On this day 90 years ago, F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby was published. It is certainly one of the best 20th century American novels — very possibly the best. But I’m not sure I can justify that claim in an objective sense. Fitzgerald had an extremely compelling style. But it may just be that his sense of ambiguity very much matches my own. And that is perhaps best illustrated in The Great Gatsby.
It is hard for me to read the book without bringing a lot of my own opinions about class and the United States along. No one ever questions that it isn’t fundamentally an honest reflection of the country. Yet most people want to ignore its great insights. Basically, you have the Buchanans, who I would say at the useless wealthy. They are what we are always told America doesn’t have: aristocrats.
On the other side, we have Gasby, tragic in his successful efforts to work his way into that social class. His obsession with Daisy is not as a woman but as a symbol of attainment in that society. Nick is also attracted to the world of the useless wealthy, but his failure provides him with armor against it. And ultimately, his personal nobility saves him.
I didn’t realize it before, but the novel was badly reviewed at the time and did not sell well. This is often the case with what we now consider great books (or whatever). But it does seem like the kind of book that wouldn’t be very easy to understand in 1925. It was really a novel that needed the Great Depression to be fully appreciated. Also: critics are generally idiots.
Happy anniversary The Great Gatsby!
The Great Gatsby is apparently finally in the public domain in Australia. You’ve got to wonder why it isn’t in the United States. This isn’t freedom. This isn’t protecting creative works. This is protecting corporate profits. And this is part of what The Great Gatsby is about.