Published in 1934 by New York-based publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons, Tender Is the Night is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last works. Although the novel was generally well received and has come to be regarded as one of Fitzgerald’s most important works, it was less popular at its publication than his previous novels and was considered a commercial failure. More autobiographical than his other works, Tender Is the Night tells the story of American psychologist Dick Diver and his wife, the wealthy but psychologically unstable Nicole. Set largely in the small French coastal town of Tarmes between the years 1925 and 1935, the book portrays a cast of characters typical of Fitzgerald’s fictional universe: wealthy, idle, sophisticated, and, in many ways, “troubled.”
Tender Is the Night was written in a period of Fitzgerald’s life when his wife, Zelda, was experiencing severe psychological problems, not unlike those of Nicole Diver. In the years following the book’s publication, Fitzgerald’s output diminished considerably due largely to his alcoholism. In 1940, with Zelda institutionalized, he died alone of a heart attack in Los Angeles, a death largely viewed in literary circles as a pitiful conclusion to what was once a promising life.
Like many of Fitzgerald’s other books, Tender Is the Night focuses on the themes of wealth and the corruption it brings to people’s lives. Set in Europe during the interwar years, the book also addresses themes particular to European history and politics, such as the effect wealthy Americans had on Europe and the ascent of capitalism on the continent. Largely drawn on his own experiences with the mental health industry, Tender Is the Night also addresses issues of mental illness and psychiatry. Finally, with a cast of female characters who are largely portrayed as controlling, manipulative, and ultimately stifling to Diver’s intellectual development, Fitzgerald may be remarking unfavorably on the role that women, particularly Zelda, had in his own life and career.
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