The Drafting and Publishing of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night


F Scott Fitzgerald

Given that my novel Cartilage and Skin was nearly a decade in the making, with more pages thrown in the garbage than actually kept, I’m always fascinated by the process of other writers.  Nothing I say below is new; I just piece together some fragments.  Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald may be intrigued; more avid fans may want to follow the sources I list below; true scholars may be annoyed or bored.  Famously, the composition of Tender Is the Night took Fitzgerald nine years, interrupted by the breakdown and hospitalization of his wife Zelda and compromised (debatably) by his alcoholism.  Even after its publication on April 12, 1934, by Scribners, Fitzgerald continued to work on the text, leaving scholars to debate over the preferred version.  Rather than a narrative, I give you a collage of quotes and tidbits.


Background, or the people behind the characters

“You took liberties with peoples’ pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously (sic) faked case histories.” (Hemingway to Fitzgerald, 5/28/1934. Unless indicated, the letters are from Correspondence).

Collis Clay

  • “I don’t think anyone would possibly associate the character of Collis Clay  with you.” (Fitzgerald to Howard Coxe, 4/15/1934).  Coxe helped Fitzgerald out of jail after  getting beaten up by the Roman police in 1924.

Abe North

  • A composite of Charles MacArthur, a playwright and drinking buddy, and Ring Lardner, an alcoholic writer who died in 1933.  “Fitzgerald’s memorial essay ‘Ring’ … expresses regret that Lardner undervalued and partly wasted his genius” (Bruccoli, Reader’s Companion, 63).

Rosemary Hoyt: Lois Moran

  • “Darling Scott – I miss you enormously.”  (Lois Moran to Fitzgerald, 1927)
  • “I was touched that you called me up on your wedding day” (Fitzgerald to Moran,  3/8/1935)
  • “In California, though you would not allow me to go anywhere without you, you yourself engaged in flagrantly sentimental relations with a child” (Zelda to Fitzgerald, 1930, from Switzerland Clinic).
  • When Fitzgerald was in Hollywood in 1927, he met the 17-year-old actress, who was chaperoned by her widowed mother.   The Fitzgeralds quarreled over Moran, but Fitzgerald was never sexually intimate with her.  Also, “Rosemary’s first movie, Daddy’s Girl, is based on Stella Dallas, (United Artists, 1925), in which Moran played her first significant role” (Tate).

The Early Divers (Seth and Dinah): Gerald and Sara Murphy

  • “Dear Scott, — I’ve generally said to you what I’ve thought.  And it seems another of those moments.  We consider ourselves your friends – (of course if you don’t want us as  such but as objects for observation or something – you only have to say  so, — + if I were you I shouldn’t even bother to read this–)  However, we do. – But you can’t expect anyone to like or stand a Continual feeling of analysis + sub-analysis – on the whole unfriendly – Such as we  have felt for quite awhile.  It is definitely in the air, — + quite unpleasant.  –It certainly detracts from any gathering”  (Sara Murphy to Fitzgerald, June 1926, after “Fitzgerald had spoiled a party given by the Murphys to welcome Hemingway to the Riviera” (197n)).
  • Beginning in 1925, the Murphys were close friends with the Fitzgeralds at the Riviera, where Fitzgerald first conceived of the novel, as indicated “in a letter of July 1925 to Maxwell Perkins” (Scribner III x).   The Villa Diana is based on the Murphy’s Villa America.  The above letter by Hemingway, who was also partying with them in France in 1925, criticizes Fitzgerald in particular for his use of the Murphys, to whom the book is dedicated.  Fitzgerald “was fascinated by the Murphys…and he identified himself with Gerald Murphy.  So complete was his identification that when Murphy remarked … that he was puzzled by the combination of himself and Fitzgerald in the character Dick Diver,  Fitzgerald assured him that it was not a problem because he and Murphy were in fact the same person” (DLB  v273, 11).
  • “I know now that what you said in ‘Tender Is the Night’ is true.  Only the invented part of our life, — the unreal part – has had any scheme any beauty.  Life has stepped in now and blundered, scarred and destroyed.  In my heart I dreaded the moment when our youth and invention would be attacked in our only vulnerable spot, — the children, their health, their future.  How ugly and blasting it can be; — and how idly ruthless” (Gerald Murphy to Fitzgerald, 12/31/35).  His son Baoth died in 1935, and his other son Patrick, who got tuberculosis in 1933, died in 1937.

The Later Divers: The Fitzgeralds

  • “So at Valmont I was in torture, and my head closed to-gether.  You gave me a flower and said it was ‘plus petite et moins entendue’ – We were friends.” (Zelda to Fitzgerald,  1930, from Switzerland clinic).
  • “One  man was nice – he was a French officer and he understood.  He gave me a flower and said it was ‘plus petite et moins entendue.’  We were friends” (Nicole’s letter in TITN  122).

In spring 1930, Zelda has her first breakdown in France and is hospitalized; she moves to several clinics; she is released on 9/15/31.

  • “I am  infinitely sorry that I have been ungrateful for your attempts to help me.  Try to understand that people are not always reasonable when the world is as unstable and vacillating as a sick head can render it” (Zelda to Fitzgerald, 7/1930, from Switzerland clinic).

In February 1932, Zelda has a second breakdown and stays in a clinic in Baltimore until the end of June.

  • “There  were no circumstance or rift in our personal life which could have contributed to this relapse – we were very happy” (Fitzgerald to Dr. Oscar  Forel, 4/18/1932).

In January 1934, Zelda has her third breakdown, and over the next several years, she moves to various hospitals, from Baltimore and New York to North Carolina.

  • “Don’t worry about critics – what sorrows have they to measure by or what lilting happiness with which to compare those ecstatic passages?” (Zelda to Fitzgerald, after 4/12/1934, from New York clinic).

The incest was added to the novel.


The Composition

“The novel had three versions and twelve drafts before it was serialized, and then it was heavily revised for book publication” (Bruccoli, “Material,” 32).

1925-1930: The Melarky Version (Some working titles: “Our Type, “The Boy Who Killed His Mother,” The Melarky Case, and “The World’s Fair”)

“The novel was to be about Francis Melarky, an American in his twenties who murders his domineering mother while they are traveling in Europe…There were five drafts – three in third-person and two with a narrator – but no draft progresses beyond four chapters.  Francis Melarky and his mother arrive on the Rivera; he is taken up by attractive American expatriates Seth and Dinah Piper (Roreback) and the alcoholic Abe Grant (Herkimer)” (Bruccoli, Reader’s Companion, 2).  There is a duel and a flashback scene in which Roman police beat up Melarky (Reader’s Companion, 2 and DLB v273, 9).

June 1929: The Kelly Version (No title)

“Fitzgerald wrote two chapters, set on shipboard, about movie director Lew Kelly and his wife, Nicole, who are traveling to Europe.  Also on the ship is a young actress named Rosemary who hopes Kelly will help her start her movie career” (A to Z 243).  Fitzgerald abandoned this “new angle,” which he called it, and returned to the Melarky version in 1930 (the same year as Zelda’s first breakdown, and the Diver Version followed).

Short Stories

Fitgerald borrowed passages from many of his stories, most notably “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Magnetism,” “Indecision,” and “One Trip Abroad” (see Tate 242-43 for longer list).  As a side note, the child Honoria in his famous story “Babylon Revisited” is named after the Murphys’ child.


  • In October 1933, it was sent to Scribners and serialized in four installments, Jan to April 1934, in an expurgated form.  As a side note, Fitzgerald’s famous 1935 letter to Perkins in which he wished he could rewrite part three sober  most likely refers to the serialized section, which corresponds to Book 2, chapters 10-23, not Book 3.
  • On  April 12, 1934, the novel was published.  It included more than 100 errors, not just mechanical but also chronological.  “The books galleys were set directly from the unrevised” serial, and Fitzgerald “prepared the book text by covering these galleys with revisions…. Since Fitzgerald was regarded as one of his [Perkins’] special authors, the manuscript was never copy-edited by others” (Bruccoli, “Material,” 32).

 Post Publication

“Outside of all I said here, I think the double introduction interfered with the novel more than anything else – I mean the presenting of all the characters through Rosemary’s eyes and then the going back to tell the story from 1919 to 1924; there is confusion of time here that bothers most of the readers with whom I talked” (Malcolm Cowley to Fitzgerald, 5/1934).

Responding to negative reviews and poor sales, Fitzgerald continued to work on the novel.

  • “…or do you think that once published a book is forever crystalized (sic) please answer…” (Fitzgerald to Bennett Cerf, 5/16/1936).  He requested The Modern Library to publish an altered version; he wanted to divide the book into four parts and add headings to signal time shifts.   He also asked Perkins if he would consider republishing the book in  a rearranged order.  Both Perkins and Cerf declined.
  • On December  12, 1940, Fitzgerald died.  Among  his books was “a copy of Tender is the Night in which he had written on the front endpaper: ‘This is the final version of the book as I would like it.’  This disbound book re-orders the chapters in straight chronological order, beginning with Dick Diver’s arrival in Zurich in 1917” (Bruccoli, Reader’s Companion, 40).  It is also broken into five parts and contains about 40 revisions that Fitzgerald made in his copy (40-43).

Postmortem: The controversy

  • In 1951, Malcolm Cowley not only corrected many of the errors but also followed Fitzgerald’s wish and published “The Author’s Final Version” by Scribners.
  • In 1953, Scribners put out Three Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which used Cowley’s version.  Also, “Scribner’s reprinted the revised version only by careless accident in 1970: it had intended to reprint the original version!  Thereafter, Scribner’s destroyed the plates to the Cowley revision” (Stern 23).  Penguin continued to print it between 1955 and 1978 in England, which Bruccoli says was “widely distributed” (Reader’s Companion, 45) but Stern says is “not easily obtained” (23).
  • In 1963, Bruccoli published The Composition of Tender Is the Night, which argues for the original edition, drawing on Fitzgerald’s notes to show that the original chronology and p.o.v. were always Fitzgerald’s intention.  Although Fitzgerald altered the 1934 book,  Bruccoli concludes (in 1964) that since his study of the composition “convinced me that the structure of ‘The Author’s Final Version’ does not represent Fitzgerald’s best judgment, I believe that the 1934 first edition should be used as the copy-text for a projected critical edition” (“Material,” 34).  In 1996, he  writes, “The longevity of “The Author’s Final Version” was decided by reader preference.  Scribners reprinted it though 1959 but let it go out of print to no outcry” (Reader’s Companion, 45).
  • However,  a decade before Bruccoli claimed victory, Milton R. Stern addressed the controversy, saying, “In sum, it is totalitarian to declare as a matter of fact or as a matter of settled opinion that one or the other version is the only version that should be considered” (25).
  • The  centenary edition, edited with an introduction and notes by Bruccoli, was  published in 1996, by Everyman in London.


Works Cited

Bruccoli, Matthew, with Judith S. Baughman.  Reader’s Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night.  Columbia, SC: Univ. of SC Press, 1996.

—. “Material for a Centenary Edition of Tender Is the Night.”  Critical Essays on Tender is the Night.  Ed. Milton R. Stern. Boston: C.K. Hall, 1986.

Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duncan.  New York: Random House, 1980.

Fitzgerald, F Scott.  Tender Is the Night. New York: Scribners, 1995.

“F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night: A Documentary Volume.”  DLB.  Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and George Parker Anderson.  Vol. 273.  New York: Gale, 2003.

Scribner, Charles, III. Introduction. Tender Is the Night. New York: Scribners, 1995

Stern, Milton R.  “Tender Is the Night: The Text Itself.” Critical Essays on Tender is the Night.  Ed. Milton R. Stern. Boston: C.K. Hall, 1986.

Tate, Mary Jo, ed.  F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work.  New York: Facts on File, 1998.


Michael James Rizza has an MA in creative writing from Temple University in Philadelphia and a PhD in American Literature from the University of South Carolina. He has published academic articles on Don DeLillo, Milan Kundera, Harold Frederic, and Adrienne Rich. His award winning novel Cartilage and Skin was published by Starcherone Books in November 2013. His short fiction has appeared in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Switchback, and Curbside Splendor. He has won various awards for his writing, including a fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts and the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction. His scholarly monograph entitled The Topographical Imagination of Jameson, Baudrillard, Foucault, is forthcoming with Davies Group, Publishers. He is currently at work on a funny, fast paced, literary novel called Domestic Men’s Fiction. He teaches at Kean University. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Robin and their son Wilder, who was named after a character in DeLillo’s White Noise.

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