Though largely ignored when it was first published and even upon F.Scott Fitzgerald’s death, the thousands of anticipated copies sold would sit gathering dust in a warehouse, it has since become much more appreciated, hailed as a classic and studied in schools across America.
It may be that in its time it was too contemporary, its characters variations on the lives people lived, each harbouring their own secrets, many trying to be or become something they were not. It is something that is easier to look on and remember the superficial elements that made it an era to remember, a time of lavish parties and abundance, when friendships were shallow and loyalties non-existent. Set in the jazz era, critics have said it represents the American psyche, to me it represents illusion and aspiration.
Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Gatsby, will open the Cannes Film Festival on May 15. It promises to be a lavish affair and I can see why a filmmaker would be attracted to this story, the author doesn’t paint much of a picture of the surroundings, except to place them just outside New York, the weekend playground for the young and aspiring. The evening soirées are not significant to the plot, but they create wonderful images to entice a film audience.
Ironically, it is in the first pages of his novel Tender is the Night in which I find not only the kind of writing I love to read, but a paragraph that describes Cannes itself, a town Fitzgerald was no stranger to:
In the early morning the distant image of Cannes, the pink and the cream of old fortifications, the purple Alp that bounded Italy, were cast across the water and lay quavering in the ripples and rings sent up by sea-plants through the clear shallows.
In addition to the film remake, Therese Fowler’s, Z – A Novel of Zelda, based on the life of Zelda Fitzgerald was released this month, with comparisons being made with The Paris Wife, Paula McCain’s book about Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson and the years they were together. It has been said that Gatsby is drawn a little from Fitzgerald’s own experience in wooing Zelda, a young woman from outside his social strata and therefore in ordinary circumstances, unattainable, just as Daisy was to Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby is narrated by Carraway, a bonds trader in New York, a young man who lives in the small house next to Gatsby, which is not far from the home of his second cousin Daisy and her husband Tom. He is a narrator of convenience to the story, a sympathetic observer we don’t learn much about, his purpose to share that summer he became Gatsby’s neighbour and witnessed the events that occurred. Although, he is a mere bystander, he is the one friend Gatsby may have had in truth. Not much is known of Gatsby either and Fitzgerald keeps it that way, none of the characters getting too close to him, or indeed the reader.
The history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans.
A visit to Daisy reveals the philandering ways of her husband Tom, when he takes a telephone call from his mistress, a fact that is clear to all present. Daisy and Tom come from ‘old money’ and unlike the middle classes or nouveau-riche, their indiscretions are rarely secret or indulged with regret, it is accepted, it is their way.It is those who hail from more humble beginnings who harbour illusions of romantic love, who carry emotional expectations and suffer in consequence.
Daisy is connected with Gatsby, although they haven’t seen each other in five years; Carraway’s arrival next door signals a turning point in their association.
There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.
Overall, I find the book a little perplexing, it seems more a symbol of a past era, the 1920’s America and although it doesn’t feature in the book, there is undoubtedly the author’s connection with Paris, the French Riviera and The Lost Generation, that group of writers who made France their home and way of life, a subject that continues to fascinate every generation since, more so in current times perhaps than it did in their own.
The language used and the guarded distance from its characters I found a little annoying, though to be expected of a book of its era perhaps. More than this, it felt as if the author were holding back from his own past through Gatsby, thus a kind of cathartic writing experience, only he might risk losing everything by being too honest, so he deliberately keeps things vague. Having said that, I am going to read Tender is the Night and already find the first few pages, a lot more free and open in its language, though I suspect Fitzgerald of having ulterior motives in his storytelling.
The Facts: 10 Things You Should Know about The Great Gatsby – in pictures
The Film Trailer: Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation will open the Cannes Film Festival in May 2013 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan
Z is for Zelda: – the novel out in April 2013 about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F.Scott Fitzgerald