The ‘Swiss cure’ has long been associated with the promise of both physical and mental health. For centuries, in fact, Switzerland's political neutrality and its pristine geography have offered the order and stability, the peace and tranquillity, that nurture well-being, and the Alpine nation has cultivated and maintained this image. Especially since the late nineteenth century, when the vogue for nervous disorder, as opposed to madness or insanity, led to the development of the clinic as a replacement for the asylum, people such as the infirm, the ageing, and the mentally ill have traditionally sought treatment for their conditions within the sanatoria that nestle in the embrace of the towering Alps and perch on the shores of the country's glacial lakes. Indeed, Switzerland has functioned for the world as a ‘clean, well-lighted place’, to use Ernest Hemingway's phrase, a ‘good’ place beyond the reach of the moral corruption and debilitating chaos of modern life. It certainly seems to function as such in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night.
Within a Swiss sanatorium, Dick Diver, deemed by his local military board to be ‘too much of a capital investment to be shot off in a gun’ (Tender 115), escapes the carnage of World War I to complete his degree and publish his first monograph, and a damaged Nicole Warren, victim of her father's incestuous possession, comes to be made whole again. Within a Swiss sanatorium, the beautiful and damned keep at bay the ominous forces of alienation and annihilation that threaten their existence. Yet, as Fitzgerald's novel demonstrates, Swiss sanatorium society is a fabrication, and its very foundations have compromised its goodness. It is a socially constructed illusion that cannot conceal the taint of the cosmopolitan that created and sustains it and that ultimately infects it with the modern dis-ease.
The origins of Swiss sanatorium society lie in the convergence of two distinct late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century social and cultural developments: the rise of tourism and advances in psychiatry. From the days of the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, Switzerland has been a regular stop on the tourist trail, initially because travellers had to cross the Alps to get from Germany to Italy, but eventually because the majesty and grandeur of the Alps themselves drew them to a place where they could experience a profound spiritual excitement, a sense of the sublime.