Gertrude Stein Sends a “Review” of The Great Gatsby to F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)


“Here we are and have read your book and it is a good book.” That sentence about The Great Gatsby may read, in isolation, like one out of a particularly unmotivated high school student’s summer-reading report. But it actually comes from astute woman of letters Gertrude Stein in a letter — and, in its way, a review of the then-new novel — to F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. This missive from one distinguished literary member of America’s “Lost Generation” to another continues as follows:

I like the melody of your dedication and it shows that you have a background of beauty and tenderness and that is a comfort. The next good thing is that you write naturally in sentences and that too is a comfort. You write naturally in sentences and one can read all of them and that among other things is a comfort. You are creating the contemporary world much as Thackeray did his in Pendennis and Vanity Fair and this isn’t a bad compliment. You make a modern world and a modern orgy strangely enough it was never done until you did it in This Side of Paradise. My belief in This Side of Paradise was alright. This is as good a book and different and older and that is what one does, one does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure. Best of good luck to you always, and thanks so much for the very genuine pleasure you have given me. We are looking forward to seeing you and Mrs. Fitzgerald when we get back in the Fall. Do please remember me to her and to you always

Gtde Stein

Stein’s words, come to think of it, might make just the ticket for the aforementioned English-class slacker who may have actually read The Great Gatsby, and might even have enjoyed it, but can’t pin down what everyone expects him to respect about it. “You write naturally in sentences and one can read all of them” tells you everything you need to about why so many other skilled writers have made a habit of re-reading the novel every decade, every year, even every few months. “You are creating the contemporary world” sums up much of Fitzgerald’s thematic accomplishment, and that bit about “a modern orgy” makes the point much more vivid indeed. And thinking in the longer term, this hypothetical teenager might well benefit from the piece of all-purpose wisdom that “one does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure.”

You can find much more pleasure of the literary-historical variety at Letters of Note, which originally posted this one. While there, do consider taking a look at what Fitzgerald’s editor said about an early Gatsby draft, and a rejection of Stein’s The Making of Americans.

via Letters of Note

Related Content:

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from Publisher (1912)

The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Classic Criticism of America (NSFW)

Haruki Murakami Translates The Great Gatsby, the Novel That Influenced Him Most

83 Years of Great Gatsby Book Cover Designs: A Photo Gallery

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (5)
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  • Patrick Murphy says:

    I find TGG unreadable. I hate the principal characters and I hate their raisons d’etre. Even the narrator is annoying. Does anyone else find that? Or do you think I’m losing my critical mind?

    • Pochy says:

      most people hate it. very little people like it. I never read it in school, and i am nostalgically attached to it. The language alone was great to many people, not any more, but to many then and to some now.

  • Kevin says:

    Gertrude Stein is certainly *not* a member of “the list generation.” In fact, the term is one that she (purportedly) invented to describe the second generation of American expat writers to come to Paris.

  • Reader says:

    In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald announced his decision to write “something new–something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned.” That extraordinary, beautiful, intricately patterned, and above all, simple novel became The Great Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known. A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning–” Gatsby’s rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream.

    It’s also a love story, of sorts, the narrative of Gatsby’s quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. The pair meet five years before the novel begins, when Daisy is a legendary young Louisville beauty and Gatsby an impoverished officer. They fall in love, but while Gatsby serves overseas, Daisy marries the brutal, bullying, but extremely rich Tom Buchanan. After the war, Gatsby devotes himself blindly to the pursuit of wealth by whatever means–and to the pursuit of Daisy, which amounts to the same thing. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby says admiringly, in one of the novel’s more famous descriptions. His millions made, Gatsby buys a mansion across Long Island Sound from Daisy’s patrician East Egg address, throws lavish parties, and waits for her to appear. When she does, events unfold with all the tragic inevitability of a Greek drama, with detached, cynical neighbor Nick Carraway acting as chorus throughout. Spare, elegantly plotted, and written in crystalline prose, The Great Gatsby is as perfectly satisfying as the best kind of poem.

  • David says:

    Last week I was at Yale’s Beinecke Library of Rare Books and spent time with the presentation first edition of ‘The Great Gatsby’ that Fitzgerald gave to Stein and personally inscribed.
    I’ve also seen a letter to Stein from Fitzgerald after her review of ‘Gatsby’ but until now hadn’t seen Stein’s review. Thank you for completing this circle.

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