Most of us know a lot about the rise of The Great Gatsby in terms of its parallels to Fitzgerald’s own life, its initial lack of popular success, and its revival when chosen for reprinting as an Armed Forces edition for troops overseas during World War II. However, I would like to take a look at one of the less commonly discussed aspects of the book’s history, namely that of its cover art.
Fitzgerald commissioned the otherwise unknown Spanish artist Francis Cugat to create the cover art for Gatsby for a sum of $100 while the story was still being written, thus enabling Fitzgerald to incorporate aspects of the design into his work, resulting in the widely-examined significance of the cover to the novel. Initially, however, the cover of the book was designed very differently, instead depicting a small, rural town, probably in reference to one of the book’s many working titles, Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires.
Eventually, Cugat ditched the initial setting for a cityscape dominated by the piercing disembodied face that hovers on the covers of multiple editions of the book today. While the way in which Fitzgerald wrote the cover into the book is not, and probably never will be, certain, two leading theories have emerged, one of which is that the eyes on the cover are reminiscent of the billboard of optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in the valley of ashes. Others believe it inspired the description of Daisy Buchanan as the “girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs”. Although Fitzgerald initially seemed to be quite pleased with the cover art, when he presented the book to friends, the image immediately turned off prominent author and journalist Ernest Hemingway. Quite tellingly, this led Fitzgerald to claim that he didn’t like it so much anymore.
Today, the cover of Gatsby is hailed as one of the most iconic pieces of jacket art in American literature for its deeply symbolic connection with the novel and its raw and expressive style.