F. Scott Fitzgerald: Humour and Description in The Great Gatsby

After a brief exchange about F. Scott Fitzgerald with the lovely Susannah Bianchi, I was reminded of a wonderful tour de force in The Great Gatsby. In the following passage, Fitzgerald expertly introduces the demonology of socialites one could expect to see at Gatsby’s parties. It is an extremely clever piece of writing. The names alone, with minimal context added in, create an immediate and entirely believable picture of the chaotic and pretentious social life of the period. And somehow the effect does not depend on any prior knowledge of the Twenties on the part of the reader. Similar demonologies exist in real life today. I’m sure we all have our own to recite.

Once I wrote down on the empty spaces of a time-table the names of those who came to the Gatsby’s house that summer. It is an old time-table now, disintegrating at its folds and headed “This schedule in effect July 5th, 1922,” But I can still read the grey names and they will give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby’s hospitality and paid him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him.

From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches and a man named Bunsen whom I knew at Yale and Doctor Webster Civet who was drowned last summer up in Maine. And the Hornbeams and the Willie Voltaires and a whole clan named Blackbuck who always gathered in a corner and flipped up their noses like goats at whosoever came near. And the Ismays and the Chrysties (or rather Hubert Auerbach and Mr. Chrystie’s wife and Edgar Beaver, whose hair they say turned cotton white one winter afternoon for no good reason at all).

Clarence Endive was from East Egg, as I remember. He came only once in white knickerbockers, and had a fight with a bum named Etty in the garden, From further out on the Island came the Cheadles and the O. R. P. Schraeders and the Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia and the Fishguards and the Ripley Snells. Snell was there three days before he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs Ulysses Swett’s automobile ran over his right hand. The Dancies came too and S. B. Whitebait, who was well over sixty, and Maurice A. Flink and the Hammerheads and Beluga the tobacco importer and Beluga’s girls.

From West Egg came the Poles and the Mulreadys and Cecil Roebuck and Cecil Schoen and Gulick the state senator and Newton Orchid who controlled Films Par Excellence and Eckhaust and Clyde Cohen and Don S. Schwartze (the son) and Arthur McCarty, all connected with the movies in one way or another. And the Catlips and the Bembergs and G. Earl Muldoon, brother to that Muldoon who afterward strangled his wife. Da Fontano the promoter came there, and Ed Legros and James B. (“Rot-Gut) Ferret and the De Jongs and Ernest Lilly–they came to gamble and when Ferret wandered into the garden it meant he was cleaned out and Associated Traction would have to fluctuate profitably next day.

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