Sweet Poison: The Detorioration of Dick Diver
Even nectar is a poison if taken in excess.
In literature, one of the most common causes of a character’s demise is a result of a fatal flaw, or a hamartia. However, F. Scott Fitzgerald proves that sometimes abundance, namely the strong qualities of a character, can transform into venom. Both internal and external forces work together in Dick Diver’s deterioration. Despite negative external forces, the tragic demise in Tender is the Night is rooted in an excess rather than balance of the positive aspects of his character. Diver’s marriage, friendships, career, and sanity deteriorate as he not only loses his ability to control his “self-indulgences”, namely alcohol, but also his lust for vitality and his relationship with Nicole and her wealth leads to his demise.
As Dick Diver slowly loses control of his life, he also loses his ability to control his “self-indulgences”: his career and relationships deteriorate owing to an excess of alcohol. “Your friends still like you, Dick. But you say awful things to people when you’ve been drinking,” said a friend of Diver’s, trying to help him understand that his abuse of alcohol, leading to a state of uncontrolled social conduct, negatively effected his friendships (Fitzgerald 311). Unable to control his “self-indulgence” even at his workplace, a mental health facility, drinking also affected Dick’s career as a well-known psychiatrist. An angered mother removes her child from the clinic: “‘My son is here for alcoholism, and he told us he smelt liquor on your breath… Not once, but twice.
..he has smelt liquor on your breath!'” (251). When he returns to the clinic, Dick and Franz dissolve their partnership. This imbalance of indulgence leads to alcoholism and destroys Diver’s relationships and career. Rosemary, like alcohol, is also one of the sweet poisons exemplifying an external weakness and temptation that leads to Dick Diver’s destruction.
Diver could not control his feelings for Rosemary as a result of an excessive fascination with vitality. A positive quality in a human, Dick’s passion for youth and freshness propelled him in his career, social life and even saved schizophrenic Nicole from a lonely, unsociable life destined to be spent in a mental asylum. He is attracted to young women like Nicole and Rosemary because they are inexperienced, uncritical, admiring, and worshipful. Yet as his internal hunger for vitality overpowers him, he accepts the young and naive love of Rosemary Hoyt, infatuated with Dick from the beginning, and upsets the balance. Old enough to be the father of this fatherless daughter, Dick is intelligent enough – and had been trained – to know that Rosemary’s love for him is merely “childish infatuation” (213). He is aware that Rosemary sees him “as something fixed and Godlike” and knows the relationship can only bring difficulties (104).
Yes despite this awareness, he is not immune to her externally persistent charms. As her name suggests, “Rosemary, the herb of remembrance, recalls Dick to his youth, to the best part of his ideal self, and he is drawn to her by his appreciation and need of the very qualities that he himself once possessed” (Stanton). In Rosemary, Dick senses “something blooming” (22). In Rosemary’s love, Dick believes he can recapture his vitality and youth, yet consequently only ruins himself and his relationships. Furthermore, Dick’s inability to control his feelings frustrates him; in both social and professional settings, he is a master of emotions and is always in control of his environment. Thus Diver sees his love for Rosemary as a negative experience: “If he had to bring up all the bitterness and hatred of the world into his heart, he was not going to be in love with her again” (219).
Dick, so imbalanced with this discrepancy, desires to overwhelm his heart with negativity to supress this love for Rosemary. He “may hope to atone for his betrayal of self, but what he does instead is betray Nicole and their marriage” (Mark), misbalancing the delicate marital scale with the introduction of a new woman. Nicole is aware and feels displeasure towards Dick’s feelings for Rosemary as his attention is directed towards another woman: “Nicole hardened again as Dick knelt on the straw mat and looked about for Rosemary” (278). Dick is so overpowered by his inability to control his emotions and his lust for youth that he proclaims to Nicole: “‘I’m in love with Rosemary. It’s kind of self-indulgence saying that to you'” (163) and this ultimately damages their relationship and Dick’s ideal self, further leading to Dick’s demise.
Although he eventually comes to the realisation that Rosemary is too young and immature for him, Dick’s inability to balance his lust for youth and innocence has ruined his ideal self and his marriage with Nicole. A steady supply of love, alcohol and money are the essentials to a plentiful and fulfilled life. However, Diver is weakened by his financial dependence on Nicole’s generous and wealthy family. Dick does not marry Nicole for her money, but the imbalance of financial contribution in this marital partnership overwhelms him and undermines his commitment to his work. In the beginning Dick was content “living rather ascetically, travelling third-class when he was alone, with the cheapest wine, and good care of his clothes, and penalizing himself for any extravagances [and] maintained a qualified financial independence”, demonstrating self-discipline and balance (200). After his marriage to the wealthy heiress with a sizeable financial cushion, he valiantly “refuses to have anything whatever to do with it”, but his resolution weakens before Nicole’s demands (167).
When she wants to travel after the birth of their first child, she argues, “Why should we penalize ourselves just because there’s more Warren money than Diver money?” (167). Dick neglects his work while they travel. After the second baby’s birth, Nicole declares, “We must spend my money and have a house—I’m tired of apartments and waiting for you” (169). They move to the Riviera, supposedly to expedite his work, but he has been deflected from his work to the extent that he no longer even thinks of himself as a doctor. Nicole asks, “Dick, why did you register Mr. and Mrs.
Diver instead of Doctor and Mrs. Diver?…You’ve taught me that work is everything” (169).
Furthermore when the Warren family purchases the clinic Dick works for, Dick realizes that it has been Warren money, not his own professional reputation, which had provided him a place to practice psychiatry. Nicole’s wealth becomes a serious deterrent to his career, as well as determining his social class, the kind of patients he will deal with, his friends and social circles: “He glanced about at the house that Nicole’s grandfather had paid for…His work became confused with Nicole’s problems; in addition, her income had increased so fast of late that it seemed to belittle his work. Also, for the purpose of her cure, he had for many years pretended to a rigid domesticity from which he was drifting away, and this pretense became more arduous in this effortless immobility, in which he was inevitably subjected to microscopic examination. When Dick could no longer play what he wanted to play on the piano, it was an indication that life was being refined down to a point.” (167-68) As a result of lack of balance in financial contribution, this financial enslavement damages his pride, his work and his social life, which in turn drains Diver’s self-esteem, leading to “his emotional bankruptcy at the end of the novel” (Mangum 1101).
Dick’s dedication to his wife’s illness, money, and their life together requires a greater amount of emotional and mental bandwidth and resources than what either of them had expected, permitting the growth of a malicious tumour beneath the surface of their seemingly happy marriage. In fact, the happy marriage is simply an illusion. Both internal and external forces play in the increasingly destructive relationship of Dick and Nicole Diver. Externally, the financial contribution overwhelms Dick’s morals. Internally, as a result of excess of his ambition, the many roles that Dick plays to support Nicole’s mental instability tears him apart. Nicole requires that Dick simultaneously be her lover, husband, physiatrist, father, guide; the many roles he must play exhaust Dick as the demand would be too much for anyone.
“Dick tried to rest… A “schizophrene” is well named as a split personality… It was necessary to treat her with active and affirmative insistence, keeping the road to reality always open, making the road to escape harder going. But the brilliance, the versatility of madness is akin to the resourcefulness of water seeping through, over and around a dike.
It requires the united front of many people to work against it….In a tired way, he planned that they would again resume the regime relaxed a year before.” (91) The care that Dick gives for Nicole is quite out of the context of a “normal healthy” relationship. He states it requires a number of people to work against it; however, the only constant companion of Nicole’s is Dick, taking on all these roles himself. He “attempts” to rest but is never able to.
Dick is victim to an excess of philanthropic ambition: he “believed he could cure Nicole and, as her lover, husband and psychiatrist, remain immune to the process” (Magnum 1099). Diver’s unbalanced ambition is also demonstrated in his capacity to love and marry a mental patient: a woman whose traumatic history he knew and the course of whose mental illness he could professionally predict, should be considered a strength; however, he is conscious that it would be a burden from the start. As a psychiatrist he was well aware of the expected difficulties of a mental patient. Warned by two of Europe’s best psychiatrists that his marriage was doomed to failure because he would become husband, doctor and father to Nicole, he replies: “Of course Franz is right,” demonstrating his awareness (139). Although aware of the difficulties before and after marriage, this lack of balance of roles in this relationship arising from excessive ambition overwhelms Diver and destroys both him and his marriage.
The name Diver connotes two ideas. One is Dick’s deep diving into learning, discipline, creativity, and moral identity suggested by Dick’s super aquatic abilities in his younger days. The other is the dying fall, Dick’s long dive into disintegration and oblivion, metaphorically related through the swimming theme with the older, dissipated, and exhausted Dick’s inability to perform aquatically. Portrayed throughout the beginning of the book in a very positive light as a wonderful entertainer and the epitome of social grace, Dick’s character is not as strong nor as pure as it first appears. However, Dick is not an entirely bad person. Driven by negative external consequences, Dick Diver’s deterioration is rooted in an excess rather than balance of the positive aspects of his personality, causing the decline of his marriage, relationships, career, healthy and sanity.
His inability to control his “self-indulgences”, an overpowering lust for vitality, and an imbalanced relationship with Nicole stemming from over-ambition are at the root of his demise. Like his creator, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dick Diver becomes a serious alcoholic and watches his vast talents waste away until he himself disappears. Word Count: 1416 (with quotations: 1868)