Book 2, Chapters 1-9
In 1917, twenty-six year-old Dr. Richard Diver arrives in Zurich, Switzerland. A highly respected psychiatrist, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1914, and this scholarly status enabled him to avoid fighting in World War I. Although his friends back in New Haven, Connecticut, called him "lucky Dick," it is his tremendous work ethic that has brought him success. He has a brilliant mind, great athletic prowess and people find him charming. He is "ready to be called to an intricate destiny" (118).
Dick decides to remain in Zurich. He visits a friend, Dr. Franz Gregorovius, who has asked him to see a patient named Nicole at Dohmler's mental clinic on the Zurichsee. At first not knowing she was a patient, Dick had met Nicole earlier and they had been writing letters during the War which, as Nicole’s doctor, Gregorovius had been privileged to read. The first half of the letters, Dick recalls, were “pathological" but the second half were normal (121).
Franz explains to Dick that a very worried and rich American named Devereux Warren had brought his unstable sixteen-year-old daughter Nicole to the clinic because she kept thinking men were attacking her. Nicole was diagnosed with schizophrenia. During a second visit Nicole’s father tearfully confessed to having molested his daughter and that Nicole "seemed to freeze up right away" (129). After calling him a “peasant,” the doctor orders him to stay away from his daughter who failed to make much progress until she started to receive letters from Dick. Dick says that her more recent letters demonstrate a positive outlook on life.
Dick talks with Franz about his future. The older man tells Dick to be true to himself. Dick says he wants to be a psychiatrist, perhaps the best in the world. Franz questions him what about an earlier plan to open a clinic for billionaires. Diver dines the Franz and his wife Kaethe.
Dick and Nicole talk on the veranda. He tells her he will remain in Zurich for a while and Nicole tells him she will take a trip with her sister Baby Warren. Dick is taken by her "childish smile that was like all the lost youth in the world" (134). They walk and she tells him about her records. The following week they meet and listen to the records. She leans against him and he realizes she holds inside her “the essence of a continent" (136).
Although he knows he should avoid Nicole because of the doctor/patient conflict, Dick becomes more interested in her after he meets her in Zurich in the company of another man. Her mental illness has diminished somewhat and she is happy. Franz warns Dick that Nicole loves him and he, as well as Dr. Dohmler, believes that Dick should not continue seeing Nicole so her heart will not be broken but Dick admits he is thinking of marrying her. Franz tells him such a marriage would be disastrous because he would spend his life being "doctor and nurse and all" (140). Dick encourages Nicole to forget him: “try to forget the past; don’t overdo things for a year or so. Go back to America and be a débutante and fall in love—and be happy” (141). She considers tempting him with her money, but leaves him instead with a heartache.
Dick feels guilty about leaving Nicole. When he sees her with her sister Baby in a Rolls Royce he walks by without stopping. He focuses on his work and an old girlfriend.
One day on a trip to the mountains Nicole and the young Conte de Marmora enter Dick’s compartment of the funicular, laughing uproariously. She seems absolutely normal and looks healthy and vivacious. When the mountain tramway stops, Nicole introduces Dick to her sister Baby Warren and invites him to dinner.
During Nicole’s absence at dinner, the enormously wealthy Baby tells Dick that she is very interested in having her sister marry a doctor because it would be good for her. He laughs hilariously. Dick finds Nicole outside looking at the view. She suggests that had she not been sick he would have been interested in marrying her and then she assertively kisses him. He responds with passion as the approaching “storm came swiftly.”
The following morning, Dick finds two notes, one from Nicole stating how happy she is and the other from Baby asking him to bring Nicole back to Zurich. Dick is angry knowing full well Baby is attempting to buy him by throwing Nicole at him. The train ride, however, is romantic and brings them closer together, and when Dick drops Nicole off at the sanitarium, he knows they will be together “for good” (157).
Young Dick Diver is a brilliant American doctor, whose education has increased his chances of living a long productive life because it kept him out of the draft. His vita is impeccable; be has already published a book. In short, he can write his own ticket. But it remains to be seen whether or not he will continue to maintain his old world work ethic and strive for his goal to become the world’s best psychiatrist. However, because this part of the plot is told in flashback, readers already know that Dick is doomed. Consider that in this regard Dick represents America and Western Europe. Will they continue to gain in the world’s graces or will they perhaps fall pray, like Dick, to decadence and corruption after the War?
As a doctor, Dick must sublimate his desires and, as it were, exist on a higher plane. For instance, at the beginning of the novel, unlike his friend Abe North, the doctor drinks little. Although he has a taste for luxury, he rides to the top of the mountain on the funicular, “economizing” in a lesser compartment while Nicole and her family buy first-class tickets. However, his desires for the finer things in life slowly undermine the ethics bred into him by his father and over time he begins to spend money in a manner similar to Nicole who buys whatever catches her eye without any thought whatsoever to the price. His desire for Nicole and his attraction for her lifestyle corrupts him and he marries her against his better judgment. In other words, Nicole’s money corrupts him. Dick likes being the center of attention and soon puts aside his scholarly pursuits to plan parties and make fun of people on the beach. And although Dick is set up to cure Nicole and help her blossom into a mature “normal” adult, ironically it is he who deteriorates mentally. The affair he has with Rosemary seems like a teenage romance, one of sneaking kisses, holding hands and obsessive jealousy. When Rosemary’s friend from the United States intimates to Dick that Rosemary spent time with another man in a train compartment with the curtains drawn, he fixates on the phrase “do you mind if I pull down the curtains” and obsesses about the scene throughout the novel.
At first Dick is angered by the wealthy Baby Warren’s insinuation that she can buy him so her sister Nicole can have her own personal psychiatrist. At first he insists on supporting his wife and that they simply do not need the Warren money. However, as time passes, it becomes easier to dip into the gigantic family fortune. Consider that in the novel’s opening chapters the Divers live an opulent lifestyle on the Riviera: the parties, the chauffeur, the mansion on the cliff and endless summer days tanning on the beach. And, although Dick insists that money had nothing to do with his decision to marry Nicole, he doesn’t have any qualms about spending it. In other words, Dick is easily swayed from his principles by the money but also by his attraction to young women.
Dick’s attraction to young women deeply influences his life. He admits that he became a psychiatrist because the co-ed he found attractive attended psychology classes. He is twenty-six when he meets Nicole and, despite his and his colleagues reservations about Doctor Diver marrying a “mental patient,” he is so physically attracted to young Nicole, whose "childish smile… was like all the lost youth in the world" (134). Consider that Nicole is only seventeen—the same age as Rosemary, “on the last edge of childhood,” (3). Later on another girl, this time one aged fifteen and young enough to be his daughter, will cause problems for Dick.
When Dick marries young Nicole, he becomes a father figure and replaces her real father who sexually abused her. Although the only actual incidence of incest occurred between Nicole and her father Devereux Warren the theme of incest, nevertheless, permeates the novel.When Rosemary gets to know the Divers she views their relationship as one, not between two lovers, but like her and her mother’s—one like parent and child. From the beginning, Dick takes a parental interest in Rosemary, telling her not to get sunburned, calling her “child,” and “youngster,” protecting her as one would a daughter. He first fell in love with her youthful innocence during the showing of the aptly named “Daddy’s Girl.” Much later in the novel, before he consummates his relationship with Rosemary, Dick compares her to his own daughter (207).