So, the new film version of The Great Gatsby just opened. And Mark is currently teaching Fitzgerald’s novel in his AP class. And this is a blog devoted to fiction. Sounds like a readymade excuse for a Great Gatsby post! (Or two! Or three!) And what better place to start than the title?
Now, we mentioned this in a previous post (but don’t click back just yet! We’re having a quiz in a moment!), but it bears repeating: Fitzgerald was no fan of the title The Great Gatsby. “The title is only fair,” he is credited with saying, ”rather bad than good.” Instead, Fitzgerald has a bunch of other titles he was considering. Try to guess which of the following were actual possible titles for The Great Gatsby:
- On the Road to West Egg
- First Impressions
- Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night
- The High-Bouncing Lover
- Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires
- They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen
- Under the Red, White, and Blue
- They Who Got Shot
Of those winners listed above, only 1, 4, 5, and 7 were actual titles Fitzgerald considered for Gatsby. As for the others: First Impressions was a possible title for Pride and Prejudice; though it would fit Fitzgerlad’s Manhattan, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night was title of the article upon which the film Saturday Night Fever was based; They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen (also fitting for Gatsby) was a working title for Valley of the Dolls; and They Who Got Shot was a possible title for (wait for it) Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.
Incidentally, as a title for Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was especially partial to either Trimalchio or Trimalchio in West Egg– with “Trimalchio” being the name of a character in the Roman novel The Satyricon. Now, Trimalchio is a wealthy man who throws extravagant parties, so the name does fit the character Gatsby. The problem, of course, is that maybe 3.7% of the populace knows that.
(I’m reminded of that anecdote Nabokov wrote in the foreword to his memoir Speak, Memory; apparently, Nabokov wanted to call it Speak, Mnemosyne, after the Greek goddess of memory, but his editor warned him that “little old ladies would not want to ask for a book whose title they could not pronounce.” Good advice, there.)
And why didn’t Fitzgerald like The Great Gatsby as a title? Apparently, he had a problem with the “great” part. As he explpained to his editor, Max Perkins: “There is no emphasis, even ironically, on his greatness or lack of it.” (Ummm… really, F. Scott? ”No emphasis” on Gatsby’s greatness? Did you actually read your novel?)
Ultimately, Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda, along with his editor, talked Fitzgerald into The Great Gatsby. And for that, I feel I can speak on behalf of millions of readers when I say, “*Whew!*” Honestly, do you think ANYONE in 2013 would be dressing up in flapper costunes to see the premier of a movie called Trimalchio? Or On the Road to West Egg?
Just goes to show that sometimes artists really don’t know what’s best for their own works of art. I mean… High-Bouncing Lover? For real???
While we’re on the subject, here are some other great stories about titles…
- In addition to the bizarre They Who Got Shot, Ernest Hemingway had at least thirty other working titles for A Farewell to Arms, including the following: The World’s Room; World Enough and Time; The Italian Journey; The Italian Prodigal; Love Is a Fervent Fire, Kindled without Desire; Disorder and Early Sorrow; Death Once Dead; If You Must Love; A World to See; A Patriot’s Progress; The Carnal Education; The Grand Tour; The Sentimental Education of Frederic Henry and (the most curious of all) I Have Committed Fornication But That Was in Another Country, and Besides the Wench Is Dead.
- Great story about the movie Field of Dreams: the film, which features former baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson, was based on W. P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe. Test audiences, however, thought the title was misleading; they thought the film was going to be a movie about a homeless person. The studio suggested Field of Dreams. Luckily, author Kinsella didn’t mind, since his publisher originally came up with Shoeless Joe. The title Kinsella had wanted: Dream Field.
- Many artists have mined the works of Shakespeare for titles. Macbeth inspired William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury), Kurt Vonnegut (Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow) and Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes). Aldous Huxley found a Brave New World in The Tempest. Sting named his second solo album Nothing Like The Sun after Sonnet 130. And one of Leo Tolstoy’s working titles for War and Peace was All’s Well That Ends Well.
- On a related note, Star Trek writers really seem to love the Bard: Star Trek VI was subtitled The Undiscovered Country (from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech); “Dagger of the Mind” and “All Our Yesterdays” (Macbeth) and “Thine Own Self” (Hamlet) are all names of Star Trek episodes.
- Any frustrated Sporcle enthusiast now knows that, in Britain, the first Harry Potter book is entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone– which author J.K. Rowling prefers to the Americanized Sorcerer’s Stone. But did you know the sixth book was supposed to be called Harry Potter and the High-Bouncing Wizard? Kidding!