Book 1, Chapters 1-11
Gausse's Hotel sits proudly on a French Riviera beach as Rosemary Hoyt, a seventeen-year-old American actress and her mother Mrs. Speers arrive. Unimpressed, they decide to remain only three days. It is June of 1925 and Rosemary has just become famous for her role in the film Daddy's Girl: “her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood—she was almost eighteen” (1).
Shortly after their arrival, Rosemary goes to the beach and finds two groups of people, one suntanned, the other white-skinned. She picks a spot, lies down between both groups and glances over at a young suntanned woman wearing pearls. Nearby a man in a jockey cap entertains the group. Soon, the white-skinned group—Mrs. Abrams, Mrs. McKisco, Mr. McKisco and Mr. Dumphry—recognizes her as a celebrity. They warn her not to get burned.
Sitting with the McKiscos, an uncomfortable Rosemary wishes her mother was with her. Mrs. McKisco tells Rosemary that her husband wrote the first criticism of James Joyce's Ulysses to appear in the United States and, consequently, they have been introduced to all “the best French artists and writers in Paris” (9). Mr. McKisco becomes annoyed when his wife tells Rosemary that he is completing his first novel. When she returns to the beach, Rosemary notices the man in the jockey cap passing out glasses. Soon, she falls asleep and when she awakes, the man warns her about getting burned. She is struck by his hypnotic blue eyes.
In the dining room, Rosemary confesses to her mother that she has fallen in love, first with a wonderful group of people and second with a man, who unfortunately is married. Mrs. Speers, who is also her daughter’s best friend, has raised Rosemary to be “a great idealist” (12). She encourages Rosemary to go and see Earl Brady without her. After lunch, they find the French afternoon too quiet. Rosemary takes a bus to Cannes where she sees the woman in pearls from the beach leaving a drug store.
The following day, Rosemary and her mother rent a car for a drive along the Riviera. In the evening, Rosemary hears music and hopes that she meets the nice people on the beach the following day and determines to avoid the McKiscos.
On the beach, the man in the jockey hat, Dick Diver, and another man named Abe North ask Rosemary to join their group. Diver doesn’t let on she is a celebrity but they all know. To Rosemary, Dick seems kind and charming with a voice that promises to take care of her. The beautiful Nicole Diver asks how long Rosemary will be at Gausse's. She and her husband own a nearby house in Tarmes.
Sitting with Nicole, Rosemary observes the luxury of their beach accessories: “she had gathered that they were fashionable people” (19). She feels concerned about what they think of her. Rosemary is entirely smitten by Dick Diver: “his voice, with some faint Irish melody running through it, wooed the world” (20). His wife Nicole notices Rosemary’s response.
Soon Rosemary’s new friends began to make fun of the other white-skinned group. Rosemary realizes she would not want Nicole for an enemy. Dick appears in “transparent black lace drawers” that are actually lined with flesh-colored cloth. Mr. McKisco comments contemptuously “if that isn’t pansy's trick” but then looks quickly at Mr. Dumphry and Mr. Campion and apologizes (21).
Rosemary is delighted with her new friends and afterwards breaks into tears in her mother’s lap declaring her hopeless love for Dick Diver.
Rosemary travels alone to Monte Carlo to meet film director Earl Brady. She can tell he is attracted to her. He admires her talent as an actress and asks her to wait until he finishes shooting but, apprehensive, she leaves.
Nicole Diver walks through her fabulous garden overlooking the Mediterranean. Ahead, her husband Dick crosses her path and through a megaphone he laughingly tells her he has just put together a dinner party. She realizes that one of “his most characteristic moods was upon him, the excitement that swept everyone up into it” (27).
At dinner, the Divers welcome their guests with extravagant politeness. Rosemary is surprised to find the film director Earl Brady. He cannot compare with Dick Diver. Diver and Rosemary spend a moment alone and she tells him she fell in love with him the first time she saw him. He chalks it up to their being new friends.
The dinner guests enjoy themselves enormously. Then “the moment when the guests had been daringly lifted above conviviality into the rarer atmosphere of sentiment, was over.” The party moves to the garden and Dick and Nicole disappear. Suddenly Mrs. Violet McKisco comes hurrying back from the bathroom where she claims she saw something disturbing. Barban responds: “it’s inadvisable to comment on what goes on in this house” (36).
Rosemary continues to wait on pins and needles to talk to Dick and soon he finds her alone on the terrace. He invites her to come to Paris with him and Nicole to see their friend Abe North off to America. Rosemary is left wondering what Mrs. McKisco had seen in the bathroom.
Rosemary and her mother ride with Earl Brady while the other guests leave ahead with the Divers’ chauffeur. Soon Brady’s chauffeur passes the other car which is pulled over to the side of the road. Rosemary’s romantic dreams of Dick Diver keep her awake. Her mother, who has raised Rosemary not to become dependent upon a man, has given her the green light to pursue Dick Diver. Rosemary walks along the terrace, and sees Luis Campion weeping. He has been quarreling with Royal Dumphry, another member of the beach group.
Abe informs Rosemary that when Mrs. McKisco was trying to tell Mrs. Abrams in the Diver’s car about what she had seen in the bathroom that she was constantly interrupted by the Divers “watch-dog,” Tommy Barban. When Mr. McKisco tried to shut Barban up, a quarrel ensues, causing the driver to pull the car over. The argument is to be settled with a duel at sunrise.
Rosemary and Abe go to see Mr. McKisco and find him drinking forlornly while writing a goodbye letter to his wife. Abe hands him a dueling pistol. Before leaving, Rosemary tells McKisco “I think it’s very foolish and you ought to try to stop it” (44).
Upon returning to their room, Rosemary is encouraged by Mrs. Speers to go to the duel in case she can help. She leaves with Campion, who has a movie camera. On the golf course they hide in the shrubbery as the men gather for the duel. They fire and miss. McKisco is happy that he has proved his manhood. Rosemary can only think of seeing the Divers on the beach.
The historical context of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, the title taken from the poem “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats, is crucial to understanding the novel. In October, 1929 the American stock market crashed, precipitating the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s. The novel, published in 1934, traces the trajectory of the 1920s Jazz Age boom to the 1930s during the height of the Depression, while metaphorically paralleling the decline of American Dick Driver from his life of opulence and reckless excess to one of total destruction. As America suffers the dire results of living the high life of the “Roaring Twenties,” so too does Dick Diver lose everything to his exuberant, excessive lifestyle.
From the beginning Rosemary’s youth is at issue. Not yet eighteen, it is her youthful beauty, her flushed cheeks "like the thrilling flush of children after their cold baths” that attracts Dick Diver (3). At the beginning, the characters, setting and action is viewed through the observation of the young, naïve Rosemary Hoyt who, although on the verge of adulthood, still clings to her mother’s apron strings. It is imperative to realize that the novel’s occurrences are viewed through the eyes of a character that is inexperienced. Indeed, readers are introduced to the characters as Rosemary is so they experience her first biased perception. And, while an eighteen year-old might find the Divers sophisticated and immediately embrace them as friends, a more experienced adult might find them shallow and superfluous.
Among the other characters is Nicole Diver, whose association with her garden suggests a capacity for growth. In the garden Dick and Nicole walk on separate paths and when they do meet, they talk with the help of a megaphone which suggests distance and an inability to communicate. Tommy Barban, the duel-loving anarchist who is always seeking out war, is the proper American gentleman, Doctor Diver’s opposite and also associated with Nicole. Mr. McKisco, who represents the literary world, is an insecure, unpalatable nuisance who also stands in opposition to the confident, well-loved Diver.
From the beginning, sexuality is also at issue. The naïve Rosemary is puzzled by Mr. Dumphry and Luis Campion so she ignores them at first. When Dick dons the seemingly transparent black lace pants, she finds it delightful and doesn’t seem to understand the insinuation when Mr. McKisco calls it a “pansy's trick” nor the further implication when McKisco apologizes to Campion and Dumphry. McKisco has, albeit indirectly, called Dick a homosexual (21). This is unclear, but certainly suggests an aura of sexual uncertainty surrounding the group.
Fitzgerald’s reference to Joyce’s Ulysses introduces the thyme of odyssey which generally involves a young person’s circular journey far from home and overcoming adversity on the way home. Perhaps Rosemary represents Ulysses on his journey back home on the Mediterranean to Ithaca or Joyce’s Leopold Bloom as he roams Dublin’s streets home to 7 Eccles Street. But the reference more than likely refers to Dick Diver’s and Nicole Diver’s odyssey as well.