October 18, 2017
Not So Great Gatsby TitlesOn this day in 1924, feeling that he had finally found the ideal title for his new novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald enthusiastically wired his editor, Max Perkins, that he was "CRAZY ABOUT TITLE UNDER THE RED WHITE AND BLUE...." Already abandoned titles had included "The High Bouncing Lover," "Among the Ash Heaps," and most recently, "Trimalchio." Not as crazy as her husband about these, Zelda (and Perkins) eventually talked him into The Great Gatsby.
A late-draft version of the novel was published in 2000 under the "Trimalchio" title. Fitzgerald was borrowing here from a character by that name in the first-century Roman story, Satyricon, thought to be written by Petronius. As "director of pleasures" for Nero's imperial court, Petronius would have had dealings with people of Trimalchio's status and style -- rich and vulgar social climbers who enjoy playing host to an endless supply of party-goers and parasites. After being carried in to dinner by his slaves, Petronius's Trimalchio likes to recline on cushions, clean his teeth with a silver tooth pick, drink "Opimian Falernia, one hundred years old," and expand:
The critical reaction was mixed, many of the more literary publications tending to the 'modern classic' view, many in the popular press finding it "decidedly contemporary: today it is here, tomorrow--well, there will be no tomorrow. It is only as permanent as a newspaper story, and as on the surface." Gertrude Stein's letter to Fitzgerald shows her going her usual, uncategorizeable way:
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