My relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, has perhaps been as tumultuous as the novel’s reception itself.
It was poorly received upon its first publication in 1925, moving only 20,000 copies, and being met with relative apathy from the reading American public.
Not until 1942, after Fitzgerald’s death, did the novel push on towards becoming the classic it is now known as.
Over 150,000 copies were issued to American service men and women during World War Two – this boosted the novel’s popularity among the general population no end, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now considered one of the greatest American novels of all time – and arguably the best of the twentieth century – The Great Gatsby’s contextual narrative matches perhaps that of its eponymous protagonist.
Gatsby was the first novel I was given to study as a formal student of literature, and perhaps due to my natural inclination for argument, I hated it.
I found the language to be pretentious, I found every character to be vacuous and utterly unlikable, and I found the context within which Fitzgerald wrote it – his personal background and reasons for writing – to be nauseatingly shallow.
But this changed.
The Great Gatsby became the first novel to demonstrate that you do not have to like a novel for it to be considered ‘great’.
It taught me that literary analysis is about critical thinking and personal discovery, and not just agreeing with the popular view.
And it enlightened me to the fact that the words on the page are often just the beginning of what can be found in a novel
I also now see Fitzgerald’s ‘pretentious’ language – sometimes known as ‘poetic prose’ – as an artistic addition which falls under the category of ‘why not?’ (as if going over a black and white drawing with a gold highlighter).
Having now read The Great Gatsby around four or five times, I still find it to be immensely shallow, full of complete tossers, and written by a shallow and slightly pathetic man, but it has somehow become, for me, ‘the green light from across the bay’ – the beacon of unknown ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ awaiting literary discovery.