Monday, September 25, 2023

Books: F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby And Related Stories"

The Great Gatsby And Related Stories

By F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by James L.W. West

Library of America; paperback, 388 pages; $15.95

The Great Gatsby is the definitive novel of the Jazz Age, and it features some of the most recognizable characters in literature, the conflicted narrator Nick Carraway, the golden girl Daisy Buchanan, and the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Its indelible symbols and soaring prose, with its large themes of money, class, and American optimism have an enduring fascination.

This new deluxe paperback is drawn from the authoritative Library of America edition of Fitzgerald's collected writings, there is a new, corrected text of The Great Gatsby by preeminent Fitzgerald scholar James L.W. West III that incorporates emendations the author made on galley proofs and in his personal copy of the book.

West is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Emeritus, at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Perfect Hour: The Romance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginerva King, among other world, and was the General Editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald for many years.

The Great Gatsby And Related Stories will enable readers to experience this masterpiece in an edition that brings us closest to Fitzgerald's original version for the work. 

In addition to the acclaimed novel, there are four contemporary stories, the "Gatsby cluster," in which he explores variations on the theme of desperate longing for an unattainable someone or something, "Winter Dreams," "The Rich Boy," "Absolution," and Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les."

There also is a selection of thirteen letters between Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner's, about the composition, editing, and publication of The Great Gatsby that provide a fascinating glimpse into the genesis of what could be "the Great American novel. There also is a preface by the author, West, a detailed chronology of Fitzgerald's life and career, and explanatory and textual notes to deepen your understanding of the texts presented.

This excerpt is from the Preface by James L.W. West: "The four stories included in this volume are closely related to The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald often used short stories as trial grounds for characters, settings, themes, and narrative approaches that he would later employ in his novels. This is particularly true for The Great Gatsby. 'Winter Dreams' - which Fitzgerald, in an undated letter of June 1925 to Perkins, called a '1st draft of the Gatsby idea' - is a poignant rich girl/poor boy narrative that the author wrote almost three years before publication of the novel. Judy Jones, the golden girl of 'Winter Dreams,' becomes a much desired ideal for Dexter Green. He achieves conventional success but cannot win her heart. By the end of the story he is disillusioned, unable to accept the passage of time and the inevitability of change. 'Absolution,' a tense story about an adolescent boy and a priest, was salvaged from the original ur-text of The Great Gatsby, a first attempt at the novel set by Fitzgerald in the upper Midwest. Rudolph Miller, the youthful hero, yearns to escape from the limitations of his upbringing and the suffocating influence of the Catholic church, much as Jay Gatsby desires to move beyond his own humble origins in North Dakota. 'Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les' is a work of light fiction, a romantic fantasy in which the stalwart hero, John M. Chestnut, eventually captures the impossible Rags Martin-Jones. He creates a glittering, illusory world in order to attract herm much as Jay Gatsby stages his glamorous parties in hopes of luring Daisy Buchanan, the object of his dreams, to his ersatz mission. 'The Rich Boy,' the longest of the stories in this volume, was written just after publication of The Great Gatsby. The action of the story is seen through the eyes of a character who resembles Nick Carraway. This nameless narrator has observed the 'very rich' and found them to be 'different from you and me.' He is a keen observer who recognizes the differences between old and new money. He comes to understand that his friend, a rich boy named Anson Hunter, nourishes a sense of superiority and privilege that takes precedence over all else, even emotional commitment and love.

Fitzgerald had a close relationship with Maxwell Perkins. The correspondence between the two men reveals a great deal about the inception, composition, revision, and publication of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald relied on Perkins for professional advice; he also valued the editor's critiques of his manuscripts, especially in matters of structure and characterization. In the letters written during the composition and revision of The Great Gatsby, we can see Perkins's influence on the novel, especially on the manner in which Jay Gatsby's past is revealed. Particularly important here is the November 20, 1924, letter from Perkins to Fitzgerald. In this letter Perkins confesses to Fitzgerald that, for him, 'Gatsby is somewhat vague.' Perkins continues: 'The reader's eyes can never quite focus upon him, his outlines are dim.' Part of the problem for Perkins was that in the early version of the novel he was reading, the details of Gatsby's past were not revealed until very nearly the end of the book. Perkins urged Fitzgerald to drop hints about Gatsby's past life earlier in the narrative, with 'phrases, and possibly incidents, little touches of various kinds, that would suggest that he was in some active way mysteriously engaged.' Fitzgerald took this advice, along with other suggestions in the letter, and put his novel through a major revision in galley proofs, giving us the text that we know today. In this revised version we learn much earlier about Jay Gatsby's past, with further detail revealed as the narrative unfolds.

The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald's masterpiece. The period of its composition was his finest hour: inspiration, talent, self-discipline, and luck came together to magically create a novel that has an enduring hold on the popular imagination and continues to win new readers. Fitzgerald had a pitch-perfect ear for language and a gift for dialogue. Many of the passages in the novel are unforgettable: Daisy and Jordan dressed in white, floating on the sofa in Danny's sunroom; Nick's woozy with drink in Tom and Myrtle's love nest; Gatsby smiling down on his departing guests from the steps of his mansion; Nick riding with Gatsby in his gorgeous yellow car, whirling through the Valley of Ashes on the way to the glamorous streets of Manhattan. At the end of the novel Fitzgerald leaves us gazing at the green light on Daisy's dock. It shines through the night from across the bay. Readers know what the green light signifies, even if they cannot put it into words. The Great Gatsby captures something uniquely American: our hopes and fantasies, our sense of infinite possibility, our disappointment when our dreams are not fulfilled. That's quite a lot for one short novel."

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