Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Just before The Great Gatsby was to appear—with a publication date of April 10, 1925—the Fitzgeralds were in the south of France. Fitzgerald was waiting for news from Max Perkins, his publisher, and cabled him to request “Any News.” The 29-year-old author had won critical acclaim for his first novel, This Side of Paradise, but had faltered with the less-than-perfect The Beautiful and the Damned. He was earnest about being considered one of the top American writers of his time, and needed the boost that his third novel might give him to achieve that status.

During his lifetime, Fitzgerald was generally praised for The Great Gatsby; it is usually considered to be his finest accomplishment and the one most analyzed by literary critics. The established opinion, according to biographer Arthur Mizener in The Far Side of Paradise, is best represented by renowned critic Lionel Trilling: “Except once, Fitzgerald did not fully realize his powers.… But [his] quality was a great one and on one occasion, in The Great Gatsby, it was as finely crystallized in art as it deserved to be.” Saturday Review critic William Rose Benét said that the book “revealed matured craftsmanship.” Even harsh critics like Ernest Hemingway and H. L. Mencken praised the writer, as quoted by Mizener. Said the notoriously abrasive Mencken in a letter to the author: “I think it is incomparably the best piece of work you have done.” Nevertheless, he qualified this compliment with a complaint that the basic story was “somewhat trivial, that it reduces...

(The entire section is 683 words.)