What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2021: The Great Gatsby & Mrs. Dalloway, Music by Irving Berlin & Duke Ellington, Comedies by Buster Keaton, and More

“The year 1925 was a gold­en moment in lit­er­ary his­to­ry,” writes the BBC’s Jane Cia­bat­tari. “Ernest Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time, Vir­ginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dal­loway and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gats­by were all pub­lished that year. As were Gertrude Stein’s The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans, John Dos Pas­sos’ Man­hat­tan Trans­fer, Theodore Dreiser’s An Amer­i­can Tragedy and Sin­clair Lewis’s Arrow­smith, among oth­ers.” In that year, adds Direc­tor of Duke’s Cen­ter for the Study of the Pub­lic Domain Jen­nifer Jenk­ins, “the styl­is­tic inno­va­tions pro­duced by books such as Gats­by, or The Tri­al, or Mrs. Dal­loway marked a change in both the tone and the sub­stance of our lit­er­ary cul­ture, a broad­en­ing of the range of pos­si­bil­i­ties avail­able to writ­ers.”

In the year 2021, no mat­ter what area of cul­ture we inhab­it, we now find our own range of pos­si­bil­i­ties broad­ened. Works from 1925 have entered the pub­lic domain in the Unit­ed States, and Duke Uni­ver­si­ty’s post rounds up more than a few notable exam­ples. These include, in addi­tion to the afore­men­tioned titles, books like W. Som­er­set Maugh­am’s The Paint­ed Veil and Etsu Ina­ga­ki Sug­i­mo­to’s A Daugh­ter of the Samu­rai; films like The Fresh­man and Go West, by silent-com­e­dy mas­ters Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton; and music like Irv­ing Berlin’s “Always” and sev­er­al com­po­si­tions by Duke Elling­ton, includ­ing “Jig Walk” and “With You.”

These works’ pub­lic-domain sta­tus means that, among many oth­er ben­e­fits to all of us, the Inter­net Archive can eas­i­ly add them to its online library. In addi­tion, writes Jenk­ins, “HathiTrust will make tens of thou­sands of titles from 1925 avail­able in its dig­i­tal repos­i­to­ry. Google Books will offer the full text of books from that year, instead of show­ing only snip­pet views or autho­rized pre­views. Com­mu­ni­ty the­aters can screen the films. Youth orches­tras can afford to pub­licly per­form, or rearrange, the music.” And the cre­ators of today “can legal­ly build on the past — reimag­in­ing the books, mak­ing them into films, adapt­ing the songs.”

Does any new­ly pub­lic-domained work of 2021 hold out as obvi­ous a promise in that regard as Fitzger­ald’s great Amer­i­can nov­el? Any of us can now make The Great Gats­by “into a film, or opera, or musi­cal,” retell it “from the per­spec­tive of Myr­tle or Jor­dan, or make pre­quels and sequels,” writes Jenk­ins. “In fact, nov­el­ist Michael Far­ris Smith is slat­ed to release Nick, a Gats­by pre­quel telling the sto­ry of Nick Carraway’s life before he moves to West Egg, on Jan­u­ary 5, 2021.” What­ev­er results, it will fur­ther prove what Cia­bat­tari calls the “con­tin­u­ing res­o­nance” of not just Jay Gats­by but all the oth­er major char­ac­ters cre­at­ed by the nov­el­ists of 1925, inhab­i­tants as well as embod­i­ments of a “trans­for­ma­tive time” who are “still enthralling gen­er­a­tions of new read­ers” — and writ­ers, or for that mat­ter, cre­ators of all kinds.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: The Great Gats­by & Oth­er Major Works by F. Scott Fitzger­ald

The Only Known Footage of the 1926 Film Adap­ta­tion of The Great Gats­by (Which F. Scott Fitzger­ald Hat­ed)

Duke Ellington’s Sym­pho­ny in Black, Star­ring a 19-Year-old Bil­lie Hol­i­day

Safe­ty Last, the 1923 Movie Fea­tur­ing the Most Icon­ic Scene from Silent Film Era, Just Went Into the Pub­lic Domain

31 Buster Keaton Films: “The Great­est of All Com­ic Actors,” “One of the Great­est Film­mak­ers of All Time”

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hem­ing­way Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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