Tender Is the Night | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Tender Is the Night | Plot Summary

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Book 1

Introducing Rosemary

The novel opens "On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera," on the beach below the fictional Gausse's Hôtel near Cannes, where fashionable, rich, and famous people of the 1920s like to stay. Among the guests in June 1925 are several American couples and a budding Hollywood starlet named Rosemary Hoyt, who is accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Speers.

When 17-year-old Rosemary meets the dashing couple Dick and Nicole Diver, who own a home in the area, she becomes immediately enamored of their physical beauty and charm. As she tells her mother later in the day, she is already completely in love with Dick. Nevertheless, she spends the next day with her mother rather than going down to the beach, and the two decide they won't stay more than three days.

On the third day Rosemary does meet back up with the Divers and their friends. That night she sobs to her mother that she is "desperately in love" with Dick and has accepted an invitation to the Divers' home for dinner on Friday.

Before Friday arrives, Rosemary takes a prearranged trip to Monte Carlo to meet an American movie director who now prefers to work in France and has taken a fancy to her as an actress. She does not much care for him, but her mother (who manages Rosemary's business affairs) is pleased Rosemary has done "what she was told to do."

The Party and the Duel

The Friday night party at the Divers starts out well. Their home, known as Villa Diana, high above the Mediterranean Sea "in the ancient hill village of Tarmes" is beautiful, with lush gardens and an incredible view. Rosemary closely observes all of the party guests, along with the host and hostess, and readers learn about the characters through her conversations and observations.

The party is interrupted after one of the guests, Violet McKisco, returns from a trip to the bathroom with the stunning announcement that she has seen some sort of terrible scene unfold in the house. Before she can give details, however, another guest interrupts her: "It's inadvisable to comment on what goes on in this house." As the party breaks up, Rosemary finally manages to be alone with Dick, who invites her to join him and Nicole and some others on a trip to Paris. She accepts and also tells him, "I fell in love with you the first time I saw you."

The drama for the evening is far from over. For the first time in her life, Rosemary experiences insomnia and finally gets up to walk out on the terrace. She comes upon one of the people she has gotten to know the past few days, Luis Campion, who is weeping. His love affair with another man, Royal Dumphry, has apparently ended. But the bigger news he shares with Rosemary is that Violet McKisco's husband, Albert, has challenged the man who silenced her at the Divers' that night, Tommy Barban, to a duel at 5:00 a.m. Campion's story is confirmed by another party guest, Abe North, who is also wandering around the hotel, sleepless.

Abe North takes Rosemary with him to check on Albert McKisco, whom they find drunk and fearful. Rosemary is appalled at the idea of a duel, but it's apparent no one will back down from it. She returns to the lobby, where Campion asks her to go with him to watch, but she refuses. However, when her mother confirms she ought to go and perhaps be of help, Rosemary obeys. She and Campion furtively follow McKisco and North in a hotel car and watch the scene, which results in both men missing when they fire their guns at each other.

Rosemary and Dick

The novel's action then shifts to Paris, where Rosemary has traveled with the Divers and their crew. She admires Dick wherever they go, and as she overhears a conversation between him and Nicole, arranging a sexual tryst one afternoon, she experiences pangs of jealousy. That night, Nicole is too tired to go out, having spent the day visiting war memorials. Rosemary seizes the opportunity to try to gain more of Dick's affections. She drinks alcohol for the first time, having turned 18 the day before, and manages to be alone in a car with him. This allows her to learn more about him, to declare once again her love, and to get him to kiss her. Then, when they return to the hotel, she insists he come into her room, where she begs him to take her virginity. He refuses, reminding Rosemary he is in love with his wife and they should not do anything that might hurt her. When he leaves her, Rosemary sits and brushes her hair until her arms ache.

Rosemary feels ashamed the next morning, but ends up not feeling much discomfort as she spends the morning with Nicole and they meet the others for lunch. Having arranged for a private viewing of her popular movie Daddy's Girl, Rosemary takes them to the theater. A past beau of hers, Collis Clay, joins the party. After the film plays, Rosemary announces she has arranged for Dick to take a screen test. This is when things get uncomfortable, as Dick thinks Rosemary's idea is horrible.

Rosemary and Dick then travel to a tea the others do not want to attend, taking Collis Clay in the taxi with them to drop him off. When he tries to reverse the drop-off order, so it is he and Rosemary dropping Dick off, there is another awkward moment before he understands.

Rosemary strongly dislikes the women at the tea; she and Dick don't stay long. When they get in a taxi, it becomes clear Dick is now in love with her. They fall into each other's arms, kissing passionately. But before they even get back to their hotel, Dick shifts and stresses it is wrong and he must never hurt Nicole.

That night there is a big party, celebrating Rosemary's birthday, all arranged by Dick. They move from place to place in Paris until the wee hours of the morning. Rosemary finds it all very exciting, especially the moments when she dances in Dick's arms. At the end of the evening, however, she is left alone with the Norths and feels dissatisfied without Dick.

Strange Friends

Abe North leaves the next morning, traveling to the United States to pursue his musical career. Nicole is waiting to see him off at the train station in Paris when he arrives, and it is revealed Abe has been in love with her for a long time. She tries to talk to him about his alcohol addiction, but he doesn't want to hear it. As the others arrive to see him off—Rosemary, Mary North, and Dick—a strange event occurs. A woman later identified as Maria Wallis pulls out a gun and shoots an Englishman. Nicole knows the woman and decides to get involved by calling Maria's sister, Laura, to let her know what has happened. Once that is done, however, everyone seems to dismiss the event. Mary prepares to make her own departure, to Salzburg; Rosemary goes to a film studio. As the Divers prepare to go back to the hotel, Collis Clay approaches. When he shares a story about Rosemary and a boy named Hillis making out in a train car, Dick is seized with jealousy. After a trip to the bank, he decides he will go try to find Rosemary at the studio, but he is unsuccessful. So he phones her and confesses, "I'm in an extraordinary condition about you."

Rosemary finishes writing a letter to her mother; the contents make it clear her infatuation with Dick has nearly played out. Dick and Nicole decide to go to a play that night, while Rosemary decides to dine in her room alone.

The Body in the Bedroom

The next morning the Divers learn that Abe North did not leave town. He was involved in a barroom misunderstanding involving some black men. Abe hides out in the Ritz bar. Late in the afternoon a black man named Jules Peterson seeks Abe out, but the bartender won't allow Peterson in the bar, so Abe goes out to him and brings him to Rosemary's room, where Dick and Rosemary are kissing. They all go into the Divers' rooms instead, where they learn that Abe has drunkenly promised to help Peterson with his shoe polish business.

Peterson goes out in the hall so the others can talk. Dick eventually convinces Abe to go to his room to sleep off his hangover. When Rosemary returns to her room, she finds Peterson dead in her bed. Dick acts quickly to keep Rosemary from blame, placing the body in the hallway where he claims they found it. However, Nicole breaks under the strain. Once again, in a bathroom, she behaves in a remarkably crazy way. Rosemary is relieved when Collis Clay seeks her out in the Divers' rooms, and she hastily prepares to go out with him.

Book 2

Zurich, 1917

This part of the novel goes back in time, to the spring of 1917, in Zurich. It is focused on providing background information about Dick and Nicole Diver. Dick is 26 years old at this time. He has been a Rhodes scholar and taken his degree at Johns Hopkins (he is technically Dr. Diver, but does not use the honorific throughout the novel), served in the war, and is writing pamphlets which will one day be published as a book.

One day in April Dick visits his friend Franz Gregorovius, who works at Dohmler's Clinic. From their conversations readers learn Dick has exchanged quite a few letters with a beautiful, rich young woman under Franz's care. Dick briefly met her the last time he visited the clinic, before going to war, and she has written him about 50 letters, some of which appear in the novel. They reveal her mental state—and the identity of the letter writer: Nicole Warren.

Franz tells Dick about the case. Nicole was brought to the clinic by her father, Devereux Warren, at age 16. Dr. Dohmler diagnosed her as schizophrenic and was surprised when her father seemed to want to get as far away from her as possible. Finally Warren revealed the truth. After her mother's death, he engaged Nicole in an incestuous relationship, and this is what has led to her mental illness. Dohmler said they would treat Nicole, but demanded her father stay away from her for a minimum of five years. Since the treatments began, Nicole has improved remarkably, but Franz warns Dick he must "go very gently" with her because she is in love with him.

Dick and Nicole

After several visits between Dick and Nicole, Dr. Dohmler calls Dick in for a conference. When Dick admits he is "half in love" with Nicole and has thought of marrying her, Dohmler says he must never see her again. When Dick makes it clear to Nicole that their relationship must end, she seems devastated at first but then seems to do just fine and does not try to reach him. Dick, on the other hand, suffers.

Dick and Nicole meet by chance again that summer. They are both on the way up to a town called Caux in a mountain-climbing cable car. Nicole is with an admirer, the Conte de Marmora, and her older sister, Beth Warren, who goes by the name Baby. The sisters invite Dick to dinner at their hotel that night, and he attends. Baby questions him about Nicole's condition and tells Dick she is planning to set Nicole up with a rich doctor from Chicago who can take care of her. As they talk Nicole wanders off alone. Dick finds her gazing at the lake far below them. Soon they are kissing, and Dick is enchanted by her.

The next day Dick comes home from a swim to find two notes. The first is from Nicole, stating she loved what happened between them last night. The other is from Baby, advising him she has had to leave and is placing Nicole in his hands to return to the sanitarium. He unhappily complies, but at the end of the day he knows he has fallen in love with her.

By September Dick is talking to Baby about marrying Nicole. She is not convinced it is a good idea—or that he wants anything more than Nicole's huge fortune—but the marriage does occur.

Then there are a series of short, first-person sections presenting Nicole's state of mind in letter form, snippets of conversations, and musings. These acquaint readers with how the money issues are resolved, the births of the children, the couple's travels and lifestyle, their homes, and the mental breaks Nicole has, which require further hospitalizations. By the end of Book 2, Chapter 10 events have been brought up to the moment the novel opens on the beach in Book 1.

Back to the Present

Chapter 11 then continues from the point at which Book 1 ends. Dick and Rosemary's mother are talking on the day before Rosemary and Mrs. Speers plan to return to the United States. He admits his love for Rosemary, and then they say their goodbyes. Later, home at Villa Diana, Dick muses about how he kept Nicole from completely snapping in Paris and brought her home safely. As he looks around, he suddenly feels enslaved and diminished by Nicole's wealth.

In the winter the Divers go to St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps. Baby is there also, and Franz comes to visit as well. He makes a proposal to Dick: to go in together on a clinic in Zurich, with Dick providing the funding. Baby thinks it is a good idea, and after thinking about the idea for a couple of days, Dick decides to accept the offer.

Eighteen months after the Divers make the move, Dick reflects on what the experience has been like. He does not seem particularly happy, but he does get positive things from his work. One afternoon a letter arrives from a previous patient, accusing Dick of having inappropriate relations with her young daughter. Nicole has read it and seems to believe it. They take the children to a nearby fair, where Nicole suddenly takes off at a run. Dick leaves the children with a woman working the fair and gives chase. Once he catches her, Dick sees she is close to hysteria, and tries to calm her, saying they must go home. As they drive up the treacherous mountain road leading home, Nicole suddenly jerks the steering wheel of the car and nearly kills them all. Dick is furious and sends the children on foot to a nearby inn for help. The proprietor soon arrives and they all reach safety.

Three months after this incident Dick asks Franz for a month-long leave of absence so he can go away by himself, leaving Nicole in the care of the clinic. Franz agrees, and Dick departs for a Berlin conference. After it concludes, he travels around. In Munich he runs into Tommy Barban, accompanied by a finely attired prince with whom he has escaped from Russia; Tommy is still doing his best to be involved in every war that comes along. From Tommy, Dick learns Abe North has just been beaten to death in a speakeasy in New York.

From Munich, Dick travels to Innsbruck. His thoughts are about having "lost himself" and wanting to be "in love with every pretty woman he saw." A telegram arrives from Nicole announcing the death of Dick's father. He immediately arranges to leave on a ship for the United States. He claims his father's body in Buffalo and takes it to Virginia for burial in the family cemetery.

Rosemary Reappears

The McKiscos, Albert and Violet, are on the ship Dick takes to return to Europe. Albert has become a famous author. From Naples Dick takes a train to Rome. It is there he comes upon Rosemary for the first time in four years. She is there for the filming of her current movie. This time they finally consummate their love. However, Dick realizes afterward that "Nicole was his girl ... Rosemary was self-indulgence."

Dick runs into Baby Warren that night, and they dine together. Baby pushes Dick to move Nicole out of the clinic and suggests an alternative arrangement. Dick wonders whether he has been the right person for Nicole.

The next day Dick and Rosemary go to lunch, but it is clear their brief love affair is over. Dick ends up going out with Collis Clay that night, who still comes sniffing around anyplace he hears Rosemary can be found. They drink a lot, and then separate. Dick gets arrested after causing trouble with taxi drivers and punching a lieutenant, and Baby is the one he calls to rescue him from jail. She manages to secure his release, but it leaves her with a feeling of "moral superiority over him."

Book 3

Dick Begins to Decline

This part of the novel opens a week before Dick returns to the sanatorium. Kaethe, Franz Gregorovius's wife, is doing her best to cast aspersions on Dick and his ability to function as a full partner at the clinic. She continues her suggestions after Dick arrives home in bad shape. The signs of the beating he received are still there, and he is drinking too much.

After Dick's favorite patient dies, Franz sends him to Lausanne to see about another case. A Spanish gentleman wishes his son Francisco to be "cured" of homosexuality and alcoholism. Dick refuses the case, but the young man's partner, Royal Dumphry, tells Dick Nicole's father is in Lausanne and is dying from alcoholism. Dick reaches out to Warren's doctor, who advises him that all the man wants before dying is to reconcile with Nicole. Dick visits Warren and lets him know he will have to consult with Franz regarding whether or not a meeting between Nicole and her father is advisable. He calls Zurich to talk to Franz, but he is out. So Dick lets Kaethe know of the situation. He fails to tell her not to mention this to Nicole, but Kaethe does exactly that. Nicole insists she will go to Lausanne immediately and leaves for the train. While Nicole is traveling, Warren disappears.

A week later, back in Zurich, the father of a patient arrives at the clinic to remove his son. He is angry because his son, being treated for alcoholism, has told him Dick often has alcohol on his breath. This event opens the door for Franz to suggest it is time for their partnership to be dissolved, and Dick agrees.

Nicole and Tommy

So the Divers return to Villa Diana to live with their children. Dick takes a sudden interest in them and settles into a life of wealth, leisure, and heavy drinking. The family travels often, and on one visit to see Mary North, who has remarried a very wealthy man from southwestern Asia (she now bears the title Contessa di Minghetti) they end up committing a horrible faux pas against the man's culture.

Upon their return to Villa Diana, Dick's downward spiral continues, resulting in Nicole's comment that she has ruined him. When Tommy Barban arrives on the scene, it does not take long for her to realize she is ready to move on from her husband. The plot thickens when Rosemary also arrives. It's been five years since they all first met, but things have changed radically. Dick is no longer the "golden boy" who everyone desires. Nicole is no longer needy and ill. Rosemary has grown up. Following a humiliating display of his reduced status, Dick decides to go away by himself for a few days. Nicole and Tommy immediately begin an affair. Dick's return makes the breakup of the Divers' marriage final within days, and Dick soon leaves Villa Diana forever.

Nicole and Tommy get married. Dick practices medicine around New York, but without much success. At some point, he stops sending for the children.

Tender Is the Night Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Nicole is raped by her dad and develops schizophrenia.

Rising Action

2 Promising psychologist Dick Diver marries Nicole.

3 Dick falls in love with the beautiful actress Rosemary Hoyt.

4 Nicole has a severe breakdown.

5 Dick joins his friend Franz to take over a Zurich clinic.

6 Nicole has another major breakdown.

7 Dick begins and ends a brief affair with Rosemary.

8 Dick begins regularly drinking heavily.


9 Franz and Dick part ways because of Dick's drinking.

Falling Action

10 Dick unravels; Nicole falls in love with Tommy Barban.

11 The Divers divorce so Nicole and Tommy can marry.


12 Dick moves to New York and gradually fades away.

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