To the French Riviera come Dick and Nicole Diver. Handsome, rich and glamorous, their dinners are legendary, their atmosphere magnetic. But something is wrong – Nicole has a secret and Dick a weakness. Together they head towards the rocks on which their lives crash – and only one of them really survives. Fitzgerald worked on seventeen versions of this novel, the obsessions of which consumed his marriage and his life.
Stephen Bradley HYMS: One of Fitzgerald’s best, about the descent into dissapation of a psychiastrist, from his promising youth to obscurity and disgrace.
Publisher: Penguin Classics
It’s not clear to me in the book whether Nicole gains in health at Dick’s cost, or in fact what really leads to his apparent dissolution, but I thought this quote rings true about the affect that caring for a family member can have. (Topsy is Dick and Nicole’s daughter and second child, the quote comes at a point when Nicole has ‘relapsed’)
Having gone through unprofessional agonies during her long relapse following Topsy’s birth, he had, perforce, hardened himself about her, making a cleavage between Nicole sick and Nicole well. This made it difficult now to distinguish between his self-protective professional detachment and some new coldness in his heart.
From what I remember it seemed that by compromising his ethics and getting involved with a patient Diver begins his decline. Fitzgerald seemed to be fascinated by failure and people doing what they want to do rather than what they should do. The beautiful & the damned is another other striking example. They all drink too much and lead dreadful lives not having the discipline to avoid any temptation that comes their way. There is almost a whole genre of books about wealthy americans being obnoxiously aimless in post war europe. Hemmingways ‘sun also rises’ is the best other example I can think of, highsmiths the talented mr ripley is an interesting variation. Fitzgerald & hemmingway are probably guilty of romanticising a fairly silly attidude but they’re enjoyable books.
Not sure why but 2 points are very memorable for me on diver’s trajectory: maybe his lowest ebb when he acts like a bigot and when a colleague’s wife condems him, noting that he is ‘no longer a serious man’.
Interestingly much of this book seems to have been based on Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, and her experiences of mental illness. She has written about this herself elsewhere.