Friday, 11 September 2015

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Having read the biography about Zelda (Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald - An American Woman's Life by Linda Wagner-Martin) the best thing would have been to read her own book Save Me the Waltz, but it is not yet on my shelves. The second best would be to read something by Scott Fitzgerald, and The Great Gatsby conveniently was sitting on my TBR shelves. It was actually my son who had to read it in school, and he handed over the copy to me.

I actually think I have read it before. In any case, I have seen two versions of the movie, with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow and lately with Leonardo Di Caprio and Carey Mulligan. Here is my confession: I never really understood this book/movie. That might be ok for the movies, since you can only show certain things, but also the book. However, having read the story of Zelda's and Scott's life and the times they were living in, I finally got an understanding of the story.

The Content ReaderAll in all, I find it rather sad. Gatsby with his longing for Daisy, and one goal in his life, to win her over with wealth and care. Daisy, remembering her early love for Gatsby, but now married to Tom, in a marriage that does not seem lucky or healthy on the surface, but, in the end, turns out to be firmer than one can imagine. The story is told by a narrator, Nick Carraway. He happens to rent the house next to Gatsby's palace and they become friends. Nick is also an old friend of Daisy's and thus becomes involved in their story. Their story evolves into an unexpected tragedy which changes their lives forever.
I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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…
It is a story about Fitzgeralds' own lives. Money, parties, champagne and glorious people. However, underneath the surface lingers an unhappiness that drags the people down. Most of the time, without them seeing it. In this, one of his greatest books, he tries to capture the mood of the age; the 1920s, money and class, east and west and race and gender. The leisurely life-stile, including a lot of alcohol, gives the story a dreamlike appearance, like we, the readers, are part of the intoxication. The only 'sober' person seems to be Nick Carraway who is able to watch the people from the side-line. In the end he is the only person 'getting away' from it all. The others are forever entangled in their own lives.

We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around.
‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’
I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him because i disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of colour against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption - and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-bye.
I thanked him for his hospitality. We were always thanking him for that - I and the others.
‘Good-bye,’ I called. ‘I enjoyed breakfast, Gatsby.’
In the introduction to this edition it says "that money was necessary for his (Fitzgerald's) self-respect" and that he regarded himself as an artist, thus meaning he ought to be rewarded for adding to its culture:
However, it was for others to admire his work, and the quality of his writing has been recognised as far superior to that of a mere wordsmith. The Great Gatsby is most admired for its poetic quality. The rhythm of life in The Great Gatsby is captured in the naturalness of the dialogue, the pace of the action, and the elegance of the phrasing of the words which create the images. Gatsby also takes the novel into an exciting new form.
Finally, I found the joy and appreciation of this novel. It is written in a beautiful, poetic way, especially the description of Gatsby and Daisy.  The technique of using a narrator, through whose realistic, clear eyes we see the story evolve, gives a dreamlike quality to the actual happenings. Maybe this is how we nowadays, see the glorious 'roaring 20s'. We only see the surface and not what is below. This syndrome is very well described here.

The last words in the book, are inscribed on Zelda's and Scott's grave stone in Rockville Maryland.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 


  1. I've read this one many years about but remember not understanding what the fuss was about! I especially though that all the symbolism was really heavy-handed. I've actually been considering a re-read just to see how I'd feel now.

    1. Yes, I agree, I never understood it. However, a re-read could be good. I think I understood it better after having read the biography of Zelda, and, the edition I have, has an introduction which helped.

  2. The last five to ten pages are simply exquisite prose. It is about America in transition, riding for a great down turn. It is a very much a book about the myth of America

    1. It is indeed. He was a very gifted writer and I will read some of his other novels. Although I think 'The Great Gatsby' is his master piece!