A staple of the high school and college American literature survey course, most of us read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby for the first time as a classroom assignment. A story of tragic love set in the roaring twenties, Fitzgerald creates a fascinating landscape of excess. Much of what he wrote about, the author lived. This intersection between art and life creates some of the fun facts about The Great Gatsby that are not as well-known as the novel’s famous plot.
Fitzgerald’s Ancestry and Family
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s family tree includes the author of “The Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key. Even though their name was illustrious, the family had difficult times financially, notably the bankruptcy Fitzgerald’s father. However, Fitzgerald continued to hang around with a wealthy crowd. The author was very much aware of the dichotomy between his financial situation and that of the people with whom he associated. This dichotomy between the rich and those who wish to become rich is a theme in his writing and can been in The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald’s First Success
When Fitzgerald was courting his future wife, Zelda, she was concerned about his ability to provide for her. She refused to be his wife until he proved he was on firm financial footing. After leaving the army in 1919, Fitzgerald went to New York in order to work on a novel. This Side of Paradise was published in 1920 and was a commercial success. Fitzgerald was able to return to Zelda and win her hand in marriage. This episode in his life mirrors Gatsby’s efforts to make enough money to fit into Daisy’s world and convince her to be his wife.
Fitzgerald the Short Story Writer
Though we tend to think of Fitzgerald in terms of his novels, during his lifetime he was most famous, and most successful, as a writer of short stories. The author’s first story for The Saturday Evening Post earned Fitzgerald $400. Ten years later, he commanded $4,000 from The Post for a story. Often, he would use the short stories to test themes and ideas that would go into his longer works. In his book All the Sad Young Men, there are four stories from which Fitzgerald took ideas and passages and placed them in The Great Gatsby: “Absolution,” “Winter Dreams,” “The Sensible Thing,” and “The Rich Boy.”
The Reception of The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby has become Fitzgerald’s most famous work. However, when the book was first published, it was not considered a success. Fitzgerald felt the lack of commercial appeal was due to the novel’s slim size. He felt audiences preferred longer, weightier works.
The Jazz Age
The Great Gatsby takes place during the roaring twenties. Fitzgerald coined the term “the Jazz Age,” which refers to the 1920s, and he and his wife Zelda came to represent the excesses of the time period. Often, his work was overshadowed by and suffered from the personas he and Zelda cultivated of a carefree, party-loving couple.
Fitzgerald and Hemingway
Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway knew each other while both were living in Paris during the 1920s. While Hemingway liked and admired Fitzgerald, he did not feel the same admiration for Zelda. Hemingway felt that Zelda kept Fitzgerald from writing the type of work of which he was capable. In Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir of Paris A Moveable Feast, he wrote of Fitzgerald, “His talent was a natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.” Fitzgerald and Hemingway are both considered part of the “Lost Generation” of writers. The term was coined by writer Gertrude Stein and refers to the group of American expatriate writers who flocked to France after World War I.
There have been several film adaptations of The Great Gatsby, including a version in 1926 and one in 1949. In 1974, Francis Ford Coppola wrote a version of the story for the big screen. Coppola stepped in when writer Truman Capote’s script was rejected. This film stars Robert Redford as Gatsby, Mia Farrow as Daisy, and Sam Waterston as Nick. A television version of the novel was produced in 2000 and stars British actor Toby Stephens as Gatsby, Mira Sorvino as Daisy, and Paul Rudd as Nick. Currently, Baz Luhrmann is planning a 3D version of the book, set to begin filming in the summer of 2011, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, and Tobey Maguire as Nick.
The Great Gatsby remains a classic because it contains themes that are as relevant and important today as when it was written: the American dream, love, reinventing oneself, and friendship. While the novel is appealing because of its timelessness, knowing a few fun facts about The Great Gatsby and its author makes the book more approachable and intriguing, whether you are reading it for the first time or the fifth.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition. New York: Scribner, 2009.