Saturday, May 18, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (a novel)

David Silvette: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1936) - in an American private collection - reproduction in Billeskov Jansen - Stangerup - Traustedt: Verdens litteraturhistorie 11
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. First published 1925. The 1974 Paramount movie cover edition: Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1974.

Thanks to the new movie adaptation I finally got to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's magisterial novel although I bought my copy forty years ago... and although there is also a Finnish translation on my bookshelf (1959, translators not credited, but according to sources they are Osmo Mäkeläinen and Marja Niiniluoto. This 1959 Finnish translation I would not recommend.).

T.S. Eliot saw in The Great Gatsby the first step ahead in the American novel since Henry James, and one can see why. The point-of-view technique is sophisticated. Nick is the first person narrator who is also deeply complicit, and we the readers have to remain vigilant at all times.

The Great Gatsby is also profoundly original about the American dream of success. It is an engrossing saga about the power and the pleasure of money. It is about the hidden estate structure beneath the explicit class society while the official ideal is about equal opportunity. We are made to identify with the wealthy and the beautiful and made to see the abyss from the inside. It's about the surface, the appearances, but in order to understand the emptiness more fully.

Was it The Great Gatsby where the motif of "the death car" was invented, also used by Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and repeated in last year's movie Arbitrage?

Lionel Trilling compared the story of Gatsby with Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir and Balzac's Les Illusions perdus, but B.J. Billeskov Jansen states that Gatsby's way is the opposite to them: Gatsby is moving from perdition towards an ideal, although he ultimately fails.

The novel is also about an éducation sentimentale, a coming-of-age story of the narrator, Nick Carraway. It's about the loss of an illusion, yet Nick remains the only one who never ceases to admire Gatsby's idealism.

I tried to read a little about Fitzgerald and noticed that much of what's written remains on the surface, on the sensational details of the life of Scott and Zelda, the writer of the lost generation and the jazz age. What counts for me is that Fitzgerald was a brilliant writer, one of the rare "writer's writers", a great professional, who kept a high standard to the end, although he died in loneliness and poverty at the age of 44.

The Great Gatsby is an eminently readable piece of literature, and its vision remains compelling in our present age of financial turmoil.

1 comment:

andrea said...

I would certainly prefer to read more foreign fiction which were translated from Finnish translation to english, or in any languages.Because in that way I could have an idea what do people think,feel or their culture is.When we read books from a foreign country it seems like travelling in that country through the stories plot.We could recognize how they have been living afar from our own culture.I could say that translators really play a big role in our society.I can't see machines taking over the jobs of human translators in the near future, as they have done with so many other professions.