The brilliant original cover by artist Francis Cugat.
Today is the anniversary of the publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the novel that so perfectly captured the era of flappers and bootleggers and whose universal themes of self-reinvention, corruption of wealth, and unrequited love managed to appear distinctly American.
The seeds for the story were first planted in the summer of the 1923 when Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, saying, “I want to write something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” Fitzgerald hoped to write a novel that would not only be a commercial success like his previous novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned, but would finally earn him a reputation as a serious writer.
His plans to start the new novel were delayed when a failed play, The Vegetable, and mounting debts (always Fitzgerald’s curse) forced him to spend his time writing short stories for magazines to pay off his creditors. It wasn’t until a year later that he could turn his attention once again to his new novel, which he would finish in late October 1924.
Scribner’s published the book on April 10, 1925 but all of Fitzgerald’s hopes were dashed when it received mixed reviews from the critics and saw disappointing sales of just 20,000 copies. Fitzgerald was devastated and felt like a failure. Toward the end of his life, he would write in a letter to his daughter, Scottie, “"I wish now I'd never relaxed or looked back—but said at the end of The Great Gatsby: I've found my line—from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty—without this I am nothing." The great tragedy is that Fitzgerald, who died of a heart attack in 1940, didn’t live to see his book become a beloved classic, one that many consider to be the great American novel, or that the novel, which had received such a lukewarm reception back in 1925, would go on to sell more than 25 million copies around the world.
The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, one that I reread every few years. For me the sentences flow like poetry, filled with striking imagery. Take for example this passage where the book’s narrator, Nick Carraway, walks into a room and sees his cousin, Daisy, and a friend of hers.
“The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”
Isn't it just beautiful? So on this anniversary, if you haven't picked up the book in a while or if you've never read it (shame on you if that's the case), get yourself a copy and read it, now. You'll be happy you did (and please, whatever you do, don't watch the movie instead).