Devereux is Nicole’s father. He raped her when she was somewhere between the ages of eleven and thirteen, just after her mother died (Devereux says she was eleven when her mother died; Nicole tells Rosemary she was with her mother in Paris when she was twelve). Dr. Dohmler asks him if it happened more than once. Devereux's response is rather creepy: "Oh, no! She almost – she seemed to freeze up right away. She’d just say, ‘Never mind, never mind, Daddy. It doesn’t matter. Never mind."Why does this creep us out exactly? Because Devereux seems to be suggesting that if Nicole hadn’t stopped him, he would have continued to have sex with her. And because he doesn’t seem to be aware of how messed up what he’s saying sounds. Unless we really haven’t been paying attention, it’s easy to see how his dark act colors the whole book. We are like the spectators in the courtroom who mistake Dick for a child-rapist; our job is to condemn Devereux Warren.
Knowing that he committed a terrible, unforgivable act, let's take a deeper look at Devereux. First, let’s pretend we have to write a paper arguing that he’s a sympathetic character. What can we use as evidence? He takes Nicole to the best psychiatric clinic he can find. He admits that he raped her. And, he sounds really, really torn up about it. It’s dawning on him in horrifying degrees how one single act wreaked havoc on his daughter, and on himself. He confesses in an attempt to heal the damage he has done (and to get if off his chest too, probably). He agrees to stop seeing Nicole as the doctors order, and only asks for her when he thinks he’s dying, in a last ditch effort to make amends.
Armed with the two perspectives above, we can try to see what Devereux means to the novel as a whole. Remember when Dick, Nicole, and Abe are at the boat train station in Paris? (Boat train: "an express train for transporting passengers between a port and a city.") Abe is on the verge of a serious breakdown on his way to America to work on his art, his music. The question of their moment: Why do "so many smart men go to pieces?" That question resonates throughout the book.
Also remember, like many great works of fiction Tender is the Night deals in extremes. So who is the most extreme character in the novel? And who breaks into the most pieces? We’re sure a bunch of characters just flew into your mind, hopefully among them Devereux Warren. To understand what happened, let’s try to put the broken pieces of Devereux Warren together again.
Some passages from Nicole’s letters to Dick might help with our reconstructive surgery.
Come back to me some day, for I will be here always on this green hill. Unless they will let me write my father, whom I loved dearly.
So today I have written my father to come and take me away. I am glad.
Before that terrible morning when his daughter climbed into bed with him looking for comfort, Devereux Warren was a wonderful father. She felt loved, safe, and protected. He gave her everything – education, travel, money, clothes, and good conversation. It’s natural that she wants to forgive him, to let things go back to the way they were before. She still believes he can rescue her from the pain she’s in. This is why she went to pieces. Her mind split when she couldn’t balance her love for her father with the horrible pain he had caused her.
The two passages are from early in Dick and Nicole’s correspondence. In the later letters, she doesn’t mention her father. And in the last ones, she seems to be better, to be cured. What happened? Dr. Dohmler and Franz say that transference happened. Transference is part of Sigmund Freud’s philosophy of psychology. Nicole’s doctors believed she transferred her feeling of love for her father onto Dick. Dick is safe. Sex would be a natural part of a love affair with Dick, so he's not raping her. He’s not quite old enough to actually be her father, but he’s old enough to fulfill the role of wise, strong rescuer. Unfortunately, later on in their relationship Dick mirrors, in an arguably less extreme way, the abusive side of Devereux that Nicole wants to run from.
As you can see, Devereux is more than just a stock villain. And this is just a warm-up. We’ve left you lots and lots to talk about with this complicated character.