Channeling Gatsby

You gotta hand it to Westport. When this town embarks on a project, it’s not half-assed.

Take WestportREADS. The 10th annual program — in which everyone reads the same book, then joins in a month of activities related (sometimes, um, tangentially) to it — begins next month. This year’s selection is The Great Gatsby.

Westport READS

In addition to the usual (a discussion of The American Dream; a reading by Frank Deford; films about the ’20s; a headband-making workshop;  Charleston dance lessons, and much more), there’s a talk by former Staples High School English instructor (and Gatsby expert) Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian.

What’s so great about that last one?

Oh, not much. Just that it’s in the house Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in in 1920. Where, it is said, he got the inspiration to write — you guessed it — The Great Gatsby.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

I hope there’s wine and cheese. Because being as realistic as possible — bringing back Prohibition — is just not a good idea.

(For the full WestportREADS program of events, click here.)

19 responses to “Channeling Gatsby

  1. I studied The Great Gatsby in Dr. K’s class in 1973. I remember that he had a copy that had all his notes. Sadly I also remember that someone, (no it wasn’t me) stole the book and didn’t give it back until we were done reading it.

  2. I thought The Great Gatsby referred to Fitzgerald’s experiences on East End of LI?

  3. Except for a few pseudo-intellectuals, most folks hold to the notion that East and West Egg were probably at the western edge of L.I., maybe around Great Neck? The train is clearly the LIRR. The idea that Westport is the location is probably a function of local chauvinism and/or fuzzy thinking.

    • Richard Lawrence Stein

      Sven the broadway play death trap was centered in Westport… To the point a Westport phone number for a taxi service was recited, but the film has it in LI because the director had a home there… Fitzgerald lived here just prior to the writing… It is very possible his influences and experience could be very Westport centric or they could be many places, but the fact he was here lends the possibilities it is true

    • That makes more sense (Sven). I knew I heard and read interviews in which Fitzgerald says that Gatsby is all Long Island. Also, Westport didn’t have that same sort of flamboyant decadence during that time. That isn’t a criticism, it’s just different styles, expressions of wealth between the two locations.

      • When Fitzgerald lived on South Compo, the property that is now Longshore was just a field in his backyard. He could see all the way out to Long Island Sound, and beyond. That’s where some of his descriptions may have come from.

  4. More fun than figuring out what locations he drew inspiration from is who did he draw inspiration from. A bit saucier and libelous but it would be interesting to know who went into each character.

  5. Barbara Probst Solomon, a respected writer who spent her childhood summers in Westport, wrote an article in the New Yorker back in the 1990s laying out the arguments for why some of the inspiration for the book, including locations, came from Fitzgerald’s time in Westport.

  6. Oh good, something else to argue about. “Inspiration.”
    Let’s just agree that it’s a great, accessible, well-crafted book. Maybe that’s asking for too much. Let’s agree that it’s a book.
    I love that Westport is breathing life into it and perhaps prompting a few more to read it.
    My grandmother told me she read it seven times. I thought she was crazy… until I read it the first time.

  7. Wow Gerry Kuroglian …he was my high school English teacher

  8. Sank T. Monious

    Wow, the timing!!!! I just got the movie for Christmas!!!!
    God Bless us, one and all!!!!

  9. Just in case there are still any doubters: while FSF’s muse could certainly have given him some Westport-oriented inspiration as he labored with his writing on South Compo Road, consider Nick Carraway’s narrative in Chapter 1: “It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York — and where there are, among other natural curiousities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city…”

    Since Westport doesn’t extend itself due east of New York, and is not an island, and since Westport is about fifty miles from the city, it would appear that one may easily conclude that Nick is describing Long Island.

    • All of what Sven says, plus they drive across the Queensborough Bridge to get into Manhattan.

      • Sven and Jake, you should read the piece in the New Yorker. No one is disputing that the the general locale is Long Island.

  10. I vaguely remember that New Yorker article and thinking how specious its arguments were. So I went back a re-read: Signs pointing to Easton and Weston as the inspriation for the East Egg and West Egg names? That’s some stretch. How about FSF’s Manhattan experience giving “East Side” and “West Side” as inspriration? Messrs. Lewis and Bedford as models for Jay Gatsby? More of a stretch. How about FSF’s knowledge and NYC proximity to Rockefeller and Astor as models? These are sophmore creative writing class C minus notions. And Ms. Solomon vexes us with some seriously conflicting arguments: “Westport, which had no society…perfect setting for this cross-cultural fusion of Wasps and Jews (and artists and business people)…” followed shortly by “[Westport] symbolized the Ivy League East that Fitzgerald felt had rejected him.” (Maybe his undergraduate time at Princeton didn’t count as “Ivy League East”).

    Ms. Solomon was clealy arguing that Westport was the model. And her arguments were lacking in any documentation. But she certainly painted our wonderful town as inspiring; I’m just not sure who or what we’ve inspired.

  11. Hi Dan! I’m just catching up on some of my emails/reading from the holidays and so wish that I’d been more in tune to this to suggest (in more of a timely manner) that the Westport Playhouse -or some other group – do a reading of a musical about F. Scott Fitzgerald that Justin was in while a student at University of Michigan. Justin actually played Fitzgerald and a U of Mich grad (Peter Mills) wrote the show, called “Pursuit of Persephone”. It follows F. Scott’s career beginnings while a college student at Princeton. I found it to be quite interesting, informative and really enjoyable. Since its a musical it wouldn’t be something that could be thrown together (even as a reading) all that easily or quickly, but Im wondering if you think I should reach out to someone in this regard? Rhonda Paul

    Sent from my iPhone