Lesson #266: Gatsby’s Misspelling

I was having a fight today, with my friend in the Texas capital. For the most part, we see things very similarly, despite his being a Texan, but today we were not seeing eye-to-eye on the value of graded readers. As a former EFL teacher, I think they’re excellent resources; he feels there are books that should be off-limits because the beauty of the language is obviously lost.

The book in question? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Now, Gatsby is one of my favourite books. The language is just gorgeous, but while I agree with him that all of the beauty of Fitzgerald’s language is lost in something like a graded reader, I disagree that it should be off-limits.

That’s not the point though. The point is, in our discussion about how mangled the last paragraphs of Gatsby are in the intermediate level graded reader, we were talking about the trouble of teaching receding orgiastic futures to 14-year-old native speakers, nevermind to readers whose grasp of English is more tenuous. And then this piece of information came out…

In the original version, the last paragraphs of the book read as follows,

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

But in the copy that I first read, and almost certainly my personal copy, it reads, “…the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year…”

According to this (VERY interesting) article by Matthew Bruccoli, the line was amended by editor Edmund Wilson, who assumed that the “unreliable about words” Fitzgerald had actually meant orgiastic.

So if you pick up a new copy of The Great Gatsby, this error has likely been fixed. And in my opinion, the use of the word orgastic makes the line that much better. But if you hear people misquoting it as orgiastic, you’ll know why.

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