Literary scholar contributes to new 'Gatsby' film

April 23, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A Penn State literary scholar, James L. W. West III, the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, has played a key behind-the-scenes role as a consultant to the director and cast of the upcoming Warner Brothers film "The Great Gatsby."

The film, starring Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DeCaprio as Jay Gatsby, could lure a new audience to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, which tells the story of a mysterious millionaire named Jay Gatsby who tries to win back the love of his life, Daisy, by buying a mansion near her Long Island home and throwing outrageous parties.

West is general editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and published "Trimalchio: An Early Version of ‘The Great Gatsby’" in 2000. The film's director, Baz Luhrmann, contacted West to ask questions about historical features of the novel, such as the differences between the servants of Gatsby and the Buchanans, and the model of Gatsby’s car (it’s a Duesenberg, not a Rolls Royce.) The cast were required by Luhrmann to read "Trimalchio" as well as "The Great Gatsby."

West also is Director of the Penn State Center for the History of the Book and a faculty affiliate of The Center for American Literary Studies.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, DiCaprio's Gatsby seems more menacing and violent than his well-mannered literary counterpart. The Penn State scholar confirmed that a rougher version of Gatsby actually fits with Fitzgerald's original conception of the character. In "Trimalchio," Gatsby is “hiding a kind of violence in his nature, a ruthlessness, that you don't really see in 'The Great Gatsby,'" he said.

While "The Great Gatsby" was initially a commercial disappointment, the novel was later judged by some critics as Fitzgerald's finest work. In a letter to Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot called the novel "the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James."

Click here for West's online essay "What Baz Luhrmann Asked Me About The Great Gatsby."

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated April 30, 2013