Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Great Gatsby

Scott Fitzgerald
Critics and cricketers have long hailed F Scott Fitzgerald's novel the Great Gatsby as one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century.  Fantasy Bob is sure they are correct.  However he is less certain that they have got the correct understanding of this great work.  The conventional interpretation is of a mysterious love lorn bootlegger who gains the world but loses his soul, who has everything but nothing and whose true love remains out of reach.  The novel is seen to set out the fracturing of the American dream.

Fitzgerald's novel was published in 1925. In 1925 Jack Hobbs topped the First Class batting averages with 3024 runs at 77.60 and his season record 16 centuries. For this Wisden gave him the exceptional accolade of being their sole cricketer of the year.

The Great Batsby
Research has shown that Fitzgerald was in great doubt about the title of his novel and changed it several times as he completed the drafts. It is well documented that he tried to change the title at the last moment before publication. But he recognised his error too late. His attempt to change the title of his novel to The Great Batsby failed. A tragedy. For with that alternative title the reader could see that the the book is no less than a tribute to Jack Hobbs and his great feat of batsmanship in that season. Fitzgerald did not feel confident that American audience would take to such a subject and, so, as clever clogs literary masters such as he are inclined to do, he heavily disguised its true subject.

FB recognises Fitzgerald's achievement. The disguise is very thick. It is very hard to sustain the cricketing interpretation given that the action is set in Long Island and in New York and that there is nothing by way of reference to cricket. Some comments on the beauty of lawns might raise the reader's hopes that a wicket is being prepared, but they are soon dashed. The novel does however introduce Meyer Wolfsheim as a character and a long standing friend and partner of the hero. Wolfsheim is described by Fitzgerald as fixing the 1919 World Series. Wolsheim is based on the real life gangster and gambler Arnold Rothstein who was widely believed to have had a role in the 1919 scandal even though he was never indicted for it.

Fitzgerald is therefore - and, once you think of it, fairly obviously - contrasting the purity of Hobbs' achievements as a sportsman with the dangers of unregulated gambling on sporting principles. In this year of the Old Bailey spot bet fixing trials, this is clearly prescient and cricket supporters would do well to heed the warning in the novel. Just as the American dream fractured, so the dream of the purity of cricket has shattered.

Fitzgerald went on to stellar literary greatness but his subsequent novels failed to address any further issues related to cricket.  He died in 1940, his health undermined by his legendary heavy drinking.  Dorothy Parker visited his body at the funeral home and is reported to have cried and murmured out loud 'the poor son-of-a-bitch', a quote from The Great Gatsby itself uttered during the hero's own funeral.

Jack Hobbs retired from First Class Cricket in 1934 - he is still the all time leading run scorer with 61760 and 199 centuries. His 3024 runs in the 1925 season is not a record. The record for the largest number of runs in a season is held by Denis Compton who scored 3816 in 1947, averaging 90.85. Cricketers will have included Leo McKinstry's new biography of Hobbs in their Christmas lists.

Arnold Rothstein was shot on 4 November, 1928 in Manhattan's Park Central Hotel. Allegedly this was related to a gambling debt which he had declined to pay alleging the game was fixed. While he lay mortally wounded, he refused to tell the police who was behind the hit. He would say only, 'Me Mudder did it'.

The Great Gatsby would have been an equally superlative novel had its title been changed to The Great Batsby.

No comments:

Post a Comment