February 23, 2010


The grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Not many people know this, but F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried next to a little white chapel in Rockville, M.D., visible from the metro line. It also happens to be next door to my Aunt Dolly's apartment (who is doing well, so thank you for your prayers!). If I happen to be staying with her and going to Mass at St. Mary's I try to pop into the graveyard, and say hello to him, Zelda, and the rest of his family.

Last time I did this, Aunt Dolly told me about Jonathan Yardley's stirring defense of The Great Gatsby as the greatest of American novels. Aunt Dolly isn't really online much, so she read the article in the paper in 2007, and it is still fresh in her mind. It is a great article looking with new appreciation at a great novel--and has made me want to re-read it. Perhaps during Easter. Till then:
It seems to me, though, that no American novel comes closer than "Gatsby" to surpassing literary artistry, and none tells us more about ourselves. In an extraordinarily compressed space -- the novel is barely 50,000 words long -- Fitzgerald gives us a meditation on some of this country's most central ideas, themes, yearnings and preoccupations: the quest for a new life, the preoccupation with class, the hunger for riches and "the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."

That famous passage -- every passage in "Gatsby" is famous -- is on the novel's final page, near the end of six pages of prose so incandescent as, in my case quite literally, to send shivers down the spine.

Read the whole article here.

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