Study Guide

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby Essay - The Great Gatsby, Critical Edition (Magill Book Reviews)

The Great Gatsby, Critical Edition (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

First published in 1925, THE GREAT GATSBY was not a commercial success; both THIS SIDE OF PARADISE and THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED outsold it by a margin of more than two to one during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. Initial reviews were mixed; a few critics—and some of Fitzgerald’s fellow-novelists—immediately appreciated what he had achieved. By the time of his death, in 1940, the novel was largely forgotten.

As sometimes happens in the curious business of literary reputations, Fitzgerald’s death prompted a revival of interest in his work. In 1941, THE GREAT GATSBY was reissued, bound in a single volume with the unfinished novel THE LAST TYCOON, which was being published for the first time. A year later, THE GREAT GATSBY was reissued on its own, and several reprints followed in the 1940’s. By the 1950’s, it was widely regarded as one of the major novels of its period.

Today, GATSBY is almost universally acknowledged as an American classic. It is one of those exceptional books that survive both inside and outside the classroom; it’s also a novel that writers continue to read with profit, as interviews with many contemporary American novelists attest.

All the more important, then, to have a text that is as accurate as possible. The term “critical edition” may suggest a volume so dense with textual apparatus as to be unreadable. In this instance, however, Matthew Bruccoli (an eminent bibliographer and biographer who has published extensively on Fitzgerald) has made readability a high priority. The volume begins with an introductory essay by Bruccoli, followed by a clean corrected text of the novel. The end matter includes not only a list of emendations and textual notes, of interest primarily to specialists, but also explanatory notes clearly intended for students—all this and more in a compact, well-designed volume.

Evaluation of the textual decisions made by Bruccoli and the late Fredson Bowers, who served as a consultant on the project, will have to await the considered judgment of scholars. The underlying philosophy of the edition—to make the fruits of textual scholarship available to the widest possible readership—is only to be applauded.

Bibliography:

Brucoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993. Commonly regarded as the definitive Fitzgerald biography. Shows how the author became a kind of romantic archetype of the intoxicated, tragic genius. Includes an afterword by Scottie Fitzgerald Smith. See especially the section on The Great Gatsby entitled “Early Success, 1920-1925.”

Bryer, Jackson R., ed. “The Great Gatsby (1925).” In F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception. New York: Burt Franklin, 1978. Provides an extensive, representative sampling of The Great Gatsby’s critical reception and shows how most critics did not recognize the novel’s remarkable mythic and symbolic dimensions.

Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977. The section on The Great Gatsby traces the novel’s literary genesis, explores the sources and consequences of Fitzgerald’s provincial moral posture, and discusses the use of structure, mood, and action in the development of Gatsby’s romantic vision.

Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. Part of the Literary Lives series. Concise rather than thorough, but with some interesting details.

Lockridge, Ernest, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Great Gatsby”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. An impressive collection of critical interpretations and viewpoints on the novel. Includes commentary by Edith Wharton, Conrad Aiken, Lionel Trilling, Maxwell Perkins, and Fitzgerald himself.

Stern, Milton R. The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971. A very readable and fascinating analysis. The section on The Great Gatsby focuses on the biographical and mythical aspects of Fitzgerald’s adolescent moral perspective.