The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby question


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Inspiration for Fitzgerald's Characters (in TGG)
Monty J Heying Monty J (last edited Apr 11, 2013 08:52AM ) Apr 10, 2013 08:09PM
It seems pretty clear that Gatsby's fascination with Daisy was inspired by Fitzgerald's courtship of Zelda, whom he married. Both Zelda and Daisy were flamboyant southern debutantes. Fitzgerald and Gatsby were from the Midwest and Zelda had a lot of suitors and broke off her engagement with Fitzgerald for years until he made enough money to suit her.

I'm wondering if some of Gatsby's attributes (as described by Nick) are modeled after Fitzgerald's own fascination with Ernest Hemingway. Hem was quite the arrogant hedonist.

Which leaves Nick, who seems to reflect a good bit of Fitzgerald himself. The controversial homoerotic scene of Nick with McKee reminds me of a scene Hemingway described in A Movable Feast involving himself and Fitzgerald.

As I remember it, Fitzgerald had complained to Hemingway that Zelda tried to justify her extramarital affairs by saying he couldn't satisfy her because of a small penis. Fitzgerald asked Hemingway to take a look and give him his opinion. This odd inspection took place in Hemingway's office one night. Hem reassured him that Zelda was blowing smoke (so to speak.)

This scene in Hem's office always seemed homosexually charged to me. I just can't imagine any straight guy, outside of a locker room, asking another guy to take a look at his dick. It just ain't done.

Now flip it over and take a look at Hemingway's characters of Robert Cohn and his domineering fiancee Frances in The Sun Also Rises. I see elements of the Fitzgerald/Zelda dynamic in Cohn/Frances. Both Fitzgerald and Cohn were writers who'd had successful first novels and another in the hopper. Both went to Ivy League schools. Both had troublesome relationships with domineering women. (Cohn escapes Frances, whereas Fitzgerald stuck with the overbearing, psychotic Zelda to the bitter end.)

Isn't it interesting how both writers borrowed from each other's lives to write great novels released within a year of each other?

I think it's also interesting how Fitzgerald's mother influences his female characters. In sharp contrast to Hemingway, whose mother was quite damaging to him, Fitzgerald was an only child whose mother lavished love and attention upon him, perhaps giving him unrealistically high expectations of his wife and of women in general, an almost reverent level of forgiveness.

In the novel he fails to hold Daisy and Jordan to account for their misdeeds. Daisy gets away with manslaughter and Jordan is an enabler for adultery.



I agree with Feliks about the thoughtful well written post but if I may I'd like to nitpik a little. Fitzgerald did stay technically married to Zelda to the end of his life but she was in a mental hospital and he was involved in a very public affair with Sheilah Graham.

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Monty J Heying Yes, actually living with Sheilah, but I think still devoted to poor Zelda. I'll have to read the biography.
Apr 15, 2013 12:28PM

Feliks (last edited Apr 11, 2013 08:08AM ) Apr 11, 2013 08:05AM   0 votes
Well-written, thoughtful, content-rich posting as usual from Montie.

But..oh nooo. There's already one sprawling, vociferous thread on Goodreads which questions possible homosexual undertones in 'The Great Gatsby'. Are we in for another firestorm here?

Off the top of my head, I only have one doubt to raise. I don't think we really can say "what was normally done" casually between men in long-ago decades like that in which Hemingway and Fitzgerald roved. Not in every case. There are all sorts of male customs the late 19th/early 20th century possessed, which now might seem odd. Once entertainment media came to dominate our culture (say, from the '50s onward) and make this a 'self-conscious' society, things began to look quirky which probably never did before. Example: scoutmaster scandals, Catholic priest scandals, politicians-in-airport-bathroom-scandals..prior to those consciousness-raising bombshells, there were probably a lot of practices which were innocuous to American citizens. As was mentioned in the Melville-discussion, how about Queequeg and Ishmael sleeping in the same bed? Tons more.

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Monty J Heying Thanks, and the compliment applies to you just as well.

I agree with what you're saying. We're hyper-conscious of anything sexual in this age. (A lot o...more

Apr 11, 2013 08:29AM

Philip (last edited Apr 15, 2013 01:55PM ) Apr 15, 2013 01:53PM   0 votes
Nicole in "Tender Is the Night" is close in personal circumstances to Zelda, though later on in her marriage to Fitzgerald. In turn, Daisy in "The Great Gatsby" is similar in circumstances (ie super rich and spoilt) to Ginevra King, whom Fitzgerald was in love with years before he met Zelda. In that relationship, Fitz played Gatsby ("the poorest rich boy" [in Princeton]) to her Daisy. I don't think our hero would have dared - or even dreamed - of sticking his beloved wife as a character in one of his books. At the time of TGG's publication, they were still working pretty much as a family team. Anyhow Zelda was not known for treating Scottie (their daughter) as a kind of pet dog, nor for running down her husband's lovers in limousines.

The above shows that there was a little of Fitzgerald himself in Gatsby. I think the idea that Gatsby was based on the real life bootlegger Max Fleischman is only circumstantially true. When they met at his manse, Fitz was appalled by the man's lack of culture, and (on a drunk) was rude to his face. Yes, all the kitsch decorations came from him; but the rags-to-riches backstory, the old-boy Oggsford brogue, and the decorated war-hero pride originated here and there. (BTW, Gatsby may well have spent several months sitting in on lectures at Oxford University on the WWI equivalent of the G.I. Bill.)

As to how much of himself Fitzgerald put into Nick; well, substitute Advertising for the Bond Market, and a chap in his early twenties for one ten years on... and there you have the man himself in his brief New York sojourn. But regarding his sexual orientation, as I said early on in the previous thread, IMHO there was something a trifle gay about Fitzgerald's relationship with his wife.


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