Tender Is the Night | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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F. Scott Fitzgerald | Biography


Early Life

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father was an unsuccessful businessman, so the family lived off Fitzgerald's mother's sizable inheritance. His mother's wealth provided opportunities for young Fitzgerald to mingle with the social elite in his hometown, but the family wasn't quite rich enough to be welcomed into the highest class of the social hierarchy.

Rise to Prominence

Much like Dick Diver's character in Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald left his hometown for a top-notch education. Fitzgerald attended Princeton; Dick attended Johns Hopkins and was then a Rhodes scholar. Both also joined the army. When Fitzgerald was 22, he fell in love with socialite Zelda Sayre, a judge's daughter. Although Zelda claimed to love Fitzgerald, she refused to marry him until he was rich. It wasn't until Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), that Zelda deemed him appropriate to marry. This Side of Paradise, published when Fitzgerald was only 24, famously investigated the influence of World War I (1914–18) on his generation.

Both young and beautiful, the Fitzgeralds were known for their style, sophistication, and hard partying. They became icons of the 1920s, trendsetters of the Jazz Age who drank and danced their way across Europe and America, as Fitzgerald churned out short stories to finance their expensive lifestyle. The press treated them as celebrities and followed their tumultuous marriage closely. During this time, the publication of The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), then The Great Gatsby three years later, further cemented Fitzgerald's fame.

The Cost of Fame

As Fitzgerald's writing career blossomed, he and his wife enjoyed their celebrity with lavish parties, heavy drinking, and extensive travels. This life, however, was not as glamorous as it seemed. Fitzgerald achieved his literary fame at the young age of 24, and as a result he suffered from the excesses of his era—alcoholism and financial troubles. Zelda, like Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night, suffered from mental illness. By the 1930s, Fitzgerald was an alcoholic, and Zelda was committed to a sanitarium after a serious mental breakdown. Fitzgerald's last completed novel, Tender Is the Night (1934) was criticized and failed to sell well. He attempted to reinvent his career and became a modestly successful screenwriter. On December 21, 1940, he died suddenly of a heart attack in California before he could complete his final novel, The Last Tycoon.

Literary Legacy

By the time of Fitzgerald's death at age 44, the author was largely forgotten. However, after the United States entered World War II, a group called the Council on Books in Wartime decided to improve the morale of the armed services by providing them novels to read. The Great Gatsby was one of the titles chosen, and its inclusion radically affected the novel's popularity and sales. Since Fitzgerald's death critics have also come to view Tender Is the Night as one of the finest novels of the 20th century, a great example of modernism and a tribute to the Jazz Age.

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