The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby belongs to what Harold Bloom tags the “tomb” of literary archetypes, a family of fiction that espouses every facet of the expressive use of language (everything from Shakespeare’s plays to Dickens’ prose). As a participant in this tomb, The Great Gatsby has adopted a convenient persona in the world of twentieth century literature as “the great American novel,” a work that embodies the American thematic ideals of the self-made man, the great American character—Jay Gatsby.
In its infancy, the novel received only a taste of the “epic grandeur” that it would later accumulate. Snubbed by certain critics for its all-too-perfect design and shrugged aside by the popular masses, The Great Gatsby was a feat of fiction that, in its time, never knew its fame.
The Roots of a Novel:
In the Spring of 1924, The Fitzgeralds left for France. There, F. Scott Fitzgerald hoped to indulge his literary appetite without distraction. He wrote The Great Gatsby during the summer and fall in Valescure near St. Raphael, having conceived the story much before then. (Matthew J. Bruccoli considers the final draft the product of a three-year process of evolution that included revisions at a stage when most other writers are finished with their work.) During the winter of 1924-25, The Fitzgeralds traveled to Rome to revise the novel. They were on en route to Paris when it was first published on April 10, 1925.
Commercially, the novel was a huge disappointment. The first printing of 20,870 copies at 2 dollars a piece sold slowly, exploding any hopes of reaching Fitzgerald’s desired 75,000 mark. A second printing of 3,000 copies was ordered in August—many of which remained shelved in Scribners’ warehouse as late as Fitzgerald’s death in 1940.
Contemporary Critical Reception:
The initial reviews were mixed. The first appeared in The New York World just two days after publication and was headed “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Latest a Dud.” Adding further fuel to the negative buzz, The Brooklyn Eagle reviewer claimed that there was not “one chemical trace of magic, life, irony, romance and mysticism in all of The Great Gatsby.”
On the other hand, Fitzgerald received adulation from other corners of the literary-conscious world, from William Rose Benet of The Saturday Review of Literature and Larence Stallings of New York World to Harry Hansen of the Chicago Daily News and Herbert S. Gorman of the New York Sun. One of the most flattering reviews appeared at a time when the first wave of critical jubilation had all but subsided into a quieter appreciation. Gilbert Seldes declared in the August Dial that the “The Great Gatsby is a brilliant work, and it also a sound one; it is carefully written, and vivid; it has structure, and it has life. To all the talents, discipline has been added.” Seldes goes on to say that “Fitzgerald has more than...