Whence that detached gaze came.

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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.

One of the earliest designs for Gatsby's cover.
One of the earliest designs for Gatsby’s cover.

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.

A later, more familiar sketch for Gatsby's cover.
Later and more familiar sketches for Gatsby’s cover.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Whence that detached gaze came.

  1. I wish I had thought of things the way you did. I love the use of the old covers of Gatsby as well. I think it is funny how people say “Don’t judge a book by its cover” if we never really do it anyway. I didn’t even notice the two ladies laying in her eyes until my teacher pointed it out to me, and I didn’t notice the color symbolism in the city lights until he pointed it out as well. when I pick up a book, I look at the cover for one second and then I quickly turn it over to read the summary, and so I have never really given myself the time to look at genuinely good covers. Once again I say I wish I thought of things with a broader mind like you do. Keep it up!

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  2. This is such a cool way to think of the all the stuff in Gatsby. I sure didn’t think of it this way, and i wish i had. You make great points, and they helped remind me the important tgings in Gatsby. I also realized that Fitzgerald was a somewhat weak man by being persuaded by Heningway to change the original cover. In the way i feel like Gatsby and Fitzgerald relate greatly to each other. everytime i read a book, i’l be sure to look deeper into a cover before reading it. this rocks and so do you 🙂

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