Tender is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starlet Rosemary Hoyt is a mysterious and glamorous figure in the novel. The more we examine her, the more complicated she seems. She’s the young and beautiful movie star, traveling the globe, partying and being adored. She’s totally talented. But she’s also a home wrecker. Or is she an innocent victim? If her mother hadn’t encouraged her so strongly to pursue Dick, would he have remained a starry-eyed young girl’s infatuation? Let’s look at her film, Daddy’s Girl the one that’s making her so famous, for some insight.
A character within a character within a character…
Rosemary is a very meta-fictional character, though she doesn’t realize it until late in the book. When Violet McKisco tells her, "We thought maybe you were in the plot, Rosemary doesn’t understand what she’s talking about, and maybe we don’t either right away. But later on, the narrator tells us that Rosemary tells Dick, "her most sincere thing: 'Oh, we’re such actors – you and I.'" She’s commenting on the fact that they are both fictional characters in a fictional universe.
Characters in a novel are like actors, but the author is playing all the roles. Because Rosemary’s character is also an actor, she has an added dimension. This confuses her, and maybe us, too. She’s actually living a double or even triple life throughout the novel. She must uphold the image of the perfect daughter to the perfect father, the image of her character in Daddy’s Girl. That’s why Dick can’t let the press find out that a black man died in her bed. A good Daddy’s Girl would never let that happen. In real life, her father is dead, and she’s head over heels in love with her mother. Look at what she says to Dick when she’s trying to get him to sleep with her, and he’s trying to explain that he loves Nicole: "But you can love more than just one person, can’t you? Like I love Mother and I love you – more. I love you more now."
Remember, unlike Nicole, Rosemary is young enough to be Dick’s daughter. Is she playing out the dark side of her Daddy’s Girl role in her real life with Dick? According to Freud, all girls want to sleep with their fathers (and all boys with their mothers), no matter how sweet and innocent they appear on the surface. Is the character of Rosemary a personification of Freud’s abstract idea?
When we consider Nicole and Devereux’s father-daughter relationship, and Dick as a possible parallel figure to Devereux, Rosemary’s becomes a comment on the way Hollywood is delivering idealized, unrealistic portrayals of family life. Rosemary’s success as an actor depends on her pretending to be who she is in the film, even if she’s seducing married men in real life.
Rosemary also becomes an awful foil to Nicole. Rosemary’s character in the movie really does have what Nicole almost had, what she did have before her father raped her – a pretty good relationship with her father. Rosemary's character in the book helps turn Dick into Nicole’s father, at least in her eyes. (See the "Character Analysis" of Devereux Warren for more on this.) That is, by seducing him, she helps Dick become the father figure that abuses the father-daughter relationship. Rosemary, the seemingly perfect Daddy’s girl, enjoys the very thing which nearly drove Nicole to madness. She and Nicole are also foils in terms of their relationships with their mothers. Nicole’s mother couldn’t protect her because she was dead. Rosemary’s mother deliberately sends her daughter into what could have turned out to be an awful experience for her.
Looked at from a meta-fictional standpoint, Rosemary is a character embodying disruption. Her presence disrupts the Divers carefully composed relationship (which, of course, is already showing signs of strain) and she forces us to think more deeply about Nicole’s relationship with her father and with Dick.
One more thing about Daddy’s Girl – it’s most likely a silent film. So Rosemary’s character in the movie is a silent character. That’s part of why Dick praises her talent so sincerely after the screening. It’s probably harder to convey emotion when you can’t use your voice. Perhaps the fact that she’s a "silent" character in the film contributes to her meta-fictionality. Perhaps, like her character in the film, she doesn’t have any real "voice" in the novel, or perhaps, although we do get lots of narrative from her point of view, her real voice is hidden somewhere between the lines. It’s interesting that she doesn’t get to narrate in the first person like Nicole does.
I’m a human being, really I am!
But, the novel is careful to let us know that Rosemary isn’t really just an actor. Why does Dick suddenly fall desperately in love with her? It’s because Collis Clay tells him a story about Rosemary fooling around with a guy in a locked train compartment. The story makes her "human" to Dick – though Dick thinks it makes her human to Collis.
We never really pierce Rosemary’s veil. We don’t know how much is acting, how much is sincere, how much is the excited imagination of a young woman. In this way, the novel comments on the very real phenomenon that exists between actors and the people who watch them: we feel as if we know them, but we can’t ever really know them because even if we meet them we will get them confused with the roles they play. And maybe they get confused, too. And, we shouldn’t forget that most of the first book of the novel is narrated from Rosemary’s point of view. Can this fact help us to understand her character? Is her point of view reliable?