To celebrate, we’ve done some digging and found a few quirky facts about the novel many regard as the quintessential ‘Great American Novel’.
1. It wasn’t always going to be called The Great Gatsby
At one time or another, all of these were in consideration: Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; Trimalchio; Trimalchio in West Egg; On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby and The High-Bouncing Lover.
2. The book was initially a commercial flop…
At the time of his death in 1940, Fitzgerald claimed to have made just $4,000 off the novel, and died believing that his work was doomed to be forgotten and left behind by time and regretted Gatsby.
The New York Times’ obit on Fitzgerald even cited the novel as a sign he never reached his full potential.
3. …and Fitzgerald thought he knew why
Fitzgerald was convinced that the reason the book wasn’t a rousing success was because Gatsby didn’t have a single admirable female character—and, at the time, the majority of people reading novels were women.
He also thought that the title, which was only “fair,” resulted in poor sales.
4. Meyer Wolfshiem was based on a real person
Meyer Wolfshiem is a very thinly-veiled reference to Arnold Rothstein, the man behind The Black Sox Scandal, where eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of intentionally losing the 1919 world series in exchange for money from gamblers.
If the similar names didn’t give it away, the fact that Wolfshiem is said to have fixed the World Series probably did.
5. Fitzgerald was often his own inspiration
The Great Gatsby opens with a famous epigraph by the poet Thomas Parke D’Invilliers: “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her/ If you can bounce high, bounce for her too/ Till she cry, “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover / I must have you!” Guess what? He doesn’t exist!
The character was a creation of Fitzgerald’s in This Side of Paradise.
6. Fitzgerald was a horrible speller
The first draft of The Great Gatsby was riddled with spelling errors, but it was hardly a surprise to his editors. F. Scott Fitzgerald was famously deplorable speller.
So bad was he, in fact, that American literary critic Edmund Wilson called an early draft of This Side of Paradise “one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published.”
7. Fitzgerald rewrote the novel because he was so enamoured with the cover design
Francis Cugat designed the now classic cover art for the novel, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was just as impressed with its haunting imagery as readers have been; the design has become a mainstay in the popular consciousness.
Fitzgerald was so taken with it that he rewrote the novel to place more emphasis on the symbol of the eyes, making T.J. Eckleburg’s business a larger motif of the work.
8. Fitzgerald never expanded on the character of Jay Gatsby outside of the novel
Fitzgerald loved to create discussion around his work, and despite the lukewarm response upon it’s release, he never expanded on Gatsby’s race or religion beyond the novel’s pages. Gatsby himself is open to a number of interpretations.
Although many believe that Jay Gatsby was Jewish (a Jewish associate of Meyer Wolfsheims, James Gatz, is believed to have been a major inspiration), some scholars have argued that Jay Gatsby was black.
9. WWII made The Great Gatsby a household name
At the time of his death, Gatsby’s publisher still had copies of the book in its warehouse—and that was from a second printing of just 3000 books. Fitzgerald’s works saw a revival in 1945. Helping in that revival: 150,000 copies of Gatsby were sent to Americans serving in WWII.
Once the war ended, the book became a staple of high school English lit curricula, and the novel remained a commercial success. By 1960, the book steadily sold 50,000 copies each year, and today it has sold over 30 million copies.
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The lavish and glorious Baz Luhrmann film tie-in edition of The Great Gatsby
Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and extravagent lifestyle of his neighbour, Jay Gatsby.
Jay Gatsby is a self-made man famed for his decadent, champagne-drenched parties. Despite being surrounded by Long Island’s bright and beautiful, he longs only for Daisy Buchanan.
Gatsby pursues his dream and Nick Carraway is drawn into Gatsby’s circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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