The Great Gatsby: What Next?

I thought, with The Great Gatsby (1925) being a big film at the moment, there might be people out there who are looking for other novels of the 1920s to enjoy. I haven’t seen the film, and I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly impressed by the novel when I read it a decade ago, but I do know a thing or two about the 1920s.  So do a lot of you, of course, but I thought, nonetheless, in case people stumble across Stuck-in-a-Book wanting to read more from the 1920s, I create a little decade Stuck-in-a-Book best-of (clicking on the title takes you to a full-length review).  Most of these don’t have much in common with The Great Gatsby except for decade of publication, but – whisper it – I’d argue that they’re all better.

1920 : Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson
To see how the Bright Young Things were behaving on the British side of the channel – or, rather, the Bright Middle-Aged Things – you can do no better than Benson’s hilarious series Mapp & Lucia, featuring the warring heroines and their sniping, fawning, and eccentric associates.  But don’t be one of those people who starts with Mapp and Lucia, the fourth book – start at the beginning, with queen bee Queen Lucia.

1921 : The Dover Road by A.A. Milne
If you’ve never read any of AAM’s books for adults, or never read a play, or both, then this is a great place to start. It was P.G. Wodehouse’s favourite play, and is definitely one of mine too – an eloping couple stop for the night in a hotel, and curiously can’t leave in the morning… it’s all very funny, ingeniously plotted, and surprisingly poignant in the end.

1922 : The Heir by Vita Sackville-West
A short, powerful novella about a man who inherits a house unexpectedly, and slowly falls in love with it.  There is more passion in this tale than you’ll find in most romances, and if you can find the beautiful Hesperus edition, all the better.

1923 : Bliss by Katherine Mansfield
The link is a slight cheat here, since it goes to Mansfield’s Selected Stories, but I had to include KM somewhere. Her writing is modernist without being inaccessible, and she is one of a tiny group of authors whose short stories satisfy me whatever mood I’m in. Observant, striking, entirely beautiful.

1924The Green Hat by Michael Arlen
The British equivalent of The Great Gatsby, at least in terms of parties, glitz disguising melancholy, and an enigma of a central character.  Also rather better, I’d say – although a writing style which perhaps takes some getting used to.  I described it as ‘like reading witty treacle’.

1925 : Pastors and Masters by Ivy Compton-Burnett
If you’ve never tried any of Dame Ivy’s delicious, divisive fiction, this is a good litmus test. Set in a boys’ school, it’s Ivy-lite. If you like it, you’ll love her richer works – if you don’t, then you’ll know to steer clear forever.

1926 : As It Was by Helen Thomas
A biography/autobiography by the poet Edward Thomas’s wife (followed later by World Without End) – together they are exceptionally good accounts of marriage, in all its pitfalls and peaks, and subsequently its fragility.

1927 : The Love-Child by Edith Olivier
One of my all-time favourite novels, this tells of a spinster who inadvertently conjures her childhood imaginary friend into life. From this premise comes a very grounded narrative, which is heart-breaking as well as an increasingly clever manipulation of a fanciful idea.

1928 : Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay
Rose Macaulay is one of those bubbling-under authors – both from critical acceptance and middlebrow adoration. She deserves better in both categories, I think, and this delightful, thoughtful novel about a lightweight novelist and an aspiring highbrow woman is both funny and clever.

1929 : A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
You’ve probably heard of this essay, and you probably know its central tenet (about women needing an income and a room of their own, in order to write) but if you haven’t read it, you’re missing a real treat. If you find her fiction too flowery, this is a perfect place to sample her exemplary writing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed that quick whirl through the 1920s!  Why not do the same mini project for the 1920s – or any other decade – on your own blog?  Pop a link in the comments if you do…

32 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby: What Next?

  • May 24, 2013 at 2:47 am
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    I have not read Gatsby or any of the books on your list. I have read Winnie the Pooh by Milne which was made into a film by Disney. I have read 1920s books by Wodehouse, Waugh and Agatha Christie but you have managed to create an interesting list full of things I have not read.

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm
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      Winnie the Pooh is another excellent 1920s book, although I'm no fan of the Disney adaptation!

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  • May 24, 2013 at 5:17 am
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    I never liked The Great Gatsby but the incessant coverage in recent weeks has deepened that dislike into hatred. Please God, may it end soon!

    This is a great list and I'll add to it a few of my 1920s favourites:
    1920 – In the Mountains by Elizabeth von Arnim
    1924 – Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi and The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (a particularly excellent year)
    1925 – Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
    1926 – Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim
    1929 – The Gardener's Year by Karel Čapek and Another Part of the Wood by Denis Mackail (not to mention A.A.M.'s Toad of Toad Hall)

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:14 pm
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      Skylark was going to make it onto my list, but The Green Hat is so Gatsbyesque that I had to include it! I have to say, I do prefer both your choices for 1924 as books in general, though.

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  • May 24, 2013 at 10:02 am
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    Well, I'd like to add a couple of my favourites:

    Cheri and the Last of Cheri by Colette (1920 and 1926 I think)
    The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920 or 1921)

    It must have been a good decade because I have read many of these!!

    As for Gatsby, I love it very much – but I think perhaps it is not quite as great as everyone says – there are many greater works of literature I could think of!

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:15 pm
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      I toyed with Mysterious Affair at Styles – I did enjoy it, but it's not Agatha at her best by any means, is it? Just so very much going on!

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  • May 24, 2013 at 10:18 am
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    Rachel over at Book Snob has written a ripping review of the Great Gatsby film. It's a long time since I've read the book, but based on Rachel's review as well as my instincts, I am looking forward to seeing the film. I did see the Mia Farrow and Robet Redford version…

    I thought your comment on Michael Arlen's book was spot on. And can there ever be too much Katherine Mansfield? In all my years of reading I still regard her with awe – she is extraordinary.

    sue

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:15 pm
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      People have told me that the film is enjoyable whether or not you like the book, but… I'm trying to be much more sparing about what I see at the cinema nowadays, and I don't think it's going to make the grade!

      And, oh, isn't Katherine Mansfield sublime?

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  • May 24, 2013 at 11:56 am
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    Great selection of books! Love this blog! I did my dissertation on Fitzgerald and did a review of the film/book combo if you're interested take a gander! And agree with you that everyone needs to read A Room of One's own sucha gem! I actually (somehow)didn't realise Vita Sackville wrote so looking forward to this gem! Woolf's Orlando is another treat people might be interested in.

    Thanks for the great post! Nat

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:16 pm
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      Thanks so much :) I do love 1920s literature! Such an interesting mix of things going on.

      Vita S-W wrote some wonderful things – but The Heir is the best of those I've read, I do hope you track down a copy!

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  • May 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm
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    Better than Gatsby? Wash your mouth out with soap! ;-)

    Apart from Woolf and Mansfield, your suggestions are all new to me but they all sound well worth investigating. Thank you.

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:16 pm
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      Heehee ;) I bet I'll re-read Gatsby one day and love it, but I was left really underwhelmed when I did read it.

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  • May 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm
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    Love your blog! Thank you. Bizarrely I find myself terminally I'm just chuntering along in a very positive frame of mind, and my love of books increases daily helped along by your excellent way with words and reccomendations. Very much agree and embrace the Athill quote. And have to say that I do not like The Great Gatsby novel, not seen or plan to the film.

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm
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      Thank you, Fee!
      I'm so pleased that my blog is of interest and that you enjoy it. Thank you for your kind words :)

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  • May 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm
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    Though THE GREAT GATSBY is my second favorite book of all time – I re-read it every few years just to remind me what wonderful writing is all about – I do forgive you, Simon, for not sharing my enthusiasm. :)

    Several of the titles on your list look very intriguing – especially THE DOVER ROAD, THE HEIR and KEEPING UP APPEARANCES, so I'm adding them to my general Master List.

    I know I haven't been by in a while, but I promise to do better.

    P.S. I will not be seeing the new Gatsby movie just as I didn't see the Redford one.

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:18 pm
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      Thank you for forgiving me! I wouldn't be so forgiving if people were unkind about my favourite books ;)

      Do let me know if you track down any of those books – I love that you have a Master List!

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  • May 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm
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    I didn't like "The Great Gatsby" too much either, but I think I'll go and see the film. I must admit that I love Baz Luhrman's version of "Romeo and Juliet" so I'm looking forward to finding out what he made of "The Great Gatsby".

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:18 pm
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      I think he's the perfect director for the richness and decadence of the society, I'll give him that.

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  • May 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm
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    I had more trouble with the 1920s for Century of Books than I would have thought. I prefer other Fitzgeralds like Tender in the Night and The Beautiful and the Damned. Although don't those titles sound like bodice ripper romances?

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  • May 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm
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    You've got an interesting list there. Some of the books I was going to suggest have already been named by other people – but no-one seems have mentioned Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, or Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes, which are both fantastic, but in different ways.

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm
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      Both exceptionally good books, yes! I could have made a list of 100 1920s novels, I daresay, and didn't want to repeat authors – but Mrs Dalloway is sublime, and you know how much I love Lolly :)

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  • May 25, 2013 at 10:39 am
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    Funny coincidence, I'm reading Queen Lucia right now! I read your post as I was boarding a plane and was so excited because the book was waiting for me in my hand luggage. I made huge strides in my reading during the flight and am enjoying it very much! I also have the next two in the series waiting for me, in lovely Moyer Bell editions that look so nice on my shelves. :)

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    • May 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm
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      Oh, wonderful, Laura! And such a treat ahead of you – the books just get better and better as you go. (And there are four sequels by other authors too – two by Tom Holt and two by Guy Fraser-Sampson.)

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  • May 28, 2013 at 7:50 pm
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    Another suggestion: Evelyn Waugh's first novel, 1928, Decline and Fall.
    I love most of what he wrote, but especially the books up to Brideshead.His letters and diaries are wonderfully evocative, of the time and of the man.

    Didn't Orwell's Burmese Days come out in the late '20s too? The beginning of his varied and compelling fiction and non-fiction.

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    • June 8, 2013 at 10:41 am
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      I liked Decline and Fall, but found it a bit too mean – I prefer The Loved One, certainly, and Scoop.

      And I've been meaning to read more Orwell, thanks for the recommendation!

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  • June 4, 2013 at 2:03 am
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    No Harlem Renaissance writers?!

    May I nominate Jessie Redmon Fauset, who I think would fit right in to the Persephone catalogue. Her 2 1920s novels are There Is Confusion (1924) and Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral (1928). I've read the latter and definitely recommend it!

    Both of Nella Larsen's novels are also 1920s: Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). The latter would be most interesting to read paired with Plum Bun, since they both portray black women passing as white but with very different styles/outcomes.

    That's just the tip of the Harlem iceberg, but I'll restrain myself. ;) As it is, between your list and the comments, I'm now tempted to go on a 1920s kick! And this is as someone who's not really enamored w Fitzgerald.

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    • June 8, 2013 at 10:42 am
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      I don't even know what the Harlem Renaissance is, I'm afraid, Eva! But I've been meaning to read Nella Larsen for ages, so at least I knew of one of them ;)

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  • June 4, 2013 at 2:05 am
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    Oh, and a couple more North American suggestions, Willa Cather has several 1920s novels and while most L.M. Montgomery is earlier, one of my favourites, The Blue Castle was published in 1926!

    Seriously done now. ;)

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    • June 8, 2013 at 10:42 am
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      Thanks Eva! Recommendations always welcome – lovely to have you stop by :)

      Reply

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