Summary and Analysis
This final segment of Tender Is the Night strips away the two last, and most important, parts of Dick Diver's life — his wife and his profession. Fitzgerald seems to be creating a modern King Lear, who, bereft of his lands and possessions, loved ones, and even clothing, stands shivering on the heath. Like Lear's degradation, that of Dick Diver's is a process at once inexorable and moving.
It begins in Chapter I with a brief conversation between Kaethe and Franz Gregorovius which reveals much about these two characters and imparts to the reader the knowledge of what Dick must confront when he returns to Switzerland. Kaethe is unquestionably jealous of Nicole's beauty and wealth; Nicole, by the same token, is scornful of Kaethe and has no patience with her plodding domestic character. Kaethe is deeply aware of that scorn and tells her husband that Nicole treats her as if she smelled bad. In a way, the seeds of Dick's ultimate failure at the clinic are germinating in the relationship between the wives of the partners, suggesting that Dick himself will not be entirely to blame for what happens. The example of King Lear is not altogether without aptness, for, like Lear, Dick's demise comes both because of the flaws in his own character and because of external circumstances over which he has no control. Franz Gregorovius, it is clear, is an ambitious man, and he is waiting for an opportunity to manage the clinic by himself. Dick Diver returns, then, to an ambitious partner and his jealous wife.
After his debacle in Rome, however, Dick Diver seems more anxious than ever to achieve distinction in his career, and at his return he ambitiously throws himself into his work. Events overtake him, nonetheless; he seems fated to fail, particularly after the death of the Iron Maiden. Dick was very fond of her, we know, but more than that, it seems that in her death there died an idea, the belief that a woman could exist by and of herself. Again the ambivalence in F. Scott Fitzgerald's own attitude surfaces, for the death of a patient under ordinary circumstances should not be so completely upsetting to a doctor. It is possible that Dick — and Fitzgerald — wanted the Iron Maiden to survive in order to prove that a creative woman could live. She dies and, with her, dies an idea.
Ostensibly to give his partner a rest, Franz suggests that Dick make a trip to Lausanne to interview a prospective patient. What might have been a relaxing trip, however, turns into chaos. It has already been mentioned that in the Nicole/ Dick/Iron Maiden scenes, Fitzgerald was examining the nature of the sexual bond between male and female. In this section of the book it becomes clear that Fitzgerald is occupied with the general topic of sexuality (though in no way can this, or any of Fitzgerald's works, be construed as "sexy" books). In Lausanne, Dick Diver encounters not one, but three instances of what he — and possibly Fitzgerald — views as unwholesome sexuality. The case which Dick is to examine involves a corrupt Spanish nobleman, Real (which, in Spanish, means royal, not "reality"), whose son Francisco is a homosexual. The father wants his son to be "cured." Fitzgerald here is echoing a common attitude both of his time and ours — that is, homosexuality is illness or a perversion of "natural" heterosexual love. It need hardly be noted that the heterosexual relationships in this novel are, without exception, failures; if they are "natural," they are no happier than "unnatural" ones.
The father of Francisco, however, has been so adamant about making his son conform to his idea of normalcy that he has forced him to make a tour of bordellos. The inhumanity of such an act has two dimensions — that of forcing the young man, against his will, to perform sexually, and, equally as degrading, the* assumption that the prostitution of females is somehow natural and healthy. When the boy was not cured by the experience, Senor Real was reduced to lashing him with a whip. The homosexuality seems, to Dick, an incurable sickness, and the father's cruelty a sexual perversion as well. Fitzgerald does not discuss the sickness of prostitution.
The perverse cruelty of the father/son relationship is a parallel to the perverse sexuality of Nicole's father with his young daughter; and, as if to force the parallel, Fitzgerald has Dick discover that Mr. Warren happens to be, at that very time, living in Lausanne and, it is presumed, dying. The revelation of the fact comes from Royal Dumphry, the effeminate young man on the Riviera in Book 1, who in this section is Francisco's lover.
Dick Diver, stunned by the news of Warren's illness, rushes to the bedside of his father-in-law, and as he sits talking to him, he hears a father's plea to see his daughter. But once again Dick must answer both as Nicole's husband and as her doctor; he says that, since his wife is not yet well, he will have to ask Franz's medical opinion.
Whether it is fate or mere bad judgment, Dick delivers the message by phone to Kaethe, forgetting until later to tell her to keep the fact from Nicole, though he trusts that she will have the good sense to be silent until Nicole can hear the news from Franz. Dick has misjudged Kaethe and Nicole's relationship, however, for Kaethe, knowing the information, goes up the mountain and, by chance, encounters Nicole. She draws her arm across Nicole's shoulder, and the woman recoils; the rebuff so angers Kaethe that she angrily reveals the truth to Nicole: her father is dying in nearby Lausanne. Nicole catches a train immediately, to find that her father has fled. Chapter ii ends with Nicole and Dick sitting in a bar listening to "The Wedding of the Painted Doll," significantly ironic under the circumstances, since it is symbolic of Nicole's arrested sexual development which, nonetheless, has not kept her from a marriage as brittle and as certain to collapse as a dollhouse marriage.
The phrase also echoes what is becoming a theme of infantility in the novel: Nicole, as a doll, and her sister, as "Baby," the American Woman as responsible for reducing the country to a "nursery," Rosemary Hoyt early in her career as "Daddy's Girl," and even Violet McKisco's being "charmed about the little discoveries that well-bred girls make in their teens." All these references point to Fitzgerald's preoccupation with the female's destructive immaturity, a malevolence made more insidious by its being under an exterior of infantile innocence. It is interesting to note that only women are cast into this role of infantility. Senor Real's son, while Fitzgerald obviously disapproves of him, is not accused by the author or by Dick Diver of arrested development; Dick dismisses Francisco only as a "little devil."
The end of Dick Diver's professional life is petty and anticlimactic, and for a person of Dick Diver's one-time promise, it could only be humiliating. Franz Gregorovius does not have to plot or plan at any length to get rid of his associate, for one of the patients' parents, Mr. Morris, accuses Dick of having alcohol on his breath and makes a scene on the hospital grounds, summarily driving off with his son without a doctor's permission.
Dick Diver suspects the truth about himself, that the high level of tension at the hospital has made him tipple too freely.
It is the remaining puritanical, reasonable, and firm side of Dick which makes him resolve not to drink any more, after he has realized, in the wake of the Morris episode, that his attackers have a point about his pretending to be able to cure alcoholics when he himself is uncertain about his own ability to tolerate it. But the decision is, of necessity, a shallow one because he decides only that his drinking is unprofessional and indiscreet, not that it is a basic problem.
But Franz Gregorovius is at least an opportunist and takes the occasion of Dick's confession of the scene with the Morrises to suggest that Dick go on another "leave of abstinence." His English is incorrect, but his meaning is thoroughly accurate. Dick realizes Franz's feelings and leaves the clinic, absenting himself finally from the serious practice of his profession.
Dick Diver's drinking becomes more intense. Even understanding how Fitzgerald was trapped in the problem of alcohol, one must admit that, for Dick Diver, alcoholism seems to be more a manifestation' of deeper problems than a sickness in itself. That rationale was one which Fitzgerald himself used when, refusing to give up alcohol, he would insist that he was not addicted but, rather, was only using it to cope with his many problems, problems not, by the way, of his own making. Since the earlier and more secure Dick Diver had not needed to use alcohol, the assumption that Fitzgerald wants us to make is that his very need for it suggests that his life has gotten out of control; his drinking is supposed to be more a sign of a problem than a problem of itself.
Alcohol and wealth precipitate the conclusion of the Diver marriage, for the already significant fortune which Nicole brought to the marriage is increased by the sale of Dick's share of the clinic. Wealth, at this point in their marriage, as a contrast to an earlier period, translates itself into material possessions. In Chapter iv, Fitzgerald uses authorial intrusion ("Regard them, for example,") to describe how weighted down the Divers' life has become with the freight of their possessions. At a railway station their debarkation resembles a medieval pilgrimage, and, at their first stop in Italy, the complexity increases even more when they are met by the princely entourage of Abe North's widow, now the Contessa di Minghetti.
Mary North Minghetti's new name has cast away her identity as certainly as Abe North's fastened him to an American past, for Mary's new husband, the Count, is an Asiatic of the "Kyble-Berber-Sabaean-Hindu strain"; his origins span the continents of Asia and Africa, but his name is, contradictorily enough, a papal title conferred on him because of his wealth. There is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that Abe North's widow's new husband is dark enough so that he could not "travel in a Pullman south of the Mason-Dixon." The North and the south, symbolically, have met and married and, at the same time, magnanimously brought in the bloodlines of Europe, Asia, and Africa as well.
These bloodlines have created a household that the Divers, upon their arrival as a family, find inscrutable. The combination of boredom and alcohol cause Dick Diver to commit a faux pas of major proportions, an error that the younger, more socially integrated Dick would never have stumbled into. And, as before, Fitzgerald is writing about an incident from his own life. Scottie, while visiting Gerald and Sara Murphy with her parents, refused to bathe because she thought the water looked dirty and had probably been used to bathe the Murphy children before her. Actually, Sara Murphy said later that the addition of bath crystals made the water look cloudy, and that she would never have thought of bathing two people successively in the same water. The same episode, woven into the story of the Divers' stay at the Minghettis' has the added drama of Dick's accusing a "maid" of not giving his son Lanier clean bath water. Because Dick had been drunk when introductions were being made, he did not realize that the "maid" was the Count's sister, and the humiliation resulting from such an insult was profound to the woman. Rather than apologizing for his errors, or at least using humor or his former self-assured and graceful cajolery, he asks his son to reassert the dirty bathwater story. When Mary says, "If you'd only listened . . ." Dick carelessly replies, "But you've gotten so damn dull, Mary," thus alienating an old acquaintance, as well as her new husband. The entire Diver family must leave immediately, in disgrace.
There is no sane and protected place for the Divers from this point onward. Back at their Riviera home, the French cook Augustine, in Chapter v, goes on a rampage, drinking and threatening to kill Dick with a chef's knife when he attempts to dismiss her. That even a servant can threaten Dick Diver's life shows the extent of his degradation. After the cook is duly fired, Nicole, later at a dinner in Nice, observes, "You used to want to create things — now you seem to want to smash them up." The accusation seems true.
Several corrupt and vapid characters enter the last chapters of the book as if to make Dick's demise even more empty. On a whim, having boarded a yacht belonging to a man named Golding, Dick and Nicole meet Tommy Barban again and are introduced for the first time to Lady Caroline Sibley-Biers. Fitzgerald seems to introduce the latter as if to undermine Baby Warren's judgment that the English people are the most balanced people in the world. Lady Caroline is decadent, vapid, and downright evil, as the words in the silly jazz song she has written suggest: "there was a young lady from hell." The shipboard party is a scene that is difficult to fathom; the reader's principal feeling at the end of the description of the singing, drinking, and merriment is that there is an indescribable desperation, and Dick, rather than absenting himself or, on the other hand, comporting himself with humor and grace, ends up insulting people, drinking too much, and refusing to tone down his comments. At one point, Nicole misses him, and perhaps fearful that he has tossed himself overboard, goes to find him; at seeing him, standing quite still at the front of the boat, she bursts into tears, tears of relief and of genuine sorrow for the man who has changed so.
In Chapter vi, Fitzgerald attempts to change the tempo of the story too quickly: he must show Dick so defeated and Nicole so strong that her decision to leave with Tommy Barban will be believable. This section is one that we are insufficiently prepared for; during the scene on the yacht, Nicole is sane and in control of herself, quite inexplicably, and the reader has never been told how this manifest strength and sanity came about. If Fitzgerald wants us to believe that Nicole is healthy because Dick is unhealthy, the situation which would support the principle of transference, but there has never been any dramatic proof, at no point has the reader seen that at the same time Dick disintegrated, Nicole was being reborn.
After the riotous scene on the yacht, the action returns to the Villa Diana, where Tommy has driven the Divers after the party. Dick awakens apologetic about the night before, and Tommy, who has spent the night with them, is worried about the effects of the gathering on Nicole. Dick, certain of his wife's health, says, "Nicole is now made of — of Georgia pine, which is the hardest wood known, except lignum vitae from New Zealand — ." With this analogy, we feel that Nicole is healed. Yet what Fitzgerald emphasizes is that Nicole has gotten hard, not healthy. And the fact remains that it is not easy to understand her change in either case.
Just as Nicole's sudden sanity is insufficiently prepared for, so is her amorous preference for Tommy Barban something of a surprise. From the first pages of the novel, the reader has known that Tommy is in love with Nicole, but never has the reciprocal case been true. The decisive action which marks her love is a trivial one. At this departure she gives him a full jar of camphor rub to use for his sore throat, despite Dick's protestations that the stuff is difficult to obtain because it has to be imported.
Presumably the camphor rub scene informs the reader that Nicole has a natural impulse for Tommy. The only thing that is really clear, however, is that Nicole is increasingly embarrassed for Dick. Chapter vii shows Dick Diver's attempts at feats of strength as an acute reversal of his physical and mental acumen of Book 1. Rosemary Hoyt has once more appeared on the scene, and, rather like a testy adolescent, Dick tries repeatedly to show off for her. While riding a board behind a boat, he tries to stand up and lift a man on his shoulders. He fails repeatedly, but, not giving up, keeps trying. Finally when he is hauled aboard, the women feel they must make excuses for him. Dick has also given up high diving, a significant fact, given his name, and the former wit and humor in his conversations have been replaced by self-jibes and carelessness of others' feelings.
Dick Diver's decision to go to Provence for a few days creates an opportunity for Nicole and Tommy to initiate their affair; Chapter viii opens with Nicole's preparations for him. Having "anointed" herself, she looks in the mirror and finds herself still beautiful, though no longer young. Fitzgerald points out that she is jealous of young girls because the movies show the "myriad faces of the girl-children, blandly represented as carrying on the word and wisdom of the world." This is yet another clue to the destructiveness of a woman masquerading as a child and thereby causing everyone harm.
The actual seduction scene itself has less to say about the act than about the change in the two characters performing it. Tommy immediately tells Nicole that she has "white crook's eyes." She is offended at first, then, considering, says that if that is the case, it is because she is well again and looking like her heritage, for her grandfather was a crook, and she might likely resemble one. Nicole's character has now proceeded from normalcy and sanity to that of viciousness and evil. Tommy is able to have his will with her, and they are off to Nice. During the trip, Nicole thinks, significantly, "So I have white crook's eyes, have I? Very well, then, better a sane crook than a mad puritan," a phrase obviously intended to dismiss Dick and all he has stood for in her life. Excited by the idea of the affair, Nicole urges Tommy to stop before they get to Nice, and there the seduction takes place. Afterward, Tommy looks at her body and compares it to that of a new baby, by now a metaphor of Fitzgerald's for all womanhood. The scene's infantile immorality is enhanced by a scene of girls, screeching to their lovers who are departing from the harbor. The quality of Tommy and Nicole's love is equally as thoughtless.
Nicole, upon Dick's return, seems to give him one last chance to replace Tommy's new position in her life. In Chapter ix, she goes to Dick's study cottage, remembering Tommy's embraces and, Fitzgerald says, "with the opportunistic memory of women," forgetting that she had had such joy with Dick once upon a time before they were married. She intends to approach him to renew their acquaintance. He rebuffs her with "Don't touch me!" Then he adds, "I can't do anything for you any more. I'm trying to save myself." The battle they have, then, is entirely that of souls; it is fought quietly, and Nicole wins. How she wins seems uncertain, since it is clear that she will, as a result of her victory, simply place herself in bondage to a new man. Nonetheless, the effect on Dick is considerable. He no longer has his patient. Of course, for the departure of Nicole to be as heartrending as it must, one must substitute "loved wife" for "patient."
Dick Diver has one last chance to be his former self, and he does so, but this time with a difference. An agent of the police calls him out of bed because Mary North Minghetti and Lady Caroline Sibley-Biers have been arrested for impersonating men and, under that guise, picking up women. Mary is dreadfully frightened lest her husband learn of the escapade; Lady Caroline is arrogant and insulting. Dick manages to solve the situation by lying to the police and by bribing them with money borrowed from the owner of Gausse's Hotel. Mary, once freed, promises to repay her share as soon as possible, but Lady Caroline refuses, and, in an action designed to please everyone, Mr. Gausse walks up behind Lady Caroline and "swiftly planted his foot in the most celebrated of targets." In a way, however, the scene is like that after the Divers' auto accident: the actual physical violence against the woman seems almost to be something Fitzgerald himself would have liked to have done.
The separation of husband and wife comes at the barber's. Tommy comes to deliver his threat: Nicole must come with him because she no longer loves her husband. Dick, half-shaven, must leave the barber chair to hear this claim, and he yields without giving Tommy the row he expects — and desires.
In Chapter xii, Dick bids farewell to the Riviera. The scene is touchingly written, with Dick embracing the gardener and spending the day with his children so that he will remember them, then walking about the terrace talking in a desultory way, though he knows that Nicole and Baby are there with Tommy. Nicole makes one last effort to go to him, but Tommy orders her back.
Chapter xiii should read as the postmortem of a man who still walks the earth. Shakespeare was wont to strew the final scene of his tragedies with bodies, dead and dying; Fitzgerald need not speak of the living death of Dick Diver in any but the most casual terms. His hero has been reduced to living from one small town to the next, from petty scandal to hopeless job, and, saddest of all, he must always survive with the knowledge that he once had promise, like Grant in Galena.