The most misunderstood novel in the world
The Great Gatsby is synonymous with party, glitz and glamor, but that’s just one of many misunderstandings about the book, which began when it was first published.
Few characters in literature or even in life embody the era as steadfastly as Jay Gatsby did the jazz era. Nearly a century after it was written, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s doomed romantic has become an abbreviation for decadent crackers, champagne fountains and never-ending parties. Carved by pop culture from the text he was born in, his name graces everything from condos to hair wax and limited edition cologne (it contains notes of vetiver, pink pepper, and Sicilian lime). Now you can lie on the Gatsby couch, check into the Gatsby Hotel, even eat a Gatsby sandwich – in fact, this is a very large snack with chips.
Of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, none had the slightest idea what the book was about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Misunderstanding has been part of the story of The Great Gatsby from the beginning. Grumbling to his friend Edmund Wilson shortly after publication in 1925, Fitzgerald stated that of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, none had the faintest idea what this book was about. Fellow writers such as Edith Wharton greatly admired him, but as critic Maureen Corrigan recounts in her book We Read Next: How The Great Gatsby Came and Why It Persists, popular reviewers read it as crime fiction and were clearly not delighted with it. wherein. Fitzgerald’s Last Failure made headlines in the New York World. The novel sold so-so, and by the time of the author’s death in 1940, copies of the very modest second edition had long been in stock.
Gatsby’s luck began to change when he was chosen as a gift by the US military. By the end of World War II, nearly 155,000 copies had been distributed in the Armed Services Edition, creating a new audience overnight. At the dawn of the 1950s, the heyday of the American Dream increased the relevance of the novel, and by the 1960s it was enshrined as an established text. Since then, it has become such a powerful force in pop culture that even those who have never read it feel helped, of course, by Hollywood. The word Gatsbyesque was first recorded in 1977, just a few years after Robert Redford starred in an adaptation from a script by Francis Ford Coppola.
Along with Baz Luhrmann’s controversial 2013 film extravaganza, the book has spawned graphic novels, musicals, and immersive theatrical experiences in just the past decade. From now on, we’ll probably see even more such adaptations and homages because the copyright of the novel expired earlier this year, allowing anyone to adapt it without permission from its ownership. Early calls for adapting the dolls may have gone nowhere (never say never), but a big-budget television series is already in development, and author Min Jin Lee and cultural critic Wesley Morris are both writing fresh introductions for new issues.
If all of this gets Fitzgerald’s purists to twirl their pearls like beads for concern, it’s possible that while some such designs may further perpetuate the myth that a Gatsby-themed party can be anything but sublime ignorance, others could provide new understanding of a text whose text is very familiar with often makes us lose sight of its complexity. Take Michael Farris Smith’s new novel Nick, for example. The title, of course, refers to Nick Carraway, the narrator of Gatsby, who has his own fully formed backstory here. This is the tale of a Midwesterner who traveled to Europe to fight in World War I and then returned changed, both from a whirlwind romance in Paris and from a trench war. There’s a place for an impulsive stay in New Orleans’ underworld before he travels to Long Island’s West Egg.
A pipe dream?
Like many, Smith first encountered romance in high school. I just didn’t get it, he tells BBC Culture from his home in Oxford, Mississippi. They looked like a lot of people were complaining about things they really shouldn’t be complaining about. It was only when he took it in his arms again, living abroad, when he was in his early twenties, that he began to understand the power of the novel. It was a very surreal reading experience for me. It seemed that something on almost every page spoke to me in a way I did not expect, he recalls.
Reaching the scene in which Carraway suddenly remembers his thirtieth birthday, Smith was full of questions about what kind of person Gatsby’s narrator really was. It seemed to me that there was some real trauma that made him so detached, even from himself. I got the idea that it would be really interesting if someone wrote Nick’s story, he says.