(For ABC Wednesday, Writer's Island and Sunday Scribblings)
“G” is for “Gatsby.”
I’d like to tell you a story.
This happened way back in the twenties, soon after the end of World War I.
A young fellow named Scott fell in love with a girl, Zelda Sayre, whom he had met when he was stationed at an army post near her home town.
Scott was crazy about Zelda; she was the “golden girl” as far as he was concerned and he was determined to marry her.
Trouble was, Zelda was a wealthy, socially prominent young woman, living in Montgomery, Alabama, a part of the country where family and social position – and money – were extremely important, and it seemed that Scott had little to offer.
Back in his home in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was a raw, lower-middle-class youth who had a mediocre job in an advertising agency, making a fast twenty dollars a week; his father had just been fired from Procter and Gamble, and there was no family fortune. In addition, Scott hadn’t even finished college.
What Scott did have was this: he was a Writer.
So he came up with a Plan A. (There was no Plan B.) He would write a novel, and if it was a success perhaps the Sayre family, and Zelda, would take him seriously.
Rather a slim hope, it would seem. But, quite unbelievably, it happened.
His novel, “This Side of Paradise,” wasn’t just successful; it was a blockbuster. Three days after publication, the entire first printing was sold out. Seeing this, and realizing what this meant for his future, on the fourth day after publication he sent a wire to Zelda to come north to New York; they were going to be married.
She did, and they were. They embarked on an extravagant life as young celebrities.
Overnight, the twenty-four year old F Scott Fitzgerald had become the most famous literary figure in the country. He wrote a number of other works, but his masterpiece, as any college English major could tell you, was “The Great Gatsby.”
After the War to End All Wars, and we know how that turned out, the country had Prohibition, which made millionaires out of bootleggers – and that was Jay Gatsby's secret.
Fitzgerald was an autobiographical writer. You can see his own recent history in the story of Gatsby, an outsider who longed to be accepted by the “old money” society of New York’s Long Island. (In the book, Gatsby has fallen in love with a golden girl whom he met when he was stationed in an army post near her home town.)
His big mistake was that he thought he could spend his way into that society – one way was by throwing big expensive parties in his big expensive home – though in reality they would never accept him.
This remarkable book evokes not only the ambiance of the jazz-age search for the American dream of wealth and happiness, but also the larger questions of fading traditional values.
Later Fitzgerald was to appropriate his wife Zelda's life in what turned out to be its tragic dimensions for use in his stories and novels.
To put it briefly, “The Great Gatsby” is now regarded around the world as an American literary classic. It’s still a best-seller; half a million copies are sold every year. It is listed second on the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels of the Twentieth Century.
By the way, Baz Luhrmann’s film of the Gatsby story – in 3D, yet – will start shooting in Australia, in August, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.
1 year ago