Revisions are finished. At last. If you're waiting for an answer to an email, for a book to be mailed or, pretty much, anything else, there's a chance that life can gradually begin to resume its normal contours.
I'm exhausted, pleased and relieved. Now it's back to one of those windows of waiting for reactions. In the meantime, I found myself turning, as I have many times before, to F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. The tales of his revisions are legendary - right down to massive rewriting on the page proofs (which modern publishing contracts, I note, promise to charge back to the novelist).
I have a second-hand, yellowing edition of Scibners's The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1963) which I often return to and aimlessly poke through. This time I was looking specifically for letters that had to do with the revision process, and I came across this letter to Max Perkins, dated February 18, 1925, when Fitzgerald was staying in Capri:
After six weeks of uninterrupted work the proof is finished and the last of it goes to you this afternoon. On the whole it's been very successful labor.
(1) I've brought Gatsby to life.
(2) I've accounted for his money.
(3) I've fixed up the two weak chapters (VI and VII).
(4) I've improved his first party.
(5) I've broken up his long narrative in Chapter VII.
It was strangely heartening to see his list. Now, I'm not suggesting for a nanosecond that I've written a Gatsby but I had my own problems to solve in this draft, and now I've a similar list of things accomplished to show for my efforts. The process is universal, indeed. Still, most writers never stop worrying and noticing flaws, and in a 1925 letter to Edmund Wilson, Fitzgerald can't resist lamenting what he'd missed:
The worst fault in it, I think the BIG FAULT: I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe. However, the lack is astutely concealed by the retrospect of Gatsby's past and by blankets of excellent prose that no one has noticed it - tho everyone has felt the lack and called it by another name.
Wilson, however, didn't seem as worried as Fitzgerald. In an anonymous 1926 essay entitled "The All-Star Literary Vaudeville" (available in the Library of America's excellent forthcoming Edmund Wilson collection) which entertainingly surveys the whole landscape of 1920s American fiction, Wilson - after indicating general disdain for the contemporary American novel - considers Fitzgerald an exception:
Scott Fitzgerald, possessing from the first, not merely cleverness, but something of inspired imagination and poetic literary brilliance, has not until recently given the impression of precisely knowing what he was about; but with The Great Gatsby and some of his recent short stories, he seems to be entering upon a development in the course of which he may come to equal in mastery of his material those novelists whom he began by surpassing by vividness in investing it with glamor.
Unfortunately, by 1940, in another letter to Perkins, Fitzgerald was fretting about what would become of his mastepiece.
Would the 25-cent press keep Gatsby in the public eye - or is the book unpopular? Has it had its chance? Would a popular reissue in that series with a preface not by me but by one of its admirers - I can maybe pick one - make it a favorite with classrooms, profs, lovers of English prose - anybody? But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much!
Within months, Fitzgerald would be dead in Los Angeles. His notes for The Last Tycoon were edited by Wilson for publication the following year.