To celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the publication of The Great Gatsby, we collected comments from writers on how Gatsby has influenced their work. Here, Scribner authors share their favorite lines from the American classic.
When I was eighteen and newly in love with The Great Gatsby, I could quote from memory the novel’s last words, starting with this clause: “for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” Fitzgerald’s rhetoric was major, magnificent. And a few pages earlier, the peroration that begins “That’s my Middle West” struck me as profound and valedictory, with a subtle ironic thrust achieved in a subordinate phrase a few paragraphs later: “On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer . . . ” Years have gone by, and now, after many rereadings, I think I favor the paternal advice that opens the book (“just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had”), governing the point of view of a narrator capable of saying, as the occasion requires, “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known,” “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor,” and, quoting the man with owl-eyed glasses, “The poor son of a bitch.”
—David Lehman, editor of The Best American Poetry series
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.” The line describes the novel as much as the man, for the gorgeousness of Gatsby—one of my favorite novels—is that it holds a sustained note, from the “blue gardens [where] men and girls came and went like moths” to the “damp streak of hair [that] lay like a dash of blue paint” across Daisy’s cheek. Perhaps more than any other novel, Gatsby captures and holds a particular mood, a sound, a “tuning fork that had been struck upon a star.” It is a feeling romantic but doomed, blind to its fate, a transitory enchantment that lures us because we sense its imminent dissolution—a ripe fruit about to turn.
I have reread Gatsby often. Each time, I am struck by its spell—its lyrical heft, its cinematic beauty. It seems as much a poem as it is a novel, a pure, unwavering performance. Jay Gatsby puts on a choreographed show, an intoxicating parade of parties and affectations and material goods, but the novel puts on a similar performance, spins its own dream. It helps us feel, for just a moment, that the “rock of the world” might be “founded securely on a fairy’s wing.” Its spell is as lovely even when we know what’s coming. We turn to it again, borne back into its pages, the splendor of promise and unwavering hope.
—Maya Lang, author of The Sixteenth of June
There is no book that pushes the English language towards its greatest potential as Gatsby does.
Favorite lines from The Great Gatsby: “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
Growing up in Connecticut I spent summers sailing on Long Island Sound and, romantic that I was, I liked to imagine you could actually see Gatsby’s mansion with its ivy-covered tower and Christmas tree lights on the other shore . . . and there was always a party.
—Ellen Crosby, author of Ghost Image
There is no book that pushes the English language toward its greatest potential as Gatsby does. One of my favorite sentences ever written, which still scrolls through my mind whenever I enter a room that contains furniture and women: “The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon.”
—Jeff Hobbs, author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
“He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exaltation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.”
This line describes Gatsby, but it also embodies how I feel about the book. Fitzgerald’s simple brush strokes radiate well beyond his understated prose. If you’ve never read it, The Great Gatsby will fill your imagination and leave an afterglow for years to come.
—Annie Weatherwax, author of All We Had