Have you read “Trimalchio in West Egg”?

Filed under: Fun — marcia at 8:35 am on Thursday, May 22, 2008

I hate coming up with a title for something I’ve written! I hate it, and I am really terrible at it. Of course, a title isn’t more important than your writing. However, I think the title is an important part of the work.

So I am completely amused and surprised by the, well, terrible titles F. Scott Fitzgerald had for his works. I can understand his frustration that publishers were changing the titles against his wishes. But, man, I think they ultimately did him a service.

This Side of Paradise started life as The Education of a Personage. The Beautiful and Damned was at one stage due to be called The Flight of the Rocket. But the biggest struggle of all was over the book we know as The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald wanted to call it Trimalchio or, later, Trimalchio in West Egg. There’s a reference in the story to Gatsby beginning to forfeit his role as a modern Trimalchio, but that isn’t much help to those who have never heard of Trimalchio. I’d assumed he must be some walk-on part in a lesser known play by Shakespeare, who more than any other has been pillaged for titles. In fact he’s a character in the Satyricon (by Petronius) who, Gatsby-like, is constantly entertaining on a vulgarly lavish scale. The publishers, Scribner’s, insisted on Gatsby. On the eve of publication Fitzgerald demanded that Trimalchio be reinstated. But too late. The book had already been advertised with the title that it now bears.

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-marcia

1 Comment »

Comment by Grogged

May 22, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

I find titles to be like band names. They should be catchy, somewhat revealing as to what the reader (or for the sake of music, listeners) should expect, and not exceedingly long. Sometimes it helps to sit down and just drum up imaginary titles. Make a list. I have a few of those lists crammed into my notebooks and scrawled out on random slips of paper. Most remain unused, but occasionally I find the title itself inspiring enough to create a story in support.

No, the title should never be the best part of any work, but it better be good enough for someone to continue reading.

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