Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Interview #8

To hear Matthew J. Bruccoli tell it--and there is scant reason not to listen-F. Scott Fitzgerald 's last-minute decision to cast Nick Carraway as the narrator of The Great Gatsby was the crowning touch that sent his 1925 novel blazing across the skies of memorable American fiction.  Until his death in 2008, Bruccoli had turned his scholarly interest into a cottage industry, producing books, essays, and scholarly annotations that form a major platform for the way Fitzgerald is read, interpreted, and taught. He has presented more than one photo of the proofs that were to have been the final author's set prior to being formatted in page proofs, the then final production stage before Gatsby was printed.

Along with the photos showing Fitzgerald's heavy handwritten emmendations, Bruccoli also found a note Fitzgerald sent to his editor,Maxwell Perkins, expressing his enthusiasm for the implications.  To the point of Fitzgerald's epiphany, Carraway had appeared as a minor character; now he was in effect the stand-in for the author himself.  Born in Minneapolis in 1892, Carraway was four years older than his creator, who was born in St. Paul.  Both men attended Ivy League schools, both served in WorldWar I.
Carraway was 33 when Gatsby was published, Fitzgerald was 29.


Interviewer:  Do you think Fitzgerald decided to use you as his principal narrator because of the fact that you were Daisy's cousin?

Carraway:  As one of Fitzgerald's contemporaries, that Hemingway fellow, might have put it, isn't it pretty to think so.  Truth is, old man, Fitzgerald chose me because of my profession.

Interviewer:  You were--

Carraway:  A bonds salesman.  I represented something important to Fitzgerald.  Make no mistake about it, Gatsby was all about money.  Old money.  New money.  Rich money.  Poor money.  He chose me because I was decent, did not impart powers to money that money did not have.


Interviewer:  But didn't Gatsby use you?


Carraway:  To connect with Daisy?  You can think that if you wish; no skin off my nose.  He'd have found her without me, sooner or later.

Interviewer:  You make it sound as though they were fated to meet.

Carraway:  Well, of course, they were destined.  Romeo and Juliet were similarly destined.  There'd be no story without them.  There'd have been no Gatsby without Daisy having married Tom.  For that matter, you'll recall that television series, MASH?

Interviewer:  And?

Carraway:  There'd have been no Mash without the character of Frank Burns.  He made the humor work.  Theater of the impossible, as it were.  Without Daisy having married Tom, Gatsby would have simply not taken off.

Interviewer:  You said, toward the end, that Gatsby was a romantic.  Isn't it possible that he took you in?

Carraway:  My dear fellow, I'm not so simple minded as you suggest.  Because I've made a few good investments, kept myself focused, that's no sign that I was taken in.  Gatsby'd've given a pretty penny to have had my sensibility and background.  Yale, you know.  Gatsby could not have survived at New Haven.  Think of it, man.  Jay Gatz.  From one of the Dakotas.  Yes, I said it; Gatsby was a romantic.  Thought because he made money fast, bought shirts at Turnbull and Asser, he could turn Daisy's head.  To her, however much money he had, he was still a poor boy.  And you know what Daisy said.  She said, Rich girls don't marry poor boys.


Interviewer:  Do you think all romantics are fools?


Carraway:  Not fools, merely impractical in a world where practical matters matter most.  Gatsby, in the end, was not practical.  Not at all practical.

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