Thursday, August 31, 2006

Shades of the Jazz Age

A good article at the International Herald Tribune site that ties in the history of Long Island and Fitzgerald.

In "Gatsby," Fitzgerald's narrator and stand-in, Nick Carraway, says, "It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America." But West Egg was a natural home for the Fitzgeralds. Unlike blue-blooded Sands Point, the model for East Egg in the novel, Great Neck was where the prosperous but unpedigreed could find a welcome and a comfortable life.

Zelda Fitzgerald liked to call their home their "nifty little Babbitt house," a nod to the 1920 Sinclair Lewis novel of small-town life.

Broadway stars such as Groucho Marx, Basil Rathbone and George M. Cohan lived in Great Neck in the 1920s; so did P.G. Wodehouse and Ring Lardner, whose house overlooking Manhasset Bay was a frequent haunt for Fitzgerald.

And the peninsula was home to colorful characters like the bootlegger Max Gerlach and the stockbroker Robert Kerr, who have been suggested as possible models for some of Jay Gatsby's character traits.

More on some of these characters later, but an interesting background on the area and the times. However, keep in mind that "You can never quite make Fitzgerald's fiction match up to reality," West, the Penn State professor and a conference speaker, said. "And you shouldn't try."

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