Tender is the Night

By F. Scott Fitzgerald


F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St Paul, Minnesota and attended Princeton University, which he left in 1917 to join the army. Fitzgerald was already famous before Tender is the Night through his other novels. His first novel, This Side of Paradise appeared in 1920 and three thousand copies sold within three days. It gave him the money and the fame to plunge him into the whirl of New York parties, which post-war seemed to have a more significant life and reckless vitality. He married Zelda Sayre after this and the couple typified the New York highlife: going to parties, featuring in magazines and newspapers, leaping into fountains, glittering through the city's social life.

Fitzgerald was amongst the first writers to draw attention to the new post-World War I sophistication, particularly such phenomena as petting parties and youthful love affairs. His books were such a success that he became a kind of king to American youth; his queen was beautiful and witty (and emotionally unstable). Their mad antics became as well known as his writing. The next book to arrive was The Beautiful and the Damned in 1922. Striving for greater literary merit, it is darker in tone as it traces the decadence of its hero to his drunken dissolution. So we are presented with the hero of the younger generation, the man who typified the 'Jazz Age' of the 1920s struggling with serious literary intentions. The Great Gatsby is the novel he is best known for. Published in 1925, it is considered Fitzgerald's finest work as it explores the failure of the American Dream and shows development of Fitzgerald as an American writer, "I want to write something new - something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned" (see Bruccoli and Duggan, p.112).

After this success, however, the Fitzgeralds' fell back into a hectic and drunken round of parties, now mostly in Paris and the Riviera - that gradually gave them "a more and more desperate and self destructive effort to be happy" (Bloom, p. 98). It ended in 1930 when Zelda succumbed to schizophrenia and Fitzgerald was an alcoholic. Sick and discouraged though he was, he managed to write Tender is the Night (1934) and a fragment of another novel called The Last Tycoon. He died in 1940. Fitzgerald's last complete novel, through its lyrical style, would appear to draw on his own experiences. His novels in general serve to record and partly to create the period. He illustrates an age of materialism, tarnished idealism and crushed dreams for both the man and his age, depicting both the personal and the universal.