The Great Gatsby, Take II

I’m about to review The Great Gatsby for a second time!

This was my first review:

Be cautious in bestowing admiration,

And cultivate a sober moderation.

Don’t humor fraud, but also don’t asperse

True piety; the latter fault is worse,

And it is best to err, if err one must,

As you have done, upon the side of trust.

Moliere

If I have to choose, I choose Moliére. What can I say about The Great Gatsby? A novel that has thousands of times its pages in commentaries and theories, a novel that’s treated as a sociological phenomenon and studied by Habermas, Foucault and other philosophers and literary critics. I read it frankly because it’s considered an American icon of literature, even included among the books worth reading by Mortimer Adler.

But popularity and impact have nothing to do with the feelings a book arises, and despite of seeing the quality of the prose I dislike what the author tells us because his description of the world is quite depressing. The characters haunted me for a few nights, and I’m writing about it to see if this spell can be broken and I can go back to my optimism and enthusiasm. Out of everything, the way Daisy talks about and to her daughter it’s the epitome of selfishness and it was one of the most hard to swallow pills to me. If Fitzgerald crafted the novel  in closeness to the life he really had, that of a drunk who tried to marry a rich woman who turned to be a dissipated and frivolous schizophrenic, that alone explains much. I’m not saying he had no talent for writing, even his wife, Zelda, is told to be a good writer herself, but it’s like when we think about Van Gogh. Yes we like what they contributed to the arts, but their lives and how they transpire their works, leave us with a bitter taste and mixed up feelings. Maybe they exist so we can truly gain perspective.

I’ve been thinking about this and maybe it’s altogether a better idea to stay in the safe realm of children and young people’s books, and to read at least a comedy for each drama. I sometimes read more modern authors to simply end up with this feeling of wasting my time, which doesn’t happen when we read lovely classics such as this comedy by Moliére, the Tartuffe, which left me with renewed hopes.

Of course, if you want something truly uplifting, PSALMS AND PROVERBS will never fail you. I have to run to keep going to prepare dinner and go to our mid week Bible study. We have started a new class about the Geography and History of the Bible that is revitalizing and very interesting, and I’m back to my optimism and enthusiasm for life.

I wrote this review in Apr 2010. I can see clearly how the different worldview and the strong feelings the book arises in some of us, makes us hate the book. I was thinking how with modern books, maybe the first time we read it’s to just be done with the content, and the second time we can admire the writing and not only, we are less fuming, and calmer, and more able to dwell in the layers, the complexity, and the way the book addresses eternal literary and life topics, and how it hinges in the tradition of the letters and the history of mankind.

I don’t know very well why I chose to include that quote from Moliere. I probably was thinking about wanting everyone in this novel to read it and apply it to themselves! Huh. 🙂

I found this sentiment expressed by another reader of classics,

Modern literature is not my favorite genre. While I can appreciate its importance to the literary cannon, I tend to not enjoy the experience of reading it. Accordingly, I’ve only read a small handful of modern classics.

Aww, there’s so many classics, so many great books, that I too admit it’s hard to read modern literature. However, the stars aligned perfectly this Christmas. My friend Kim gave me this book by Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well, which discusses some virtues through books, and it has The Great Gatsby to illustrate temperance. It also happened to be the book being discussed these weeks at Close Reads Podcast. I also had a last category to complete for the Back to the Classics challenge, re-read a classic.

I’m very glad for the Close Reads Podcast discussion of this book. I’ve listened to the first two podcasts, and Friday it’s the last one. The commentators are all fans of the book, specially Adam Andrews from Center for Lit, -which also has wonderful podcasts. When you can hear someone discussing a classic they love, you gain a new respect for the book. I did. I was finally able to look at it from a different angle, to take some distance and start seeing themes, concepts, questions, allusions, and all that the three podcasters talk about, and their thoughts and questions enhanced my experience, making it a fabulous one this second time around.

I realized that I have not talked much about the book itself. The mood of it is disenchantment. These people in the book, live with some sense of fatalism, (they still hold on to some undeniable realities of life), but they don’t find meaning or conviction on anything anymore. The only hope in the book, it’s Gatsby’s hope in his own construct, in his own fantasy. But even he knows it’s just that, a product of his imagination. They show us the desolation around them, and we just see how they are just part of it. None of them seem to do anything productive with their lives, or anything noble, on the contrary, their choices alter their circumstances for the worst. There’s no creative or transcendent energy or will in them, they display a consumerist approach to life, and also a destroying and lethal spirit.

This is a novel of the modern world. Life after WWII. Modern America. Old ideals are dead. What’s going to replace them? According to this novel, there’s nothing of substance inhabiting the empty spaces left in the lives of modern Americans.

This time though, something remained: the perfection of this short novel, and the honesty with which all this desolation and ugliness is presented to the reader.

7 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby, Take II

Add yours

  1. Sometimes I have trouble sorting out my feelings after reading a book where bad things happen or when the characters are particularly nasty people. I am never quite sure if my critique of the book isn’t tempered by the book having made me unhappy. I do think a little bit of time and distance helps. Sometimes I return to my review of the book (I rarely re-read however) with a real appreciation for how it moved me emotionally and recognize emotion came from good writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Silvia, when I was in college more than fifty years ago, I took a course on modern literature. Then and now, I feel that for the most part, it generates despondency and hopelessness. You did a great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You said: “When you can hear someone discussing a classic they love, you gain a new respect for the book. I did. I was finally able to look at it from a different angle, to take some distance and start seeing themes, concepts, questions, allusions, and all that the three podcasters talk about, and their thoughts and questions enhanced my experience, making it a fabulous one this second time around.”

    This is well said. I find that discussing a book can enhance the reading experience so much. Sometimes I will change my mind about a book after having been able to discuss it with others. Hearing others insights and thoughts can definitely help us see the book or some aspect of the book from a different angle. And like you said, it can also help us see other aspects in the books that we might not have picked up on in our own reading, like themes, allusions, parallels, etc. A perfect example, I recently read a book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club that I didn’t really care for overall. But after having discussed it with the book club and with another lady individually, I realized there were things I didn’t pick up on and that it might be worth a re-read at some point.

    I haven’t read The Great Gatsby. I’ve heard both positive and negative reviews of it. I think it’s one that I probably will need to read at some point because it is such an iconic piece of literature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you won’t regret reading The Great Gatsy since, as you say, it’s such an iconic piece of literature. If you do, I recommend the Close Reads Podcast to go along.

      Looking forward to more of your posts. Merry Christmas, Karen.

      Like

  4. I do love how our perspectives can change, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, with rereading a book. Especially when the reread comes much later in life. Gatsby definitely surprised me in a good way. I’m glad I didn’t give up on it after a few chapters 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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