In the wake of World War I, a community of expatriate American writers established itself in the salons and cafes of 1920s Paris. They congregated at Gertrude Stein's select soirees, 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 meets, treats, and 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."