The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
published 1926 chapter 5
[Jay Gatsby is entertaining his lost love Daisy Buchanan and his friend, narrator Nick Carraway, showing them round his house in West Egg]
He opened for us two hulking patent cabinets which held his massed suits and dressing-gowns and ties, and his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high.
‘I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall.’
He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-coloured disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher – shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids and coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily. ‘They’re such beautiful shirts’ she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.’
observations: For the 100th entry for Clothes in Books this scene was the obvious choice, because it resonates with so many people - the ultimate clothes in books.
So why does Daisy cry? Because now she knows how rich Gatsby is and wishes she’d stuck with him rather than Tom? Because she knows she can never live up to the person Gatsby wants her to be? Because beauty makes her cry? It’s obvious that she is worthless, not good enough for Gatsby, however imperfect he is. The book is short and almost perfect, and it stays with you. Going through life we recognize all too well the toxic Daisys and Toms laying waste to all around them then moving on, and we see the horrors of love as it eats away at Jay Gatsby - Fitzgerald doesn’t have a positive or optimistic view of life. The small details of the book are so memorable – the man who fixed the World Series, the voice full of money, the opening, the girls who look as though they have ‘just been blown back in after a short flight round the house’ - this really is the great American novel. The only comparable later writer, in terms of capturing an era through social events, might be Bret Easton Ellis.
Fitzgerald made up the quotation which is the book’s epigraph.
Links up with: Gatsby is like M Swann in Proust , ruining his life for a woman who really isn’t his type. Bret Easton Ellis and another young(ish) male writer here.
The picture is a collage of shirt adverts and other advertising images and magazine covers from the era. Bottom right is the green light on the dock, so important to Jay Gatsby – he thought it symbolized his future with Daisy, but that future eluded him. The picture is particularly for Audrey, who knows why.