How does a man convince a woman to marry him? In the case of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald you write and publish a novel—This Side of Paradise in 1920. This was Fitzgerald’s first novel, but it was enough to convince his former girlfriend Zelda Sayre. They were married April 3, 1920.
The next twenty years would prove to be an emotional rollercoaster for the young couple. From the glamorous 20s to the Great Depression of the 30s the Fitzgeralds dealt with the ups and downs of life: fame and fortune; a daughter; critical success; alcoholism; mental illness and loss, and the tragic loss of love.
Fitzgerald’s final novel, Tender Is the Night, appeared in Scribner’s Magazine January-April 1934. He was hoping that that it would be received by critics and the public like The Great Gatsby had been. In many ways it was autographical. The title was from Keats’ Ode to the Nightingale.
Unfortunately, the romance and exploits of Dick and Nicole Diver and their families and friends romping around the French Rivera partying and laying on the beaches did not find a responsive chord in critics or the people. The Great Depression had wiped out fortunes and reduced the USA to a nation lost to its history and values.
Tragically, Dick and Nicole resembled Scott and Zelda. The Divers was caught in a spiral of human emotions and values. Their marriage fell apart and the end is a sad tale of a man and woman who ventured to love, but who allowed the vicissitudes of life to tear out the tender plant of love at the roots.
Fitzgerald would move to Hollywood where he worked attempting to rebuild his literary status and to survive as he worked on his next novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. He was close to his friend and lover Sheilah Graham.
On the night of December 20, 1940 Fitzgerald and Graham attended the premiere of This Thing Called Love. As they were leaving the Pantages Theatre he suffered a severe dizzy spell. The next day as he sat reading Princeton Alumni Weekly he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Zelda was in and out of Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville North Carolina from 1936 until 1948. On the night of March 10, 1948 a fire broke out in the kitchen of the hospital. Zelda, locked in her room, died along with several other patients.
They are buried together in the Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland after their daughter’s valiant campaign to inter them in the family plot. Of course this is a story in itself for the couple who epitomized the Roaring 1920s, who sadly were honored by few when they passed away from the confines of this planet traversing the cosmos.
From the 1962 Oscar-nominated song, Tender Is The Night:
“Even though our dreams may vanish
With the morning light,
We loved once in splendor,
How tender how tender is the night”
Scott and Zelda were two human beings who fell in love with all their flaws, hopes and dreams. Their journey would be fraught with the ups and downs of life on this planet.
On their tombstone is this last sentence from The Great Gatsby:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
G. D. Williams © 2013
Tony Bennett: Tender Is The Night
Tender is the night;
So tender is the night
There’s no one in the world
Except the two of us.
Find us disenchanted
We have shared a love
That few have known.
Summers by the sea,
A sailboat in Capri
These memories shall be
These very own.
Even though our dreams may vanish
With the morning light,
We loved once in splendor
How tender, how tender is the night
Tender Is the Night
ODE TO THE NIGHTINGALE
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Was Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda really mad, bad and the inspiration for Gatsby’s Daisy or just misunderstood?