The Great Gatsby

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was first introduced to The Great Gatsby as a junior in high school. A passionate lover of all things literary, I drank in the complex word pictures and sensuous imagery. Long after our study of the book was completed, I pored over its pages until phrases and descriptions were embedded in my memory. 

Soon I moved away to college, and then to Texas. All my belongings - including hundreds of well-loved books - were boxed and made various pilgrimages from bedroom to attic to moving van to three different apartments. In all the chaos I lost sight of my beloved Gatsby for awhile, until Baz Luhrmann's riveting preview of the film made its debut. I was spellbound by that preview. Thirty seconds of haunting, soul-beating music, accompanied by gold and glamour and heavy raindrops and Leonardo DiCaprio. As several other previews have leaked out over the past few weeks, I've grown even more excited about the film.

Luhrmann has some pretty big shoes to fill. Contemporary actors attempting to convey classic literary figures so vividly, perfectly painted in words can either impart the ultimate breath of life-giving air to complete the immortalization, or else fall despairingly short of portraying a character's psyche. That said, if I created a physical embodiment of Jay Gatsby out of thin air, I couldn't have painted a better portrait than Leonardo. He is Gatsby, in all his broken, extravagant yearnings. And Nick Carraway - dear, vague, introspective Nick - is given just the right touch of curious sincerity by Tobey Maguire.

This film has very nearly possessed me. The highlight of recent movies has been those glorious two minutes of Gatsby in the previews, a tantalizing appetizer for what is sure to be at least as exquisite as Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge. I dug up my well-worn copy of Gatsby and elected to buy a brand-new one; I wanted to read it with new eyes, and the corpulent highlighting, underlining and marginal notes distracted me.

Then Nathan made the greatest of masculine sacrifices and allowed me to read Gatsby to him. Aloud. We breezed through the entire book in less than a week and he only fell asleep a few times. He then proceeded to top that and get us tickets to the premiere. Tonight. The night before he goes out of town. That, friends, is a selfless gesture worthy of the highest esteem - although I have a sneaking suspicion that he's nearly as enchanted with the mystery that is Jay Gatsby as I am. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from this reading, as well as exquisite book covers from printings over the years. If you haven't yet been introduced to F. Scott Fitzgerald, I hope this whets your appetite.

"I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men."

"I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart."

"There was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life."

"It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again...the exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain."

"The glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk."

"The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life."

"High over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life."

"There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars."

"I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal; I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart."

"Her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only of her unexpected joy."

"A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor."

"Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans."

"Ahead lay the scalloped ocean and the abounding blessed isles."

"Her voice struggled on through the heat, beating against it, molding its senselessness into forms."

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

"I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...And one fine morning - So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Photos courtesy of

The New York Times Style Magazine