Would you read a book titled Trimalchio in West Egg? That was one of Fitzgerald’s proposed titles for The Great Gatsby:
Fitzgerald had completed the work when he announced its new title, Gold-hatted Gatsby, to his editor, Maxwell Perkins. But a few weeks later he’d changed his mind: While working to revise the final proofs, he was vacillating between Trimalchio and Trimalchio in West Egg, in ambitious reference to the banquet-thrower from the ancient text of Petronius’s Satyricon. He considered the rather literal Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires. In November he experimented, more jauntily, with On the Road to West Egg. He confidently proposed, and subsequently rejected as “too light,” The High-bouncing Lover. As the date of publication approached, the choices were whittled down to two—neither of which, Fitzgerald informed Perkins by letter, was quite right. “Gatsby is too much like Babbit [sic],” he wrote in January, alluding to the Sinclair Lewis novel, Babbitt, published three years before, “and The Great Gatsby is weak because there’s no emphasis even ironically on his greatness or lack of it.” As late as March he sent an emergency cable in an attempt to halt the presses, his spelling blurred by panic: “crazy about title—under the red white and blue’ stop whart would delay be.”
But there could be no more delays. The Great Gatsby was published, to the continued second-guessing of its creator, in April of 1925. “If the book fails commercially,” he griped upon its release, it would be primarily because “the title is only fair, rather bad than good.”
We dodged a bullet there, I think. I profess a fondness for “The High-bouncing Lover,” taken from the book’s epigraph —
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her:
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
— a verse from the mysterious Thomas Parke D’Invilliers.
In any case, the party-hardy Trimalchio, though very much with us in spirit throughout the book, is mentioned by name only here, in the seventh chapter, when Gatsby’s career as a world-class host is at its end. Gatsby’s affair with Daisy is in full swing, and he has dismissed his staff and replaced them with surly Wolfsheim minions. The atmosphere of this chapter is one of paralyzing heat, and Gatsby’s new staff are like demons of this new summer hell. The heat is “broiling,” and this time when Nick and Gatsby pay a call on the Buchanans, Daisy and Jordan no longer float in the breeze like fairy balloons; they are “silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans. ‘We can’t move,’ they said together.”
Daisy and Tom’s daughter makes a rare appearance. Typically, Daisy speaks to her in baby-talk, displays her to her friends, and then sends her away. The child seems to acquiesce in her own unreality:
“You dream, you. You absolute little dream.”
“Yes,” admitted the child calmly.
After much hot and confused conversation about how hot and confusing everything is, the group decides to head into town. As they wait for Daisy to get ready, Gatsby identifies the magical quality of Daisy’s voice with his famous line, “Her voice is full of money.” For Gatsby, that’s enough.
Gatsby and Daisy maneuver the situation so that they get to ride together in Tom’s car, while Nick and Jordan ride with Tom in Gatsby’s car, across the Hadean land of ash-heaps and into town. As luck would have it, Tom pulls into Wilson’s garage for a fill-up, and he and Wilson continue the car haggling that had begun earlier on the telephone. Tom is rude and Wilson is clearly desperate, finally revealing that he plans to sell up and head West with his wife, having “just got wised up to something funny in the last two days.” Tom pays for the gas. In the meantime, the travellers are watched by at least two sets of eyes: those of Myrtle Wilson, from inside the building, and those of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.
The party arrives in New York City and hires a parlor at the Plaza Hotel, where they can drink mint juleps and be hot in style. Fitzgerald lands some lovely figures of speech here: “my underwear kept climbing like a damp snake around my legs,” and “The telephone book slipped from its nail and splashed to the floor.” A wedding in the room below prompts reminiscences of Daisy and Tom’s wedding, where a certain Mr. “Blocks” Biloxi, a box-maker from Biloxi, Mississippi, fainted. The patent phoniness of “Blocks” Biloxi, whom no one can seem to place, turns Tom’s attention to Gatsby. Gatsby deflects Tom’s doubts about his being “an Oxford man” with a deft story about the war, and Nick experiences one of his many re-conversions to the cult of Gatsby: “I had one of those renewals of complete faith in him that I’d experienced before.”
Alas, the miracles are wasted on the simple-minded Tom. He has no choice but to bring the whole thing out in the open, accusing Gatsby of carrying on with his wife. Gatsby is so deluded by his own dream that he tries to strong-arm Daisy into not only admitted that she loves him, but that she always loved him and never loved Tom:
She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing — and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all.
No, this won’t end well.
And that doesn’t end the chapter, but I will stop here for now, because I have to brace myself for what is to come.