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The first book of the novel begins very innocently from Rosemary's point of view. Only eighteen-years-old, she is not very experienced and very impressionable and naive; in fact, she claims that she has never been in love before and has never had a drop of alcohol. A natural beauty, she has just become a movie star and is on the French Coast with her middle class mother/manager to relax for awhile before her next movie. Because of her naiveté and lack of experience, the reader views the Divers and their social set from a pure and innocent distance. Rosemary’s evaluation of them is very positive, for she is impressed with their handsome looks, their self-assured manner, and their obvious wealth. She describes Dick, Nicole, and their friends in the best possible light, and especially Dick, to whom she is tremendously attracted. Because he is pictured by Rosemary as handsome, clever, kind, and wonderful (a picture that is better than he really is), it will make Dick’s downfall at the end of the novel even more disastrous and tragic.
Although Dick swears his devotion to Nicole, there are hints within the first book that all is not really right between them. When Dick plans the party at the villa with a wide variety of guests, Nicole is not pleased, even though she goes along with it. When Mrs. McKisco goes upstairs during the party, she finds Dick and Nicole embroiled in a “scene.” When they arrive in Paris, Nicole says she is too tired to go out with her husband, even though the rest of the traveling party is eager to go out and soak in the sights and sounds of the city. Dick feels bad about taking Nicole’s money and tries to hide it from the world; he tries to convince himself it is acceptable since he loves her deeply. When Rosemary tells him that she loves him and wants him to kiss her, he nobly refuses at first, claiming devotion to Nicole. Before long, however, Dick is romantically attracted and attached to Rosemary, spending time in her room kissing and touching, even though his wife is right across the hall. At the end of the first book, Rosemary is actually a witness to one of Nicole’s scenes.
There are also several subplots introduced in the first book. Rosemary is fighting for stardom, even though the viewing of her first film reveals she has a long way to go. Luis Campion, an apparent homosexual, is crying for McKisco and the duel he must fight. Tommy Barban is introduced as a staunch defender of the Divers and is the one who challenges the weaker McKisco to the duel. Abe North is fighting alcoholism. Mr. Peterson, a Black man, is introduced, claiming to be a friend of Abe North. He is then shot to death in Rosemary’s room. There are lots of questions raised in this first book, but most of them remain unanswered.
Many critics see the entire plot as a parallel to the life of Fitzgerald and Zelda. Many claim that McKisco, the writer, and his wife are loosely based on Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Others claim that Zelda is more like Nicole, with her mental problems, while Fitzgerald is Dick, trying to take care of her; like the marriage of Nicole and Dick, Fitzgerald’s marriage to Zelda was often stormy. Still others compare Fitzgerald to Abe, trying to drink away his problems. Even if none of the characters are really autobiographical, the wealthy lifestyle presented in this first chapter is very like the life of Fitzgerald and his wife. They were both renown for their drinking and partying in both Europe and America. As expatriates, they lived the high life in Paris, fully immersed in the artist community that Dick introduces.