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Monthly Archives: May 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is seen by critics and the general public as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quintessential novel, and is the novel he is most famous for.  It tells the story of a rich man named Jay Gatsby and his quest to regain a past love. As its most recent movie adaptation is currently playing in theaters, Special Collections invites you to take a look back on the novel and the man that created it.

The frontispiece of an edition of The Great Gatsby featuring the man Gatsby himself.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota and named after his second cousin three times removed, the Francis Scott Key of national anthem fame. While on academic probation at Princeton, Fitzgerald enlisted in the army in 1917.  In June 1918, he was assigned to a camp near Montgomery, Alabama, where he met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre.  In late 1919, after being discharged from the army and quitting his job in advertising, Fitzgerald began his career of writing short stories for magazines and other publications, with The Saturday Evening Post becoming his best story market.  He published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in March 1920 and married Zelda Sayre soon after.  His success and the extravagant lifestyle of the young couple soon earned him a reputation as a bit of a playboy.  He also became known as a heavy drinker, though he always wrote sober.  After the publication of his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, and the birth of his child, Frances Scott (Scottie) Fitzgerald, in 1921, the Fitzgeralds moved to Long Island where F. Scott wrote short stories to cover the family’s debt after his play, The Vegetable, failed to make it into production.  The family moved to France in the spring of 1924 so that F. Scott would be able to focus on his newest project, the novel that would become The Great Gatsby.

Before it became The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s novel went through many revisions and forms. Special Collections has in its possession a facsimile of one such early edition, entitled Trimalchio. This is an allusion to a Roman novel, The Satyricon by Petronius.  In this novel, Trimalchio is a freedman who has amassed power and wealth and shows this off by hosting exceedingly lavish dinner parties for his numerous guests.  This copy includes correspondence between Fitzgerald and a man by the name of Perkins, Fitzgerald’s friend and an employee of his publishers, in which Perkins makes suggestions for revision and suggests using a different title (pictured below right).

Shortly after this, Fitzgerald rewrote several aspects of his novel and reordered key scenes, such as the one where Gatsby’s past is illuminated.

Fitzgerald restructured the plot to make certain elements more meaningful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gatsby we know today comes in many different forms and editions.  One of the more unique Gatsbys at Special Collections comes in the form of a fantastical graphic novel adaptation by Nicki Greenberg, in which Jay Gatsby is portrayed as a seahorse
and the others as any number of creatures.

Votes are now being taken for guesses as to what kind of creature Daisy is.

 

There are also a number of more conventionally illustrated editions of The Great Gatsby in existence, such as the 1980 Limited Editions Club which is illustrated by artist Fred Meyer, whose recognizable style brings the Jazz Age to life on the page.

An illustration by Fred Meyer of Gatsby's mansion during one of his famous parties.

 

Most people are familiar with The Great Gatsby after having spent some time studying it at either a high school or college level.  From Professor Lago’s collection, we have her copy of The Great Gatsby, which has been heavily annotated for use as a teaching tool.  Her extensive notes comment on such key themes as morality and hope.  On the page shown here, she notes the importance of color symbolism, among other things.

In the years after The Great Gatsby was published, Fitzgerald began work on his fourth novel, Tender is the Night.  Work on this novel was put on hold throughout the years due to Zelda Fitzgerald’s declining mental and physical health.  During her stay in a clinic in Switzerland, F. Scott returned to writing short stories for income.  He completed Tender is the Night in 1934, though it was ultimately a commercial failure.

In the summer of 1937, Fitzgerald went to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter.  It was there that he began an affair with columnist Sheilah Graham.  After MGM Studios dropped his contract at the end of 1938, he worked as a freelance script writer and continued writing short sories.  He began work on his last novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, in 1939 and had more than half of it written when he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940.

Though Fitzgerald was not much of a commercial success during his lifetime, he is now considered to be the author of one of the “great American novels” and is esteemed for his accurate portrayals of the Jazz Age.  Many of his works, including collections of his short stories, are available for use by patrons in the Reading Room of Special Collections.

 

Bruccoli, Matthew J. “A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.” Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.fscottfitzgeraldsociety.org/biography/index.html.

“Trimalchio.” Trimalchio. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2013.
<http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Trimalchio.html>.

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Posted in Comic Collection, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Spring brings things

The adult form of a privet hawk

Print 3 (detail)

And spring things bring people who collect them –naturalists and artists such as Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), the first to hitch entomology to fine art and to make a living doing so. Her interests were not limited to European species; she spent two years stalking the insects of Surinam, a colony the Dutch had acquired from the English in exchange for Manhattan about thirty years earlier. She devoted an equal amount of attention to giant flying roaches as to seemlier species, but there is no question that she had a special passion for caterpillars.

Print 7

Merian’s interest in metamorphosis led her to develop a new form of composition. She would depict a single species at each distinct phase simultaneously. She arranged these in a composition on and around the plant that formed its principal food source. In the image on the left several saw-fly specimens pose on a tulip. The caterpillar sits atop a gooseberry at the bottom center, while the adult fly prepares to land on a petal at the top right. In between on a stem and leaf are the pupa and larva. As Ella Reitsma, curator of a recent exhibit, observes about Merian’s work, “In the details the drawing is realistic; as a whole it is anything but. The beautifully balanced composition conjures up a seeming realism, for the successive stages in the development of an insect can never be found together!  Tricks have been played with time and place” (15)

A saw-fly at caterpillar stage on a gooseberry

Print 7 (detail)

 

Heliconiidae on Palma Christi

Print 46

Despite such innovation, Merian’s work languished for a long time under the misnomer “minor art.’ It has only recently come into its own, with exhibitions in Los Angeles and Amsterdam, and a digital exhibit hosted by The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library Rare Book Collection. She is even the subject of a children’s book. Ingrid Rowland notes her “crystalline accuracy, ” “incomparable precision,” and the “electric intensity” of her color. She asserts, “there is no question that she was an artist. Her disquieting view of life in all its forms has carefully, cleverly shaped every one of the images that seem, so deceptively, to present intimate, dispassionate snapshots of reality.”

Pervading her works is a healthy Aristotelian sense that something must be known in all its variousness. Working alongside this cognitive disposition and perhaps encouraging it was a habit that she shared with many contemporaries: collecting. Her life-like compositions conceal the artificial taxonomizing and categorizing that lie behind them, making it appear as if she had discovered, rather than created the scene depicted.

These are qualities that Peter the Great evidently appreciated; he was an avid collector of her work, much of which remains in the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. In 1974  The Leningrad Watercolours is a facsimile edition featuring fifty of the works housed there. It is a large-format edition limited to 1750 copies.  Several prints from the collection  are available to view in our reading room. The entire collection collection (RARE QH31 .M4516 .A34 1974) is also available to consult.

 

Select Bibliography

Reitsma, Ella, Maria Sibylla Merian and Daughters: Women of Art and Science. Amsterdam : Rembrandt House Museum, 2008.

Rowland, Ingrid. “The Flowering Genius of Maria Sibylla Merian.” New York Review of Books. April 9, 2009.

Todd, Kim. Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007.

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Posted in Rare Book Collection

Economic Frustration – Then and Now

In a tough economy, it’s easy to forget that millions of Americans before our time have struggled as well. Cartoonist John T. McCutcheon’s comics show that high unemployment and turmoil in the stock market aren’t unique to this generation of Americans.

The Unemployed

The Unemployed (click to enlarge)

Our McCutcheon comic collection contains original pen-and-ink drawings that date from 1903 to 1944, many of which were published in the Chicago Tribune. While he covered a range of issues of the day, McCutcheon’s wit and biting satire shined in his depiction of economic hardships.

"1913 Bread Line: He Kept Us out of Work"

"1913 Bread Line: He Kept Us out of Work" (click to enlarge)

Figure 1 and Figure 2, from 1913 and 1916, both show the depression and struggle of being unemployed. McCutcheon demonstrates his mastery over the medium by using merely a few darker lines to show how isolated and alone his unemployed man is, compared to the happy and joyful families walking down the street.

We’ve seen a roller coaster ride in the stock market recently, but nothing compares to the Crash of 1929, which led to a decade-long Great Depression. Our last cartoons, Figures 3 and 4, show two instances of men who lost it all on Wall Street, and wonder if they’ll ever get it back. Little do they, or McCutcheon know – the worst economic downturn in history is only beginning.

The Bursting of the Stock Bubble

The Bursting of the Stock Bubble (click to enlarge)

John McCutcheon’s comics captured the mood of the day, and sometimes it’s surprising how much relevance 100-year old sketches can have to our own time. His entire collection of over 300 cartoons and drawings is available to all patrons.

The Sun of Prosperity...

The Sun of Prosperity... (click to enlarge)

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Posted in Comic Collection
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