This day in 1925 was publication day for The Great Gatsby, whose author F. Scott Fitzgerald—amazingly, hopefully, ridiculously, immediately—cabled Maxwell Perkins to ask if there were any news yet of how the book was going over. The news when it came was good, but not good enough for Fitzgerald, who mourned that of the happy reviewers “not one had the slightest idea what the book was about.”

And that appears still to be true. Whatever the book is about it obviously isn’t about how well America treats arriviste strivers. But is it about the myth of the classless society? Certainly, but not in the boring way that Dreiser’s books are about that.

I do like the suggestion that what’s most important in the book is

its realization of the fluidity of American lives, the perception being Tom Buchanan’s wistful drifting here and there, “wherever people played polo and were rich together,” in Wolfsheim’s sentimental longings for the old Metropole, in Nick Carroway’s wry feeling that Tom and Daisy were two old friends I scarcely knew at all,” in Gatsby’s whole career.

And, as that retrospective goes on to note, its peculiar voice—sometimes so staccato, sometimes so lyrical, only false when it’s trying to be funny (the sequence of the party guests with the fishy names).

I remember one intepretive note that I think interesting: three times (what I tell you three times is true) and at critical moments Fitzgerald/Carraway calls the reader’s attention to breast imagery: once to call attention to Jordan’s sexualized self-presentation:

I looked at Miss Baker wondering what it was she “got done.” I enjoyed looking at her. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet.

—once to illustrate the brutal damage done Myrtle Wilson by the automobile—well, I was going to say “accident” but that’s not right, is it?

Michaelis and this man reached her first but when they had torn open her shirtwaist still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long.

—and once—as every schoolboy knows—to describe primeval unspoiled America.

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes–a fresh, green breast of the new world.

Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; 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.

On the other hand I am not a literary type, so what do I know?