never quite the same

p. 67:

They were never quite the same ones in physical person but they were so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before.

This is Fitzgerald’s description of the rotating retinue of “four girls” who always accompanied one of the revelers at Gatsby’s parties.  The narrator admits “I have forgotten their names . . . the melodious names of flowers and months or the sterner ones of the great American capitalists whose cousins, if pressed, they would confess themselves to be.”  The girls are objects of art, objects of desire, signifiers of sex and wealth.  A feminist critique of Gatsby would deplore the nameless characters and the “girl” terminology.

But Fitzgerald’s gift is observation, not social commentary – and observation stands up better over time than commentary ever could.  The objectification he describes continues today, with different meaning and different dynamics.  These days a man can travel like Robert Palmer only as satire; making a habit of it just looks silly.  So we read this novel of the past with the feelings and morals of the present, which only enriches our understanding of how these crowded parties were filled with empty people.

an angry diamond

p. 56:

One of the men was talking with curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks – at intervals she appeared suddenly at his side like an angry diamond and hissed ‘You promised!’ into his ear.

Gatsby revolves around young couples in relatively early, fragile relationships.  Here is a rare, flashing view at an older couple, in an old relationship with fragility that age has not dissipated, but crystallized into a frozen spiderweb.  Fitzgerald is known as a chronicler of the young and carefree, but this is a pitch-perfect snapshot of a couples’ argument that has developed through many years of betrayal.

In truth Fitzgerald’s heroines were never carefree, regardless of their age.  Though often misunderstood as shallow, these young female characters were engaged in poignant struggle to define a new womanhood in a time before feminism.  Those who lost – or worse, missed – the struggle could do nothing but harden their pains into an angry diamond.