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When The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, the reviews were not great: “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Latest Dud” read one headline. But now, nearly 90 years later it is often considered The Great American Novel. So which is it?
In a letter to his editor, Fitzgerald wrote: “I want to write something new — something extraordinary and beautiful and simple & intricately patterned.” I think he achieves that in this deceptively slight story of Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy Buchanan. There is much more to it than that, of course: through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway, we also see a story of idealism and the American Dream. This is a novel that is evocative of its era, of the Jazz Age (a term coined by Fitzgerald): It is a time of wealth, youthful exuberance, and carefree pleasure-seeking, as well as a time of moral decay and corruption – themes that resonate with the present day.
Gatsby is an accessible classic, which makes it a favorite for book clubs – such as this one – as well as for movie adaptations. In the latest movie version of Gatsby, director Baz Luhrmann captures all the glamor of the Jazz Age and explicitly echoes the contemporary connections by using modern music and fashions.
So read it (you can start here with the first chapter), maybe see it and decide for yourself – dud or masterpiece.