On April 10th, 1925, Charles Scribner’s Sons published The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel, which Fitz had begun drafting almost three years before.
“The whole idea of Gatsby,” Fitzgerald once wrote, “is the unfairness of a poor young man not being able to marry a girl with money. This theme comes up again and again because I lived it.” (That would be in regards to his failed love affair with Ginevra King, who inspired Daisy Buchanan. Bet Zelda loved that.)
Famously, the book was almost called something else—a number of something elses, in fact. “Before reluctantly deciding on The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald hemmed and hawed over more than half a dozen names,” writes Dustin Illingworth. “Gatsby; Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; Trimalchio; Trimalchio in West Egg; On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby; and The High-Bouncing Lover. As late as one month before publication, he was still trying to change the title. His final opinion of the name of his masterpiece was not exactly a ringing endorsement: ‘The title is only fair, rather bad than good,’ he said.”
Though The Great Gatsby was received warmly by Fitzgerald’s peers and enjoyed (mostly) positive reviews from critics, it did not sell well, particularly as compared to Fitzgerald’s previous two novels, This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and the Damned (1922). (Maybe it was the title.) By the time Fitzgerald died in 1940, he considered the book—and his entire career—a failure.
But books can have long lives. During WWII, The Great Gatsby was selected by the Council on Books in Wartime to be one of the titles sent to American soldiers stationed overseas—and its popularity soon soared.
Now, The Great Gatsby is, of course, one of the perennial candidates for what we think of as the Great American Novel. “Gatsby’s magic emanates not only from its powerhouse poetic style—in which ordinary American language becomes unearthly—but from the authority with which it nails who we want to be as Americans,” Maureen Corrigan writes in So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. “Not who we are; who we want to be. It’s that wanting that runs through every page of Gatsby, making it our Greatest American Novel. But it’s also our easiest Great American Novel to underrate: too short; too tempting to misread as just a love story gone wrong; too mired in the Roaring Twenties and all that jazz.”
So if you’ve been on the fence (or out of high school for A While), consider this your sign to pick it up again.