- Gathering the Embers
By F. Scott Fitzgerald. Edited by James L. W. West III. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017, 466 pp.
By F. Scott Fitzgerald. Edited by James L. W. West III, with an introduction by Jesmyn Ward and a foreword by Eleanor Lanahan. New York: Scribner, 2018, 192 pp.
By F. Scott Fitzgerald. Edited by James L. W. West III and Don C. Skemer. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018, 184 pp.
After twenty-seven years and seventeen volumes to date, the Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald is coming to a close. Last Kiss and The Great Gatsby: An Edition of the Manuscript are the antepenultimate and penultimate entries, respectively. In 2019, there will be a concluding eighteenth volume, a variorum edition of Fitzgerald’s most famous novel that receives a useful preview with this year’s new trade edition from Scribner featuring a warm and embracing Introduction from two-time National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward, the author of Salvage the Bones (2011) and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017). In something of a melancholy but inevitably controversial manner, the variorum edition will bring the Cambridge Edition full circle by superseding Matthew J. Bruccoli’s polarizing 1991 edition as the standard or sanctioned version of the 1925 classic. The circumstances that led to James L. W. West III replacing Bruccoli as the editor of the Cambridge Series after The Love of the Last Tycoon in 1993 [End Page 234] are well-known and often respectfully sidestepped by Fitzgerald fans out of respect for both scholars; we will revisit the contentious story one final time next year when The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review assesses the culminating Gatsby, but suffice it to say it remains a case study in ongoing debates about editorial principles and who has the right to decide the boundaries of “correcting” textual problems and determining authorial intent. For now, we focus on the value of Ward’s introduction and on the contribution of the manuscript edition West and Princeton University’s Don C. Skemer have made available this year both in print and online to our understanding of the novel. We also survey the contents of Last Kiss, which might paradoxically be described as a “crucial grab bag.” It gathers some of the more ephemeral Fitzgerald works that completists have scampered to track down over the decades, sparing us having to comb the Internet or utilize Interlibrary Loan for obscure publications such as Motor or Interim.
Ward is both a surprising and strategic choice for introducing the new trade edition. She joined the Scribner fold in 2016 with her edited essay collection The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, which features contributions from a leading array of multicultural writers, including Natasha Trethewey, Edwidge Danticat, and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers; so she is connected by imprimatur to the ghosts of Maxwell Perkins’s “sons.” As an African American woman, her advocacy is important to stressing the universal appeal of Gatsby and insulating it from the perception that it has no relevance to readers either of color or of other ethnic backgrounds. James Gatz, she writes, is a born outsider (read “Other”) who will never achieve his dream because it is “predicated on exclusion”: “Gatsby was doomed from the start. He’d been born on the outside; he would die on the outside” (ix). For readers who can see both sides of the debate over identity politics vs. universality—the issue of whether minority writers should spend their cultural capital speaking on behalf of their underrepresented cultures and promote undervalued texts, or whether they should exert the authority to address any canonized classic regardless of whether its authorship or content has overt racial relevance—Ward’s point about the “outside” is useful. It first and foremost illustrates the need to recognize that exclusion in American society often has as much to do with economics as race, although it would be folly, of course, to argue that race has no effect on striations in American society, or to insinuate even that it has less effect than the...