My last post ended with a quote from Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun and a few people told me, as if it were responsive to that entry, that they really didn’t like Faulkner. That’s fine with me. I’ve enjoyed two or three of his books, but the truth is that I will probably never mention Faulkner again here and won’t waste time defending him now.
But, thinking of notable American writers whose last name starts with an F, I might as well confess here that I’ve been involved in a love affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald since I was a senior in high school. The affair’s origins came back to mind recently when a friend returned a book she had borrowed from me many years ago. It was The Great Gatsby and, I’m ashamed to say, it was a school library book I never returned. I hated the high school so my taking the book from the library might be considered an act of passive aggression against the school. But I’d say it was more a crime of passion.
I was fascinated by the book. The main reason, I believe, was that I had heard that it was the most perfect novel ever written. After that I was smitten. Think about it. How many times in our lives do we get to taste, touch, absorb, and actually possess the most perfect of anything?
I studied Gatsby, reading and rereading, picking out the symbols involving eggs, rebirth, a wasteland between east and west, Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes, which like God’s, “see everything,” and the light at the end of Daisy’s dock, green like the American dollar? There was the genius of the unreliable narrator, Nick Carraway. And how many readers know that the original book title was Trimalchio in West Egg and that Trimalchio was a character in the Roman novel Satyricon — a freedman who through hard work and perseverance attained power and wealth. Knowing this seemed like a personal secret between me, Fitzgerald, and maybe his editor.
Then my passion for the book turned into interest for all things Fitzgerald, including his three other books (alas, no more!), his short stories, poems, reviews by and about him, letters, magazine articles, and miscellaneous writings. I loved the self-deprecating and sardonic humor reflected in his magazine articles, particularly one about his growing vulnerability to the fates and disease. With several hilarious examples, he describes that he originally had about ten square feet of skin vulnerable to chills and fevers, but once he acquired a wife and a daughter, that area had enlarged to about twenty feet. What humor, what wit!
Speaking of wife Zelda, I read her biography and became convinced that she had been all wrong for him. On the other hand, he and I seemed to be real soul-mates. But eventually, I began to wonder about a cosmic soul-mate who doesn’t bother to channel some of his literary talent in my direction. Try as I might, I could never write lines such as these from the story “O Russet Witch:”
. . . Words seemed for the first time in his life to run at him shrieking to be used, gathering themselves into carefully arranged squads and platoons, and being presented to him by punctilious adjutants of paragraphs.
And then there’s that beautiful ending to Gatsby, describing Jay Gatsby’s obsession with a dream that he can never achieve because of the futility of escaping his past:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow 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.
So, say what you will about Faulkner. But whatever you do, don’t mess with Fitzgerald.