Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night Summary and Analysis of Book 2, Chapters xiv-xviii

A year and a half later on the Zugersee, Dick feels sorry for Nicole, who is a victim of the passage of time, of the realization of her "perishable beauty" (p. 180), and of the loneliness of owning a husband who does not want to be owned. The clinic is beautiful, modern, and successful, and the patients like Dick better than Franz, though sometimes they think he neglects them. One female artist, who suffers from "nervous eczema" (p. 183), is his special patient and will only respond to Dick. His pity for her sometimes feels loving or sexual, and he treats her affectionately. With his other patients, however, it is clear that Dick is somewhat dismissive of their illnesses, and he spends much of the time at the hospital simply going through the motions.

After apathetically suffering the "chore" (p. 186) of lunching with the patients, Dick returns to the villa to find Nicole with a letter and a strange expression. The letter, Dick reads, is from a recently discharged (though still mentally ill) patient accusing Dick of seducing her fifteen-year-old daughter, who had come to the clinic to help her mother. Dick recalls that the girl had flirted with him and that "in an idle, almost indulgent way, he kissed her" (p. 187), but that he had not allowed the affair to progress any further. He tells Nicole to stop her nonsense. The entire family gets in the car for a drive to the Agiri Fair. Nicole is clearly upset, and Dick feels increasingly exhausted by his double role as husband and psychiatrist.

Nicole begins to run very suddenly, and Dick, leaving the children with a woman at a booth, runs after her. He finds her riding the ferris wheel, laughing hysterically. A small crowd is watching her. When the ride stops, Dick grabs her and reprimands her for losing control of herself. They argue. Nicole, after yelling hateful and suspicious accusations, becomes vulnerable and begs Dick to help her. Dick pities Nicole's dependence on him and decides that she must return to the clinic in Zurich as a patient.

In the car on the way back, Nicole grabs the wheel and intentionally swerves them off the road, almost killing them all. Once they have safely crashed against a tree, she laughs hysterically again. Dick lifts the children out of the car, telling them to walk up to the inn directly above them to get help. The inn proprietor comes to their aid and helps Dick push the car. Dick sends Nicole up to wait with the children. But remembering that there is liquor at the inn and that Nicole both wants and cannot drink it, he leaves the car and runs up to avert the disaster.

Three months later, Dick asks Franz for permission to take a leave of absence to attend the Psychiatric Conference in Berlin (though he has no intention of attending any of the sessions), admitting that he is worn out from caring for Nicole and needs time alone. On the plane to Munich, he thinks of his antipathy for the English and dreams of seducing a young peasant girl. His mind is divided between "tawdry souvenirs of boyhood" and "the low painful fire of intelligence" (p. 196).

In Munich, Dick happens upon Tommy Barban gambling in a café, "all relaxed for combat" (p. 197). Tommy asks how Dick and Nicole are, commenting that Dick does not look as "jaunty" and "spruce" as he used to (p. 196). Prince Chillicheff, one of Tommy's gambling partners, explains that he was in hiding in Russia and that and that Tommy killed three Red Guards to get him out. Mr. McKibbens invites Dick to accompany his family to Innsbruck the next day, but Dick declines.

Tommy then begins to discuss the story in the Herald reporting that Abe North was beaten to death in a speakeasy in New York. He had crawled all the way to the Racquet Club (or the Harvard Club, as Hannan disputes) before dying. When Dick awakes in the morning, he sees out his window a procession of World War I veterans marching to place wreaths on the tombs of the dead, and he feels a sudden sorrow "for Abe's death, and his own youth of ten years ago" (p. 200).

At Innsbruck, Dick thinks detachedly about Nicole and loves her "for her best self," but he also feels that he has lost himself, "somehow permitted his arsenal to be locked up in the Warren safety-deposit vaults," and that the spear of his intelligence and promise "had been blunted" (p. 201). He sees the shadow of a woman and notices that he feels "in love with every pretty woman" he sees now (p. 201).

Dick attempts to climb a mountain with the guide, but the weather forces them to return back to Innsbruck and try the next day. After dinner and wine, Dick thinks more about the pretty woman and considers having an affair. In his room, he opens a telegram from Buffalo forwarded through Nicole in Zurich. It announces that Dick's father has died. Dick feels lost and distraught; his father had been his moral guide. His father had been full of self-knowledge and lived by the code of "'good instincts,' honor, courtesy, and courage" (p. 204). Dick decides to go to America and, as he calls Nicole, he wishes "he had always been as good as he had intended to be" (p. 204).


Dick's involvement with the clinic on the Zugersee reveals the ambivalence that Dick has always felt for the psychiatric profession. Earlier in the novel, he revealed that he had studied psychology only because a girl at Oxford in whom he was interested was taking the classes. Although the idea of professional prominence appealed to him, he was never fully committed to his profession or his patients. Aside from the one syphilitic female patient with whom he shares a somewhat unprofessional affectionate relationship, he views his patients with indifference and walks though the day in a mindless daze. He views lunch with his patients as a "chore" (p. 186) and takes no joy in his position. Though he is popular, his patients also think that he neglects them, and it is apparent that the ropes that have tied Dick to his profession and his motivation for success have been cut.

In this section, Dick suffers one of the two false accusations in the novel that involve his alleged seduction of a young girl. When Nicole receives a letter from one of Dick's former patients claiming that Dick seduced her fifteen-year-old daughter, Nicole's jealousy (and perhaps her own memories) become overwhelming. She suffers a major breakdown. Dick tries to defend himself, but the very accusation mars his honor and attests to the widening gap between him and his former honor and dignity. Powerless to control it, he is being associated with the criminality and recklessness that later define his character more thoroughly.

At this point, the marital bond between Dick and Nicole is truly cut. Dick realizes that "the dualism in his views of her--that of the husband, that of the psychiatrist--was increasingly paralyzing his faculties" (p. 188). "Many times he tried unsuccessfully to let go his hold on her," but this "left her holding nothing in her hands" (p. 180). He tries to distance himself from her, but she is still too dependent on him to be able to fully exist without their immediate mutual immersion. This intermingling has been illustrated by their signing their letters "Dicole," as if they operated as one person. Indeed, their combined energies seem only as strong as that of a single person. This halving and mutual integration explains why they cannot both be strong and independent simultaneously, but much switch trajectories. That is, Dick must weaken as Nicole strengthens, for neither is complete alone.

Nicole is also becoming anxious and dissatisfied. Dick pities her, knowing that she only pretends to love their children, and he senses that she has only been biding her time on the Zugersee. "She led a lonely life owning Dick who did not want to be owned" (p. 180). Her mistrust of Dick has been growing since they met Rosemary, and the letter about the patient's young daughter completely puts her over the edge of reason. Yet, despite her resentment and anger, she still desperately needs Dick. Fitzgerald powerfully conveys this at the fair, when Dick finds Nicole after her fit of anger and, following her vitriolic accusations, she pleads with Dick to help her. She is a tower not erected in its own right, but one merely "suspended from him" (p. 191). They had "become one and equal, not opposite and complementary; she was Dick too, the drought in the marrow of his bones" (p. 191). Even the idea of death is more bearable to Nicole than losing Dick's support. Soon she is so frantic with pain and fear that she endangers the lives of her entire family in the car, an action that plainly reveals the deep mental illness and dependence that persist behind a beautiful and composed face.

Dick cannot avoid his own submergence beneath her crushing dependence. He is so worn out by the entire incident that he takes a leave of absence from the clinic and heads to Berlin. There, even Tommy Barban notices that he looks tired and deadened. Dick knows that he has lost himself, "locked up in the Warren safety-deposit vaults," and that all of the promise of his youth "had been blunted" (p. 201). He is so desperate to reclaim some element of his lost youth and his lost love that his obsession with women intensifies, and he falls "in love with every pretty woman" he sees (p. 201).