24 Facts About The Great Gatsby
Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is revered as a classic American novel. But when this story of the Jazz Age was published in 1925, readers were far more skeptical. Here are a few more facts about The Great Gatsby you may not have known.
1. The Great Gatsby was not F. Scott Fitzgerald's first choice for a title.
At one time or another, all of these were in consideration for the book that would become The Great 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.
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald was told that readers wouldn't understand the reference to Trimalchio.
Fitzgerald was quite close to choosing one of the Trimalchio titles until someone persuaded him that the reference was too obscure. The original Trimalchio was a character in a 1st-century work of fiction called Satyricon. The story had other famous fans, too: You can find mentions of Trimalchio in Les Miserables, Pompeii, and works by H.P. Lovecraft, Henry Miller, and Octavio Paz, among others.
3. The Great Gatsby was partly inspired by a French novel.
That earlier book was called Le Grand Meaulnes, written in 1913 by author Alain-Fournier. It has since been translated into English with the titles The Wanderer and The Lost Estate.
4. The famous cover of The Great Gatsby was designed by Francis Cugat.
Cugat went on to become a designer for actor/director/producer Douglas Fairbanks. Fitzgerald so loved Cugat’s art that he rewrote parts of the book to better incorporate it.
5. The poet who “wrote” the Great Gatsby’s epigraph never actually existed.
The poet was actually a character in Fitzgerald’s previous book, This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald also occasionally used it as his pen name. Here’s the epigraph:
“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry, “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
6. At the time of its publication in 1925, a copy of The Great Gatsby cost $2.
In today's dollars, that's about $29.20.
7. Initially, The Great Gatsby was a flop.
Unlike Fitzgerald’s previous two novels, Gatsby was not a runaway success. It sold about 20,000 copies in the entire first year of publication.
8. F. Scott Fitzgerald blamed his lack of a strong female protagonist.
Fitzgerald was convinced that the reason the book wasn’t a rousing success was because Gatsby didn’t have a single admirable female character—and, at the time, the majority of people reading novels were women. He also thought that the title, which was only “fair,” resulted in poor sales.
9. A few critics didn't like The Great Gatsby much, either.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle sniffed, “Why [Fitzgerald] should be called an author, or why any of us should behave as if he were, has never been satisfactorily explained to me," while The New York Evening World opined, “We are quite convinced after reading The Great Gatsby that Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great writers of to-day.” And The Baltimore Evening Sun concluded that “Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby, is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that.”
10. Some events in The Great Gatsby actually happened.
The joke’s on the Evening Sun, because not only was much of Gatsby probable; it actually happened. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald moved to Great Neck on Long Island after their daughter Scottie was born in 1922. That’s where Fitzgerald witnessed the collision of “old money” and “new money.” People who came from Great Neck had recently acquired money, while those who came from nearby Manhasset Neck or Cow Neck had inherited theirs.
11. Jay Gatsby’s lavish mansion was inspired by a couple of real mansions.
The real-life models included Oheka Castle, in Huntington, New York. Even today, nearly a century after construction began on it in 1915, Oheka Castle is still the second-largest private estate in the United States. (The Biltmore, the Vanderbilt family's estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is the largest.) Some literary scholars also liken Fitzgerald’s description of the mansion to Beacon Towers, a mansion with more than 140 rooms that was owned by William Randolph Hearst and demolished in 1945.
12. Many characters in The Great Gatsby were based on Fitzgerald's friends and lovers.
Daisy Buchanan was based on Ginevra King, a Chicago debutante and one of Fitzgerald’s girlfriends. One Fitzgerald scholar says his romance with King was the most important relationship he experienced, even more so than the one with his wife. That may be true, considering that these words, found written in Fitzgerald’s ledger, are thought to have been said by King’s father: “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”
13. Daisy Buchanan’s best friend Jordan was modeled on one of Ginevra’s good friends, Edith Cummings.
Cummings was not only a fellow debutante—one of Chicago’s “Big Four,” the most eligible women in the city—she was also a famous amateur golfer. Dubbed “The Fairway Flapper,” Cummings won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1924, the year before Gatsby was published.
14. The name "Jordan Baker" was a play on words.
Fitzgerald combined the names in two popular car brands of the Roaring Twenties: the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle. The play on words was meant to invoke the feeling of freedom and a “fast” reputation.
15. “Meyer Wolfshiem” was a thinly-veiled reference to a real mobster.
Arnold Rothstein was a notorious racketeer who was rumored to have been behind the "Black Sox Scandal" of the 1919 World Series, in which players on the Chicago White Sox were paid to lose the game. If the somewhat similar names didn’t give it away, the fact that Wolfshiem is said to have fixed the World Series in The Great Gatsby probably did.
16. Gatsby himself may have been inspired by a WWI vet.
Max Gerlach was a “gentleman bootlegger” Fitzgerald knew from Great Neck. Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Bruccoli discovered a newspaper clipping, apparently sent by Gerlach, in one of the Fitzgerald's numerous scrapbooks. It was a photo of the Fitzgeralds accompanied by a handwritten note that said, “Here for a few days on business—How are you and the family old Sport? Gerlach.” “Old sport,” of course, is the way Gatsby constantly refers to narrator Nick Carraway.
17. F. Scott Fitzgerald received less than $6000 for publishing The Great Gatsby.
So what great sum did Fitzgerald receive for writing one of the most beloved novels of all time? A $3993 advance, and $1981.25 when it was published. He later received $16,666 for the movie rights.
18. Zelda Fitzgerald hated the movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
Too bad the movie, which was released in 1926, sucked—at least according to Zelda Fitzgerald. In undated letter to Scottie, Zelda wrote that the silent film based on the novel was “ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left.”
19. The Great Gatsby's popularity outlived its author.
Sadly, when F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940, he had mostly faded into obscurity. At the time of his death, Gatsby’s publisher still had copies of the book in its warehouse—and that was from a second printing of just 3000 books. Fitzgerald’s works saw a revival in 1945. Helping in that revival: 150,000 copies of The Great Gatsby were sent to Americans serving in WWII.
20. A group of trendy corporate stocks was dubbed "The Great Gatsby Index."
In 2013, Mad Money host Jim Cramer had a group of 13 company stocks he called “The Great Gatsby Index,” which tracked the spending of rich people. The group included Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Lululemon, Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Panera Bread, Toll Brothers, Brunswick, Coach, Tiffany, Saks, Starbucks, and Estée Lauder.
21. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a deplorable speller.
He was so bad, in fact, that American literary critic Edmund Wilson called This Side of Paradise "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."
22. F. Scott Fitzgerald was named after his famous ancestor.
Fitzgerald was named after his second cousin three times removed, Francis Scott Key. Key wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
23. F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped out of school before becoming a writer.
In 1917, Fitzgerald dropped out of school—he was already on academic probation—and joined the U.S. Army. Terrified that he would be killed in the war, thus denying the world his literary genius, he hastily wrote a novel and sent it off to Scribner. The Romantic Egotist was rejected, but Scribner sent him an encouraging letter and asked him to submit again in the future.
24. Hunter S. Thompson worshipped F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the gonzo magazine writer most identified his work with the Jazz Age scribe. Thompson retyped parts of The Great Gatsby so he could feel what it was like to write like Fitzgerald (and did the same to Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.)
For more fascinating facts and stories about your favorite authors and their works, check out Mental Floss's new book, The Curious Reader: A Literary Miscellany of Novels and Novelists, out now!