Thursday, July 21, 2011

Literary Bite: Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night is my favorite book club book to date. It’s romance and drama and tragedy all combined and told in the most beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking way. (Plus more GRE words than We Need to Talk About Kevin…oof!).  

F. Scott Fitzgerald is far more famous for The Great Gatsby (which I haven’t read…I know, I know). Tender is the Night was published in 1934 and was a commercial failure, but I thought it was great!

"This disturbing tale of the turbulent relationship of wealthy expatriate couple Dick and Nicole Diver and their blithe existence on the French Riviera illustrates, among many things, images of Americans abroad, corruption by money, mental disintegration, atavistic attraction to charm and sexual jealousy, and loss of the father." (source)

So basically that’s everything 1920s and Freudian all at once.

From a brief googling venture, I suspect that Tender is the Night is at least semi-autobiographical. Much like his character Dick Divers, Fitzgerald was married to a woman suffering from mental illness and lived in Europe for years. Plus, both men served in WWI, but neither saw the front lines. In the novel, Dick cheated on his wife with a Hollywood starlet (Rosemary), while in real life Fitzgerald left his for a Hollywood columnist. Both men were alcoholics.

The prose, like I said, is gorgeous. Fitzgerald fits a lot into the 300 pages, and I especially admire his ability to really capture something (an emotion, a moment, a person) in the exactly right words.

"You're the only girl I've seen for a very long time that actually did look like something blooming."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night, Book 1, Ch. 4

"the moment when the guests had been daringly lifted above conviviality into the rarer atmosphere of sentiment, was over before it could be irreverently breathed, before they had half realized it was there."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night, Book 1, Ch. 7

"She illustrated very simple principles, containing in herself her own doom, but illustrated them so accurately that there was grace in the procedure, and presently Rosemary would try to imitate it."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night, Book 1, Ch. 12

Clearly I have nothing on Fitzgerald, so you should probably just read the book and get back to me on what you think!

This site has some really good discussion questions.

And a bonus Fun Fact: The title comes from Keats’ poem, "Ode to a Nightengale."