"One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.”
- Tender is the Night
The Classics Group I belong to at my library read this book for discussion last evening. It certainly generated a good conversation and also a great divergence of opinion as to its literary merit, partially in contrast with The Great Gatsby, which I think most would agree is Fitzgerald's masterpiece.
Tender is the Night, if you haven't read it, is a very introspective book. It begins with a narrative told through the eyes of an 18-year old successful American actress, Rosemary Hoyt, who arrives in the French Riviera with her mother for the purpose of resting up after a bout with pneumonia. The two have been traveling Europe together and are becoming weary of it, poor things. But then Rosemary meets Dick Diver (no, I'm not kidding), an American psychiatrist married to a schizophrenic, beautiful wife, with whom he has two children.
The Divers are of the American nouveau riche, we decided, contrasting with the old European wealth which Rosemary, especially, scorns. Like Gatsby, there are parties thrown and it's considered a score to hang out with the Divers. And, of course, also like Fitzgerald's other novel the rich are never completely happy. People fall in and out of love, Dick's wife Nicole has frequent schizo episodes, from which he must talk her down and a whole lot of misery - along with some weird episodes that seem to have nothing to do with anything in the story - happens, including a most inconvenient murder.
A couple of the story lines are, for lack of a better word, creepy. Rosemary falling instantly in love with Dick Diver, a much older man, is understandable since she's so young and impressionable and he seems so exciting, yet her mother encouraged her daughter to go for it, as far as she could take it. An eighteen year old virgin and a married 30-something man? Sorry to be a prude but that could not possibly end well. Is this flattering for the older man? Sure! But I do fault him for employing less restraint.
Our man Dick is at the heart of another disturbing plot point: he had been Nicole's psychiatrist, when she was locked away in an asylum during the worst of her episodes (brought on by incest she suffered at the hands of her father), and then married her, something that would cause him to lose his license today. Maybe that won't make every reader feel uncomfortable but it certainly does others. That Nicole goes from one sick father/daughter situation to marrying her therapist - who's eight years older - who's somewhat a surrogate father experience in the therapist/patient relationship. It also happens Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, was in an asylum at the same time, making this most certainly an at least partially autobiographical novel.
I don't mean this to be a comprehensive book review, just a short chat about the novel as a whole. To put it in historical context, it was written in 1934, which puts it in the era of the "Lost Generation," the term for a group of American expatriate young artists and writers living between WWI and the Depression, including the "Jazz Age" era. It had become fashionable for young writers to enjoy deep discussions at Parisian cafes, and in Gertrude Stein's literary salon, spending quite a lot of time abroad in Europe.
Must be nice to have the luxury of time to hang out in Paris, along with others of upcoming fame, who would sit and commiserate all day, get drunk every night, work on their tortured novels during the day then repeat everything all over again.
"I thought of Miss Stein and Sherwood Anderson and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and I thought 'who is calling who a lost generation?'"
Truly a fascinating time in literary history and one I know too little about. I actually haven't read any of Hemingway's fiction, beyond The Old Man and the Sea, which I found an effective soporific in high school English class but I wonder if I'd think differently of it now. On commutes to and from the city, during my library internship at the Newberry Library, I read his short book on writing, which I found rich with thought, the sort of book you could read over and over.
Next up on our list is James Fenimore Cooper's (1789 - 1851) The Last of the Mohicans, a totally different animal and a far different time period. The book's considered his masterpiece and is part of his series of books called The Leatherstocking Tales. I read one of these in college (may have been this one, I don't recall), for American literature, and it bored me to tears. Here's hoping my next experience is more fruitful.
Just from scanning his bio on Wikipedia I'm finding he was a much more fascinating person than I'd realized. Cooperstown, NY was named after his family - by his father - he spent much time at sea, his daughter and son were also writers ...
The list goes on quite extensively but I'll save that for a later post, once I'm into the novel.
Unbelievably, this is our last reading/discussion selection of the year (we don't meet in December, due to the insanity of the holidays). We'll be reading East of Eden for discussion in January. That'll be a second read for me, as well, and it's one of my favorite novels and definitely my favorite of Steinbeck's thus far.
Lots of yummies coming up! And next year's lineup is no less exciting.
Looking forward to it.