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Why Fitzgerald’s Prose Is Like Butter

If you haven’t noticed, I’m drawing out The Great Gatsby experience. It doesn’t take me this long to read a 200-page book, but there’s so much to share about this novel that I had to linger on it for a while.

This novel is so jam-packed with buttery-smooth writing that it makes you want to eat it. Yes, physically eat the book. Okay, not quite. But almost.

Anyway, here’s one of the passages that jumped out at me. Gatsby is taking Daisy—who is visiting his mansion for the first time—on a tour through the house with Nick.

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”

Fitzgerald’s writing sets the mood perfectly for that scene.

Daisy’s reaction, as it is throughout the novel, is dramatic and over-the-top, but it also is a perfect representation of the time period—which itself was over-the-top and materialistic.

Fitzgerald’s prose is just sick, and by sick I mean good. When I read this novel, I feel like I hear the dialogue, see the scenery, and smell the aromas that he describes. It’s just good.

Hope you’re not tired of the Gatsby posts yet. I’ll have one or two more before I review the novel next week.

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16 Comments Post a comment
  1. I completely agree with what you say. I think, I should take up this book again. Thanks for having me instigated!

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    December 11, 2012
    • I only would like to say that your various interesting comments made me go to the garret to retrieve the book and read in it There is one sentence I quite liked.”Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not when he is dead.” (page 179) My this also suits our period.

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      December 14, 2012
  2. Yeah, and the end of that story… There’s a reason it’s as highly regarded as it is, few books are as concise and powerful.

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    December 11, 2012
  3. bba #

    I’d argue Fitzgerald was intending the materialism and over-the-topness as a critique of American culture not just of the period, but in an ongoing sense. The alternate title you mentioned, “Under the Red, White, and Blue”, really seems to imply something intrinsically American. And it’s not like the story/themes slow down or have an end game implied- they are ongoing and all consuming.

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    December 11, 2012
    • True. I think, though, he was primarily concerned with the 20s. I don’t think he was looking ahead 50 or 60 years. I think it was more of an indictment of that time period as opposed to a historical or future look at American culture.

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      December 11, 2012
  4. I so, so agree with you. My favorite passage from The Great Gatsby: He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 11, 2012
    • Yes, love that passage as well. That one will be in an upcoming post with my favorite quotes and passages from the book.

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      December 11, 2012
  5. Blair #

    The thought of a buttery-smooth book is making me so hungry right now.

    Great post!

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    December 11, 2012
  6. You beg the question that smooth prose is the epitome of the art. I subscribe to what Franz Kafka said:

    “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us.”

    Kafka emphasized this position quite effectively in another quotation:

    “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.”

    Buttery prose sounds so boring.

    The Great Gatsby is an excellent novel and is especially useful to introduce the form in High School, but Scott Fitzgerald, as an author, is an also-ran. Fitzgerald’s biography (and that of Zelda), however, is definitely good reading, far more engaging than any of his other works.

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    December 11, 2012
    • So you’re saying a good book should have prose that is difficult to read? I’m not following. Kafka’s quote is more about our reaction to the books emotionally, versus the prose and style itself.

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      December 11, 2012
  7. The long sentence you quote in the post is a pleasure to read. I never imagine long sentences could be written in that beautiful way (cough Virginia Woolf cough)

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    December 11, 2012
  8. “It’s like butta, baby.”

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    December 12, 2012
  9. “Butters/butta” and “sick” – you could be living right here in north london hanging out with the teens. I guess they are today’s beautiful people… Lovely to be reminded about how gorgeous The Great Gatsby is to read/re-read. Nicola http://islingtonfacesblog.com

    Like

    December 12, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Book 50: The Great Gatsby | 101 Books
  2. Looking Back At The Great Gatsby | 101 Books

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