When The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, it flopped. In fact, it didn’t get its second wind until World War II when it was given to soldiers to carry in their pockets—over 123,000 copies were distributed.
Today we talk about the history of Gatsby and why it endures. Fresh Air’s book critic Maureen Corrigan just wrote a book about this very subject. It’s called “So We Read On,” a reference to the final words of Gatsby, “And So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
In the conversation, Corrigan tells us that Gatsby has quite a few film noir tropes:
"Gatsby almost has the form of a film noir, where you have this voiceover with [narrator] Nick Carraway remembering things that have taken place in the past, things that can’t be changed, events that can’t be changed.
It’s a violent story. There are three violent deaths in Gatsby. It’s a story in which you get bootlegging, crime, explicit sexuality — and remember this is 1925 when it was published, so it’s pretty racy for its time.
… We don’t explicitly read about [sex] but in Chapter Two, Nick is taken along by Tom Buchanan … on a joy ride into Manhattan where Tom takes Nick to … a drunken party in The Love Nest. So we know that there’s infidelity — a lot of innuendo — about people having sex outside of marriage and a lot of drinking.
And, most importantly, film noir, hardboiled detective fiction and The Great Gatsby — they’re all stories that are obsessed with the presence of fate. There’s a very fated feel to Gatsby. Events that occur in the novel, they’re foretold many times. That car crash in which Myrtle Wilson is killed, Tom’s mistress, there are two other car crashes that preceded that car crash. So a lot of events are predicted in this novel.”
Photo: Benn Mitchell