Tender Is the Night Parallels Fitzgerald’s Life
Away! Away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! Tender is the night…
-From “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats
Charles Scribner III in his introduction to the work remarks that “the title evokes the transient, bittersweet, and ultimately tragic nature of Fitzgerald’s ‘Romance’ (as he had originally subtitled the book)” (Fitzgerald ix). Tender Is the Night parallels Fitzgerald’s own struggles with his mentally ill Zelda, and the characters are carefully constructed from his interactions with the social elite of artists, composers and Hollywood personas on the French Riviera and Rome, among other settings.
From the fall of 1925 to the spring of 1934, Fitzgerald revised his fourth novel seventeen times before it was published—he was still revising it when he died in 1940. Over those years he continually promised Perkins the novel, but had to delay due to his incessant creative manipulation and extenuating personal circumstances. When he began work on the novel in 1925, he was battling debt and a severe drinking problem. His idea for his fourth novel centered around matricide and a movie director named Francis Mularky. In this version, the protagonist Mularky befriends an expatriate group and then mentally falls apart, subsequently killing his mother. The inspiration for this character, according to Bruccoli, came from two of Fitzgerald’s friends: Theodore Chanler, a composer that shared in the over-indulgent expatriate life with F. Scott and the couples, the Murphys and the MacLeishes, and then abruptly decided to give up his life of alcohol and parties, and Walker Ellis, Fitzgerald’s friend from Princeton, a hero figure fit to be a protagonist (21). The matricide piece came from his fascination with the 1925 case of Dorothy Ellington, a sixteen-year-old from San Francisco, who killed her mother who did not approve of her wild lifestyle (Bruccoli 18 “The Comp…”); Mularky’s profession, movie director, most likely originated from Fitzgerald’s interaction in Rome in 1924 with crew from the movie Ben-Hur (Bruccoli 22 “The Comp…”). From 1925 to 1930, this “Mularky” version underwent five revisions with titles such as Our Type, The World’s Fair, The Mularky Case, and The Boy Who Killed His Mother.
In 1926, All the Sad Young Men was published, and in 1927 he went to Hollywood to work for United Artists, where he met an attractive actress named Lois Moran (Stern xi). This Hollywood experience fueled the sixth revision of his fourth novel, about a movie director named Lew Kelly, his wife Nicole and a young actress named Rosemary. Fitzgerald in the summer of 1929 informed Scribner’s about this new idea and by the fall said that he only had another month to devote to the novel before he would be finished (Bruccoli 60...