Getting It Right
 The Publishing Process and the Correction of Factual Errors – with Reference to The Great Gatsby

by Matthew J. Bruccoli

. . . I take it that the business of an editor is to edit. If he is unprepared to take the risks of backing his own judgments, he should peddle another line of goods.
Fredson Bowers

    A sense of the fundamental textual decencies is parceled out unequally at birth. Editors who are otherwise sound oppose the correction of factual errors in critical editions. Factors affecting the decision to emend authorial errors in works of fiction include the nature of the work, the author’s commitment to accuracy, the author-editor relationship, the conditions of publication, and the proper function of editorial intervention. Most of the examples discussed here are from The Great Gatsbyςbecause it is a widely published masterpiece with a history of textual maladies.1

    F. Scott Fitzgerald advised his daughter that it is the writer’s task to “make even a forlorn Laplander feel the importance of a trip to Cartier’s.” 2 Cartier is an upscale jeweler with branches throughout the world, but not in Lapland.3 A deliberate writer will endeavor to convey to readers the ambience, the sense of elegance and affluence at the Cartier establishment; but the reader who has been there and understands Cartier’s ranking in the hierarchy of jewelers will respond more complexly. The material of fiction is always more meaningful to initiated readers, and social realists build recognition effects into their fiction.

    The author of realistic fiction is committed to the way it was or the way it is. He gets facts and details right for the sake of accuracy itself and because the associations of the real place or real event enlarge the meanings of fiction. He does not restrict himself to actual settings or artifacts; but when he utilizes the real thing, some readers are expected to recognize it. Accuracy stimulates the pleasure of recognition and reinforces reader trust. The writer who knows what he is writing about assigns a car make to a character because it helps define the owner.4 The writer who knows what he is doing sets a scene in an actual hotel because it is an establishment where the action is plausible and because the characters are the sort of people who patronize that hotel: thus the Plaza Hotel in The Great Gatsby. The fiction writer is free to invent a setting; but when he stipulates a real place it ought to be all right.

    James Gould Cozzens wrote about characters whose lives were shaped by their professions; he had certain of his novels vetted by a doctor, an attorney, and an Air Force general because the validity of the characters and the truth of fiction would have been damaged by errors in professional activities. When a realist blunders, the error reveals something about the author’s command of his material; but a correctable error requires editorial attention because it damages the work. That Sinclair Lewis erred in the names of three fraternal organizations (Elks, Red Men, and Odd Fellows) in Babbitt is of biographical interest, but the errors are nonfunctional in the novel; the correct forms are necessary in a properly edited text.5 (A non-functional error is unintentional and serves no purpose in the work.) Theodore Dreiser was a great social historian and a great outsider. The impossible tennis score “twenty love” in An American Tragedy is easily remedied; but the description of Sondra “running to serve him” in the preceding sentence must be retained because correction would necessitate rewriting (i.e., running to return his serve).

    Careful readers and certain writers hold that an author who cannot be trusted in details may not be trustworthy at all. This doctrine has been declared by Nelson Algren:

You have to know how many bars there are in a jail cell. You can’t just say, “The guy’s in jail.” You’ve got to know. You’ve got to know there are different doorsςthere are solid doors, doors without bars. Some cells have one bar left out in the middle for a little shelf there. You have to know what that shelf is for. . . .You’re talking about a jail in Texasςwell, how do you know if the cot is iron or not, or if the blankets are cotton, or whether you get blankets, or whether you get a mattress or not. Some jails have mattresses. The reason I’ve never read Jack Kerouac is because the first book of his I picked up says in the first sentence that the guy was lying in a gondola. Well, I stopped to think: a gondola is a coal car and the bottom opens. You can’t lie in a gondola; you’ll hit the track. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what he talks about, so why read him?6

    Many critics and teachers of literature are disdainful of what they call “surface realism.” Saul Bellow has defended this aberration:

    The demands, editorial and public, for certified realities in fiction sometimes appear barbarous to the writer. Why this terrible insistence on factual accuracy? . . . How many stories does the Ansonia Hotel really have; and can one see its television antennae from the corner of West End Avenue and Seventy-second Street? What do drugstores charge for Librium? What sort of mustard is used at Nedick’s? Is it squeezed from a plastic bottle or applied with a wooden spoon?

    These cranky questions will be asked by readers, compulsively. Publishers know they must expect their errors to be detected. They will hear not only from the lunatic fringe and from pedants but from specialists, from scholars, from people with experience “in the field,” from protective organizations and from public relations agencies, from people who have taken upon themselves the protection of the purity of facts.7

Bellow states that “Publishers know they must expect their errors to be detected.” But the errors are not the publisher’s. They are authorial errors that the editorial staff failed to detect or which the author refused to correct. While dismissing the literary value of  “the purity of facts” and presumably expressing his superiority to factual accuracy in his own fiction, Bellow nonetheless assigns responsibility for correctness to the publisher in order to forestall complaints from lunatics, pedants, specialists, scholars, and other self-appointed guardians of factual purity. If correctness is the publisher’s responsibility when the work is initially published, then it is the textual editor’s concern when the work is subsequently deemed worthy of a critical edition or a “definitive edition” or a textbook edition.

    The editor of a critical edition is not compelled to retain a factual error because it derives from an authoritative documentςnot even if it is present in the manuscript. An accurate transcription of a text is usefulςand a facsimile is more usefulςbut a transcription does not serve the purpose of a critical edition: to provide an emended text that is as close to the published work the author intended as the evidence and the editor’s abilities permit.

    The concept of intention (original intention? final intention?) causes more vexation than any other term in the editorial lexicon. Editorial decisions based on the attempt to fulfill authorial intention may partake of the psychic. The editor claims to know what the author really meant while writing something else. Or the editor claims to have recovered what the author wrote in a lost document. The emendation process always involves the judgment, knowledge, and experience of each editor. The editor who knows nothing about cars will not notice a wrong model or a wrong mechanical detail. There are editors, critics, readers, teachers, and authors who believe that such things do not matter: that they have nothing to do with the meanings of the work and that people who care about them are “limited by facts.” In the case of an author who is on record as indifferent or opposed to factual accuracyςoften qualified by “mere”ςit may well be best to leave published errors alone; but they should be identified in the apparatus of a critical edition.

    Since the uninformed reader is not aware of being misinformed by incorrect details, it is possible to argue that such errors do not affect his response to the work of fiction. Most readers are indifferent to the correctness of details: people who do not notice much in life do not notice much in fiction. The noticer’s creed has been expressed in a movie review by Donald Barthelme:

Some of the duffelbags carried by the soldiers in Yanks, which has to do with Americans billeted outside a small English town in 1942-44, dangle limply from their owners’ shoulders as if containing maybe a couple of shirts or something, like no duffelbag that ever was. The duffelbag is always fatly packed. And Richard Gere, as a mess sergeant, wears his SFC’s stripes sewn to his cook’s whites, which is like having them sewn to his armsςare we to assume he’s insecure? And the trucks are wrong, Korean-era trucks rather than Second World War trucks, and the trumpet solo played on “I’ll Be Seeing You” at the film’s big New Year’s Eve dance couldn’t have been phrased before Art Farmer. God is in the details, as Mies van der Rohe put it.”8

    The publisher has a stake in the correctness and polish of the printed book; nevertheless, the publishing contract does not normally stipulate the extent of editing and checking to be provided. Editorial participation is largely a matter of custom and differs for every author, book, editor, and publisher. Certain authors come to depend on certain editors. Two Random House authors insisted on contracts permitting them to leave the publisher if their editor left the firm. The proliferation of “personal imprints”ςe.g., A Helen and Kurt Wolff Bookςhas resulted from close author-editor relationships.

    Maxwell Perkins provided the role model for the collaborating editor; but the legendary editorial relationships he developed at Charles Scribner’s Sons with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe were personalςnot contractual. Moreover, his working procedures with these authors varied. Wolfe was the only one of the three who required or permitted Perkins’s intervention in content and structure. Perkins’s authorityςand that of any house editorςwas and remains a matter of custom or informal understanding. The contract between Scribners and Fitzgerald for The Great Gatsby does not mention authorial or editorial responsibility for the correctness of the text.9 Unlike standard publishing agreements now in use, it does not include wording about “Delivery of Satisfactory Copy.”

    The initial publishing process includes some or all of these pre-galley stages:

  1. Reading of a proposal or work in progress by an acquisitions editorςwho may not become the in-house editor responsible for seeing the book through publication. This submission step is usually restricted to young writers or nonprofessional authors such as public figures.

  2. Editorial review of the complete typescript by the in-house editor, who may recommend revision or rewriting.

  3. Line-editing of the final draft: word-by-word editingςideally performed by the in-house editor. Queries are referred to the author. This step is now customarily omitted or combined with copy-editing.

  4. Copy-editing (house-styling) of the setting copy. This step is now routinely assigned to free-lance editors. The author should have the opportunity to check the copy-edited typescript before it goes to the printer.

From the evidence of books published during the last decade, it is clear that editorial stages have been skipped.

    The editor of a critical edition occupies the position of the original publisher’s editor and is obliged to do what the in-house editor should have done. The principal impediment to this arrogation of responsibility is, obviously, that the textual editor acts on the words of dead and defenseless authors, whereas the in-house editor was expected to query the author.

    It is useful to consider the editorial treatment of William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy by Random House. The Hamlet was first published in 1940; The Town in 1957; and The Mansion in 1959. When the three volumes were posthumously published as a set in 1964, The Hamlet carried the “Publisher’s Note” explaining that “a number of errors that occurred in either or both of the earlier editions” of that novel, as well as discrepancies among the three novels, had been corrected. Some of these emendations made by Random House editor Albert Erskine had been approved by Faulkner, though not published during his lifetime. Erskine’s statement of his policy for editing Faulkner is instructive: “I know that he did not wish to have carried through from typescript to printed book his typing mistakes, misspellings (as opposed to coinages), faulty punctuation and accidental repetition. He depended on my predecessors, and later on me, to point out such errors and correct them; and though we never achieved anything like a perfect performance, we tried.”10 Faulkner was a Nobel laureate, and his works merited special consideration at Random House.

    Authorial errors in fiction can be usefully categorized as internal errors (within the invented world of a work) or external errors (with reference to the real world which provides the setting for the fictional events).11 There are borderline or overlapping cases, of course. In The Great Gatsby, East Egg and West Egg are invented (although based on Great Neck and Manhasset Neck); therefore, the reader or editor is not concerned with the accuracy of Fitzgerald’s descriptions of East Egg and West Eggςeven though their relative locations on Long Island seem to shift. Such matters should be noted in the editorial apparatus. But when the characters enter New York City the details should be right: the Queensboro Bridge and Central Park should be situated where they actually are.

    The decision to emend an internal error can be especially difficult because the distinction between intentional and unintentional inconsistencies may not be as clear as for verifiable external errors. In Chapter I of Gatsby, set in June 1922, Nick records Daisy’s statement that her daughter is three years old. Daisy married Tom Buchanan in June 1919. If her child is indeed three, then Daisy was nine months pregnant at her wedding. Fitzgerald fumbled his chronology or his arithmetic. The emendation of Pammy Buchanan’s age to two is necessary in Chapter I. Determined exegetes might challenge this correction by arguing that the age of the child is a clue, planted by Fitzgerald, to Daisy’s premarital promiscuity or even an indication that Pammy is Gatsby’s child. Gatsby was sent overseas in 1917 after he “took Daisy one still October night,” and Tom did not meet Daisy until 1919; therefore, the father of her three-year-old child would have had to be some unidentified loverςperhaps the man who sired Miss Quentin in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It might also be asserted that Daisy’s mistake in Pammy’s age was intended by Fitzgerald to indicate her indifference to the child. It is not the function of a critical edition to accommodate promiscuous speculation.

    Further evidence for assigning this crux to authorial inadvertence is provided by Nick’s indication in Chapter IV that, in the summer of 1922, Daisy has been married for five years (“He had waited five years and bought a mansion”) and for four years in Chapter VI (“After she had obliterated four years”). Retaining such inconsistencies for the sake of fidelity to the text that Fitzgerald did not see through the pressςbecause he was in Europeςis misplaced piety. Even if he had had the opportunity to approve final proofs, the chronological inconsistencies would still require editorial correction.

    The good editor restricts intervention to treatable cruces. Possible internal discrepancies which can be accounted for by sensible readers are best left alone. In Chapter I Nick states that he “came back from the East last autumn”ςthat is, after Gatsby’s murder which occurred around Labor Day 1922. At the end of the novel Nick remarks that he remembers the events of the day of the murder “after two years.” This inconsistency is probably Fitzgerald’s lapse; but it is possible that he added a year to the time scheme to account for the time Nick was writing the book. It can therefore be retained.

    External errors include details that are wrong without reference to the work of fiction. The textual editor has the responsibility to emend obvious factual blunders that can be corrected by simple substitution. The oculist’s billboard in Gatsby’s valley of ashes was presumably invented, but Fitzgerald’s description includes a correctable error: “The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic–their retinas are one yard high.” Impossibleςthe retina is at the back of the eye. Fitzgerald meant pupils or irisesςprobably irises. It has been objected that emendation here is improper because the editor is required to decide between two possible correctionsςpupils or irises. Surely the selection of either correct reading is preferable to perpetuating a distracting error. It has also been claimed that since the novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, this and other factual errors characterize him and bear on the question of his reliability. According to this perverse argument, some of Nick’s errors may have been deliberately planted by Fitzgerald and should therefore be retained. Even so, it is impossible to explain why Nick’s misuse of retinas would have been meaningfully intended by Fitzgerald. The claim that the author liked the sound of retinas is unsatisfactory.

    Nonetheless, putative authorial errors can be deliberate and meaningful. A geographical crux in Gatsby involves the character named Biloxi who is “from Biloxi, Tennessee.” There is no Biloxi in Tennessee, although there is a Biloxi in Mississippi. It is remotely possible that Fitzgerald was characterizing this rather grotesque figure by means of a geographical absurdity. Such problems are especially tricky in editing Fitzgerald. Because he had trouble getting things right, it is difficult to credit him with purposefully getting things wrong. Gatsby’s claim to be a midwesterner from San Francisco indicates his autobiographical unreliability; but some readers have regarded it as Fitzgerald’s blunder.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic fictions are accepted as documents of American social history by readers all over the world in every printed language. The Great Gatsby is read as a record of American life at a certain time and place. Gatsby is more real than Calvin Coolidge. Much of the force of Fitzgerald’s fiction results from his delicate sense of time and place and from his ability to evoke them. Yet his fiction is peppered with errors of geography, errors of chronology, errors of arithmetic, and inconsistencies. John O’Hara was overgenerous in crediting Fitzgerald with the qualities of his own fiction: “F. Scott Fitzgerald was a right writer. . . . The people were right, the talk was right, the clothes, the cars were real. . . . ”12 Fitzgerald knew very little about cars: the most famous vehicle in American fiction, Gatsby’s car, is not identified. Fitzgerald’s reputation as the historiographer of the Twenties is distorted. He was a social novelist whose work became social history, but he was not a documentary or reportorial realist.

    It is misleading to assign Fitzgerald’s errors to simple carelessness or indifference to factual accuracy. His fiction provides ample evidence of his deliberate use of selected data, and his working drafts reveal a controlled concern for correct detail. For the account of Nicole’s Paris shopping expedition in Tender Is the Night, the typed draft reads “jackets of kingfisher blue and autumnal red from (name)”; Fitzgerald inserted “Hermes” – the appropriate store for such purchases. The errors in Fitzgerald’s published texts resulted from complicated factors having to do with the conditions of his writing and the pressure of publication, as well as his memory.

    Fitzgerald was an impressionistic realist who evoked, by means of style and tone, the emotions or sensory responses associated with places and events. Note that he specified the requirement of making the Laplander “feel the importance.” He explained that “in Gatsby I selected the stuff to fit a given mood of ‘hauntedness’ or whatever you might call it, rejecting in advance in Gatsby, for instance, all the ordinary material of Long Island, big crooks, adultery theme and always starting from the small focal point that impressed meςmy own meeting with Arnold Rothstein for instance.”13 Racketeer Rothstein was the sourceςnot the modelςfor Meyer Wolfshiem, and the novel refers to events and personages that 1925 readers were expected to recognize. The references to the Rosenthal murder are rightςFitzgerald correctly identifies Becker and the Metropoleςbut the novel is not a register of Twenties celebrities. Only three other well-known figures of the time are mentioned in the text, none of whom actually appears in the novel: Joe Frisco, Gilda Gray, and David Belasco.

    Fitzgerald did attempt to verify certain details he needed for Gatsby. In December 1924 he asked Maxwell Perkins for factual help:

Montenegro has an order called The Order of Danilo. Is there any possible way you could find out for me there what it would look likeςwhether a courtesy decoration given to an American would bear an English inscriptionςor anything to give verisimilitude to the medal which sounds horribly amateurish.14

Perkins’s reply has not been found. There is no place on the actual medal for engraving, but in the novel it has to be engraved to establish Gatsby’s war record. No sane editor would now attempt to emend the printed description of Gatsby’s medal. In the same letter to Perkins from Rome discussing his revision plans, Fitzgerald boasted: “Anyhow after careful searching of the files (of a man’s mind here) for the Fuller Magee case and after having had Zelda draw pictures until her fingers ache I know Gatsby better than I know my own child.” Gatsby’s unspecified financial activities were loosely based on the 1922 collapse of the brokerage firm of E. M. Fuller and William F. McGee. Fitzgerald did not have access to newspaper files at Valescure and Rome when he wrote and revised Gatsby. Even if they had been available, it probably would not have made a difference. He was not a born researcher or compulsive checker; his notion of research was to talk to someone. He clearly expected and needed more editorial vetting than he received. Whether the editor of a critical edition now has the duty to perform Perkins’s work properly is more a matter of conviction than of theory. It may well be impossible to rescue inexperienced critics and inattentive readers from the licentious embrace of error.

    Nevertheless, it is reckless to assume that an author does not know what he is doing. The revised typescript for “The Captured Shadow” has a note in Fitzgerald’s hand: “Please follow all spelling throughout, even when wrong.” The instruction refers to passages from the juvenile hero’s writings, which include deliberate Fitzgerald misspellings. Such evidence provides a corrective to groupies who find gratification in the image of Fitzgerald as an irresponsible (i.e., drunk) writer who spontaneously generated flawed masterpieces.

    Fitzgerald’s reputation for ignorance and carelessness has fostered two pernicious editorial-critical positions. The first of these is that since he did not strive for factual accuracy, the correctness of his texts does not matter. The second position – which compounds error – is that editors are free to alter anything in Fitzgerald’s work that seems problematical. Thus when Edmund Wilson edited The Great Gatsby in 1941 he emended the celebrated line “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future, that year by year recedes before us.” He subsequently explained: “The word orgastic, on the last page I took to be Scott’s mistake for orgiasticςhe was very unreliable about words.”15 But Fitzgerald’s intention is certain. Perkins had queried orgastic, and Fitzgerald replied that “it expresses exactly the intended ecstasy.16 Wilson’s emendation to “orgiastic future” became the standard reading in later editions of the novel.

    Fitzgerald is regarded as an orthographic phenomenon on the basis of his manuscripts (“yatch,” “apon,” “facinating”); but he not unreasonably expected proofreaders to do their jobs. Because of the scores of misspellings and usage errors printed in This Side of Paradise (1920), Fitzgerald’s career was launched with the stigma of irresponsibility that remained attached to him and has influenced editorial thinking about his work. Wilson described that first novel as “one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published (a fault which the publisher’s wretched proof-reading apparently made no effort to correct).”17 Assessing the extent of Scribners’ responsibility for textual details is crucial to establishing policy for re-editing Fitzgerald. Wilson’s application of illiterate is hyperbolic; nevertheless, Fitzgerald never developed the habit of accuracy. His sense of direction was unreliable, and his arithmetic was approximateςespecially in calculating the ages of characters. These handicaps do not diminish his geniusςwhich did not depend on navigation or mathematicsςbut they blemished his texts and provided ammunition for detractors. Fitzgerald was not indifferent to the errors in his published work and their effect on his reputation. In 1920 he urged Perkins to provide corrections for the London edition of This Side of Paradise, and in 1938 he proposed a new edition of the novel with a “glossary of absurdities and inaccuracies.18

    Despite the close personal and literary relationship between Fitzgerald and Perkins, the now-legendary editor did not take responsibility for vetting Fitzgerald’s facts. Charles Scribner, Jr., the former head of the house, has written: “Perkins was totally useless when it came to copy editing or correcting a text. Such details meant very little to him. Consequently, the early editions of books such as Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were textually corrupt to a nauseating degree.”19 Since the edited setting-copy typescript and the master galleys for Gatsby have not survived, there is no record of the queries Perkins or other Scribners editors may have made for Fitzgerald to consider. After noting Perkins’s “aristocratic disregard for details so long as a book was right in its feeling for life,” Malcolm Cowley concluded that the errors in Tender Is the Night (1934) “had a cumulative effect on readers and ended by distracting their attention.20 In editing the 1951 restructured edition, Cowley made some ninety corrections of spelling, usage, geography, and fact. When Hemingway read the emended edition he noted errors Cowley had not caught, commenting that: “None of the above is important unless everything is important in writing.”21

    Fitzgerald was a painstaking reviser who polished his work through multiple drafts and layers of typescript; but because of his custom of revising and rewriting in proof, the production stages of Gatsby and Tender were rushed. In Gatsby, which was rewritten in galleys, Scribners’ ability to make proof queries and Fitzgerald’s power to make final corrections were restricted by the time required for boat mail between New York and Rome or Capri. If Fitzgerald received the reset galleys or page proofs, it was after the book had been published.

    It would be perjury to testify that Fitzgerald was committed to minute particularity, but he was not indifferent to the errors in his books. His own annotated copy of Gatsby includes some forty revisions and corrections; the military units in which Nick and Gatsby served are altered; the hotel in Louisville is corrected from the Muhlbach to the Sealbach (i.e., the Seelbach).22 Corrections were made in the second printing of the novel at Fitzgerald’s instruction: St. Olaf ’s (i.e., St. Olaf ) was moved from northern to southern Minnesota.

    Fitzgerald’s and Perkins’s policies on factual errors in Gatsby are revealed by their responses to the errors spotted before publication by Ring and Rex Lardner.23 In March 1925, Perkins informed Fitzgerald:

I had to make two little changes: there are no tides in Lake Superior, as Rex Lardner told me and I have verified the fact, and this made it necessary to attribute the danger of the yacht to wind. The other change was where in describing the dead Gatsby in the swimming pool, you speak of the “leg of transept.” I ought to have caught this on the galleys. The transept is the cross formation in a church and surely you could not figuratively have referred to this. I think you must have been thinking of a transit, which is an engineer’s instrument. It is really not like compasses, for its rests upon a tripod, but I think the use of the word transit would be psychologically correct in giving the impression of the circle being drawn. I think this must be what you meant, but anyway it could not have been transept. You will now have page proofs and you ought to deal with these two points and make them as you want them, and I will have them changed in the next printing.24

Perkins’s remark that he “ought to have caught this on the galleys” probably indicates that the first set of galleys sent to Fitzgerald had editorial queries.

    Ring Lardner sent Fitzgerald corrections on 24 March:

. . . I acted as volunteer proof reader and gave Max a brief list of what I thought were errata. On Pages 31 and 46 you spoke of the newsstand on the lower level of the Pennsylvania station and I suggested substitute terms for same. On Page 82, you had the guy driving his car under the elevated at Astoria, which isn’t Astoria, but Long Island City. On Page 118 you had a tide in Lake Superior and on Page 209 you had the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul running out of the La Salle Street Station. These things are trivial, but some of the critics pick on trivial errors for lack of anything else to pick on.25

Fitzgerald probably received this letter on Capri around 1 Aprilςten days before publication at the earliestςby which time the book was printed. His response to Lardner’s list was sent to Perkins on publication day:

Now as to the changes I don’t think I’ll make any more for the present. Ring suggested the correction of certain errataςif you made the changes all rightςif not let them go. Except on Page 209 old dim La Salle Street Station should be old dim Union Station and should be changed in the second edition. Transit will do fine though of course I really meant compass.26

“– if not let them go” indicates that Fitzgerald was not opposed to making these corrections but that he did not regard them as crucial. Had he been sufficiently concerned, he would have cabled spot-corrections.

    The identification of the Chicago railroad station was miscorrected at Scribners to “Union Street station” in the first printingςand was re-corrected to “Union Station” in the second printing of August 1925. It is characteristic of Fitzgerald that he set one of his most admired passages in the wrong station. He brilliantly evoked the sense of the station at Christmas time, the emotions Nick associated with “One of my most vivid memories”; but he did not remember which Chicago station it was.

    The “ Astoria” reading is a laboratory specimen of Fitzgerald ’ s geographical lapses and provides a test case for the rationale of factual emendation in his work. The Queensboro Bridge crosses the East River between Manhattan’ s 59th Street and Long Island City (which is not a city, but a section of the borough of Queens). The Queensboro Bridge does not connect with Astoria (another section of Queens). It might be imagined that Fitzgerald liked the sound of “Astoria” and deliberately substituted “Astoria” for “Long Island City”; or that “Astoria” was an oblique reference to John Jacob Astor and therefore to the history of great American fortunes. Other frivolous suppositions might be offered. The best explanation is that Fitzgerald did not know the name of the section of Queens he had frequently driven through between fall 1922 and spring 1924ςan explanation that is consistent with other place-name confusions in his work. There is no evidence that Fitzgerald purposefully moved the bridge or meaningfully renamed the sections of Queens. The fictional characters are in the real borough of Queens crossing the real Queensboro Bridge into the real borough of Manhattan.27 Fitzgerald did not make the correction in his marked copy of the novel.

    Lardner’s recommended relocation of the waiting room in Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station is not mandatory. The main waiting room was on the street level; but the Long Island Railroad had a ticket counter below the main waiting room, which Nick refers to as “the lower level.” Moreover, correction here cannot be accomplished by simple substitution. Errors integral to syntax or action are unemendable. Gatsby is described as “beating his way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam-digger and a salmon-fisher.” There are no clams or salmon in Lake Superior, but emendation to “a deckhand and trout-fisher” would be improper. Fitzgerald’s readings must be retained here at the risk of misinforming readers about the fishery resources of the Great Lakes.28

    The textual editor’s responsibility is to preserve the author’s intention: to forego the enticements of emendation. The rule that he edits best who emends least is generally sound. However, this conservative rationale is vitiated by editors who, in the cause of textual fealty, prohibit emendation of correctable factual errors when based on editorial inference. But what is the basis for correcting “obvious misprints”? The detection of a typo often requires editorial inference.

    Fidelity to errors because they have become part of the fabric of a classic work of fiction is simplistic. The anti-emendation school argues that it is sufficient to report factual errors in the textual apparatus of a critical editionςin the back of the book. But a minuscule portion of the readers of any classic reads it in a critical edition. Virtually all readersςand most teachersςare tranquilly unaware that there are good or bad, emended or unemended texts. Nonspecialists assume that all copies are created equal. These innocents require a properly corrected text because they do not recognize errors when they read them; and even if they are puzzled by what they read, they do not know what to do. Textual apparatus is no help to a reader who does not have access to it or does not even know that it exists. An edited textςespecially for a popular classicςshould be potentially useful to all readers. The current protocol for the publication of critical editions is to format them so that the text pages can be reprinted without apparatus in affordable “clear texts” or “readers’ editions.” Consequently, when the text alonςomitting all notesςis reprinted without back matter, readers are unable to determine if errors have been corrected or retained.

    The best policy is to include, in all printings of the edited text, concise textual notes at the bottom of the pages identifying the most troublesome cruces. Yet publishers fear that this procedure scares off readers. So we beat on, goats against the current. . . .


This essay was originally printed in Essays in Honor of William B. Todd, comp. Warner Barnes and Larry Carver (Austin: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, 1991), pp. 40-59.


  1. See the introduction and back matter in the critical edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, ed. Bruccoli (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991). Return to text.

  2. Undated letter to Scottie Fitzgerald, in The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Andrew Turnbull (New York: Scribners, 1963), p. 101. Return to text.

  3. Fitzgerald was probably referring to the original Paris store on the Rue de la Paix or to the Manhattan store on Fifth Avenue. Return to text.

  4. For John O’Hara on Buicks and Franklins, see “The Rider College Lectures,” in An Artist Is His Own Fault, ed. Bruccoli (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977), pp. 14-15. Return to text.

  5. The corrections were made in the fourth printing with Lewis’s approval after a reader sent Harcourt, Brace a list of errors and inconsistencies. However, errors tend to perpetuate themselves, and these errors reappeared in subsequent editions. See Bruccoli, “Textual Variants in Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt,” Studies in Bibliography, 22 (1958), 263-68. Return to text.

  6. Conversations with Nelson Algren, ed. H. E. F. Donohue (New York: Hill & Wang, 1964), p. 154. Return to text.

  7. Saul Bellow, “Facts that Put Fancy to Flight,” The New York Times Book Review (11 February 1962), p. 1. Return to text.

  8. Donald Barthelme, “The Current Cinema,” The New Yorker, 55 (1 October 1979), 104. Return to text.

  9. This contract is facsimiled in Bruccoli, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press,1972), pp. 336-37. Return to text.

  10. The Faulkner Concordance Newsletter, no. 3 (May 1974), 2-3. See also Erskine to Faulkner, 6 February 1959, in Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection, Vol. 11: The Letters, ed. Louis Daniel Brodsky and Robert W. Hamblin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984), pp. 250-51. Return to text.

  11. See G. T. Tanselle, “External Fact as an Editorial Problem,” Studies in Bibliography, 32 (1979), 1-47. Return to text.

  12. John O’Hara, “In Memory of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Certain Aspects,” New Republic, 104 (3 March 1941), 311. Return to text.

  13. 1937 letter to Corey Ford; Letters, pp. 550-51. Return to text.

  14. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, ed. Bruccoli  with the assistance of Judith S. Baughman (New York: Scribners, 1994), p. 92. Return to text.

  15. To George M. Schieffelin, 26 February 1965; see Bruccoli, “The Perkins/Wilson Correspondence about Publication of The Last Tycoon,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1978, pp. 63-66. Return to text.

  16. 24 January 1925; A Life in Letters, p. 94. Return to text.

  17. Edmund Wilson, “The Literary Spotlight,” Bookman, 55 (March 1922), 22. Return to text.

  18. See letters of July 1920 and 24 December 1938; Dear Scott/Dear Max, ed. Jackson Bryer and John Kuehl (New York: Scribners, 1971), pp. 31 and 250-52. Return to text.

  19. Charles Scribner, Jr., In the Company of Writers (New York: Scribners, 1991), p. 44. Return to text.

  20. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night: With the Author’s Final Revisions, ed. Malcolm Cowley (New York: Scribners, 1951), p. xiii. Return to text.

  21. 10 November 1951; Neville Collection. Return to text.

  22. The Great Gatsby, ed. Bruccoli; pp. 143-154.  Return to text.

  23. Rex Lardner was a Liberty editor and read the novel in typescript when it was being considered for serialization; the Liberty letter declining serial rights is dated 4 December 1924. Ring Lardner read Gatsby in proof as a matter of friendship. Return to text.

  24. Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 97. Return to text.

  25. Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duggan (New York: Random House,1970), pp. 154-55. Return to text.

  26. 10 April 1925; Dear Scott/Dear Max, pp. 99-100. Return to text.

  27. The Cambridge University Press critical edition of The Great Gatsby retains the unemended readings “retinas” and “Astoria” because two of the Trustees of the Fitzgerald estate exercised their contractual right of approval and overruled the third Trustee, the General Editor. He became increasingly ashamed of his capitulation and subsequently resigned as editor of the edition. Return to text.

  28. In 1926 Ernest Hemingway sent Fitzgerald a parody description of The Sun Also Rises: “The hero, like Gatsby, is a Lake Superior Salmon Fisherman. (There are no salmon in Lake Superior)” (Bruccoli, Fitzgerald and Hemingway [New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994], p. 59). But the lake trout may have been locally known as “land-locked salmon.” Return to text.

    Fitzgerald Centenary Comments

    This page updated December 8, 2003.
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