University of Virginia Library


For these reasons I have chosen F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as my main illustration. It brings out nearly all my points: inconsistent editing, an unknown or unidentified text, a publisher who is good but vague, important errors in an important book, schizophrenia in the bibliographer-teacher. Not only is Gatsby a fine novel, but it is taught so often because it contains many of the basic themes of American literature: West versus East; the search for value; the American dream; crime and society; and in young Jim Gatz's "General Resolves," it even reaches back to Ben Franklin and Poor Richard.

How many know, however, what they have been teaching?

The Great Gatsby exists in print in three main versions: the first edition, beginning in April, 1925; a new edition in the volume with The Last Tycoon and certain stories, beginning in 1941; and a subedition of the latter text in the Modern Standard Authors series (Three Novels) together with Tender is the Night and The Last Tycoon, beginning in 1953.[15] Though Gatsby in the Three Novels version is another impression of The Last Tycoon plates I call it a sub-edition


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because Gatsby's position is different, coming first in the volume, and there are many changes in the text.[16]

So far as I know, the only available information about the text of Gatsby is buried in the notes to Arthur Mizener's The Far Side of Paradise. Mizener says that Fitzgerald found a misprint in the first edition: the future Nick Carroway speaks of at the end of the novel should be "orgiastic," not "orgastic":[17]

It was one of the few proof errors in the book [adds Mizener], perhaps because Scribner's worked harder over Gatsby than over Fitzgerald's earlier books, perhaps because [Ring] Lardner read the final proofs. The only other proof error Fitzgerald found was the reading of "eternal" for "external" on p.58 [of the first edition] . . . . Edmund Wilson's reprint in his edition of The Last Tycoon corrects all it could without access to Fitzgerald's personally corrected copy.[18]

Let us couple these comments with Matthew Bruccoli's interesting article on Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. Bruccoli is surprised that thirty-one errors are corrected in later impressions of the novel. He concludes that "the first printing was an inexcusably sloppy job," although Fitgzerald was himself in part responsible for the difficulty. We might infer two things, therefore: far fewer errors in Gatsby's first edition, and a correction of the word "eternal," in The Last Tycoon.

Not so. The correction to "external" is not made in the second impression of the first edition, nor in any impression of Last Tycoon (202.2, TN 38.2). Though there are only four changes from the first to second impression of the first edition, there are no less than twenty-seven changes between First and Last Tycoon. Between First and the 1953 Three Novels, there are more than 125 changes. Of these changes


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about fifty are quite meaningless. They change "to-morrow" with a hyphen to "tomorrow," for example. Or they change "Beale Street Blues" to Beale Street Blues. This class of change will not be commented upon nor included in statistics, except to add that the publisher was not at all consistent in making such alterations.[19]

There are, in other words, 75 changes of moment between the first edition and Three Novels—forty-four more than in This Side of Paradise. Many of them are more important. Of the changes the August, 1925, first edition brought, the most important was the substitution of the word "echolalia" for "chatter" in the phrase "the chatter of the garden" (First 60 line 16).[20]

But we must remember that Last Tycoon and Three Novels are both posthumous, and that of the twenty-seven changes from First to LT, twelve are clearly errors, seven are dubious improvements, and only eight are clearly better readings. Of them all, the word "orgiastic," apparently, alone has the author's authority. What's more, the subedition Three Novels retains all but two of these bad changes. An example of an error begun in LT and continued in TN occurs on page 209.6 of First (296.8 of LT and 132.8 of TN). The sentence of Nick's, "It just shows you." is dropped from the text, thereby making the punctuation wrong and leading the reader to confuse speakers.

Between First and Three Novels the changes are of several kinds. In addition to the fifty or so "meaningless" changes, there are (a) fifteen changes of spelling, including six that change the meaning of a word and others that affect dialect; (b) seventeen changes in punctuation, including quotation marks, paragraph indication, and so on; (c) six incorrect omissions of a word or sentence or other details; (d) six proper deletions of a word or more; (e) thirty-one substantive changes —the substitution of a word or the addition of a phrase or sentence. For instance, Gatsby is transferred from the Sixteenth to the Seventh Infantry during the war. (See First 57.17, LT 201.12, TN 37.12.)

For when we turn to Three Novels we must move out of the camp


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of strict bibliography into the field of its important ally, publishing history. Fitzgerald's own copy of the first impression, with pencilled notes in the margins, is now located at the Princeton University Library and was used to make the sub-edition.

Of the seventy-five changes between First and TN, thirty-eight are with Fitzgerald's sanction and thirty-seven are without. Most of the thirty-seven changes not recommended by Fitzgerald are "corrections" made by a publisher's staff editor or by Malcom Cowley, who supervized the sub-edition. However, some of this group are clearly errors, many of them having crept into the text by way of the Last Tycoon version. The noteworthy thing is that no reader knows the authority for any of the changes. The sub-edition itself does not even announce that it takes into account Fitzgerald's marginal comments—which, one would have supposed, would have been good business as well as good scholarship.

Furthermore, some of the thirty-eight "sanctioned" changes were only queried by Fitzgerald: no actual rewording was directed. An example is the phrase "lyric again in." Fitzgerald questioned "again" and the editor dropped it. But in five instances of Fitzgerald's questioning a word, no change was made—as, for example, Fitzgerald was unhappy to note that he had used the word "turbulent" twice in the first chapter.[21] There is also one instance in which Fitzgerald expressly asked for a change that was not made. At First, 50.1, Fitzgerald corrected "an amusement park" to "amusement parks," but the later version does not record the request (TN 32.32).

On the whole, one can say this, therefore: that about sixty of the changes from First to Three Novels are proper. That is, they either have the author's authority or are stylistic or grammatical improvements or are immaterial. I speak just now as a devil's advocate — a critic with a jaundiced eye toward bibliography. He would call the deletion of a comma from a short compound sentence "immaterial," though it was not done by the author.[22] I am trying, in other words, to make the text sound as good as I can. Problems arise, however, from the fact that awkward readings sometimes come from purely typographical errors, sometimes from editor's decision, and sometimes from Fitzgerald's own notes. Everyone would accept such changes as "an Adam study" for "an Adam's study," (First 110.26, LT 233.30, TN 69.30);


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but by the same token few critics will be pleased by a Fitzgerald marginal correction reading "common knowledge to the turgid sub or suppressed journalism of 1902," instead of "common property of the turgid journalism of 1902" (First 120.11, TN 76.5).

We are left then with fifteen or sixteen errors begun or continued in Three Novels, errors which I trust even the newest of new critics would accept as having some degree of importance. That degree of course varies. The dedication "Once again, to Zelda," is left off, for example. Dialetical words are falsely made standard English, or half-doctored-up, as in this sentence where the word in First was "appendicitus": "You'd of thought she had my appendicitis out" (First 37.4, LT 188.37, TN 24.37). Sentences start without a capital[23] or end without a period[24] or are dropped altogether.[25] Quotation marks appear or disappear[26] and awkward readings come from nowhere. To illustrate that last: on page 149.10 of First Nick says that "the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil, but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away." The eyes are Myrtle Wilson's but in Three Novels 95.1 (and LT 259.1) the sentence is confused when "the" is added without any reference and "from" and "with peculiar intensity" are dropped: "the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil, but I perceived, after a moment that the other eyes were regarding us less than twenty feet away" (italics added). Another dubious change is this: a joking slip or drunken mistake by Daisy is corrected — "Biloxi, Tennessee" becomes academically placed in its proper governmental locality.[27] One hardly needs to add that none of these changes have Fitzgerald's sanction.

The biggest errors, critically speaking, are ones that also occur in Last Tycoon. The principle of order in The Great Gatsby is a simple


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one: Nick Carroway, the narrator, tells his story wildly out of chronological order, but in the order that he learned it — with one exception.[28] The first half of the book is concerned with the development of the outsiders' illusions about Jay Gatsby — he is "nephew to Von Hindenburg," and so on (TN 47). The second half is a penetration in depth of Gatsby's illusion itself. The shift in the theme of the book is marked by the one major sequence which Nick gives the reader out of the order in which he himself learned it. I refer to the Dan Cody episode from Gatsby's early days.[29]

Now the most important structural unit in the book below the chapter is the intra-chapter break signified by a white space left on the page.[30] In Last Tycoon and Three Novels four of these important indications of structure are suppressed.[31] Oddly enough, it is the one following the Dan Cody story that is the first one missing. The detail that divides the book into its two structural elements is botched.

In the Three Novels version of Gatsby, then, we have a book quite well printed — surprisingly so when we look at the galley proofs. They are filled with changes — with page after page added in long hand, with whole galleys deleted or rearranged. (I would estimate that one-fifth of the book was written after the galley stage.) And we have a book that tries to take into account the author's latest stylistic revisions. Unfortunately, it is also a book that has far too many errors.

Perhaps this is the place to mention the third Scribner edition of Gatsby, the paperback Student's Edition, which uses TN as copy text.


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Have matters been improved? Some have, but more errors have been added. There are twelve changes from TN to SE: it makes two distinct improvements, including the replacement of the dedication; but it adds three places in which intra-chapter breaks are suppressed.[32] The other changes are "immaterial" typographical errors such as "turned to be," instead of "turned to me" (SE 71.17 and TN 54.20) and "police," instead of "police" (SE 27.27 and TN 22.19).

I hope it is clear, then, that Three Novels represents the best present text of Gatsby. No doubt it and the Student's Edition will be the ones most used in colleges for some time. It should also be clear that in Three Novels, we have this kind of book:

  • 1. A book which nowhere gives the reader the authority for seventy-five changes, all of them posthumously printed.
  • 2. One which fails to make use of all of Fitzgerald's corrections.
  • 3. One which contains thirty-seven changes which Fitzgerald did not authorize — some of which are of most dubious value.
  • 4. A book which contains at least fifteen quite bad readings, one of which is of the highest structural importance.

So, armed with this mixed blessing, or with the worse one of Last Tycoon, or worst of all, with a reprint by another publisher which has none of Fitzgerald's corrections and additions, many students unwittingly face the next semester with their prairie squints. Only a nonexistent, eclectic text, combining the best of the August, 1925 first edition and the Three Novels text of The Great Gatsby would be proper.[33]

Could we not as critics pay more attention to Bibliography, and we as Bibliographers to criticism? Can not we somehow insist that editing actually be done — instead of the practice of putting a fancy introduction on a poor text? Can not we have sound texts reproduced and publisher's history stated by the editor? Can not we know what it is we have in our hands? For it is simply a fallacy that the novel does not count.