called Scott, in some of her letters, "Mon Capitaine," just as Nicole does. Zelda's problem, of course, was not incest but rather, at the time of her hospitalization, incipient schizophrenia. Fitzgerald believed rather firmly in transference, however, and he knew the spiritual exhaustion of his having to minister to Zelda's moods.
That F. Scott Fitzgerald rather mercilessly mined his own wife's illness for his novel could account for the particular poignancy of these scenes in Zurich. Dick Diver seems to fall in love nearly against his will, almost as Fitzgerald wanted to exonerate himself from any guilt about Zelda's illness by suggesting that he was trapped into his relationship with his wife.
The lovers' meeting in Chapter v is especially important not only because it amplifies Dick and Nicole's new love but also because it sheds some meaning on the title of the novel, Nicole takes Dick to a secret place on the grounds of the sanitarium in order to listen to some American records she has smuggled in. There in the dark and quiet they listen to the tunes and, Fitzgerald says, between songs "a cricket held the scene together with a single note." The cricket in this scene functions much the way the nightingale does in Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale," a phrase of which gave the title to Fitzgerald's novel. In both instances the song of the creature is simple and repetitive, which gives human beings feelings of everlastingness. The lovers in Tender Is the Night and the poet in "Ode to a Nightingale" seem placed at some removal from reality, and that isolation does, for a moment, make the subjects think of the fleeting moment as lasting forever.
Dick's love for Nicole Warren creates a conflict for him, but, in addition, it creates problems for the other professionals, Doctor Dohmler and Franz Gregorovius, who frankly tell Dick that his getting too personal with Nicole could spoil the chances of successfully treating her. Dick, however, cannot keep himself from responding to the youth and beauty of the patient, although his professional self realizes that if Nicole's so-called "transference" becomes love, he could be creating problems for both of them. When he makes the break with Nicole, Dick is torn, because while he does what he thinks is professionally responsible, he is touched by his infatuation with the woman. At this time in his rather charmed life, however, Dick Diver is still a man of some psychological strength, and he is able to part with her, though he knows how it hurts them both.
The sound of doom is relentless, however, and they must meet again. During the period of their breakup Dick had begun his second book, the same book that he will work on throughout their marriage and never finish. It is probably no mistake on Fitzgerald's part that the rising of Nicole's star in Dick Diver's life is accompanied by the setting of the psychologist's own professional star. The surprising thing about such a writer as Fitzgerald, whom one associates with the joie de vivre of the twenties in America, is a deep-seated, almost puritanical attitude about the value of work. Dick Diver's greatest satisfaction lies in working well, and once he begins to lag in his work, his value as an integrated human being begins to erode.
Even though Dick has thrown himself into his professional research with a will, Nicole diverts him again, this time by a chance. In Chapter viii Dick is energetically making a bicycling trip up the mountains. There, having taken the funicular rail car to the top, he encounters Nicole and a young Italian (Marmora), and Dick, determined not to join the merry couple, retires to a different hotel.
After dinner Dick meets not only Nicole, but also her older sister, Baby Warren, certainly one of Fitzgerald's most startling fictional creations. Her name, Baby, is possibly drawn from real life, since Zelda's family nickname was "Baby" because she was the last, and in many ways, the favored child of judge and Mrs. Sayre. Baby Warren has very little that is infantile about her, though some critics say that she is still in the egocentric, thus infantile, stage of emotional development. Her name becomes more sinister, however, if it is viewed as an ironic inversion. Far from being innocent, she is shrewd and calculating about her finances and she feels assured of her ability to manipulate people by buying them off. In addition to being a calculating and wealthy female, she is unmarried and likely to remain so, and, in some ways, Fitzgerald means this fact to be damning, for from her sexual inflexibility is born her lack of submissiveness, or, if one wants to interpret it that way, her lack of femininity. He refers to her as slightly "onanistic," an interesting adjective not only because of its suggestion of non-productivity and egoism, but also because it usually refers to male, rather than female, masturbatory practices.
Baby Warren is clearly concerned about her sister and wants to protect her, but her solution, as explained to Dick Diver in Chapter ix, is to purchase Nicole's emotional security by "buying" her a doctor. Mr. Warren, Baby explains, has given much money to the University of Chicago, and certainly it would be possible to get Nicole into the university crowd, where a professor would surely, for her financial attractiveness, want to marry her.
Ironically, Baby Warren's idea of a protector for Nicole comes to pass, for Dick finally decides that he loves, and wants to marry, his former mental patient. There is no indication that Baby Warren ever knew the real cause of her sister's problem, so she certainly would not have perceived that in many ways Nicole was making a "daddy" of her new husband. She disapproves of the match, but not, therefore, for the right reasons. Her attitude is that Dick's background is poor and commonplace, so the alliance is undesirable; when she asks about his origins, Dick tells her that he is a direct descendant of Mad Anthony Wayne, and Baby, in her historical ignorance, replies that there is already quite enough madness in the whole affair. Wayne, a Revolutionary War hero and Indian fighter, was called "mad" only because of his cool-headed military brilliance, which manifested itself in seemingly insane maneuvers that usually resulted in victory. Dick would like to ally himself with such calculated madness as he proposes his own mad scheme — marrying a mental patient.
The last section of Chapter x is a monologue by Nicole, and it consists of jumbled sections of either conversation or mental wanderings. It is the only time in the book when Nicole is allowed her own voice, so it deserves examination. It summarizes the history of the marriage from its inception, through the birth of two children, through marginal insanity, to, at last, her perception of Rosemary Hoyt on the beach. While it has taken some fifty pages to sketch in Dick's history, Nicole's years since her hospitalization are covered in this concise and poetic few pages.
Her comments are characterized first by a lack of concern about money, and she indicates that Dick refuses to share her wealth: it is really a burden to them both. Her refusal to think about her money, however, results in her spending it thoughtlessly, a situation Dick will find difficult.
The births of the two children seem to be interludes of near insanity. During her first hospitalization she saw a lady who gave birth to a "blue baby," who died. Such a situation, however, might threaten even the stability of a normal pregnant woman. Nonetheless, the arrival of Lanier, the first child, seems to be followed by traveling for her health, for she mentions singing nonsense songs near the lifeboats, while people in the deck chairs stare. There has been some mental recovery after the trips, which seem to have taken them as far as Africa. Then their second child, Topsy, is born, and, she says, "Everything got dark again." There is an especially significant sentence after the Topsy reference, when Nicole says, "I want to be a fine person like you, Dick — I would study medicine except it's too late." Fitzgerald probably is trying to indicate the extent of character identity the two have, for later in the book it becomes clear that Nicole has no sense of self except for her identification with Dick; so completely dependent is she on him that she wants actually to be him, even to the extent of copying his profession. Fitzgerald himself was especially unreceptive to any of Zelda's attempts at a career for herself, but he became particularly distressed when she attempted to write, perhaps because he considered it an infringement on his profession. This sentence, at least, seems to indicate that Nicole's desire to be like her husband was rooted in sickness, and one cannot help wondering whether that was Fitzgerald's attitude toward his own wife's literary efforts.
In the last section of Nicole's soliloquy, she wishes for a larger dwelling for the now enlarged family. That fact, joined with Dick's desire for a place where he can work and amplified by their mutual desire to be "brown and young" in the sun, result in their purchasing property on the Riviera. The last sentences show her if not actually happy, at least content and domestic. She sits translating a recipe for Chicken Maryland into French, the activity that Rosemary Hoyt first saw her involved in. The concluding sentence is a fine transition into the next section of the novel, where Nicole will lose herself again, this time because of Rosemary.