F. Scott Fitzgerald: Trimalchio: An Early Version of 'The Great Gatsby'

Overview

Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's Trimalchio, an early and complete version of The Great Gatsby, is like listening to a familiar musical composition -- but played in a different key and with an alternate bridge passage. It is the same work and yet a different work.

Fitzgerald wrote Trimalchio in France during the summer of 1924 and submitted it to his publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons, in October of that year. (He titled the book after the ostentatious party-giver in the Satyricon ...

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Overview

Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's Trimalchio, an early and complete version of The Great Gatsby, is like listening to a familiar musical composition -- but played in a different key and with an alternate bridge passage. It is the same work and yet a different work.

Fitzgerald wrote Trimalchio in France during the summer of 1924 and submitted it to his publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons, in October of that year. (He titled the book after the ostentatious party-giver in the Satyricon of Petronius.) Fitzgerald later revised the novel heavily in galley proofs, shifting much material about and changing his title. The result was The Great Gatsby, his signature work.

Trimalchio, however, is also a remarkable achievement. It differs considerably from The Great Gatsby: its plot and structure are not the same; Chapters VI and VII of Trimalchio are entirely different; elsewhere in the narrative one finds passages and sequences missing from Gatsby. Most importantly, in Trimalchio Jay Gatsby's past is revealed in a wholly different fashion.

This ur-novel is now made available to readers and scholars, not only for comparison with The Great Gatsby but for interpretation and analysis on its own.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
As the title explains, Fitzgerald's initial take on what we know as Gatsby was somewhat different when he first delivered the manuscript to Scribner editor Max Perkins in 1924. Perkins made several suggestions on changes, and Fitzgerald went to work revising the story, eventually altering the title as well. In this earlier version, narrator Nick Carraway's personal life outside of his dealings with Daisy and Gatsby has a larger role, but the meat of the story remains the same. Nonetheless, considering the novel's importance to American letters, academic libraries should purchase. Publics can play it by ear. In addition to the text, this edition features numerous photos and scholarly notes, etc. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
"The Cambridge edition of Trimalchio is for scholars and Fitzgerald fanatics...Trimalchio has shown me a new way to love Gatsby. I'm compelled into a vast aesthetic contemplation: I dream of The Great Gatsby as it might have been, greater still-" Adam Begley, New York Observer

"...the principle reason to read Trimalchio is to observe a masterpiece taking form through the process of revision. Even those not easily caught up in textual detective stories may take an interest in puzzling out the effect of the changes..." Scott Donaldson, Star Tribune

"West provides a meticulous and comprehensive critical apparatus...this fine edition will be of significant interest to Fitzgerald scholars and students." Choice

"West provides a meticulous and comprehensive critical apparatus...this fine edition will be of significant interest to Fitzgerald scholars and students." Choice

"...I enjoyed every second of Trimalchio...had it been published as the legitimate text it would probably still be considered a masterpiece." Christopher Fischbach, Rain Taxi

"Treat yourself to a copy...This new version is an earlier draft of Fitzgerald's novel, and it seems even better than the one finally published." Press Democrat

"Fitzgerald enthusiasts are advised to acquire a copy immediately." The Times

"Raw and edgy, Fitzgerald's prose practically dances across the page. For all of its subtle, flawed deviations from the finished work, the book possesses a charm that Fitzgerald never realized so completely again." Missouri Review

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Product Details

Meet the Author

James L. W. West is Distinguished Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, where he is a Fellow in the Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies. His most recent book is William Styron, A Life (1998).

Biography

The greatest writers often function in multifaceted ways, serving as both emblems of their age and crafters of timeless myth. F. Scott Fitzgerald surely fits this description. His work was an undeniable product of the so-called Jazz Age of the 1920s, yet it has a quality that spans time, reaching backward into gothic decadence and forward into the future of a rapidly decaying America. Through five novels, six short story collections, and one collection of autobiographical pieces, Fitzgerald chronicled a precise point in post-WWI America, yet his writing resonates just as boldly today as it did nearly a century ago.

Fitzgerald's work was chiefly driven by the disintegration of America following World War I. He believed the country to be sinking into a cynical, Godless, depraved morass. He was never reluctant to voice criticism of America's growing legions of idle rich. Recreating a heated confrontation with Ernest Hemingway in a short story called "The Rich Boy," Fitzgerald wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

The preceding quote may sum Fitzgerald's philosophy more completely than any other, yet he also hypocritically embodied much of what he claimed to loathe. Fitzgerald spent money freely, threw lavish parties, drank beyond excess, and globe-trotted with his glamorous but deeply troubled wife Zelda. Still, in novel after novel, he sought to expose the great chasm that divided the haves from the have-nots and the hollowness of wealth. In This Side of Paradise (1920) he cynically follows opulent, handsome Amory Blaine as he bounces aimlessly from Princeton to the military to an uncertain, meaningless future. In The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) Fitzgerald paints a withering portrait of a seemingly idyllic marriage between a pair of socialites that crumbles in the face of Adam Patch's empty pursuit of profit and the fading beauty of his vane wife Gloria.

The richest example of Fitzgerald's disdain for the upper class arrived three years later. The Great Gatsby is an undoubted American classic, recounting naïve Nick Carraway's involvement with a coterie of affluent Long Islanders, and his ultimate rejection of them when their casual decadence leads only to internal back-stabbing and murder. Nick is fascinated by the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who had made the fatal mistake of stepping outside of his lower class status to pursue the lovely but self-centered Daisy Buchanan.

In The Great Gatsby, all elements of Fitzgerald's skills coalesced to create a narrative that is both highly readable and subtly complex. His prose is imbued with elegant lyricism and hard-hitting realism. "It is humor, irony, ribaldry, pathos and loveliness," Edwin C. Clark wrote of the book in the New York Times upon its 1925 publication. "A curious book, a mystical, glamorous story of today. It takes a deeper cut at life than hitherto has been essayed by Mr. Fitzgerald."

Gatsby is widely considered to be Fitzgerald's masterpiece and among the very greatest of all American literature. It is the ultimate summation of his contempt for the Jazz-Age with which he is so closely associated. Gatsby is also one of the clearest and saddest reflections of his own destructive relationship with Zelda, which would so greatly influence the mass of his work.

Fitzgerald only managed to complete one more novel -- Tender is the Night -- before his untimely death in 1940. An unfinished expose of the Hollywood studio system titled The Love of the Last Tycoon would be published a year later. Still The Great Gatsby remains his quintessential novel. It has been a fixture of essential reading lists for decades and continues to remain an influential work begging to be revisited. It has been produced for the big screen three times and was the subject of a movie for television starring Toby Stephens, Mira Sorvino, and Paul Rudd as recently as 2000. Never a mere product of a bygone age, F. Scott Fitzgerald's greatest work continues to evade time.

Good To Know

In 1937, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood to pursue a screenwriting career. He only completed a single screenplay Three Comrades during this time before being fired for his excessive drinking.

He held a very romantic view of Princeton before attending the university in 1913. However, his failure to maintain adequate grades or become the football star he dreamed to be lead to an early end to his studies in 1917.

Fitzgerald owes a his name to another famous American writer. He was named after Francis Scott Key, the composer of "The Star Spangled Banner," who also happened to be a distant relative of Fitzgerald's.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (real name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 24, 1896
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Paul, Minnesota
    1. Date of Death:
      December 21, 1940

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Illustrations ix
Chronology of composition and publication xi
Introduction xiii
1. History of the text xiii
2. Editorial principles xix
Trimalchio 1
Record of variants 147
Explanatory notes 165
Illustrations 179
Appendix 1 Perkins' letters of criticism 185
Appendix 2 Note on Trimalchio 190
Appendix 3 Note on eyeskip 191
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2002

    Interesting... but very overpriced

    I purchased this book because I am a huge Gatsby fan, and I was not disappointed with the contents of Trimalchio, however for the price (31 dollars) I was expecting an impressive looking book that I would be proud to display. What I got, instead, was a book about the size of the paperback edition of Gatsby with an ugly cover to boot. If you are as vain as I am and the appearance of a text is almost as important as the actual contents, this book is not for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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