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September 24, 2009
Washington, DC

Portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Carl Van Vechten, June 4, 1932. From the collection of The Library of Congress.

Happy Birthday F. Scott Fitzgerald! In honor of  the 113th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth---at 481 Laurel Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota---here's the late literary scholar Matthew Bruccoli on the structure of The Great Gatsby and "the proper duty of a good reader."

The structure of The Great Gatsby is extraordinary because of Fitzgerald?s brilliant manipulation of what is called the partially, or partly involved, narrator, Nick. Usually the narrator of the novel, if there?s a narrator, it?s the hero. . . But as in the work of Joseph Conrad, which I think Fitzgerald learned a great deal from, the narrator of The Great Gatsby is a minor character, but he?s there to document what happens. There is no scene at which Nick is not present. When Nick has to tell us something about Gatsby?s past, he tells us when Gatsby told it to him, the occasion, the circumstances under which Gatsby told it to him. The structure, the organization of The Great Gatsby is virtually perfect. There are some chronological glitches---sometimes he?s off a couple of days or a week. If you take the whole novel apart and you put a chart on the wall, which I?ve done, there are too many things in the space of one summer.

This business of a reader, a scholar, a teacher, a critic saying ?Gotcha? is criminal! The thing to do with a brilliant piece of work is to worship it!  Because the answer is, if I know so  much, how come I didn?t write The Great Gatsby?  No! The proper duty of a good reader is to recognize genius and celebrate it.

To hear more from Matthew Bruccoli, Gish Jen, Robert Redford, and others on F. Scott Fitzgerald and his works, take a listen to The Great Gatsby radio show.

Visit The Big Read calendar to find a Big Read celebration of The Great Gatsby (and maybe some birthday cake) near you!

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