The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Things You Didn't Know

Every book has a story—check out these 10 unusual facts about The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Great Gatsby | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald's third novel, The Great Gatsby, provides a glimpse into American high society during the Jazz Age—a term the author himself coined. It's often called one of the great American novels, but it didn't start off that way.

The Great Gatsby received mediocre reviews and experienced lackluster sales in Fitzgerald's lifetime, and before his death at age 44, Fitzgerald believed his work would be forgotten. It wasn't until after his death that The Great Gatsby began to receive critical praise.

Since its publication, The Great Gatsby has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide and has inspired countless film adaptations and stage productions (including ballets and an opera)—and even a video game.

1. Fitzgerald rewrote parts of the novel to suit the cover artwork.

The iconic original book cover for The Great Gatsby—two sad eyes and bright red lips floating in the night sky above a cityscape—was designed before the manuscript was finished. The artwork inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald so much that he rewrote parts of the novel to better suit the artwork. For example, the description of Daisy as the "girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs" of New York seems awfully reminiscent of the cover.

2. The Great Gatsby was a commercial flop in Fitzgerald's lifetime.

In addition to its lackluster reviews, The Great Gatsby sold only 21,000 copies in its first year—less than half the first-year sales for his previous books. It did not achieve commercial success or wide critical acclaim until after Fitzgerald's death in 1940. By 1960 it was selling 50,000 copies each year.

3. Fitzgerald walked out of the theater when watching the first movie version.

The first movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby was released in 1926, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were unimpressed. Zelda wrote in a letter to their daughter: "We saw 'The Great Gatsby' in the movies. It's ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left."

4. The character Daisy Buchanan was based on Fitzgerald's first love.

Daisy Buchanan was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's first love, Ginevra King. King was a wealthy debutante whom Fitzgerald dated from 1915 to 1917, when he was 18 to 20 and a student at Princeton University. One of his journal entries in January 1915 read simply: "Met Ginevra." King broke Fitzgerald's heart by spurning him and marrying a rich man.

5. The name Jordan Baker was designed to make you think fast.

Jordan Baker, Daisy's Ridley's friend in The Great Gatsby, was named after two of the biggest car companies of the 1920s, the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle, as a play on her free spirit and "fast" reputation.

6. F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn't the only successful writer in the family.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was actually named after his second cousin, Francis Scott Key. Key didn't write novels, but he did write the lyrics to a pretty famous song, "The Star-Spangled Banner," that went on to become the national anthem of the United States.

7. Hunter S. Thompson liked to retype pages from The Great Gatsby.

The famous "gonzo journalist" Hunter S. Thompson apparently would type out pages from The Great Gatsby "just to get the feeling of what it was like to write that way." He also said that The Great Gatsby was continually on his mind while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

8. Fitzgerald was a terrible speller.

All of Fitzgerald's friends knew he was a poor student and a horrible speller. In fact, when he showed a draft of one of his early novels to his Princeton classmate, Edmund Wilson, Wilson called it, "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

9. 123,000 copies of The Great Gatsby were sent to World War II soldiers.

During World War II, a group of publishers, editors, and librarians in New York decided that American soldiers serving abroad needed something to read. They chose several novels, including The Great Gatsby, to be "Armed Services Editions" and sent more than a million copies—including 123,000 copies of The Great Gatsby—to sailors and soldiers overseas.

10. Fitzgerald kept a diary that spanned his entire life.

In a large, leather-bound binder, Fitzgerald kept a detailed account of his career ... and his entire life. He documented month-by-month accounts of what he did and who he met—complete with summaries and section titles. He even documented his first word as a tot: up.

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