Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000170, Sun, 9 Jan 1994 16:52:48 -0800

Re: MARY & GATSBY (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 09 Jan 1994 12:20:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: PEHME@delphi.com
Subject: Re: MARY & GATSBY

The iconographic power of Jay Gatsby for

Americans comes from the representation of

a belief that one can make all the money in

the world and not be corrupted by it,

provided that one's love and desire is pure.

Unlike Tender is the Night where love is lost

to the growing adult strength of a woman,

The Great Gatsby's illusion that a man will

become a gangster just for the scratch to

buy the conditions of love for a vacuuous

woman does force the eyebrows to rise

skeptically. The Great Gatsby is a great book

because it is the embodiment of a modern

adolescent wish, proverbially known as the

American Dream, not because it is the kind

of literature of enchantment Nabokov evokes.

Gatsby is a wonderful lie, because it provides

every American the illusion you can have

your cheesecake and eat it too. Imagine the

absurdity of Billionaire Bill modeling himself

after Jay Gatsby. In reality one cannot make

money bootlegging or at computer operating

systems and still have a transcendent love on

the side (Bill's memory and past is on a hard

drive. Poor Bill, can't find enough meaning--

love--in $6 billion).

Moreover, Gatsby is not attempting to

recapture a past love. He is attempting to

recreate the illusion of the past in the present

so that Daisy and Jay can settle into another

illusion where Jay was never the poor boy in

love with the wealthy girl, but where they

both can be in wealthy perpetual love. He

doesn't want to recover his true past. He

wants to buy an illusion of the past, and it

appears that Fitzgerald knows it (love and

money are ultimately incompatible). But

Fitzgerald cannot help thinking that it's

swell, sport. No madeleines dipped in tea

here. To recapture the past is an effort to

recover eternity. But Gatsby flees the reality

of his love and of love in general, while

Tender in the Night does not do that.

Thus, the fairy tale of Gatsby is false. The

fact that Gatsby can even be considered an

"everyman" demonstrates he is not a prince in

disguise or in adversity who must win his lady

love. (The everyman believes that love can be

had for gold. Well, we all know that any ditz

can be bought if the price is right.) Gatsby's

love is false, because he loves an illusion of

his own making, not a woman. Moreover,

the illusion, the copy of the woman, is better

than the real thing, like a Disney copy of a

castle or, for that matter, a Disney idea of

what childhood is. Tender is the Night is a

better book because it deals with real love and

real loss. Fairy tale Gatsby is not great

literature like fairy-tale Ada, for example.

Consider, for example, what kind of sex does

Gatsby have with Daisy (I mean, how do

they do it? or do they simply, like

adolescents, peer into each other's eyes and

sigh meaningfully?), and compare it to what

goes on in Ada. Blush. What exactly is the

depth of Gatsby's passion in comparison to

any of Nabokov's lovers? Gatsby is very


Gatsby appeals to most Americans because

most Americans believe that being fabulously

wealthy is the greatest thing in the world,

next to love of course. In truth, most

Americans believe that loves exists for all, for

everyman, while wealth is hard to come by.

Gatsby's appeal is money, not love. A Gatsby

without money is like day without sunshine;

it's not like the real thing. No wonder

Nabokov found Gatsby terrible.

Yet, I cannot help to love Gatsby. I read it

about once a year and have been doing so

since I was younger than Nick. It is an

adolescent wish to be a Gatsby, a wish that

cannot come true. Gatsby's astonishing

strategic and tactical planning--and

success--to rework the world is completely

improbable. But its improbablity is

adolescently American, like the so-called

American Dream where happiness is seen in

competely material terms. But we are all

entitled to such nostalgia. Unfortunately, very

few of us can have a childhood so rarefied

that it is enclosed among opaline palaces on

the Neva. Nabokov could afford to spend his

life attempting to recover his past because he

had an exceptional one. Most Americans do

not. To remake ourselves like Gatsby is as

close as we will ever get to that. All it takes is

heart and a lot of cash (Bill presses the right

button on Microsoft Mouse and finds

happiness; it is possible!).

Finally, it should be noted, Fitzgerald is

not a comedic writer. If he had been, perhaps

Gatsby would have been a very great work of

literature that Nabokov would have enjoyed.

As it is, Gatsby is more like a great American

novel, and that's no so bad either. It's for