It has been an F. Scott Fitzgerald month.
After the last MA conference, I decided it was time to reorganize some of my books. My books tend to move about the house, wherever there is space. I came across my dog-eared A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, and decided to reread it in the bath. He describes what his experience of being a writer in Paris was like in the 40s, but I especially enjoy his take on his relationships with other writers like Fitzgerald. This led me to a search of the house for The Great Gatsby–laundry room–classics shelf.
A day later, my tutor’s response arrived. I had asked him for some summer reading recommendations, and of course one of his five suggestions was The Great Gatsby.
Two more notes of Fitzgerald synchronicity. Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, is just out and in Woody Allen fashion, it offers humorous homage to Fitzgerald and Hemingway’s relationship.
I also came across “The Guardian’s” article on dumbing down classics to make them more accessible. Specifically, the article was about the retelling of The Great Gatsby by Margaret Tarner.
I did read some of MacMillan Readers published retelling and cannot say it was terribly written. It was just lacking. Fitzgerald’s prose– “silver pepper of the stars,” “pyramid of pulpless halves,” and “the sea-change of faces and voices” is gone.
Where Fitzgerald wrote, “The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone,” Tarner’s version of Fitzgerald’s line is, “In the bright moonlight, a cat moved silently across the garden.”
Gone is the metaphorical brilliance and grace of lines like, “The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life.”
The Guardian states the pros and cons of simplified versions and you can think about your own stance. I agree with Ebert on the evisceration of Fitzgerald. I think that at whatever level you are able to read The Great Gatsby or other comparative works of literature, and at any age, that is the work you should read, not a simplified version. You cannot compare the richness of the original prose with a makeover. If readers are looking for books for ESL students or challenged readers, there are plenty of good writers who have published works in this category.
I do not remember completely how I took in Fitzgerald’s writing in my 20’s, but the rereading of The Great Gatsby had me underlining phrases and noting fleet language that I either did not appreciate or perhaps did not want to mark with lead underlining.
With all the reading we have to do in this MA course, rereading of work is as important as the reading of new works. Maybe even more so.
Hemingway writes that Fitzgerald struggled with his writing; it did not come easy.
I can take a Woody Allen version of Fitzgerald’s relationship with Papa, but there is not enough popcorn in the world to make me want to read anything but the original The Great Gatsby.
Some other interesting links are: