Thursday

Apr. 10, 2014

The Cats

by Ann Iverson

To find such glory in a dehydrated pea
on the tile between the stove and fridge.

To toss the needs of others aside
when you simply aren't in the mood for affection.

To find yourselves so irresistible.

And always in a small spot of sun,
you sprawl and spread out the pleasure of yourselves

never fretting, never wanting to go back
to erase your few decisions.

To find yourself so remarkable
all the day long.

"The Cats" by Ann Iverson from Come Now to the Window. © Laurel Poetry Collective, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The first law regulating copyright in the world was issued in Great Britain on this day in 1710, making it possible for authors to truly own their own work. It read, in part:

"... the Author of any Book or Books already Printed, who hath not Transferred to any other the Copy or Copies of such Book or Books, Share or Shares thereof, or the Bookseller or Booksellers, Printer or Printers, or other Person or Persons, who hath or have Purchased or Acquired the Copy or Copies of any Book or Books, in order to Print or Reprint the same, shall have the sole Right and Liberty of Printing such Book and Books for the Term of one and twenty years ..."

It's the birthday of labor leader Dolores Huerta, born in the small New Mexico mining town of Dawson (1930). In the early 1960s, Huerta — along with Cesar Chavez — founded the United Farm Workers union.

It's the birthday of journalist and newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, born in Budapest, Hungary (1847). He came to this country at the age of 17, and joined the Army. After he was discharged, he went to St. Louis, became a reporter, and was elected to the State Legislature. Then he began to buy newspapers — including the New York World. Later, he endowed the Columbia University School of Journalism and established annual Pulitzer prizes for literature, drama, music, and journalism.

On this day in 1912 the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England with 2,228 passengers and life boats for only half that many.

It was on this day in 1925 that F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby was published (books by this author). Fitzgerald believed he had written a great book, and he was disappointed by its reception. He wrote to his friend Edmund Wilson: "Of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about."

Fitzgerald was already famous when The Great Gatsby was published. His first novels, This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922), sold well. Scott and his wife, Zelda, were celebrities — a beautiful, fashionable, social couple. After watching them ride down Fifth Avenue on top of a taxi, writer Dorothy Parker said, "They did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun." Shortly after the publication of The Beautiful and the Damned, Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: "I want to write something new — something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned."But first he wrote a play, The Vegetable, and it was a flop. To pay off his debts, he churned out magazine stories. He wrote to a friend: "I really worked hard as hell last winter — but it was all trash and it nearly broke my heart as well as my iron constitution." He had high hopes for a new book. He wrote to Perkins: "In my new novel I'm thrown directly on purely creative work — not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere yet radiant world."

The Fitzgeralds' extravagant New York lifestyle was weighing on them, and in the spring of 1924, the couple and their young daughter headed to Europe, where Scott was looking for somewhere quieter and less expensive to work on The Great Gatsby. (Fitzgerald's idea of a quiet lifestyle was relative; of his 1926 visit to the Riviera, he wrote: "There was no one at Antibes this summer, except me, Zelda, the Valentinos, the Murphys, Mistinguet, Rex Ingram, Dos Passos, Alice Terry, the MacLeishes, Charlie Brackett, Mause Kahn, Lester Murphy, Marguerite Namara, E. Oppenheimer, Mannes the violinist, Floyd Dell, Max and Crystal Eastman ... Just the right place to rough it, an escape from the world.")

After a stay in Paris, they headed south to the town of Valescure on the French Riviera, which Fitzgerald called the "hot sweet south of France." In those days, the Riviera was cheap, and they rented a villa on a hillside. He described the Mediterranean: "Fairy blue [...] and in the shadow of the mountains a green belt of land runs along the coast for a hundred miles and makes a playground for the world." They went to fancy dinners with rich friends, listened to jazz on the phonograph, and lay in the sun drinking. Fitzgerald worked on The Great Gatsby, writing to Perkins that the south of France was idyllic and that he would finish the novel within a month. Zelda was not so happy; Scott was too busy with his novel to pay attention to her, and their daughter was watched by a nurse. She distracted herself by flirting with a French naval officer, and the Fitzgeralds' marriage deteriorated.

They moved to Rome that fall, where Scott made final edits on The Great Gatsby. He couldn't decide on a title — he considered On the Road to West Egg, Gold-hatted Gatsby, Among the Ash-Heaps and Millionaires, The High-bouncing Lover, Trimalchio, and others. While the book was in publication, Fitzgerald suddenly came up with Under the Red White and Blue, and Perkins had to convince him that it was not worth delaying publication and that they should stick with The Great Gatsby.

When The Great Gatsby was published on this day in 1925, it cost $2.00. The reviews were mostly good, but sales were bad — after the initial run of 20,000 copies, there was a second printing of 3,000 copies in August, but some of those copies were still in the warehouse when Fitzgerald died 15 years later. He told Perkins that he thought there were two reasons for the book's failure: that the title wasn't very good, and that there were no strong female characters and women were the ones buying fiction. A few years before he died, Fitzgerald went from bookstore to bookstore trying to find copies of his books for his lover Sheilah Graham, but he couldn't find any.

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald wrote: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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