F Scott Fitzgerald’s “jazz-age” American novel has reached iconic status for its portrayal of enigmatic socialite Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is fabulously wealthy but craves one thing: the acceptance of his former sweetheart Daisy who is now married to coarse financier Tom Buchanan.
In this extract, narrated by Gatsby’s friend Nick Carraway, Gatsby is aggressively interrogated by Tom about his mysterious background, leading Gatsby to make a stunning revelation.
“That’s a great expression of yours, isn’t it?” said Tom sharply.
“All this ‘old sport’ business. Where’d you pick that up?”
“Now see here, Tom,” said Daisy, turning around from the mirror, “if you’re going to make personal remarks I won’t stay here a minute. Call up and order some ice for the mint julep.”
Gatsby’s foot beat a short, restless tattoo and Tom eyed him suddenly.
“By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man.”
“Oh, yes, I understand you went to Oxford.”
“Yes—I went there.”
“I heard you, but I’d like to know when.”
“It was in nineteen-nineteen, I only stayed five months. That’s why I can’t really call myself an Oxford man.”
Tom glanced around to see if we mirrored his unbelief. But we were all looking at Gatsby.
“It was an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice,” he continued. “We could go to any of the universities in England or France.”
I wanted to get up and slap him on the back. I had one of those renewals of complete faith in him that I’d experienced before.
Daisy rose, smiling faintly, and went to the table.
“Open the whiskey, Tom,” she ordered, “and I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself. . . . Look at the mint!”
“Wait a minute,” snapped Tom, “I want to ask Mr. Gatsby one more question.”
“Go on,” Gatsby said politely.
“What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow?”
They were out in the open at last and Gatsby was content.
“He isn’t causing a row.” Daisy looked desperately from one to the other. “You’re causing a row. Please have a little self-control.”
“Self-control!” Repeated Tom incredulously. “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out. . . . Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.”
Flushed with his impassioned gibberish, he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.
“I know I’m not very popular. I don’t give big parties. I suppose you’ve got to make your house into a pigsty in order to have any friends—in the modern world.”
“I’ve got something to tell YOU, old sport——” began Gatsby. But Daisy guessed at his intention.
“Please don’t!” she interrupted helplessly. “Please let’s all go home. Why don’t we all go home?”
“That’s a good idea.” I got up. “Come on, Tom. Nobody wants a drink.”
“I want to know what Mr. Gatsby has to tell me.”
“Your wife doesn’t love you,” said Gatsby. “She’s never loved you. She loves me.”
“You must be crazy!” exclaimed Tom automatically.
Gatsby sprang to his feet, vivid with excitement.
“She never loved you, do you hear?” he cried. “She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!”
“Sit down, Daisy,” Tom’s voice groped unsuccessfully for the paternal note. “What’s been going on? I want to hear all about it.”
“I told you what’s been going on,” said Gatsby. “Going on for five years—and you didn’t know.”
Tom turned to Daisy sharply.
“You’ve been seeing this fellow for five years?”
“Not seeing,” said Gatsby. “No, we couldn’t meet. But both of us loved each other all that time, old sport, and you didn’t know. I used to laugh sometimes.”—but there was no laughter in his eyes——” to think that you didn’t know.”
“You’re crazy!” he exploded. “I can’t speak about what happened five years ago, because I didn’t know Daisy then—and I’ll be damned if I see how you got within a mile of her unless you brought the groceries to the back door. But all the rest of that’s a God damned lie. Daisy loved me when she married me and she loves me now.”
Gatsby walked over and stood beside Daisy.
“Daisy, that’s all over now,” he said earnestly. “It doesn’t matter any more. Just tell him the truth—that you never loved him—and it’s all wiped out forever.”
She hesitated. But it was done now. It was too late. “I never loved him,” she said, with perceptible reluctance.