Literature

Five Fascinating Facts about The Great Gatsby

Fun facts about The Great Gatsby and its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald

1. The Great Gatsby sold no more than 25,000 copies in Fitzgerald’s lifetime. It has now sold over 25 million copies. Fitzgerald’s third novel, The Great Gatsby was first published in 1925. It is narrated by Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and WWI veteran who goes to live on Long Island, next door to Jay Gatsby, a rich tycoon known for throwing parties. The novel’s evocation of 1920s America and its critique of the American Dream has helped to ensure its place among the great American novels, but it was outsold at the time by This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s first novel, published in 1920.

2. Fitzgerald toyed with many alternative titles before settling on The Great Gatsby – and even this he did only reluctantly. Fitzgerald considered calling he novel Gatsby, Gold-Hatted Gatsby, On the Road to West Egg, Trimalchio in West Egg (an allusion to a character from the satirical Roman work by Petronius, the Satyricon), The High-Bouncing Lover, and the title Fitzgerald chose at the last minute – which was, of course, er … Under the F Scott Fitzgerald by VechtenRed, White and Blue. (Fittingly, this nod to the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’, the American national anthem, points up an interesting link: Fitzgerald had been named Francis Scott Fitzgerald after his ancestor, Francis Scott Key, who wrote the words to the patriotic song.) So, we could easily have been writing a post celebrating a great American novel called Under the Red, White and Blue – were it not that Fitzgerald requested the change of title too late, so the former title stuck.

3. The Great Gatsby was first filmed in 1926, just one year after the novel was published. This was in the pre-talkies age of cinema, and the film was a silent movie adaptation of the stage version. Only a minute of footage survives.

4. The actress Sigourney Weaver took her ‘stage’ name from Sigourney Howard, a minor character mentioned in The Great Gatsby. But what is also worth noting is the fact that the character’s name, ‘Mrs Sigourney Howard’, actually refers to the husband, so Sigourney is a male given name in the novel.

5. Fitzgerald died in 1940 at the age of just 44, four days before Christmas. At his funeral service, the American wit Dorothy Parker is supposed to have murmured, ‘the poor son-of-a-bitch’ (a quotation from The Great Gatsby). It is now believed that Fitzgerald suffered from a form of tuberculosis, although this was thought at one stage to have been a cover for his heavy drinking during the 1920s. However, he died not from TB but of a heart attack – he had suffered two attacks earlier in his life, but this third was to kill him. Fellow American novelist Nathanael West died in a car accident on his way to Fitzgerald’s funeral.

There are numerous cheap editions of the novel available, of which The Great Gatsby (Wordsworth Classics)
is the best.

Related fun: the best Ernest Hemingway facts and some cool John Steinbeck factsThe Great Gatsby also features in Andrew Dix’s pick of some of the most interesting film adaptations of American novels.

Image: F. Scott Fitzgerald by Carl van Vechten, 1937; Wikimedia Commons.