There is a lot to be said about Francis Scott Fitzgerald, the “sad young man” of the “Lost Generation”.

There is also a lot to be said about his wife Zelda.

And if we have to talk about these two together, then there is a lot to be said about this novel that Francis Scott Fitzgerald wanted to be seen as his great work: “Tender is the Night”.

“Tender is the Night” is the cruel tale of a dysfunctional couple – I name Dick and Nicole.

Dick and Nicole enjoy an eternal vacation on the French Riviera of the 1920s. They are beautiful, rich, funny, elusive and absolutely magnetic. Their attraction on their small society is reminiscent of the irresistible attraction of the light that bewitches butterflies – before burning them.

Dick and Nicole are just as dangerous. Maybe for others, but mostly for themselves. Their lifestyle is expensive and Dick works frantically to create a fairytale paradise in which his wife can live. Because Nicole – who was traumatized by a monstrous father, rotten by the family money which is the Gordian knot of her personal drama – is schizophrenic.

Dick, who is a physician, was initially keen to save this woman’s sanity, but his passion for her has turned the medical rescue into a sentimental rescue. The founding myth of this simultaneously solar and dark couple is irresistibly reminiscent of Karpman’s triangle, one of the psychiatric figures of transactional analysis with the unhealthy dynamic that develops between the persecutor, the victim and the rescuer.

The balance is certainly precarious in this couple, but balance there is, as long as Dick and Nicole assume their respective roles of savior and victim. The lower Nicole is, the better Dick will be. But, but, but… when Nicole comes out of her mental darkness and decides not to take on the role of victim anymore, the couple falls apart – and Dick with it, deprived of its so rewarding role of savior.

There is a lot of Francis Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda in Dick and Nicole.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896, at the dawn of the twentieth century, into a middle-class family in Minnesota. He may despise his father, a simple salesman, but his parents nonetheless manage to provide him with an education in a private school which gives him access to Princeton. However, he leaves Princeton before graduating because he wants to be a writer. In 1918 he met the one who would become his muse: Zelda Sayre.

Zelda is only 18 years old, but her upper-middle class background and strong character make her a popular, eccentric, irresistible, seductive and witty young woman. He courts her wildly but she initially rejects him due to his financial situation. She finally agrees to marry him in 1920, after he had published the commercially successful “This Side of Paradise”.

They embody the madness of the roaring 20s, and are celebrated as the representatives of the “Lost Generation”. Their lifestyle, ensured by the literary success of Francis Scott Fitzgerald, is delirious. Any excess is allowed, the first of which being alcohol.

In order to benefit from a strong dollar, they move in 1922 to France – alternating between Paris and the French Riviera, where they frequent the Villa Eilenroc and the Villa Saint-Louis, which have since become the Hôtel Belles-Rives.

After the publication in 1922 of “The Beautiful and Damned”, Francis Scott Fitzgerald publishes in 1925 “The Great Gatsby”, without much success.

Zelda, for her part, has an affair with a French aviator in 1924 – an affair that eventually breaks the couple. The very relative success of Francis Scott Fitzgerald eclipses Zelda, made for the limelight which she is unsuccessful in attracting by painting, dancing and… writing. She writes a number of short stories but these are published under her husband’s name. Moreover, Francis Scott Fitzgerald draws heavily on his wife’s personality to feed his paper characters, plagiarizing lines from Zelda’s diary.

Zelda’s schizophrenia comes on slowly but surely.

For financial reasons, Francis Scott Fitzgerald comes back to the US in 1926 and in 1930 Zelda is confined in various psychiatric institutions.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald would take nine years to finalize the drafting of this manuscript which he wished to be his great novel “Tender is the Night”, finally published in 1934. The book would be unsuccessful, so much that it was no longer available in bookstores when its author died in 1940. Zelda would end her life in an institution.

She died in 1948 but had a creative phase in 1932. In a few weeks, she wrote a novel, “Save me this Waltz” and sent it to her husband’s editor, without the latter knowing it. “Save me this Waltz” is the counterpart of “Tender is the Night”. The material is the same, and Zelda drew as much inspiration from her married life as her husband did. This infuriated the great writer who eventually manages to read the manuscript and asks his wife to delete certain passages he himself mentions in his own novel, which is still being written.

“Save me this Waltz” was published in 1932, “Tender is the Night” in 1934, and neither of the novels was successful.

Zelda died at the age of 47 in the accidental fire of her psychiatric hospital, Francis Scott Fitzgerald at 44, in total oblivion.

Zelda has been a slave to her passions and excess. She also has been a slave to her mental health issues, eventually re-diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald has drowned an obvious talent in regret, alcohol, materialism, appearances and egotism. The bitterness of seeing the First World War come to an end without having had the time to forge a heroic stature will be added to the class and money issues which obsessively runs through his life and works.

There is something macabre and obscene about celebrating this alcoholic and depressed man who fed his work with the disenchantment of the “Lost Generation” and who took a lifetime to commit suicide. Like his paper characters Gatsby, Dick and Monroe, he wanted to be the magician who sublimates everyday life.

But … who says magician, says illusionist. The lack of accuracy, of real life, of humanity got the better of this human being who was burnt on all sides.

This being said, the author remains.

His works remain.

“Tender is the Night” remains.

July 30, 2021

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