Tender Is the Night is one of the most interesting examples in 20th century fiction of reversing the usual social metaphors. Dr. Dick Diver, a psychiatrist, is examined as a case of mental health. He is also placed in a classic woman's role, that of the desired, amiable beauty sought after by all and sundry. These juxtapositions of the usual social perspectives allow the reader to touch closer to the realities of human need and connection, by piercing our assumptions about what is "right and proper."
The story begins from the perspective of Rosemary Hoyt, an 18-year-old motion picture star, recuperating on the Rivera. One day she goes to the beach and becomes entranced by the Divers, Dick and Nicole, a golden couple with whom she immediately falls in love. Beautiful, young, rich, and looking for adventure, she quickly sets out to capture Dick who is the most wonderful person she has ever met.
Later, the story shifts to Dick's perspective and traces back to the beginnings of his marriage to Nicole. She had formed an accidental attachment to him (a classic psychiatric transference) while residing in a mental hospital. He returned her friendship, and found it impossible to break her heart. They married, and he played the role of at-home psychiatrist tending her schizophrenia. All went well for years, but gradually he became weary of his role. His weariness causes him to re-evaluate his views on life . . . and the psychological profile of Dr. Diver, charming bon vivant, begins.
The tale is a remarkably modern one, even if it was set in the 1920s. Fitzgerald deeply investigates the meanings of love, humanity, and connection. In so doing, he uncovers some of the strongest and most vile of human passions, and makes fundamental commentaries about the futility of fighting against human nature. The result is a particularly bleak view of life, in which the tenders may end up more injured by life than those they tend. What good is it to please everyone else, if they offend rather than please you instead?
The character portrayals of Rosemary Hoyt, Dick Diver, and Nicole Diver are remarkably finely drawn. I can remember no other book where three such interesting characters are so well developed. You will feel like each of them is an old friend by the time the novel ends.
If you have ever had the chance to read Freud, the novel will remind you of his writings. There is the same fine literary hand, the succinctness and clarity of expression, and the remorseless directness of looking straight at the unpleasant. I felt like I was reading Freud rather than Fitzgerald in many sections.
This book should open up your mind to thinking about which social conventions you observe that leave you uncomfortable . . . or which are in contradiction to your own nature. Having surfaced those misfitting parts of your life, I suggest that you consider how you could shift your observation of conventions to make them more meaningful and emotionally rewarding for you.
Be considerate because it pleases you to be, not as a ruse to obtain love!