Saturday, February 27, 2021

The World's Most Misunderstood Novel

From The BBC:

Misunderstanding has been a part of The Great Gatsby's story from the very start. Grumbling to his friend Edmund Wilson shortly after publication in 1925, Fitzgerald declared that "of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about." Fellow writers like Edith Wharton admired it plenty, but as the critic Maureen Corrigan relates in her book So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, popular reviewers read it as crime fiction, and were decidedly underwhelmed by it at that. Fitzgerald's Latest A Dud, ran a headline in the New York World. The novel achieved only so-so sales, and by the time of the author's death in 1940, copies of a very modest second print run had long since been remaindered.

Gatsby's luck began to change when it was selected as a giveaway by the US military. With World War Two drawing to a close, almost 155,000 copies were distributed in a special Armed Services Edition, creating a new readership overnight. As the 1950s dawned, the flourishing of the American Dream quickened the novel's topicality, and by the 1960s, it was enshrined as a set text. It's since become such a potent force in pop culture that even those who've never read it feel as if they have, helped along, of course, by Hollywood. It was in 1977, just a few short years after Robert Redford starred in the title role of an adaptation scripted by Francis Ford Coppola, that the word Gatsbyesque was first recorded.

Along with Baz Luhrmann's divisive 2013 movie extravaganza, the book has in the past decade alone spawned graphic novels, a musical, and an immersive theatrical experience. From now on, we're likely to be seeing even more such adaptations and homages because at the start of this year, the novel's copyright expired, enabling anyone to adapt it without permission from its estate . Early calls for a Muppets adaptation may have come to nothing (never say never), but a big-budget TV miniseries is already in the works, and author Min Jin Lee and cultural critic Wesley Morris are both writing fresh introductions to new editions. (Read more.)


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