“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
This is how the Great Gatsby ends. It is 1925. This very well describes the longing and melancholy of F. Scott Fitzgerald and one can only imagine him looking across the Long Island bay towards the green light that he was hoping to bring closer and closer every day; it was the Daisy of his days.
Shortly after that a long writing decade will produce Tender is the Night, the last completed novel by Fitzgerald. It is the Jazz Age and the flappers were running high and late in the night. The world tragedy of the First Great War has brought jazzy, smoky gentlemen to the table to meet the ladies of their time wearing trimmed skirts, short hair, picked up on drinking and smoking, and drove automobiles. The Lost Generation, comes across, with names like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, T.S. Elliot, Picasso or Gertrude Stein. It was time for them to be cynical and critical of the materialism and egoism that characterized much of this post-war dynamic society.
Fitzgerald always struck through a very fine nib and an elevated style of writing. The artistical landscape is extremely rich and varied, and situations, places and people are flowing through one’s imagination with ease and delight. Poetry and sentiment with smooth melodic tones is often praised when thinking of Fitzgerald’s work and one can easily fall through the feelings of being there inside the pages.
The second fundamental aspect into Fitzgerald’s portrait of writing is the biographical flavor that sparkles all along his novels or short stories. Suppose most writers base a lot of their fiction on facts of their own life experiences, but the tumult and turbulence emanated from Scott’s life alongside his wife, Zelda, fulfilled the extraordinary emotional and tragical imprint of rows and rows of his writings.
Here enters Rosemary, the young Hollywood starlet, in a vivid and typical fitzgeraldean portrayal of a situation. One can certainly feel the air emanating from the southern shores of France, and arriving into the story in a lazy and steamy afternoon.
The first class compartment was stiffling; the vivid advertising cards of the railroad companies – The Pont du Gard ar Arles, the Amphitheatre at Orange, winter sports at Chamonix – were fresher than the long motionless sea outside. Unlike American trains that were absorbed in an intense destiny of their own, and scornful of people on another world less swift and breathless, this train was part of the country through which it passed. Its breath stirred the dust from the palm leaves, the cinders mingled with the dry dung in the gardens. Rosemary was sure she could lean from the window and pull flowers with her hand.
A dozen cabbies slept in their hacks outside in Cannes station. Over on the promenade the Casino, the smart shops, and the great hotels turned blank iron masks to the summer sea. It was unbelievable that there could ever have been a “season”, and Rosemary, half in the grip of fashion, became a little self-conscious, as though she were displaying an unhealthy taste for the moribund; as though people were wondering why she was here in the lull between the gaiety of last winter and next winter, while up north the true world thundered by.
But the Divers also enter the scene with power and grandeur, as part of a group of well established Americans enjoying their summer time on sandy beaches, entertaining cocktails and marvelous spirits. All is at ease, the sunshine emanates from the pages and friendly swims take place to give birth to new relations. Dick and Nicole Diver are at center stage, followed ravenously by Rosemary, who declares love and care to the couple, but is in reality falling for the elegance and confidence of Dick.
Initial takes on the characters are cinematographic and are presented in formidable atmospheres with the world at best. Through the eyes of Rosemary we get introduced to Richard Diver, doctor of medicine, specialized in psychiatry, that is to impress the world and the hearts of the two dames.
But Dick Diver–he was all complete there. Silently she admired him. His complexion was reddish and weather-burned, so was his short hair–a light growth of it rolled down his arms and hands. His eyes were of a bright, hard blue. His nose was somewhat pointed and there was never any doubt at whom he was looking or talking–and this is a flattering attention, for who looks at us?–glances fall upon us, curious or disinterested, nothing more. His voice, with some faint Irish melody running through it, wooed the world, yet she felt the layer of hardness in him, of self-control and of self-discipline, her own virtues. Oh, she chose him, and Nicole, lifting her head saw her choose him, heard the little sigh at the fact that he was already possessed.
Nicole sensed the beginning of a new era, and she has an elegant entrance into the story, equally good to her husbands, and the reader can understand the immediate magnetic attraction that Rosemary had felt towards such an exquisite pair of human beings.
Feeling good from the rosy wine at lunch, Nicole Diver folded her arms high enough for the artificial camellia on her shoulder to touch her cheek, and went out into her lovely grassless garden. The garden was bounded on one side by the house, from which it flowed and into which it ran, on two sides by the old village, and on the last by the cliff falling by ledges to the sea.
Along the walls on the village side all was dusty, the wriggling vines, the lemon and eucalyptus trees, the casual wheel-barrow, left only a moment since, but already grown into the path, atrophied and faintly rotten. Nicole was invariably somewhat surprised that by turning in the other direction past a bed of peonies she walked into an area so green and cool that the leaves and petals were curled with tender damp.
Knotted at her throat she wore a lilac scarf that even in the achromatic sunshine cast its color up to her face and down around her moving feet in a lilac shadow. Her face was hard, almost stern, save for the soft gleam of piteous doubt that looked from her green eyes. Her once fair hair had darkened, but she was lovelier now at twenty-four than she had been at eighteen, when her hair was brighter than she.
What source of inspiration can produce rows after rows of a language spectacle like the one below? It is a continuous amazement to think of an author being so descriptive and yet so interesting in such a trivial story – going shopping in the 1920’s.
With Nicole’s help Rosemary bought two dresses and two hats and four pairs of shoes with her money. Nicole bought from a great list that ran two pages, and bought the things in the windows besides. Everything she liked that she couldn’t possibly use herself, she bought as a present for a friend. She bought colored beads, folding beach cushions, artificial flowers, honey, a guest bed, bags, scarfs, love birds, miniatures for a doll’s house and three yards of some new cloth the color of prawns. She bought a dozen bathing suits, a rubber alligator, a travelling chess set of gold and ivory, big linen handkerchiefs for Abe, two chamois leather jackets of kingfisher blue and burning bush from Hermes–bought all these things not a bit like a high-class courtesan buying underwear and jewels, which were after all professional equipment and insurance–but with an entirely different point of view. Nicole was the product of much ingenuity and toil. For her sake trains began their run at Chicago and traversed the round belly of the continent to California; chicle factories fumed and link belts grew link by link in factories; men mixed toothpaste in vats and drew mouthwash out of copper hogsheads; girls canned tomatoes quickly in August or worked rudely at the Five-and-Tens on Christmas Eve; half-breed Indians toiled on Brazilian coffee plantations and dreamers were muscled out of patent rights in new tractors–these were some of the people who gave a tithe to Nicole, and as the whole system swayed and thundered onward it lent a feverish bloom to such processes of hers as wholesale buying, like the flush of a fireman’s face holding his post before a spreading blaze. 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.
War talk. Tragedy flows out while being around Marne and sadness is contagious, but most of all one has to enjoy the dissertation on the western front and it’s decaying civilization. This is though not an essential theme occurring across the story, it is a determining factor into the shaping of these characters, their attitudes and lifestyles.
“See that little stream–we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it–a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”
“Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,” said Abe. “And in Morocco–“
“That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”
Love unfolds in a slow and mysterious way, and then grows up its way into Paris. There is a surreal atmosphere in the air and Dick’s emotions are swinging between the two ladies in a state of torment and confusion.
They stopped thinking with an almost painful relief, stopped seeing; they only breathed and sought each other. They were both in the gray gentle world of a mild hangover of fatigue when the nerves relax in bunches like piano strings, and crackle suddenly like wicker chairs.
As he entered the hotel the halls had seemed unnaturally bright; when he left he realized that it was because it had already turned dark outside. It was a windy four-o’clock night with the leaves on the Champs Élysées singing and failing, thin and wild. Dick turned down the Rue de Rivoli, walking two squares under the arcades to his bank where there was mail. Then he took a taxi and started up the Champs Élysées through the first patter of rain, sitting alone with his love.
Back at two o’clock in the Roi George corridor the beauty of Nicole had been to the beauty of Rosemary as the beauty of Leonardo’s girl was to that of the girl of an illustrator. Dick moved on through the rain, demoniac and frightened, the passions of many men inside him and nothing simple that he could see.
Book 2 stands in vivid contrast to the first , and the more darker and dramatic territories are uncovered. It’s a step backwards in time were the story of Nicole is now unveiled, her young, lost and suffering soul, abused and confused, eventually being somewhat recovered from meeting young captain Diver. It throws the reader into a psychiatric clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, and a returning war combatant, Richard Diver, is assiduously awaited by Nicole Warren, expectations being fueled from a dreamy correspondence of war. The story of Nicole turns into a medical case, caused by a monstrous father, and adding a heavy and disturbing page into the feelings of the reader. It is though the connecting dot between the two protagonists and soon the darkness gets inundated with the light of love and the tenderness that rises from the ashes of despair.
The thin tunes, holding lost times and future hopes in liaison, twisted upon the Valais night. In the lulls of the phonograph a cricket held the scene together with a single note. By and by Nicole stopped playing the machine and sang to him.
She smiled at him, making sure that the smile gathered up everything inside her and directed it toward him, making him a profound promise of herself for so little, for the beat of a response, the assurance of a complimentary vibration in him. Minute by minute the sweetness drained down into her out of the willow trees, out of the dark world.
She shivered suddenly. Two thousand feet below she saw the necklace and bracelet of lights that were Montreux and Vevey, beyond them a dim pendant of Lausanne. From down there somewhere ascended a faint sound of dance music. Nicole was up in her head now, cool as cool, trying to collate the sentimentalities of her childhood, as deliberate as a man getting drunk after battle. But she was still afraid of Dick, who stood near her, leaning, characteristically, against the iron fence that rimmed the horseshoe; and this prompted her to say: “I can remember how I stood waiting for you in the garden–holding all my self in my arms like a basket of flowers. It was that to me anyhow–I thought I was sweet–waiting to hand that basket to you.”
. . . When I get well I want to be a fine person like you, Dick–I would study medicine except it’s too late. We must spend my money and have a house–I’m tired of apartments and waiting for you. You’re bored with Zurich and you can’t find time for writing here and you say that it’s a confession of weakness for a scientist not to write. And I’ll look over the whole field of knowledge and pick out something and really know about it, so I’ll have it to hang on to if I go to pieces again. You’ll help me, Dick, so I won’t feel so guilty. We’ll live near a warm beach where we can be brown and young together.
Assurances and guarantees are being made, normality steps in and the self-confidence of Dick encourages Nicole to feel inundated with feelings of good and optimism. It is somewhat an illusion but a family with children is formed and even the dream home comes through alongside all the amenities on the Riviera. The Warren folks, especially Baby Warren, Nicole’s sister, have a lot to do with this as it shows that all financial arrangements are heavily supported from America.
The story is eventually returned to Paris, where love unfolds and infiltrates, but with it also comes the subtle instability that hits Nicole again, as some may have expected; partly due to the feelings coming from the presence of Rosemary, though a charming trio gets formed while enjoying the Parisian life, and partly from a somber episode that rooted off the crime surrounding the unhappy person of Abe North. Abruptly, Paris proves to be the painful departure of Rosemary to America to continue her Hollywood dreams, all ending with Dick openly declaring his affections in conversations with Rosemary’s influential mother.
Opportunity arises, and because of instability and inability to cope, the Warren family convinces Dick to enter an agreement with doctor Gregorovious from Zurich to purchase a psychiatric sanatorium. In such a way Nicole will be there all the time, being looked after and all will be secured a constant and qualified care. Time will prove that it was not the best of their decisions, as Nicole will pick up a fading aura of existence under the umbrella of doctors and the medium of the clinic.
Life at the clinic seems serene for a while for the Divers, but Dick slowly slides into drinking and anxiety, and starts feeling the need to be coming flying out of the apparent idyllic nest, being subdued into dealing with patients and watching Nicole becoming one of them, yet again. After an incident, the escape eventually happens and Rome provides the backdrop for him to be running into Rosemary’s arms. At this point one has the feeling of a departure, at a crucial crossroad whereas the sentiment is consumed at ease and Dick realizes that there is no such love defining their relationship, that was sensed at first sight. He starts longing back to Nicole and one can now think of Rosemary lining up to become the next episode of derail as she feels no change in her affections that have stayed with her across the years.
Rosemary had another dinner date, a birthday party for a member of the company. Dick ran into Collis Clay in the lobby, but he wanted to dine alone, and pretended an engagement at the Excelsior. He drank a cocktail with Collis and his vague dissatisfaction crystallized as impatience–he no longer had an excuse for playing truant to the clinic. This was less an infatuation than a romantic memory. Nicole was his girl–too often he was sick at heart about her, yet she was his girl. Time with Rosemary was self-indulgence–time with Collis was nothing plus nothing.
The Rome episode culminates with Dick’s outburst and calamity into drunkenness and being involved into brawls with the Italian police. It was his form of denial and refusal, his expression of revolt against mistakes of the past and realizations of the present. It is only the determination of Baby Warren that will pull him out of troubles with the authorities.
The return to the clinic creates more difficulties for Dick and eventually he sells his interest in the business and starts travelling a new life, picking up the Riviera style all over again. Nicole thrives and for a while it’s all good, one happy family that enjoys the calm of the south; but it is the quietness before the storm that is to bring the eventual solitude.
Regard them, for example, as the train slows up at Boyen where they are to spend a fortnight visiting. The shifting from the wagon-lit has begun at the Italian frontier. The governess’s maid and Madame Diver’s maid have come up from second class to help with the baggage and the dogs. Mlle. Bellois will superintend the hand-luggage, leaving the Sealyhams to one maid and the pair of Pekinese to the other. It is not necessarily poverty of spirit that makes a woman surround herself with life–it can be a superabundance of interest, and, except during her flashes of illness, Nicole was capable of being curator of it all. For example with the great quantity of heavy baggage–presently from the van would be unloaded four wardrobe trunks, a shoe trunk, three hat trunks, and two hat boxes, a chest of servants’ trunks, a portable filing-cabinet, a medicine case, a spirit lamp container, a picnic set, four tennis rackets in presses and cases, a phonograph, a typewriter. Distributed among the spaces reserved for family and entourage were two dozen supplementary grips, satchels and packages, each one numbered, down to the tag on the cane case. Thus all of it could be checked up in two minutes on any station platform, some for storage, some for accompaniment from the “light trip list” or the “heavy trip list,” constantly revised, and carried on metal-edged plaques in Nicole’s purse. She had devised the system as a child when travelling with her failing mother. It was equivalent to the system of a regimental supply officer who must think of the bellies and equipment of three thousand men.
This is the end of the happy path for Mr Diver and of what is more surprising – it is the cure for Nicole, as it is now her chance to fly free and pursue her own path and rebirth into the loving arms of Tommy Barban, a simpler and less complicated human being that has waited to express his affections for several years. It is somewhat forced and abrupt, a twist of places occurs between Dick and Nicole, one becoming another, yet again a “patient”, and the other seeking the sun of normality under somebody else’s planet.
In the bathhouse, she changed to pajamas, her expression still hard as a plaque. But as she turned into the road of arched pines and the atmosphere changed,–with a squirrel’s flight on a branch, a wind nudging at the leaves, a cock splitting distant air, with a creep of sunlight transpiring through the immobility, then the voices of the beach receded–Nicole relaxed and felt new and happy; her thoughts were clear as good bells–she had a sense of being cured and in a new way. Her ego began blooming like a great rich rose as she scrambled back along the labyrinths in which she had wandered for years. She hated the beach, resented the places where she had played planet to Dick’s sun.
“Why, I’m almost complete,” she thought. “I’m practically standing alone, without him.” And like a happy child, wanting the completion as soon as possible, and knowing vaguely that Dick had planned for her to have it, she lay on her bed as soon as she got home and wrote Tommy Barban in Nice a short provocative letter.
Dick is to be regretted and thoughts are to be going for ever towards him, searching him always across the news from America.
Away! Away! for I will fly to thee
…on the viewless wings of Poesy
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night…
by John Keats