Tender is the Night (1934) is F. Scott Fitzgerald's last completed novel. The story, primarily about human deterioration, the disintegration of love and marriage, and the mental illness that both causes and results from these troubles, was conceived and written during what was perhaps the most difficult and painful period in Fitzgerald's life.
In 1932, his wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was hospitalized for schizophrenia (as was the character of Nicole Diver) in Baltimore, Maryland. In order to be close to his wife while he worked on his book, Fitzgerald rented the "La Paix" estate in a nearby Maryland suburb.
This was to be his first published novel in nine years, and Fitzgerald ran out of cash several times before completing it, thus having to write short stories for magazines and borrowing money from his editor and agent to stay afloat.
The novel's two main characters, Dick and Nicole Diver, were modeled after an American expatriate couple, Gerald and Sara Murphy, who lived on the French Riviera and with whom the Fitzgeralds were very close. The Murphys were a sophisticated and glamorous couple who entertained the Fitzgeralds as well as other prominent artists of the Lost Generation.
Although the Divers resemble the Murphys with regard to their poise and charm, their marriage (and its downfall) more closely resembles the troubled marriage of the Fitzgeralds. Mental illness, alcoholism, growing emotional distance, and eventual separation are circumstances that defined both the real and the fictional relationships. The novel's title is taken from a line in a Keats poem, "Ode to a Nightingale," which resounds with similar themes of passion, mortality, and fading youth.
The novel received mixed reviews upon its publication. Though many lauded its literary power and elegance, post-Depression Americans were less charmed by descriptions of decadence on the Riviera. Just as Fitzgerald's critics claimed that he was not a serious or responsible writer, so critics of his final novel felt that it was frivolous. Fitzgerald himself believed that the novel was flawed, and he wanted to re-write the final section. Despite its uncertain unveiling, Tender is the Night is currently hailed as an insightful account of aristocratic life and as a lyrical and intimate portrait of a troubled couple.
Two versions of the novel are in print. The original 1934 version employs a flashback to present a portrait of the young Dick and Nicole and of the beginning of their relationship. The revised version (published posthumously in 1951) progresses in chronological order and was possibly Fitzgerald's reaction to criticism of the book's temporal structure following its initial publication.
A 1962 film, Tender Is the Night, is based on the novel.