NEA Big Read
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.

Fitzgerald and His Other Works

Zelda Sayre refused to marry Fitzgerald unless he could provide for her. Following his honorable discharge from the Army in 1919, he moved to New York alone to revise his manuscript of This Side of Paradise. Twice rejected by the publisher Charles Scribner's Sons, the novel amounted to a thinly veiled autobiography of Fitzgerald's Princeton years. When Scribner finally published This Side of Paradise in 1920, Fitzgerald won not only literary fame and temporary financial security, but also the hand of his beloved Zelda.

This initial success established a pattern: After every novel, Scribner published a collection of new Fitzgerald short stories. During his lifetime, Fitzgerald was best known as the author of more than 150 stories, originally published in such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, McCall's, Redbook, and Esquire. The collections—Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), All the Sad Young Men (1926), and Taps at Reveille (1935)—include such frequently anthologized pieces as "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," "Babylon Revisited," and "Bernice Bobs Her Hair."

In his lifetime, Fitzgerald earned more money from his stories than from all his novels combined. His first Post story in 1920 sold for $400; by 1928, some were bringing in $3,500 apiece.

These stories provided a way for Fitzgerald to test themes and situations that he would later develop in his novels. For example, literary critics identify four stories from All the Sad Young Men—"Absolution," "Winter Dreams," "The Sensible Thing," and "The Rich Boy"—as the "Gatsby-cluster," since he stripped and reused passages from them for his 1925 masterpiece.

High living in Europe and low sales for Gatsby silenced Fitzgerald as a novelist for nine years, until he published Tender Is the Night in 1934. The novel records the marriage of psychologist Dick Diver and his patient Nicole Warren. As with the emotionally ravaged Anthony and Gloria Patch from his 1922 novel The Beautiful and The Damned, readers often interpret Dick and Nicole as alter egos for their author and his wife.

Fitzgerald's final works deal comically and tragically with Hollywood. His college friend and literary editor, Edmund Wilson, edited his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon for publication in 1941. Its hero, Monroe Stahr, is partly based on Irving Thalberg, MGM's "boy wonder" producer. Fitzgerald's seventeen Pat Hobby stories, written for Esquire, chronicle their hapless hero's misadventures as a screenwriter. Scribner published a collection of them posthumously in 1962.

Other posthumous collections include The Crack-Up (1945), The Basil and Josephine Stories (1973), and The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1989). These and the other books mentioned here demonstrate how much more there is to Fitzgerald than just one book, however great.

"Books are like brothers. I am an only child. Gatsby my imaginary eldest brother."
—from The Crack-Up

Works by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • This Side of Paradise, 1920
  • Flappers and Philosophers, 1920
  • The Beautiful and the Damned, 1922
  • Tales of the Jazz Age, 1922
  • The Vegetable, 1923
  • The Great Gatsby, 1925
  • All the Sad Young Men, 1926
  • Tender is the Night, 1934
  • Taps at Reveille, 1935

Fitzgerald's only publisher during his lifetime was Charles Scribner's Sons.

Posthumously Published

  • The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western. New York: Scribner, 1941. (Originally published under editor Edmund Wilson's title, The Last Tycoon.)
  • The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions, 1945.
  • The Basil and Josephine Stories. New York: Scribners, 1973.
  • The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Scribners, 1989.

Fitzgerald at the Movies

Fitzgerald's masterpiece has not had the best of luck at the movies. Only the 1974 incarnation, starring Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby—and written by Francis Ford Coppola after Truman Capote failed to deliver—even approaches the poetry of the original. However, despite Redford's artful performance, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli prefers Alan Ladd's 1949 interpretation of the role, finding Redford too intelligent to capture Gatsby's naiveté.

Fitzgerald's other fiction has fared better on screen. The best and most ambitious adaptation of his work may still be the BBC's award-winning Tender Is the Night (1985), scripted by Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven) and starring Peter Strauss and Mary Steenburgen as Dick and Nicole Diver.

The Fitzgerald story "Teamed With Genius" became a witty TV movie written and directed by Robert Thompson (Northern Exposure), featuring a strong lead performance from Christopher Lloyd as the author's comic screenwriter alter ego, Pat Hobby. Joan Micklin Silver (Hester Street) wrote and directed an acclaimed TV version of the story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," starring Shelley Duvall. Even Nobel laureate Harold Pinter's somber feature adaptation of The Last Tycoon (1976) for director Elia Kazan has its defenders, and Robert De Niro's delivery of Monroe Stahr's immortal speech about the movies is a showstopper.

Which of the following adaptations deserved the green light?

  • The Great Gatsby (2013) Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Written by Baz Lurhmann and Craig Pearce. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Joel Edgerton as Tom, and Tobey Maguire as Nick.
  • The Great Gatsby (2000) (TV) Directed by Robert Markowitz. Written by John McLaughlin. Starring Toby Stephens as Gatsby, Mira Sorvino as Daisy, Martin Donovan as Tom, and Paul Rudd as Nick.
  • The Great Gatsby (1974) Directed by Jack Clayton. Written by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Mia Farrow as Daisy, Bruce Dern as Tom, Karen Black as Myrtle, Scott Wilson as Wilson, Sam Waterston as Nick, Lois Chiles as Jordan, and Howard Da Silva as Wolfsheim.
  • The Great Gatsby (1949) Directed by Elliott Nugent. Written by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum. Starring Alan Ladd as Gatsby, Betty Field as Daisy, Macdonald Carey as Nick, Ruth Hussey as Jordan, Barry Sullivan as Tom, Howard Da Silva as Wilson, and Shelley Winters as Myrtle.
  • The Great Gatsby (1926) Directed by Herbert Brenon. Written by Becky Gardiner from an adaptation by Elizabeth Meehan. Starring Warner Baxter as Gatsby, Lois Wilson as Daisy, Neil Hamilton as Nick, Georgia Hale as Myrtle, and William Powell as Wilson.
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