Tender is the Night
All The Blooming Ladies
One can’t help but notice the importance of nature to this story. Nicole’s garden becomes a seat of change and rebirth, and nature is presented as a possible means of healing a war torn world. The idea of blooming takes on a special significance when we talk about Dick, Nicole and Rosemary. Look at this passage: "You’re the only girl I’ve seen for a long time that actually did look like something blooming."
Of course, the other girl was Nicole. We learn later that Nicole was blooming for him before. Things went bad for Dick and Nicole, but he wants to recapture the wonder he felt in the first "bloom" of their relationship. Blooming is a symbol of both newness and possibility, and of newness and possibility withered and dead. Here’s another one: "Down in the garden lanterns still glowed over the table where they had dined, as the Divers stood side by side in the gate, Nicole blooming away and filling the night with graciousness."
This one becomes really weird when we find out that just before this moment, Nicole had a breakdown in the bathroom. The passage is from Rosemary’s point of view. We already know she isn’t necessarily very aware of what’s going on with the people around her. Is she an unreliable witness of Nicole? Or is Nicole feeling better now. Or, has she transformed herself, externally, into what she thinks people want to see. Again, blooming is an ambivalent symbol in the novel.
This next one is a little different because it refers to the literal blooming of a literal flower: "…Dress stay crisp for him, button stay put, bloom narcissus – air stay still and sweet."
What’s so interesting about this passage? Well, it’s probably not the third person narrator talking here. When Nicole is trying to get Dick to take a chance on her, it looks an awful lot like a shift to Nicole as narrator. As we discuss in her "Character Analysis," she’s probably the only character this happens to. As we’ve seen, blooming is important to Dick and here Nicole appears to pick up on this. The passage also speaks to her feelings of unworthiness. She considers herself spoiled, deflowered as they say, and thinks she must rely on the narcissus to bloom for her.
There are many passages that explore the idea of blooming in the novel. We’ll just give you one more. This is Nicole in her garden, just before she decides to take Tommy as her lover, and writes him a letter asking him to come see her: "[S]he had a sense of being cured and in a new way. Her ego began blooming like a great rich rose as she scrambled back along the labyrinths in which she had wandered for years."
This one kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? She know longer relies on flowers to bloom for her. Her ego becomes the flower itself. When she is 17 and preparing to meet Dick, she makes herself into "a basket of flowers." The flowers in a basket are cut and are no longer alive or blooming. Is Nicole, though her affair with Tommy trying to regain the youth she lost and hadn’t quite regained when she met Dick? Is the novel equating (at least in this passage) "blooming" with healthy sexuality, and perhaps suggesting that this has less to do with age, and more to do with state of mind?