Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tender is the Night (1934)

It took me a month to read Tender is the Night, mostly because I was involved in buying a condo and had a lot of big decisions to make, but also because the first third of the novel was difficult to get through, and by the time the conversation picked up I was already tired of the book.

BUT … in the end Nicole and Dick Diver are living characters. I was actually sad to let them go. I know many say this is Fitzgerald’s novel about Zelda, about his “personal tragedy” as Hemingway was supposed to have called it. To me, it's about a woman who gets out. Something in the tradition of The Yellow Wallpaper but a story with a happier ending.

Nicole is sexually abused by her father and suffers an emotional break. When she marries Dick she enters into the relationship as a sick and inferior partner. The relationship is arranged so that he’s taking care of her and she has no authority over her person. As the story progresses, Nicole is more and more dependent upon Dick for her sense of self worth but his cure is not always compatible with her becoming an emotionally strong person.

For example, when Nicole discovers that Dick took part in an indiscretion, she reacts as any wife would – upset, distant, and deceived. Dick manipulates the situation so that it’s Nicole’s unstable behavior that’s failing instead of his own. Finally as Dick himself succumbs to illness, when he’s drinking too much and arguing with everyone, Nicole leaves the marriage. Dick again takes control of events and acts as if Nicole’s departure were part of his plan all along, still not allowing his wife to have a sense of self-determination!

But in the end Nicole does leave, for a happier life, and it’s nice to read book where the woman doesn’t have to commit suicide or go insane in order to find peace with herself.

Click on the link to find out more about this book.

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