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Tag: The Great Gatsby

The mystery and mysteries of Gatsby

Friday, 31 August, 2018

Why is The Great Gatsby great? Why do some people never tire of re-reading it, no matter how many times they’ve read it already? The answer is that it’s the kind of book that nurtures you as you turn each page, and with each page, one is struck by something new, and this discovery creates a virtuous chain of reactions involving memory and pleasure and poignancy. How did the young Fitzgerald capture and record so memorably the mysteries of life? In pursuit of that mystery, one must keep reading and re-reading the novel.

“The track curved and now it was going away from the sun, which as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Let’s leave the last word to the late, lamented Christopher Hitchens, who read Gatsby closely and critically and admiringly:

Fitzgerald’s work captures the evaporating memory of the American Eden while connecting it to the advent of the New World of smartness and thuggery and corruption. It was his rite of passage; it is our bridge to the time before “dreams” were slogans. He wanted to call it Among the Ashheaps and Millionaires — thank heaven that his editor, Maxwell Perkins, talked him out of it. It was nearly entitled just plain Gatsby. It remains “the great” because it confronts the defeat of youth and beauty and idealism, and finds the defeat unbearable, and then turns to face the defeat unflinchingly. With The Great Gatsby, American letters grew up.

That’s the annual re-reading done. Until next August, then, God willing.


Murakami on translating Fitzgerald into Japanese

Thursday, 30 August, 2018

A Columbia University Press book titled In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means, which was published in 2013, contains an essay by the great Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In it, he discusses the challenges that faced him when translating The Great Gatsby into Japanese. Snippet:

“When someone asks, ‘Which three books have meant the most to you?’ I can answer without having to think: The Great Gatsby, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. All three have been indispensable to me (both as a reader and as a writer); yet if I were forced to select only one, I would unhesitatingly choose Gatsby. Had it not been for Fitzgerald’s novel, I would not be writing the kind of literature I am today (indeed, it is possible that I would not be writing at all, although that is neither here nor there).

Gatsby Japanese translation Whatever the case, you can sense the level of my infatuation with The Great Gatsby. It taught me so much and encouraged me so greatly in my own life. Though slender in size for a full-length work, it served as a standard and a fixed point, an axis around which I was able to organize the many coordinates that make up the world of the novel. I read Gatsby over and over, poking into every nook and cranny, until I had virtually memorized entire sections.

Remarks such as these are bound to perplex more than a few readers. ‘Look, Murakami,’ they’ll say, ‘I read the novel, and I don’t get it. Just why do you think it’s so great?’ My first impulse is to challenge them right back. ‘Hey, if The Great Gatsby isn’t great,’ I am tempted to say, inching closer, ‘then what the heck is?’ Yet at the same time I am not without sympathy for their point of view. Gatsby is such a finely wrought novel — its scenes so fully realized, its evocations of sentiment so delicate, its language so layered — that, in the end, one has to study it line by line in English to appreciate its true value. Fitzgerald was a master stylist, and when he wrote Gatsby at the age of twenty-eight he was at the absolute peak of his craft. Unavoidably, Japanese translations have stumbled over some of the fine points of his novel, while others have been entirely omitted. As they say, a delicate wine doesn’t travel well. Try as one may, it will lose at least a portion of its aroma, mellowness, and texture en route.

Gatsby Japanese translation The only answer, I guess, is to read a work such as Gatsby in the original; yet that is more easily said than done. The beauty of Fitzgerald’s fluent, elastic prose lies in his ability to alter tone, pattern, and rhythm to create infinitesimal shifts in atmosphere. To be perfectly honest, a work that achieves this stylistic level is too difficult for a person with limited English to comprehend — only a truly advanced reader is able to see what he is really up to.

This is why, if I may be allowed to exaggerate in a somewhat high-handed manner, it is my impression that Japanese readers have never truly appreciated The Great Gatsby. At the very least, judging from the overall reaction of those I have exchanged views with (most of whom are, at least to some extent, professionally connected to the literary world), I can only be pessimistic about Gatsby’s reception in Japan. And standing behind this pessimism is the imposing barrier of the translation process itself.

I cannot be so presumptuous as to claim that my translation of Gatsby clears that barrier entirely. No one is more aware than I am of what a heavy undertaking it is to translate Gatsby, so I am not being falsely modest when I concede that my effort, too, is bound to have some faults. Whoever looks hard enough, I fear, can probably locate any number of places where I have failed. Yet is there a way of transferring a work of such beauty and completeness in English into another language without the occasional failure?

Until Gatsby, I had always tried to keep the fact that I was a writer far from my mind when translating: I wanted to make myself invisible, like a black-garbed puppet handler on the Bunraku stage. What mattered, I believed, was fidelity to the original. Gatsby in Japanese True, my being a writer had to be involved to a certain degree, since it formed part of the context I brought to the work, but that was something that arose naturally, without any conscious intent on my part. Gatsby, however, was a different story. From the outset, I set my sights on putting my novel-writing experience to as good a use as possible. This did not mean that I translated loosely or substituted my own phrases for those of the original. Rather, it meant that, at strategic moments, I brought my imaginative powers as a novelist into play. One by one, I dug up the slippery parts of Fitzgerald’s novel, those scattered places that had proved elusive, and asked myself, If I were the author, how would I have written this?

Painstakingly, I examined Gatsby‘s solid trunk and branches and dissected its beautiful leaves. When necessary, however, I stepped back to take a broader view, forsaking a word-by-word approach. Had I gone about translating Gatsby any other way, I wouldn’t have been able to convey the power of Fitzgerald’s prose.”

Tomorrow, here, the enduring mystery of Gatsby. But before that, a big, big thank you to @Eimi1003, who provided the cover images of the Japanese translation of the novel.


Gatsby’s metropolitan twilight

Tuesday, 28 August, 2018

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is in train and the metaphysics of Fitzgerald’s prose are as enchanting as ever: “Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed.”

But that’s just a “twilight” warm up. Consider this:

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others — poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner — young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

Many writers, especially Jay McInerney, have spent their lives trying to match this and they cannot be faulted for having failed to reach or surpass the benchmark. But, then, who has? With Gatsby, published 93 years ago, Fitzgerald managed the miracle of sounding modern while appealing to an audience that had grown up reading Henry James. The genius of the book is that it continues to sound modern. Fitzgerald wrote in the shadow of cataclysm and no one who reads The Great Gatsby can put it down without feeling dread. Not just for those who would lose their fortunes in 1929, but for those who would be visited by war in 1939.

Tomorrow, Clive James on Fitzgerald’s writing and why the style was the man.


We would all have had one more

Monday, 27 August, 2018

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul Minnesota on 24 September 1896. He went to Princeton, and afterwards joined the US Army. He was only 22 years old when he wrote his first novel: This Side of Paradise. It was a huge success and Fitzgerald was subsequently declared “the voice of the Jazz Age.” He was the writer who lived it, studied it, drank it and described it in “real time.” An era had found its lyricist.

Despite Prohibition, everyone was having one more. People wanted to celebrate and be celebrated, which is why The Great Gatsby was not well received. The reviews were sour. Gatsby painted a picture of a dizzying Jazz Age that was turning and turning in a widening gyre. The centre could not hold, it suggested. And, sure enough, a decade after This Side of Paradise was published, it all came crashing down on Wall Street. In 1931, Fitzgerald wrote an elegiac essay titled “Echoes of the Jazz Age” about that lost world, the faint melodies of which still signalled from beyond the ruins. Snippet:

“A young Minnesotan who seemed to have had nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought of their old best dreams. Maybe there was a way out by flying, maybe our restless blood could find frontiers in the illimitable air. But by that time we were all pretty well committed; and the Jazz Age continued; we would all have one more.”

In June 1940, fifteen years after Gatsby was published, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a poignant letter to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribners:

“Would the 25-cent press keep Gatsby in the public eye — or is the book unpopular? Has it had its chance? Would a popular reissue in that series with a preface not by me but by one of its admirers — I can maybe pick one — make it a favorite with classrooms, profs, lovers of English prose — anybody? But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much!”

F. Scott Fitzgerald died on 21 December 1940 aged 44 — so young and so unjustly after having given so much so early. Posthumously, Gatsby was crowned his masterpiece. Tomorrow, here, a favourite glimpse of its metropolitan twilight.

F. Scott Fitzgerald


Getting ready for Gatsby

Saturday, 25 August, 2018

The annual reading of the greatest of all modern novels, The Great Gatsby, begins next week. What joys remain to be discovered? Which new sorrows will be revealed? We’re prepping with one of the most perceptive essays F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Early Success.” Three years after it was published, he was dead, aged but 44. Snippet:

The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. In the best sense one stays young. When the primary objects of love and money could be taken for granted and a shaky eminence had lost its fascination, I had fairy years to waste, years that I can’t honestly regret, in seeking the eternal Carnival by the Sea. Once in the middle twenties I was driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo, and though it was out of season and there were no Grand Dukes left to gamble and E. Phillips Oppenheim was a fat industrious man in my hotel, who lived in a bathrobe — the very name was so incorrigibly enchanting that I could only stop the car and like the Chinese whisper: “Ah me! Ah me!” It was not Monte Carlo I was looking at. It was back into the mind of the young man with cardboard soles who had walked the streets of New York. I was him again — for an instant I had the good fortune to share his dreams, I who had no more dreams of my own. And there are still times when I creep up on him, surprise him on an autumn morning in New York or a spring night in Carolina when it is so quiet that you can hear a dog barking in the next county. But never again during that all too short period when he and I were one person, when the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled in a single gorgeous moment — when life was literally a dream.

In 1922, Fitzgerald, then 26, wrote in a letter to Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Scribners: “I want to write something new — something extraordinary and simple & intricately patterned.” The Great Gatsby was published in 1925.


Life begins over again with the summer

Tuesday, 5 June, 2018

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Summer


“We got Gatsby, that old son of a bitch.”

Friday, 25 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is happening side-by-side with a reading of Camino Island by John Grisham, which centres on the theft of the Gatsby manuscript from the Firestone Library at Princeton University and the hunt for those behind the heist. It also delves into the criminal business of the literary black market. Snippet:

Inside the vault, the work was indeed slow, but determined. The first four opened drawers revealed more old manuscripts, some handwritten, some typed, all by important writers who didn’t matter at the moment. They finally struck gold in the fifth drawer when Denny removed an archival storage box identical to the others. He carefully opened it. A reference page inserted by the library read, “Original Handwritten Manuscript of The Beautiful and Damned — F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

Camino Island “Bingo,” Denny said calmly. He removed two identical boxes from the fifth drawer, delicately placed them on the narrow table, and opened them. Inside were original manuscripts of Tender Is the Night and The Last Tycoon.

Ahmed, still glued to his laptop and now drinking a highly caffeinated energy drink, heard the beautiful words: “Okay, boys, we have three out of five. Gatsby’s here somewhere, along with Paradise.”

As Jerry and Mark flipped up their goggles and moved their lights closer to the table, Denny gently opened the archival storage box. Its reference sheet read, “Original Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

“Bingo,” he said calmly. “We got Gatsby, that old son of a bitch.”

“Whoopee,” Mark said, though their excitement was thoroughly contained. Jerry lifted out the only other box in the drawer. It was the manuscript for This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s first novel, published in 1920.

“We have all five,” Denny said calmly. “Let’s get outta here.”


The hare and the limousine and the verb

Thursday, 24 August, 2017 0 Comments

“All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences… A line like ‘The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,’ is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement — the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your eyes.” So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Scottie in 1938 and you can find the exchange in F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing.

The image of a hare limping through frozen grass is found in the writing of one of the major influence on Fitzgerald’s work, the Romantic poet John Keats. It’s in the first verse of his great, 42-stanza poem, “Eve of Saint Agnes“, and Fitzgerald was so taken by it that he began a magazine story titled “Love in the Night”, that was published on 14 March 1925 in The Saturday Evening Post, thus: “The limousine crawled crackling down the pebbled drive.”

St. Agnes’ Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

By the way, the evening before the feast of Saint Agnes (St. Agnes’ Eve) falls on 20 January.


Grisham and Gatsby

Wednesday, 23 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is being accompanied by a reading of Camino Island by John Grisham, which features the stolen manuscript of Gatsby and the criminal ways of the literary black market. Snippet:

Camino Island F. Scott Fitzgerald enrolled in Princeton in the fall of 1913 at the age of sixteen, he was dreaming of writing the great American novel, and had indeed begun working on an early version of This Side of Paradise. He dropped out four years later to join the Army and go to war, but it ended before he was deployed. His classic, The Great Gatsby, was published in 1925 but did not become popular until after his death. He struggled financially throughout his career, and by 1940 was working in Hollywood, cranking out bad screenplays, failing physically and creatively. On December 21, he died of a heart attack, brought on by years of severe alcoholism.

In 1950, Scottie, his daughter and only child, gave his original manuscripts, notes, and letters — “papers” —to the Firestone Library at Princeton. His five novels were handwritten on inexpensive paper that did not age well. The library quickly realized that it would be unwise to allow researchers to physically handle them. High-quality copies were made, and the originals were locked away in a secured basement vault where the air, light, and temperature were carefully controlled. Over the years, they had been removed only a handful of times.


At the enchanted metropolitan twilight

Tuesday, 22 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is underway and the glow from the beautiful metaphysics of Fitzgerald’s prose lights up the drawing-in evenings. A paragraph:

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others — poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner — young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

To his great credit, Jay McInerney has spent his life trying to emulate this and it’s not his fault that he has never matched it. But who has? With Gatsby, published 92 years ago, Fitzgerald achieved the miracle of sounding contemporary while appealing to an audience that had grown up reading Henry James. His genius is that the book continues to sound contemporary.

Fitzgerald wrote in the shadow of evil and no one who reads The Great Gatsby can put it down without feeling a sense of dread. Not just for those who would lose their fortunes in 1929, but for those who would be dragged into war in 1939. And as we get ready to mark the annual anniversary of the slaughter of 3,000 men and women in New York City by the 9/11 jihadists, his observation about “the most poignant moments of night and life” rings true across the decades.


The Camino of Gatsby

Monday, 21 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is undertaken not just for the pleasure of rediscovering a classic. This tradition is also an occasion for learning about the persisting role of the masterpiece in modern culture. Take Camino Island, John Grisham’s latest thriller about stolen F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, including Gatsby, and the workings of the literary black market.

The story begins with the theft of five of Fitzgerald’s manuscripts from the Firestone Library at Princeton University and it then moves to resort town on a Florida Island for clues about the heist. Although the FBI and agents working for Princeton’s insurance company are hunting the robbers, Grisham focuses on a novelist pursuing an independent investigation. Snippet:

The imposter borrowed the name of Neville Manchin, an actual professor of American literature at Portland State and soon-to-be doctoral student at Stanford. In his letter, on perfectly forged college stationery, “Professor Manchin” claimed to be a budding scholar of F. Scott Fitzgerald and was keen to see the great writer’s “manuscripts and papers” during a forthcoming trip to the East Coast. Camino Island The letter was addressed to Dr. Jeffrey Brown, Director of Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University. It arrived with a few others, was duly sorted and passed along, and eventually landed on the desk of Ed Folk, a career junior librarian whose task, among several other monotonous ones, was to verify the credentials of the person who wrote the letter.

Ed received several of these letters each week, all in many ways the same, all from self-proclaimed Fitzgerald buffs and experts, and even from the occasional true scholar. In the previous calendar year, Ed had cleared and logged in 190 of these people through the library. They came from all over the world and arrived wide-eyed and humbled, like pilgrims before a shrine. In his thirty-four years at the same desk, Ed had processed all of them. And, they were not going away. F. Scott Fitzgerald continued to fascinate. The traffic was as heavy now as it had been three decades earlier. These days, though, Ed was wondering what could possibly be left of the great writer’s life that had not been pored over, studied at great length, and written about. Not long ago, a true scholar told Ed that there were now at least a hundred books and over ten thousand published academic articles on Fitzgerald the man, the writer, his works, and his crazy wife.

And he drank himself to death at forty-four! What if he’d lived into old age and kept writing? Ed would need an assistant, maybe two, perhaps even an entire staff. But then Ed knew that an early death was often the key to later acclaim (not to mention greater royalties).