English literature has provided bookworms like myself with an insurmountable amount of writing to work through; there’s Shakespeare, Wilde, Austen, Du Maurier and in more recent years the likes of McEwan and of course, she of Harry Potter fame – JK Rowling. Such is the volume of their work that it is easy to forget the American greats, despite the huge role they have played in shaping and crafting the world of words. My personal favourites, when it comes to novels from across the pond, are Gone With The Wind, Catcher In The Rye and Of Mice And Men. And upon finishing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, I recently added another to the list.
Having announced in 1922 that he was to write ‘something new – something extraordinary and beautiful and simple, intricately patterned’, F. Scott Fitzgerald soon produced arguably his finest and most beloved novel – The Great Gatsby, coming 43rd in the BBC’s poll of the nations best-loved books.
Set in the aftermath of the first world war during the prosperous 1920s, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Nick Carraway, who, unlike his new-money neighbours in Long Island, is Yale educated and well-connected. He lives next door to the mysterious Jay Gatsby, famed in the neighbourhood for the extravagent Saturday night parties he throws. Gatsby embodies much of what 1920s America represented; greed, wealth, ambition and desire; thus the novel was seen as a political investigation of America at the time of its publication. Written in the wild and the beautiful jazz era, The Great Gastby follows the lives of a set of vital, layered and well crafted characters, living in a time of social unrest. There is something very powerful in Fitzgerald’s writing that opposes the ‘get rich quick’ phenomenon that was sweeping the nation at the time of the post WW1 economic boom.
Fusing a colourful backdrop with historic context and wonderfully intriguing characters, it is plain to see why The Great Gatsby is widely regarded as a paragon of The Great American Novel. With a moral lesson that is still very much valid today, The Great Gatsby is ultimately a tale that tells its reader thus: the higher you stand, the harder you fall.