Mission

Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, February 5, 2012

a single green light, minute and far away

Every time I read The Great Gatsby I am struck by the astonishing beauty of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel.
There is nothing else quite like it in American letters. The effortless beauty of Fitzgerald's prose, the densely interwoven patterns of imagery and symbolism. Whatever else Gatsby may be: an elegy, a meditation on the corruption of the American dream, a melacholic dream of an unrecapturable past, Gatsby is a wonder of perfect craft.

Here are a few passages that take the top off my brain...

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away...it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.  No--Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams.... (2)

He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished--and I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. (48)
A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell. (55)
He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and more and the soft rich heap mounted higher--shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavendar and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily. (92)
That is the last moment in the novel when I can feel any human sympathy for Daisy. I suppose the shirts are just part of Gatsby's offering to the idol he has created in Daisy.

Here's a longish passage, but one that just vibrates with a mythic marriage of prose and idea:
...One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees--he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.
His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been stuck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower, and the incarnation was complete.
The Great Gatsby closes with Nick Carraway sprawled out on the beach behind Gatsby's deserted mansion. The last few paragraphs of the novel just make a reader do something drastic, like have the sentences tattooed on her body:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther....And one fine morning---
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


This is my "Reread a classic of your choice" read for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 at Sarah Reads Too Much....

13 comments:

Lisa said...

I reread this last year and still don't love the story; maybe because I always equate Gatsby with Robert Redford and I hate that I end up disliking Gatsby so. But the writing is just incredible!

bibliophiliac said...

@Lisa-Oh-that Robert Redford movie is dreadful!

Scriptor Senex said...

I've read it twice and didn't like it. Perhaps I should try it a third time - ignoring the story and concentrating on the prose. I think I am more aware of good writing now that I was in the days when I read it last. You certainly 'sell' it well.

mel u said...

The last ten pages of the great gatsby are totally beautiful you are very right in praising it

BookQuoter said...

Love this book. Hopefully, the new movie with Leonardo diCaprio does it justice.

Audra said...

I really need to reread this. I read it in high school and was 'meh' on it. I've really enjoyed Fitzgerald's other novels so I'm not sure why I didn't dig this one -- I think an adult reread is in order.

Marie said...

Wow, I remember reading this in high school and loving it. Maybe time for a reread?

Andi said...

Gatsby is my all-time fave. And I loved watching Midnight in Paris this weekend and "meeting" F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Zelda, of course. :)

bibliophiliac said...

@ScriptorSenex-two tries is already generous, but if you give Gatsby a third try, at least it is relatively short...
@mel-yes, ten pages of glorious prose...
@BookQuoter-I'm thinking this might be the first decent Gatsby film...
@Audra-yes, you may dig the homoerotic subtext this time around! Surprisingly, some of my students (high school sophomores) picked up on it....

bibliophiliac said...

@Marie-oh, yes, Gatsby deserves a second look!
@Andi-I loved Midnight in Paris!

Bybee said...

I've read this so much that I've practically internalized it. Since I was in middle school when the movie came out and I hadn't read the book yet, for me, Redford IS Gatsby as well as Farrow being Daisy, etc. I love the 'shirts' quotation you included.

Sarah Reads Too Much said...

I reread this too, and I loved it more. I picked up on so many things that I had missed in high school.... I will always keep this on my shelf, and will have to read it again in a few years and see what else I find!

Ashley said...

I fell in love with The Great Gatsby when I read it last semester for the first time in American Lit. :)