Tender is the Night

I finally got around to reading F. Scott  FitzPlagiarizer’s final novel, where he lifted whole sections from Zelda’s letters to him from the sanatorium and dropped them into the book (as exposed in Ch 17 of Nancy Milford’s biography, Zelda). It’s amazing it got written at all, with the quantities of alcohol Scott was soaking himself in while writing it.

There are clues to why Zelda might lose her mind in his writing, like the assertion “like most women she liked to be told how she should feel…” And he almost approaches a confession with “Nicole’s emotions had been used unfairly—what if they turned out to have been his own?”

The only time Dick Diver approaches seeming like a human is when he gets a telegram of his father’s death: “He felt a sharp wince at the shock, a gathering of the forces of resistance; then it rolled up through his loins and stomach and throat. He read the message again. He sat down on the bed, breathing and staring; thinking first the old selfish child’s thought that comes with the death of a parent, how will it affect me now that this earliest and strongest of protections is gone?”

Otherwise Diver is a cardboard cutout of a charming older man who resents that his wife has a lot of money. In Book 1, the big reveal is that Nicole/Zelda has lost her marbles–she’s saying weird things while trying to wash blood of a murdered man’s sheets. Nicole is also coming to grips with Dick’s lust-love for Rosemary, the 18 year old American actress. Book 2 sees the Divers in Switzerland operating a hospital where Dick practices medicine of the head shrinking variety. He can’t stand Nicole, breaks away for a conference where he learns of his father’s death, sails for America, returns via Naples where he consummates his relationship with Rosemary. Book 3 is the further disintegration of him into alcoholism, losing his hospital, losing his wife, finally returning to America and getting into trouble here and there while Nicole finds love with Tommy.