When the publicist asked me whether I’d like to read a classic book as hand-written by the author, and gave me the choice of which manuscript I’d like to read, I replied “I happen to think that The Great Gatsby is word perfect. It will be interesting to see how it became so.”
A few days later, the postman delivered this beauty ….
… and I fell down a rabbit-hole.
How long does it take to a 136-page novella (Folio Society edition). 1 sitting? 2, 3 max? No where near when the reader can’t resist taking a red pen to the spelling mistakes (actually, I managed to resist the red pen – I marked them with post-it notes instead). I noted insertions, deletions, and chapter revisions. After a week – yes, a week – I decided that, as I was not preparing for a PhD in the evolution of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, I needed to forget the analysis, and just enjoy one of my top 10 reads of all time!
There are pages with many crossings out (it’s fascinating to see where Fitzgerald reconsidered), but there are many others with hardly any amendments. I admired Fitzgerald’s fluency, his precise phrasing, his control, and I wondered about how much planning had gone on before he sat down to write this manuscript, which surely can’t be the first draft. Nobody’s that good, are they?
After jettisoning the analysis, I found that my reading pace remained slow. (This awakened in me admiring thoughts of school teachers, marking all those hand-written essays. I’ve never considered the significant time investment before.) My slow/leisurely reading pace allowed previously unnoticed details to infiltrate my brain., such as the frequent use of orchid similes. I found the descent into darkness more chilling, given its inevitability and the fact that no-one moved to avoid it. But then what can you expect of “careless people”? One thing’s for sure: Fitzgerald wasn’t careless. If I have a thing about spelling, he had one about spacing. I lost count, but I smiled each time he indicated just how the text was to be laid out.
Published by Editions des Saint Pères (SP Books), this edition, a facsimile of the only complete autograph manuscript of The Great Gatsby, is a true collector’s item. Printed on high quality paper with vegetal ink, it is the epitome of luxury, yet retains the authentic feel of an original script written in pencil. The book and slipcover are bound and ornamented with iron gildings. The edition is limited to 1800 copies, and I am a very lucky girl to have been sent one for review. Many, many thanks to the publisher. I will treasure it forever.