Book 2 opens with a flashback to 1917, when Dick has first arrived in Zurich as a twenty-six-year-old doctor. His status as a valuable scholar protected him from the World War I draft. Originally from Connecticut, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1914 before returning to get his degree at Johns Hopkins University. He went to Vienna to meet Freud and wrote a pamphlet that was later published. This was the great "heroic period" (p. 116) in Dick's life. Referred to as "lucky Dick" in New Haven, he was still unaware of his unique charm. He burned textbooks to warm himself while he studied because it was difficult to find coal, assuring himself that all of the information was already inside him. In addition to being a promising scholar, he was also a great athlete.
His interactions with Ed Elkins, his roommate at Yale, made him first doubt the quality of his mind, for he felt that his and Elkins's thinking (which was devoted to football history) were remarkably similar. Dick senses that he must be somehow "less intact, even faintly destroyed" (p. 116), and that "the price of his intactness was incompleteness" (p. 117). Dick sensed that his successes were too easily obtained and that he would not fully bloom as a human and an intellectual unless he encountered misfortune and adversity. When Dick arrived in Zurich, he was under the crippling illusions of "eternal strength and health, and of the essential goodness of people" (p. 117). He was ordered to join a neurological unit in Bar-sur-Aube, France, where the work was merely executive. He completed his short textbook and returned to Zurich, discharged. The narrator reports that Dick, like general Grant, is "ready to be called to an intricate destiny" (p. 118).
Though he felt like a mere "toy-maker" (p. 118) of a doctor in Zurich, he decides to stay for another two years. He sees Franz Gregorovius, a resident pathologist at Dohmler's mental clinic (for the rich) on the Zurichsee. Franz meets him at the station, and they discuss the war on the way to the clinic. Franz explains that patients have shell-shock merely from hearing a distant air raid, and Dick feels that this is nonsense. Then Franz asks if Dick has really just come to see Nicole, with whom he has been corresponding by letter during Dick's draft. Because Nicole was a patient, Franz had read the initial letters that she sent to Dick, but, as she became well again, he essentially turned the case over to Dick.
Dick describes how, when he first met Nicole, he did not know that she was a patient. He thought her to be "the prettiest thing [he] ever saw" (p. 120). Dick begins to defend his pity for the girl, but Franz tells him how important Dick's influence has been in Nicole's recovery and wants to continue to discuss the case in his office before Dick sees her.
Alone in Franz's office, Dick recalls the fifty letters that Nicole sent him after only meeting once. The first half of the letters were "of marked pathological turn" (p. 121), but the second half were entirely normal and revealed that she was maturing. These Dick had awaited eagerly. Dick began to answer all of her letters faithfully, and Nicole sent worried letters like a lover whenever his response was delayed.
About a year and a half earlier, Franz tells Dick, an American man named Mr. Devereux Warren, who was living in Lausanne (but was originally from Chicago), had contacted Doctor Dohmler and brought his sixteen-year-old daughter, Nicole, to the clinic. Mr. Dohmler consulted privately with Mr. Warren, clearly a wealthy man much disturbed by Nicole's condition. With tears in his eyes and whiskey on his breath, Mr. Warren explained that Nicole was a happy and healthy child but, as of about ten months ago, she had been doing "crazy things" (p. 126). She accused one of the Warrens' valets of trying to seduce her, and Mr. Warren fired him before discovering that it was "all nonsense" (p. 127). She became increasingly unstable, speaking often of men trying to attack her, and Mr. Warren spared no expense to try to cure her. Dr. Dohmler sensed a hint of falsity in this story and asked to speak with Nicole.
After Mr. Warren had returned to Lausanne and Nicole had been at the clinic a few days, Dohmler and Franz diagnosed her with acute schizophrenia, noting her view of men as the main symptom. Doctor Dohmler had to persuade Mr. Warren to return for his promised second visit, catching him just as he was about to flee back to America. Within half an hour of his second visit, Mr. Warren broke down and revealed with utter regret and shame that he had molested his daughter years after Mrs. Warren died. Nicole "seemed to freeze up right away" (p. 129). Dr. Dohmler told Mr. Warren to spend the night in a Zurich hotel, come back to the clinic in the morning, and then return to Chicago.
Dohmler told Warren that he would take the case if he promised to stay away from his daughter indefinitely. They doctors mapped out a schedule, but they had little faith that Nicole would improve. Her letters to Dick provided a way to measure her improvement, and Dohmler thanked Dick for continuing the correspondence, for it gave Nicole someone else to think about. At first, she felt complicit in the crime, but when she no longer did, she began to distrust all men, especially those closest to her. The doctors did not encourage her to address the episode directly and, realizing that she had a good mind, they gave her some Freud to read. She became a doctor's pet.
Dick explains that her recent letters show a healthy hunger for life, and Dohmler warns Dick to approach her carefully so that she does not become too attached. Dick tells Dohmler that he intends to be the greatest psychologist who has ever lived, and he explains that his plans are to attend university classes for the rest of the year, go home to visit his father for a month, and then return to take a position at Gisler's Clinic. Dohmler warns him against joining this clinic.
Dick has dinner with Franz and Kaethe Gregorovius, feeling oppressed by Franz's acquiescence to a domestic life without grace or adventure. But he also realizes that he has been going through his own identity crisis of sorts, trying to decide if his sacrifices were really worth making. Though he has wanted to be good, kind, brave and wise, he also has wanted to be loved.
Dick and Nicole now sit out on the veranda and talk. Dick tells Nicole that he will be in Zurich until July, and Nicole explains that she will take a trip with her sister in June. Dick is overwhelmed by her youth, beauty, and the "childish smile that was like all the lost youth in the world" (p. 134). There is loud music playing, and Nicole suggests that she and Dick take a walk to find some quiet. She takes his arm, talking about the phonographs she will play him, and Dick is confused about his feelings for her.
The next week, they sit alone on a rock and listen to the phonographs. Nicole sings to him and presents him with a smile that holds a "profound promise of herself" (p. 136). She leans against him, and he is taken with her, thinking of her as a "scarcely saved waif of disaster bringing him the essence of a continent" (p. 136).
This flashback begins with a portrait of Dick during his early years as a medical student and aspiring doctor. We see a young man full of talent, intellect, motivation and promise, yet we also see hints of the very aspects of Dick's personality that lead to his downfall. As an Ivy League student and Rhodes Scholar, Dick proves himself a serious student. He burns textbooks in order to stay warm and study, knowing that he has already learned all of the information in them. He is driven, dedicated, and considered to have great promise in the field of medicine. This was Dick's "heroic period" (p. 116), and Dick's eventual decline is made even more tragic by its juxtaposition with this golden past, which seemed to promise an even brighter future. For this reason at least, Fitzgerald's choice to employ a flashback makes good literary sense. When Dick tells Franz that he wants to be the greatest psychiatrist that has ever lived, many seem to believe that this goal is within his reach. But readers already know how this promise is turning out.
Even at this early date, though, lurking beneath all of Dick's promise and ambition is a distinct and uneasy sense that this is not a life that he truly wants. From his interactions from Ed Elkins, his roommate at Yale, he begins to suspect that his is not a truly exceptional mind. He feels that he is somehow "less intact, even faintly destroyed" (p. 116), and that he is certainly incomplete. He feels a certain emptiness and lack of fulfillment in the role of the honorable doctor; he feels like a mere "toy-maker" (p. 118). He also has sensed an identity crisis behind his composed exterior, for although he has wanted to be good, kind, brave and wise, he also has wanted to be loved.
Thoughout the novel, this desire to be loved is Dick's strongest motivator, outweighing his desire to be successful in his other pursuits. He is charming and affable, hosting parties and being a constant entertainer. He relishes the admiring and affectionate attention of others, and this need often distracts him from his more scholarly and career-oriented pursuits.
For Dick, being a doctor necessitates that he repress his urges for the good life. In order to maintain his standard of honor, he must not fall prey to many of the earthly temptations that present themselves. For instance, in the first section of the novel, Rosemary notes that Dick barely drinks any alcohol. Yet, in this area too, even during this "heroic period," Fitzgerald portrays Dick's inner identity struggle. He is torn between the honor and integrity upheld by his father's generation and the sense that this simply is not the lifestyle for him. Dick's decline, which we have already observed, documents his slow surrender to the impulses that he so effectively suppressed as a younger man. Though Rosemary's youth and the corruption of Nicole's money will contribute to his deterioration, these chapters clearly suggest that Dick's own propensities provide a foundation for his overall trajectory.
These chapters also provide far more insight into the complicated dynamic of Dick's and Nicole's relationship. (Throughout the first chapter of the novel, the couple is viewed through Rosemary's adoring eyes, and though the reader is given subtle indications of the hardship that lies at the foundation of their marriage, it is presented as happy and mutual, on the whole. Still, the revelation that Nicole is a schizophrenic and that the first year of their relationship also served as Nicole's mental treatment makes it obvious that their love cannot possibly be pure and simple.) Dick is not only a doctor figure, but also a father figure to Nicole; he comes to replace the monstrous man who destroyed her. Through Dick's influence, she is able to move past her intense fear of all men and to trust in his distant affection.
Here we also see a precedent for Dick's semi-incestuous feelings for Rosemary. He is initially attacted to Nicole's "childish smile that was like all the lost youth in the world" (p. 134). She is a "waif of disaster" whom he has adopted as his patient and almost as a daughter. Dick probably understands the consequences of falling in love with her, yet he cannot turn away from the "profound promise" (p. 136) that she offers. Thus, even as a young man, Dick is attracted to relationships that allow him to play a paternal role, and here we begin to see the many parallels between his relationship with Nicole and his relationship with Rosemary.