Tender Is the Night | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Tender Is the Night | Book 2, Chapters 1–4 | Summary

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Summary

Book 2, Chapter 1

Book 2 goes backward in time, with Chapter 1 set in Zurich in spring 1919. The purpose is to explain more details about Dick's background. He is 28 years old and has just returned to Zurich. Dick has studied as a Rhodes scholar, gotten his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, received another degree while working at a clinic in Zurich two years earlier, lived in Vienna, served in the war (at a desk job in France), and is enjoying his life so much he calls himself "lucky Dick."

Book 2, Chapter 2

As this chapter opens Dick is visiting his colleague and friend Franz Gregorovius, at Dohmler's clinic, having just returned from his time in France. It turns out he had met a beautiful girl at the clinic two years earlier, when he was there to say goodbye to Franz. He met the girl with her nurse, quite by accident as he was walking on the grounds, and he had a conversation with her. She had become somewhat smitten with him and has written him many letters.

The chapter includes quite a few excerpts from the letters. Dick puts them into two classes: one of "marked pathological turn" and one that seems "entirely normal." However, his correspondence with the girl trailed off when Dick got the flu and then grew interested in a young woman from Wisconsin who was working as a telephone operator at his army headquarters.

Now Franz is eager to give him the background story about the girl. Dick is eager to hear it.

Book 2, Chapter 3

About 18 months before Dick Diver meets the beautiful girl at the clinic, she is brought there by her father, Devereux Warren. She is 16 years old, and has been acting erratically and saying crazy things for several months. Much of her wild claims are about random men attacking her. Dr. Dohmler feels something is missing from the story but agrees to diagnose the girl. His diagnosis is schizophrenia in its most acute phase. He is shocked Warren does not return to visit his daughter and finally insists he must come. Warren clearly wants to wash his hands of the entire thing, but he does come back to the clinic. There he breaks down as he admits he committed incest with her. Afterward, she seemed fine—until her symptoms started to display several years later. Dohmler is outraged and sends Warren to a Zurich hotel for the night, instructing him to come back in the morning.

Book 2, Chapter 4

Dohmler agrees to take care of the Warren girl, but only if her father agrees to keep away from her "indefinitely, with an absolute minimum of five years." He complies, now seeming only to worry about the news of the affair getting back to Chicago, where he is a prominent, wealthy man.

Franz Gregorovius explains to Dick his entry into the girl's life has been a positive thing. Dick agrees, saying he saw progress in her letters. Then Franz asks if they can see the letters she has mailed herself from Zurich, and Dick agrees. He characterizes her mood in them as "hopeful and normally hungry for life."

Knowing Dick is about to see the girl, Franz warns him "to go very gently." Then they talk about Dick's plans for the future. Dick dines with Franz and his wife that night. As the chapter ends Dick is musing about his desire to be loved.

Analysis

Readers surely will notice the beautiful girl at the center of these chapters is never named except by the signature in her letters: Nicole Warren. The excerpts from the early letters reveal just how ill Nicole has been in the past—and in light of her bathroom breakdowns in Book 1, at 24 she is still not well. So she has been more than a wife to Dick; she has been his patient. He is the one who entered her life and began her healing process, as Franz confirms. He is the one who still protects her.

Dick is in the golden years of his life when he meets Nicole, a young man whom both men and women make "much of," probably not only for his impressive accomplishments so far but because of his charisma and good looks. He would seem to have the world at his feet, yet in Chapter 4 he reveals his confusion about what he wants. He does not want to live in the narrow horizons Franz has chosen. He does not want to be "like the rest." He reflects on the idea he used to want to be good, kind, brave, and wise, but is finding these things to be difficult. Instead, he is now focused on being loved—truly showing his narcissism in all its glory. So it seems Dick is actually perfectly positioned to take wealthy, needy Nicole into his life. Just think of all the ways she might offer him freedom from being "like the rest," how she might let him be the center of the universe as he wishes.

While Devereux Warren breaks down as he confesses he has had sexual relations with his daughter, he is not punished for his crime in any way except by being forbidden to see her for five years. His concern is only nobody should find out, supporting the theme of patriarchy. The relationship was not consensual; it was rape with no legal recourse or consequence.

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