Search Results for '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.


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.


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.


Trump, NATO, Gatsby and Montenegro

Saturday, 21 July, 2018

US President Donald Trump raised eyebrows in an interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News earlier this week. “Why send our kids to fight in exotic foreign lands?” was the tenor of Carlson’s question. Specifically: “Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that’s attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?”

Trump’s response: “I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people… They’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations you’re in World War III.”

Naturally, all those suffering from TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) viewed this answer as an attack on the very essence of NATO and a complete misunderstanding of the alliance and its role in the world. Others, a minority, it has to be said, saw in the president’s answer a deep understanding of international conflict and a nuanced appreciation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. In Chapter IV, Gatsby speaks about the horrors of war and… Montenegro:

“In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major, and every Allied government gave me a decoration — even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!”

Montenegrin medal Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them — with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines

He reached in his pocket, and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.

“That’s the one from Montenegro.”

To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look

“Orderi di Danilo,” ran the circular legend, “Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.”

“Turn it.”

“Major Jay Gatsby,” I read, “For Valour Extraordinary.”


“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.”


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.


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).


Gatsby and the greatest of all dreams

Sunday, 20 August, 2017 0 Comments

Our annual mid-August tradition of re-reading The Great Gatsby starts today. The custom began some 30 years ago during a magical mid-August holiday on what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York”. In nine short chapters, he captured an era and Long Island’s appeal for the hedonistic and the nostalgic. This paragraph is immortal:

“The old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

In the novel’s barely 50,000 words, Fitzgerald gave Americans an enduring meditation on their country’s most central ideas, visions and obsessions: the quest for a new life, the hunger for wealth and those “last and greatest of all human dreams.”


Kardashian Gatsby Kanye Warhol

Monday, 9 November, 2015 0 Comments

People: “Daughters Kendall Jenner and Kourtney Kardashian were the bee’s knees in their throwback costumes, with the Victoria’s Secret catwalker channeling Daisy Buchanan and the single mother of three looking dapper as Jay Gatsby.”

For those who do not read People Magazine, Kristen Mary “Kris” Jenner, who has just celebrated her 60th birthday, is an American television personality who is famous for starring in the reality television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Among the 250 guests at her Gatsby-themed party were John Legend, Boy George, Melanie Griffith and Kanye West. Contemporary Gatsby fans will be aware, no doubt, that No Church in the Wild, a song by Kanye West, featured in the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby by Australian director Baz Luhrmann.

Which brings us back to the Kardashians. Who are they? “Andy Warhol would have been transfixed by them,” wrote Lauren La Vine. “They’ve managed to not only run down the clock on his assertion that, ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,’ — but also hurl that clock out the window and smash it to pieces.” Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Kendall Jenner decided to “channel” Daisy Buchanan at her mother’s party. What was it that F. Scott Fitzgerald said of the Buchanans?

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” The Great Gatsby

The new Gatsbys


Trump is Jay Gatsby

Friday, 28 August, 2015 1 Comment

The average working American has seen her standard of living stagnate during the Obama years and despite having a job and despite reports of impressive growth doesn’t feel confident about the economy. The presidential candidate who appeals most to this disaffected worker/voter is the spectacularly wealthy Donald Trump. He is leveraging the blue-collar anxiety, which used to be Bruce Springsteen’s songbook, into a campaign that terrifies the chattering class.

On 14 August, Conor Friedersdorf, a writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs, wrote a letter to Donald Trump supporters with One Big Question: “If you elect the billionaire, what makes you think that he will use whatever talents that he possesses to address your grievances rather than to benefit himself?” On 17 August, Friedersdorf published 30 of the responses. Given that this is Gatsby week at Rainy Day, here’s one that caught our eye:

Gatsby“Donald Trump personifies a modern-day, extremely brash Jay Gatsby, clawing feverishly for that elusive ‘green light’ at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s beckoning dock. Is it not better to place your chips on hopes and dreams rather than certain nightmares? Those of us who buy into Trump’s vision, nearly to the point of blind trust, are loudly professing our disgust with the current immoral situations that taint and threaten our blueprint of the American dream:

  • A world in which police are reluctant to protect citizens (and themselves) for fear of reprimands and indictments
  • An atmosphere in which politicians are ridiculed for uttering the simple truth
  • A media more concerned with those nauseating, idiotic Kardashians than with the welfare of its heroic war veterans

Carraway further states: “…Gatsby turned out all right in the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams, that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and the short-winded elations of men.” The ‘foul dust’ floating in the wake of Trump’s dreams consists of a biased, unfair, unimaginative media and his fellow dull, donor-driven candidates. But Mr. Trump, as Nick said to Jay Gatsby: ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together!'”

Thanks for your attention this week. More Gatsby next August.


Gay Gatsby, patriarchal Gatsby

Thursday, 27 August, 2015 1 Comment

All’s fair in love and (gender) war. Back in 2013, Greg Olear argued in Salon that Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, is gay and in love with the novel’s eponymous hero. In the absence of any concrete evidence, Olear bases his case on the fact that Nick is aged 25/26 and still single. This is “exactly the profile of a (closeted) gay young man in a prominent Middle Western family in 1922,” he claims, triumphantly. When Nick meets Gatsby for the first time we get, according to Olear, a scene from a potential Fifty Shades of Gay:

“He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you might come across four or five times in your life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

Gatsby Olear could be right, or a brilliant smile might just be that, a brilliant smile made all the more radiant by Fitzgerald’s poetic prose. Meanwhile, Soheila Pirhadi Tavandashti offers A Feminist Reading of the Great Gatsby. The problem with Fitzgerald’s book seems to be that it is narrated by a man and is lacking in clever, liberated women voicing their own experiences. Snippet:

“The novel abounds in minor female characters whose dress and activities identify them as incarnations of the New Woman, and they are portrayed as clones of a single, negative character type: shallow, exhibitionist, revolting, and deceitful. For example, at Gatsby’s parties we see insincere, ‘enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names,’ as well as numerous narcissistic attention-seekers in various stages of drunken hysteria. We meet, for example, a young woman who ‘dumps’ down a cocktail ‘for courage’ and ‘dances out alone on the canvass to perform’; ‘a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter’; …a drunken young girl who has her ‘head stuck in the pool’ to stop her from screaming; and two drunken young wives who refuse to leave the party until their husbands, tired of the women’s verbal abuse, ‘lifted [them] kicking into the night.'”

Tomorrow, here, Gatsby and Donald Trump.