Well, today sees the UK cinema launch of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. For weeks now we’ve been bombarded with all of the hype, the interviews, the shiny pictures and video footage of the film, and unless you’ve been living in a cave then you’ll know that the world has gone a little bit Gatsby crazy. But of course many bookish types have been Gatsby crazy for years now. We know the power of that which lies in the novel’s slender packaging, and we have long revelled in the deliciousness of Fitzgerald’s prose.
To date I’ve read The Great Gatsby three or four times, and every time I read it I get something new from it. It’s one of these ‘Tardis’ books, like Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, that gives so much more than its size would suggest, especially given the small amount of time investment needed to read it.
The little novel that keeps on giving
The last time I read The Great Gatsby was about a month ago, and I did so purposely before the Hollywood juggernaut came along to spoil it for everyone. I read it on the back of reading a number of biographies and memoirs relating to Fitzgerald, and as such I saw Fitzgerald’s finest novel (and Fitzgerald himself) in a very different light to that which I’ve seen it in before. What’s more, I saw once again that The Great Gatsby still has so much more to give me.
I revere F. Scott Fitzgerald as much as I revere John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Anton Chekhov and the New Yorker journalist, Joseph Mitchell. You may remember that I love Joseph Mitchell so much that I started a project to get to know his writing more intimately, by retyping his New Yorker essays on a typewriter. This project is still running, but ever since I first launched it it’s been constantly on my mind about where the original motivation for the project came from. To recap, the spark came from reading about Hunter S. Thompson, and how he spent many hours retyping The Great Gatsby on to his own typewriter so that he could learn how to write from one of his heroes.
As I said when I first posted about my Joseph Mitchell project I have no aspirations of becoming a great writer, I just want to get under the skin of Joseph Mitchell. And what little I’ve done of this project so far has brought results. The act of retyping Mitchell’s essays has made me slow down. It’s forced me to pay more attention to Mitchell’s words, and to their rhythm, cadence and flow. I’m beginning to get Mitchell on a deeper level, and the project is awe-inspiring to say the least.
Getting to the heart of Fitzgerald?
And so I’m wondering, having gone as far as I think I can passively reading The Great Gatsby, whether I can use the same technique of retyping Mitchell to draw out the very essence of Fitzgerald’s prose, too. It worked for Hunter S. Thompson after all, and so just as he did I’m going to set myself off on a journey through The Great Gatsby, retyping it word for word in the hope that I can harvest more meaning and understanding, both of the novel and of Fitzgerald himself.
Of course, my reason for taking on this particular project at this particular time is two-fold. While it would have been better to finish the Mitchell project before launching into the Gatsby one, I want to also do something to counter the media frenzy and hype that’s surrounding the film, and remind people where the foundations of Luhrmann’s visual spectacle lie. It’s true that I’ve been a bit outspoken about this latest adaptation already – stating in no uncertain terms that it looks to be lurid and shallow and that it seems to miss the point entirely (early reviews have confirmed that which I have long held as opinion i.e. The Great Gatsby is not adaptable in any visual form) – and I want to show through my own actions and effort why there is in my mind nothing more glorious about The Great Gatsby, than its original untarnished bookish form.
The set up
And so to accommodate this little project I’ve set up a little Gatsby shrine in a quiet corner where I’m going to be doing all of my retyping of the novel. I’ve put together a simple oak writing table that comes with a handy paper drawer, and for additional theming and inspiration I’ve decorated the backdrop with pages from a budget copy of The Great Gatsby, together with some of my favourite photos of the author.
As to the book itself, well I’ve chosen Vintage Classic’s latest edition of The Great Gatsby, which is the most beautiful of objects. The cover has been designed in collaboration with Tiffany and Co. and Art Deco period objects that they have stored in their archives. The inspiration for the cover comes primarily from a cosmetic set of the period, and in particular a cigarette case that forms part of the set. The text of the title itself, and of the author’s name, is inspired by hand-drawn lettering from a 1930s article, together with a photograph included in the article, showing the facade of Tiffany’s Paris. To see such a beautiful object in the flesh is to cause one’s heart to skip, and really I can think of no finer tribute that could be paid to one of most iconic literary works of the twentieth-century.
I would have dearly have loved to have made a 1920s typewriter the centrepiece of this project, but alas the oldest typewriter I have in my possession is a 1936 Remington Home Portable. And so it is this typewriter that I’ve chosen to power the project with. It’s a well built and reliable machine, and at least it was in use when Fitzgerald was still around, and so I take much comfort in this.
It goes a little something like this
How my Great Gatsby project is going to play out online is as follows. Every week I will endeavour to complete a full retype of each chapter, while providing incidental updates, comments and observations etc. on the website, via Twitter and so on, before providing a recap on RobAroundBooks every Friday – let’s call it Fitzgerald Friday – of the week’s typing, together with evidence (while respecting copyright laws of course) that I am indeed doing the retyping and not just pretending to (as if I would be anything but above board and honest :)). Interaction? Well, I hope there’s going to be plenty of that because this is after all one of the main reasons I’m doing this project, to ensure that people remain focused on the most important and most beautiful aspect of The Great Gatsby i.e. the book itself, which contains nothing but Fitzgerald’s sublime prose.
So I very much hope that you’re going to be able to stick around the next few weeks, and share with me your own feedback, opinion and enthusiasm for the book and/or the author. And for anyone who’s completely seduced by Luhrmann’s adaptation but have yet to read the novel, then I urge you to do so. If watching a movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby is like a one night stand then reading Fitzgerald’s original is like having an intimate life-long relationship with a soul partner. Hopefully I’ll be able to illustrate this, but without using any sexual metaphors or diagrams, of course