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Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

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Monday, April 11, 2005


Posted by John Holbo on 04/11/05 at 04:17 AM

Gold-hatted, high-bouncing loverboy turns 80 (via Maud - to whom we owe thanks for linking to the Valve on its birthday. Seems only a week ago, but it was a week and a half.) Terrible news for Amardeep: Paris Hilton as Daisy. Now everyone is going to be emailing, demanding to change their answers to question 12 as a preemptive strike. (Show those Hollywood folks who's boss.)

But I don't care if Paris trashes the place, frankly. I don't think it's a good novel. I taught it once because I was teaching Trilling's essay on Fitzgerald, and Trilling on 'ideas in literature' and 'reality in America' and such-like lofty stuff. (Let this be the time I don't quote Trilling, when I perfectly well might.) I find Fitzgerald's attempt to invest his hero with Platonic pathos (how to put it?) every bit as ill-considered as trying to blow a golden yolk into an evacuated eggshell. If you see what I mean. There is a trainwreck fascination to the compositional attempt. But then again, not.

Plus the thing is plain badly written at points. Lesse - aha! Chapter 8:

It was Jordan Baker; she often called me up at this hour because the uncertainty of her own movements between hotels and clubs and private houses made her hard to find in any other way. Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.

The first sentence is fine; after the semicolon we get something too long. Then the unexpected divot on your desk. As if Jordan's voice makes you feel trapped in the body of the straightman in a Bob Hope movie. The funnyman himself must bestride your desk in a moment: 'can I play through?' You splutter in indignant protest as your paperwork flies. The audience roars with laughter. (What a set of pipes on that Baker dame! Yowsa!)

Having virtuously refrained from quoting Trilling, I undo my good work by too predictably quoting Orwell: "The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash - as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot - it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking." Orwell isn't right about the mental image/author-not-thinking thing. Fine poetry may permissibly contain impossible images: Pity as newborn babe, striding the blast. To take the classic case. Nevertheless, I'm seeing a divot where none should be. All attempts to mate it, synaesthetically, with a sultry voice, are producing unviable offspring: figmental octopi that don't want to go gently into the bright light of the melting pot of imagination, instead remaining splayed with tenacious eight-leggedicity, clinging to the pot rim of sheer inconceivability. If you see what I mean. Also, 'but this morning it seemed harsh and dry' seems syntactically flat, after the  flight of the divot, over and above the visual incongruity (if you can sort of locate it in three dimensions.)

Do you like The Great Gatsby? I do admit there are extremely nice touches. The one everyone quotes: "The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens - finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run." Except it would be much better if he had cut 'as though from the momentum of its run'. No need to conclude the sentence by turning a metaphor of motion into a pedantic explanation of how the metaphor works. Leave the pedantic explaining to us philosophers, if you please. And again, lay off the Plato stuff until you are sure you can handle it. "He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God." That sentence contains a dubious presupposition about the characteristic locomotive modus of the Deity's Mind. Damnit.


Remember what Jordan does?

By Jonathan on 04/11/05 at 08:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, some things she does. Have I somehow missed the point?

By John Holbo on 04/11/05 at 08:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment


By Jonathan on 04/11/05 at 09:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Never thought of it that way. I remember it as a sort of satire on upward mobility, and on re-inventing yourself before the term had ever been invented. Gatz, an ambitious, naive, conventionally materialistic guy from North Dakota, had lost his life chasing after validation by cruel, silly people. His Quest was a material one.

When you agree to read novels, except for a handful of authors, don’t you normally sign up for some bad writing?  (The golf divot was hilarious enough that maybe the humor was intentional.)

The part where he makes his living by gathering oysters in Lake Superior is probably a booboo. There are freshwater oysters, but as far as I know, not in commercial quantities in Lake Superior. (Subject to correction.)

The passage where one of the characters is forced to visit an Actual Working-Class Person in his dusty, dismal home in his dusty, dismal neighborhood was extremely odd, like a Marxist parody of elite prejudice.

Fitzgerald isn’t usually thought of as a regional novelist like Sinclair Lewis, but he is one. I actually read the book from the North Dakota end rather than the East Egg end. “The lost Swede towns”. Judy Garland, born Francis Gumm in Grand Rapids MN, was a perfect Gatsby. So was Fitzgerald, probably. Hemingway tried to tell him.

By John Emerson on 04/11/05 at 09:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Paris Hilton probably financed the film. She’s in the terrible position of having “made it” before she was even born, so she’s buying fake upward mobility the way parvenus buy fake heirlooms. A Star is Born.

She’s going to find one or two more facial expressions besides the head-cocked smirk she shares with Renee Zellweger, but she can afford to hire a desmirking specialist. During the nude scenes something will have to be done about the rash the internet photos show in her personal area. But she can pay to have that taken care of too. I could have just been a bad photo anyway.

By John Emerson on 04/11/05 at 09:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.

I don’t like second-guessing other writers at the sentence level (or even at higher levels—recently convinced myself the end of “Huckleberry Finn” is absolute perfection, for instance). This passage works for me straight, since the divot of (presumably, based on past experience) green freshness comes in through the window and only when it lands amongst our wretched carbon copies do we realize the grass on it is harsh and dry.

By pierre on 04/11/05 at 10:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

She’s a golfer.

By Jonathan on 04/11/05 at 10:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Wait!  You love Melville, but Fitzgerald’s neoplatonism seems implausible and pedantic?  How’s that?

I think Gatsby is a great novel.  But I’d be willing to concede a lot--that the platonism is desperate, the style over-the-top, and, worst of all, that the sensibility is adolescent.  And it’s still great. 

At least some of those characteristics are thematized too.  It’s a mistake, I think, to see the novel as primarily Gatsby’s story. He is, after all, a blank spot covered over by scads of gorgeous prose--as Fitzgerald admitted, or bragged.  It’s really not just Nick’s narrative, but primarily his story, too, I think--about his temporary fascination with Gatsby and the way the end of that fascination prepares him for the prodigal’s return home. 

Gatsby turns out alright at the end, Nick says--but it’s pretty clear how he does that: he’s dead.  Which allows Gatsby’s implausible platonism (and his incoherent failure of a house) to be replaced by something that Fitzgerald can then position as more substantial: family, home, tradition.  Nick’s “unutterable” awareness of his “identity with this country.” (That, more subtly still, Fitzgerald suggests that even this faith is as tricked up as Gatsby’s self-invention is one of the nicer touches in the book.  Self-invention is an American pathology, in other words.  But so is the appeal to tradition, etc.  Communitarianism is less an alternative than a complement to libertarianism.)

The treacly passage about the romping mind of God is part of this drama.  It’s not coincidental that that passage was used in an ad for Calvin Klein perfume a few years ago.  As Nick quite directly says, it’s appallingly sentimental stuff.  We’re supposed to see its glamor and its superficiality.  And, I think, possibly we should recognize that Nick is drawn to it because he’s looking for his own, apparently more substantial, but equally dubious romance.

By on 04/11/05 at 11:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The part where he makes his living by gathering oysters in Lake Superior is probably a booboo

He also comes from a city in the midwest--San Francisco.

By on 04/11/05 at 11:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

oysters -> Lake Superior -> San Francisco

In the original draft it was probably a clearer nod to Jack London who was once an “oyster pirate” (i.e. poacher) in SF Bay before going on to great fortune and world-wide fame.

By pierre on 04/11/05 at 11:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh I knew about the golfer thing. I don’t think it sufficient to redeem the passage. (And here I thought it was a dirty joke I wasn’t getting. Unless it is a dirty joke and I’m still not getting it.)

Sean, you are right to notice the tension with my Melville love. With Melville, I love the buffo ‘clink two glasses and remember that funny old hole, the world (I just want to be your friend)’ whimsy and sheer linguistic delightsmanship. Melville’s God Mind romps, yes. With Fitzgerald, I just don’t see the literary or aesthetic or psychological pay-off for tolerating the silliness of the Platonism. It seems to me not boisterous enough, or not socially chilly enough. It’s sentimental but also thin, in my book. I dunno. Obviously other people like it fine.

By John Holbo on 04/11/05 at 11:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I have to admit that I skipped over the Platonism the way I skip over descriptions of scenery. I look for good things, not bad things, being a positive thinker.

“He also comes from a city in the midwest--San Francisco.” Who? I don’t get it.

Pierre’s explanation makes sense.

By John Emerson on 04/11/05 at 12:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Gatsby really did it for me when I was sixteen.  I don’t think I still feel quite the same way about it now, but it has a lot of nostalgic value for me now. . . hrm. . . nostalgia. . . mock-pastoral versions of Gatsby?

Anyway, topic!  I liked Sean’s comment about Nick.  One of the things that affected me so much when I was first read the book was the way that Daisy herself completely didn’t matter - Gatsby didn’t actually have any valid idea of her as a personality, and it wasn’t important.  It really hit me - this idea that we never really know other people, and always interact only with our own conceptions of them.

I don’t think I was sophisticated enough at sixteen to take this one step further, and see to what extent the book was really just Nick’s inscribing of the figure of Gatsby.  But now that I am infinitely older and wiser, I think that the fact that Nick is doing to Gatsby something reasonably similar to what Gatsby does to Daisy (or, at least, what Nick obviously thinks Gatsby does to Daisy) is pretty neat, and part of what makes it a worthwhile read for me.

By on 04/11/05 at 01:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The best last page in American fiction.

By on 04/11/05 at 02:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Another nice Gatsby passage, from near the end of Chapter 6:

She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented “place” that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village-—appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.

I sat on the front steps with them while they waited for their car. It was dark here in front; only the bright door sent ten square feet of light volleying out into the soft black morning. Sometimes a shadow moved against a dressing-room blind above, gave way to another shadow, an indefinite procession of shadows, who rouged and powdered in an invisible glass.

Ha, Plato again. (Though I think he’s handling it just fine.) The one part I don’t get is the bit about “old euphemisms” and “too obtrusive fate.”

By Amardeep on 04/11/05 at 03:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John Emerson,

Gatsby tells Nick he’s from an old wealthy family in the middle west, and when Nick says: what part of the midwest, Gatsby says SF.

It’s one of the many great comic bits in the book--the point being obviously that everything about GG--as with the wonderful Blocks Biloxi to whom he’s comparared--is sham _and_ that Nick can be enticed into believing it.  ("Then it was all true”!)

I think the old euphemisms stuff, Amardeep, is just Nick’s poetic way of saying these people are vulgar new money who try desperately (e.g., the Stonewall Jackson Abrams and G. Earl Muldoon) to give themselves a kind of stature and permanance (as neoplatonists will do) that just has no substance.  (One of the major sets of terms in Nick’s narrative in this neoplatonic frame is the essential vs. accidental--as in the inessential houses that melt away in the final passage.) Of course, if we’re paying attention we know that Nick’s family is just as much a euphemism--supposed to go back to the Dukes of Buccleuh, but founded when a substitute is sent to the Civil War--but the fact that Nick can, and must, rhapsodize over it at the end, and that his fantasy seems substantial by comparison to Gatsby’s, is the core of the story, I think.  All families are fake, but it’s intolerable to think so.

By on 04/11/05 at 04:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, aren’t you a fan of the American hard-boiled mystery? How could such a one dislike Gatsby?

By Jim Henley on 04/11/05 at 08:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment


First, thanks for dropping by.

Now, the question. I now realize it comes down to this: Gatsby feels to me utterly lacking in energy, just a shell. (I realize this judgment will induce an incredulous stare in those who love the novel.) As a result, I process any odd verbal bit - e.g. the divot through the window - as an error, rather than a little poetic spark, or a self-delighted wink. Since the novel obviously doesn’t spark or wink, I reason, this can’t be one of those and must be a simple error. I realize this reasoning is circular, but it starts with my basic sense of the husk-like nature of the overall production. My post would have been better if I started by stating that, truly, my objection is global, not local. I only like the novel at those moments when I feel its language has a highly controlled elegance and precision - like the lawn running up to the house. This is not a standard I apply to all novels. Some of them so overflow the cup of literary life that they are allowed to do any old gonzo or just plain crude verbal thing that enters their heads. Hard-boiled mysteries, often. American hard-boiled mystery is nothing if not lively (or else it is a dismal failure) so I allow it liberties I decline to extend to this alleged Great American Novel.

Perhaps should reread Gatsby, making a heroic attempt to will open the Magic Eye of my literary mind, allowing me to see this great big thing in the foreground - the novel’s liveliness - that has so far escaped my view. I take no pleasure in trashing classic novels, honestly. I am no Peckish hatchetman by nature. This classic has always puzzled me, however.

By John Holbo on 04/11/05 at 10:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Am I the only one here thinking of the final scene in Getting Straight? Where Elliot Gould is taking the oral exam for his MA in English and his supervisor asks meaningfully: “And what does Jordan Baker do? She plays golf. A man’s game.”

Shortly thereafter, Gould is up on the table howling out a dirty limerick about blind Milton.

By Miriam Jones on 04/12/05 at 01:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s nice to know that some thoughtful people can dislike this novel, because I’ve never liked it.

But I have to defend it, some. Gatsby the character is a shell, a fraud who wants to make it all become real, so it makes sense that the novel’s whole world looks hollow. In spite of heavy-handed imagery that I can’t stand (ashes, eyes), I have to acknowledge that it doesn’t preach or over-simplify. We don’t know Gatsby’s “real” character—we are left with Nick’s unsure projections. Especially after someone dies, we can’t say exactly who he or she was. Character and social conventions as fragile constructs we are desperate to maintain—that’s an aspect of life. Rebuilding a new character and a new life for yourself after a fall—also a part of life. You might not like it, but it’s an okay thing for literature to explore.

By on 04/12/05 at 02:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Are we really uncertain about who the real Gatsby was? He was a talented guy from a nondescript North Dakota family who had a fatal attraction to the trappings of success, did what he had to do, invented an alternative identity, but was destroyed once he made the big time because he was unprepared for what he found there.

Apparently my simple-minded reading of the book is passe.

I never liked that book for the writing or the thought (Platonism?), but I think that it’s a fantastic and archetypal (or whatever) story.

By John Emerson on 04/12/05 at 02:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That James Gatz you’re referring to, John.  Jay Gatsby is, as Tom B. rightly susses, “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.”

Sounds gratuituous, I know, but it matters, I think.  The novel isn’t really a class satire at all--completely non-Balzacian.  It’s grinding different axes.

By on 04/12/05 at 03:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What’s the problem with saying that Jay Gatsby is the former Jake Gatz who constructed new identities in various contexts with some success up until a certain point, and then blew it?

When he was a bootlegger, he was hardly a fake bootlegger. When he was a guy with some money trying to make it in high society, he was hardly a fake social-climber. He was a successful bootlegger and an unsuccessful social climber. The bait of the Daisy type that drew him to East Egg was pretty toxic, but he didn’t know that.

It’s not that when he was Jake Gatz in ND he was “really” Jake Gatz. He was just functioning in small-town mode and, in fact, presumably hated doing so and thought it wasn’t really him. Then when he got to what he thought was really him, he didn’t know how to perform or understand where he was, so he got squashed.

I guess I should reread the book.

By John Emerson on 04/12/05 at 04:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment


See—it ain’t so simple, is it? We don’t disagree. “It’s not that when he was Jake Gatz in ND he was ‘really’ Jake Gatz. He was just functioning in small-town mode and, in fact, presumably hated doing so and thought it wasn’t really him. Then when he got to what he thought was really him, he didn’t know how to perform or understand where he was, so he got squashed.” That’s what I meant by a “fragile construct we are desperate to maintain.” And, on a little lower layer, there is Nick’s desire to see Gatsby as an archetypal, likeable American Horatio Alger type, competing with his realization that real bootleggers don’t get rich without getting some blood on their hands, and so maybe the golden-boy-likeable Jay is not going to be a trustworthy construct for Nick to invest his emotions in. I dunno, maybe I’m wrong, but I think the novel gives us epistemological nuance. And I still don’t like it at all.

By on 04/12/05 at 04:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sparks, or winks, and circular reasoning made elliptical—TGG as orrery: Daisy coming from day’s-eye is a commonplace. But, as disaster comes from “bad star”, with the force of ill omen, the association of Gatsby with a comet (perhaps Wolf-Harrington? [initially known as Wolf]) is introduced early and reinforced often:

“... I realized by some unmistakable sign than an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon ...”

“... foul dust that floated in the wake of his dreams ...”

“He literally glowed ...” at his nearest approach to Daisy.

“‘My house looks well, doesn’t it?’ he demanded. ‘See how the whole front of it catches the light.’”

Leaving Louisville: “The track curved and now it was going away from the sun, which, as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desparately, as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.” (Note that not only is the track analagous to a comet’s path, but that ‘it sank lower’ ambiguously refers to the track as well as the sun. And of course there’s the ladder to the stars ...)

Gatsby’s progression amid the planetary system of other characters (and Nick’s observation of it) may be plotted (exercise left to the rereader).

By on 04/12/05 at 05:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, that still seems pretty simple to me. Where’s the mystery? Gatsby seems like various people I’ve run into or heard about, except that his story has been formulated usably by Fitzgerald. It’s not like Gatsby was uniquely inauthentic and lacking in self-knowledge.

I have to admit I forgot about Nick entirely. I vaguely remember feeling that Nick was being used as a foil by Fitzgerald to underline what Fitzgerald wanted us to think about Daisy.

Reading the book, as I did, as a North Dakota book, the not-so-good writing and philosophy could hardly have bothered me (it’s better than Hamlin Garland or Sinclair Lewis, right? And Garrison Keillor.).

Or else as an ethnic American book—a social satire on The American Dream, a Madonna who didn’t quite make it. In that respect, better than Howells.

So perhaps I liked the book at a level lowe than the one at which others disliked it. I never thought of putting it beside Nabakov or Flaubert or Jane Austen. Fitzgerald was a sort of shallow, semieducated guy and it’s amazing that he did as well as he did. An overachiever, really.

By John Emerson on 04/12/05 at 05:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If you don’t like Gatsby, how about this:

Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light—and suddenly out of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken....

Amory, sorry for them, was still not sorry for himself—art, politics, religion, whatever his medium should be, he knew he was safe now, free from all hysteria—he could accept what was acceptable, roam, grow, rebel, sleep deep through many nights....

There was no God in his heart, he knew; his ideas were still in riot; there was ever the pain of memory; the regret for his lost youth—yet the waters of disillusion had left a deposit on his soul, responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of old ambitions and unrealized dreams. But—oh, Rosalind! Rosalind!...

“It’s all a poor substitute at best,” he said sadly.

And he could not tell why the struggle was worth while, why he had determined to use to the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he had passed....

He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky.

“I know myself,” he cried, “but that is all.”

By on 04/12/05 at 08:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

and isn’t it knowing of Fitzgerald to call her Rosalind, hey? you do that Romeo…
I detect some envy here, people. Fitzgerald was a master of gorgeous shells and detached, vaguely guilty onlookers. It’s okay to be jealous...!!especially since he came from Minnesota and was Irish to boot.
I am inclined to think the Mayhew character in Barton Fink is modelled on Fitzgerald or Faulknew - I love Judy Davis’ line, “Mr. Mayhew is indisposed...”

By genevieve on 04/13/05 at 02:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, I have been typing in a command-based database at the national broadcaster today - that should read ‘Faulkner’. Of course.

By genevieve on 04/13/05 at 02:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s aw wight. “Fauknew’ sounds sowta cute.

Fitzgeralnd’s father was a Southerner. How he ended up in Minnesota no one knows. Well, someone does, not me.

By John Emerson on 04/13/05 at 08:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John, again, we agree on our basic view and take different impressions from it. “It’s not like Gatsby was uniquely inauthentic and lacking in self-knowledge.” Right—his inauthenticity makes all of us doubt ourselves too, because Jay is not unique. The thing about Nick is, Nick is the narrator, the POV. So his perceptions are pretty central. He invests a lot of hero-identification in Jay, and then it goes bad. So who am I if I put so much faith in an illusion?

I dislike this novel as much as you do, and I also think it is overrated, but I wanted to articulate the one thing I think it offers.

By on 04/13/05 at 12:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment


I think that too understates the distinctive gift of the novel, which I believe is still more subtle than you suggest.  The point is _not_ that it asks us to share doubts that are raised for Nick once he realizes Gatsby goes bad.  Why?  because Nick’s reaction to Gatsby turning out alright at the end (i.e., dead) is not at all to doubt himself. Rather, it’s to have a reinforced sense of his own special qualities.  Immediately after he attends Gatsby’s pathetic failure of a funeral, Nick invokes his own solemn identification with his country.  Seeing Gatsby die is an eminently satisfying occasion for him, not troubling in the slightest.  Gatsby becomes an object of pity not a source of discomfort. 

To put this differently, Nick tells his own story as if he were Prince Hal and Gatsby were Falstaff.  (Not too dissimilar from Trimalchio perhaps.) Gatsby’s gaudy entertainments die when Nick discovers he’s the child of a royal family.  (The first thing he tells us, after all, is that he has a father.) When the novel begins, Nick refers to having felt, on return from the war, that the middle west, rather than being the warm center of the world, now seemed he ragged edge of the universe.  One summer with Gatsby will make him appreciate home again.

This is, as it happens (as Walter Benn Michaels shows in Our America), a story that echoes very disturbingly with contemporaneous nativist politics--of the sort referred to directly by Tom Buchanan and that appeared frequently in the Saturday Evening Post when Fitz was publishing regularly there, as well as throughout polite and intellectually advanced circles.  Fitzgerald’s distinctive achievement in this context may have been to make Nick’s sense of himself as a princely native seem profoundly appealing, and the only alternative to a consumerist and mobile society dominated by the factitious, while also, more subtly showing that this very fantasy is sheer, self-justifying fabrication. 

Those intimations are subtle, I think.  They show up, for example, in the superb way Nick alters his father’s advice over the course of the first paragraph of the book (from a reference to differing advantages in life to an account of fundamental differences established by birth); in the way that, dislike him though he may, Nick ends up less offended by Tom than by Gatsby (Tom is arguably an accessory to murder, after all, but, where Nick is horrified by G. he’s only dismissive of Tom); and, best of all, in the reference to the substitute Nick’s granduncle sent to the Civil War. 

I think the pretty clear implication of that passing allusion is that in the civil wars that characterized American society in the 20s--a day of culture war that makes our own recent history seem pretty tame--Gatsby is Nick’s substitute.  Nick tells a story that sends him off to die and that enables himself to create a family saga that is appealing, but also dubious.  Though I suspect he was pretty ambivalent about these things himself, I think Fitz wants a story in which we can see why an intensely illiberal nativism can seem profoundly moving, while also showing its unseemly underbelly.

By on 04/13/05 at 01:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean, that was interesting. I’m going to keep all that in mind next time I read it.

By on 04/13/05 at 03:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John Holbo dislikes the novel, but I like it. Though, as I said, I don’t like it as supreme work of fiction, but as front-line Americana.

“It’s not like Gatsby was uniquely inauthentic and lacking in self-knowledge”. I said that, but I wasn’t saying that everyone is that way, or confessing that I am.

I’d have to read the book again to say much more. I’m still not convinced that my relatively straightforward or naive reading isn’t the best one.

By John Emerson on 04/13/05 at 04:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean, that’s quite an intriguing line you have there. Perhaps I can acquire a prosthetic affection for Gatsby via this all-around quite satisfactory comment thread.

By John Holbo on 04/14/05 at 12:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Here, I’ve rewritten the offending sentence:

“Usually her voice came over the wire fresh and cool, like a divot from a green golf links sailing in at the office window; but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.”

Gone are the awkward repetitions of “as” and of “came"/"come." Gone also the confusion regarding the antecedent of “it.” If only Fitzgerald had had a decent editor.

By on 04/14/05 at 02:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks to the learned horse, what a good point. Anyone out there know who Fitzgerald’s eds might have been?
And on the subject of the southern father ending up in Minnesota - sounds like a great brief for one of those awful factitious confections so popular on the market these days. Lynne Reid Banks might have fun with that one…
Like Mark Sarvas, I will re-read Gatsby with tremendous pleasure till I die,( though not every year!) probably for the breezy, insouciant narrative voice( should that be vocal?)achievement. John Banville sounds like everyone he uses as narrators, problem is all those people sound like John Banville writing. The sound of one pen scratching…
All the while I’ll be feeling guilty that I’m not re-reading Tender Is The Night as well.
By the way the comments here are up to 36 already, do some of us need to join a Fitzgerald e-list?

By genevieve on 04/14/05 at 09:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Fitzgerald’s father (from Maryland) was a travelling salesman, etc., who never did very well. The family money was from his mother, who was from Minnesota. Her parents were immigrants from Ireland who had been successful in retail the US. F. Scott didn’t spend tremendous amounts of time in Minnesota.

By John Emerson on 04/16/05 at 02:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In my english class we are having to write a “missing” page in the Gatsby Novel, we have write something that fits in effortlessly into the novel. I cannot think of any parts in the novel that i could insert something in...if someone could give me an example i would be most grateful!

By on 12/07/06 at 10:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s not an exercise I would set for anyone. But of course if you tell your teacher there are no gaps in this book, you will be in strife. It is a tough life when we are smarter than our leaders, isn’t it? Will have a think and get back to you if anything occurs to me.

By genevieve on 12/08/06 at 01:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

That was irony, cAPs, just in case.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 12/08/06 at 11:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

whoops, you got me right in, JG.

By clueless litblogger on 12/08/06 at 04:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So I got a 95 on my “missing page” essay...and i thought it sucked, silly AP teachers. I never do understand what they look for in papers.

By on 12/13/06 at 08:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Someone asked way back when about Fitzgerald’s editor. It was that hack, Maxwell Perkins. By the way, should anyone find this thread on _Gatsby_ at this late date, here is a fine, stimulating and gloriously civil discussion.  Thanks to all contributors.

By gary daily on 01/11/07 at 09:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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