F. Scott Fitzgerald was born Francis Scott Key in Minnesota in 1897, named after the Star Spangled Banner lyricist to whom he was distantly related. He attended an Eastern boarding school, excelling in neither athletics nor academics, but exhibiting a penchant for writing and producing plays. He was admitted to Princeton where he maintained his academic mediocrity while indulging and expanding his love of literature through his friendships and his prominent role in the Triangle Club, a musical theatre group. Without earning his degree, Fitzgerald enlisted in the army in 1917 and was stationed in Alabama. There, he met the wild Southern belle, Zelda Sayre, with whom he fell in love. Zelda refused to marry into poverty, however, insisting that Scott first display an ability to earn money. After a failed career in advertising in New York, Fitzgerald returned to Minnesota to complete his first novel, This Side of Paradise. It was published to great acclaim in 1919, and the wedding was planned.
Fitzgerald was quickly established as the chronicler of the new post-war America of flappers, alcohol, and the Jazz Age. Though barely funded by his novels and stories, which were more critically acclaimed than financially successful, Fitzgerald also lived the life he described, living extravagantly with Zelda, jet setting around Europe among an an elite group of artists, royalty, and wealthy American expatriates. Living in this world of luxurious, graceful excess, Scott finished what is commonly considered to be his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, in 1925. In the late 1920's, the Fitzgeralds spent time on the Riviera in southern France, where they were hosted by Gerald and Sara Murphy among a set that included such notables as Picasso. The extraordinarily sophisticated, graceful, and elegant Murphys became the inspiration for the two central characters of Tender Is the Night, Dick and Nicole Diver.
Despite Fitzgerald's literary success, he and Zelda could not maintain their decadent lifestyle, which took both a financial and emotional toll. Zelda's sanity suffered and she began to seek psychological treatments in Switzerland, while Scott was forced to abandon novel writing in order to pay her medical bills. Zelda's battle with mental illness is reflected in the character of Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night. Yet while Nicole recovers, Zelda did not, remaining in institutions until she died.
Tender Is the Night was published to mixed reviews in 1933. While some noted its extraordinary elegance and power, many found it objectionable for different reasons. Following the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, Americans were far less interested in reading about gay decadence on the Riviera; the book was criticized for being frivolous. Ernest Hemingway, among others, accused Fitzgerald of drawing his characters too much upon the templates of real people. Fitzgerald acknowledged these problems along with some more substantive ones, often wishing that he could have altered the chronology of the book or had been able to rewrite the final section. But the book stands today as a lyrical, insightful look into the cultural world of mannered aristocracy and the intimate life of a single, complicated couple.