Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Great Gatsby

James L. W. West III

Cambridge University Press will publish a fully annotated variorum edition of The Great Gatsby in April 2019.  This will be the eighteenth and final volume of the Cambridge Fitzgerald Edition, an editorial project that began some thirty years ago.  The Gatsby variorum will present the textual history of novel after its first publication, on 10 April 1925, and provide a reliable text for Fitzgerald’s readers.

Since 1941 editors have been attempting to improve the text of The Great Gatsby.  The results, though probably well meant, have been mixed.  My goal in the variorum has been to give control of the text back to Fitzgerald.  I’ve discovered several instances of over-correction in later editions and many examples of creeping error, but no corrupt readings which, when purged by emendation, will bring about a reversal of previous interpretations.  My editorial work should be likened to the stabilization, cleaning, and restoration of a work of art that has deteriorated over time, not to a full-scale textual intervention.

The first editor to tackle The Great Gatsby was Edmund Wilson, a friend of Fitzgerald’s from his years at Princeton.  Wilson edited the novel for inclusion in a volume with The Last Tycoon, the novel on which Fitzgerald had been working at his death.  For this edition, published in 1941, Wilson changed “Wolfshiem” (Fitzgerald’s spelling) to “Wolfsheim” throughout and emended “orgastic” on the final page to “orgiastic.”  Wilson also dropped the epigraph from the title page and deleted the dedication—which reads: “ONCE AGAIN TO ZELDA.”  This dedication reverberates throughout the novel, acknowledging the author’s wife, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, as his muse and inspiration—and, we now know, as one of the models for Daisy Buchanan.

A great many subsequent editions of The Great Gatsby are descended from Wilson’s edition.  All of them through 1970 omit the dedication, and all but two leave out the epigraph.  It’s worth remarking that during the first period of revived interest in Fitzgerald’s writings, a period that lasted from 1941 until the early 1970s, most editions of his masterpiece did not carry the epigraph, and Zelda’s name was erased from the dedication page.

Here’s a quiz for fans of The Great Gatsby:

(1)  In which editions are the two occurrences of Wolfshiem’s verb “sid” (an effort to capture his Yiddish accent, as with “gonnegtion” and “Oggsford”) changed to “said”?  In which editions is one “sid” changed to “said” but the other left as “sid”?  (Hint: sometimes it’s the first “sid” and sometimes it’s the second.)

(2) In which edition is Daisy’s remark “Well, we’d better telephone for an axe——” (p. 151 of the first edition) become “Hell, we’d better telephone for an axe——”?

(3)  In which edition(s) is old Mr. Gatz’s grammar corrected?

(4)  In which British edition of the novel does “jail” become “gaol,” “tire” become “tyre,” and the “Queensboro Bridge” become the “Queensborough Bridge”?

(5)  Which edition omits four of the space breaks?  Which omits nine?

All of these questions are answered in the variorum.  Many of the variants, once afloat, have appeared in edition after edition of The Great Gatsby, some of them still in print.  The variorum avoids such “improvements,” relies on the published record, and provides a reliable text.


About The Author

James L. W. West III

James L. W. West, III is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Emeritus, at Pennsylvania State University. He is a biographer, book historian, and scholarly editor. West is the a...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!