Tender Is the Night

by F. Scott Fitzgerald at Discount

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Named as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the century, as chosen by the editorial board of the Modern Library.
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In the wake of World War I, a community of expatriate American writers established itself in the salons and cafés of 1920s Paris. They congregated at Gertrude Stein's select soirées, drank too much, married none too wisely, and wrote volumes--about the war, about the Jazz Age, and often about each other. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were part of this gang of literary young Turks, and it was while living in France that Fitzgerald began writing Tender Is the Night. Begun in 1925, the novel was not actually published until 1934. By then, Fitzgerald was back in the States, and his marriage was on the rocks, destroyed by Zelda's mental illness and alcoholism. Despite the modernist mandate to keep authors and their creations strictly segregated, it's difficult not to look for parallels between Fitzgerald's private life and the lives of his characters, psychiatrist Dick Diver and his former-patient-turned-wife, Nicole. Certainly the hospital in Switzerland where Zelda was committed in 1929 provided the inspiration for the clinic where Diver first meets, treats, then marries the wealthy Nicole Warren. And Fitzgerald drew both the European locale and many of the characters from places and people he knew from abroad.
In the novel, Dick is eventually ruined--professionally, emotionally and spiritually--by his union with Nicole. Fitzgerald's fate was not quite so novelistically neat: After Zelda was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and committed, Fitzgerald went to work as a Hollywood screenwriter in 1937 to pay her hospital bills. He died three years later--not melodramatically, like poor Jay Gatsby in his swimming pool, but prosaically, while eating a chocolate bar and reading a newspaper. Of all his novels, Tender is the Night is arguably the one closest to his heart. As he himself wrote, "Gatsby was a tour de force, but this is a confession of faith."

First published in 1934, Fitzgerald's classic story of psychological disintegration was denounced by many as an unflattering portrayal of Sara and Gerald Murphy (in the guise of characters Dick and Nicole Driver), who had been generous hosts to many expatriates. Only after Fitzgerald's death was Tender Is the Night recognized as a powerful and moving depiction of the human frailties that affect privileged and ordinary people alike.

 

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