Dick Diver: F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920's Narcissist

"Tender is the Night": A commentary not just on an American classic

Posted Nov 29, 2013

"He opened the gate to his amusing world. So long as [people] subscribed to it completely, their happiness was his preoccupation..."God, am I like the rest after all?" —so he used to think starting awake at night—"Am I like the rest?"

In college, I read Tender is the Night. Recently, I re-read the book that I read first in 1962. I am not writing here as a literary critic but as someone who has spent 43 years evaluating, treating, and writing about people who build themselves up at the expense of others and who see themselves as the hub of the wheel around which everyone else revolves. Many of these individuals take such egregious liberties in their business or interpersonal relationships that they wind up in jail. (Dick Diver did spend a brief period in jail.) Many are talented and successful as was physician Dick Diver. They have magnetic personalities drawing people into their web. Others find them brilliant, charming, with dazzling personalities. However, like F. Scott Fitzgerald's character, Dick Diver, they are morally corrupt and victimize others, especially those vulnerable enough to succumb to their charm.

We are hearing in the media more about these people who are celebrities in Hollywood and in the world of sports. While we are attracted by their talents, we may be surprised and dismayed to discover that behind the public persona, they engage in domestic violence, substance abuse, assaultive behavior, and sexual indiscretion.

The glamorous Dick Diver ends up, not on the Riviera or in Switzerland with the beautiful people, but in an office in Buffalo "evidently without success....He became entangled with a young girl who worked in a grocery store, and he was also involved in a lawsuit regarding some medical question." F. Scott Fitzgerald, in this landmark of American fiction, succeeds in vividly describing and unmasking this narcissist. Something similar seems to be happening with increasing frequency in revelations about many celebrities today!