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'Great Gatsby' Handwritten Manuscript Digitized by Princeton University

By Michael Mullins   |  

Princeton University's library has digitized F. Scott Fitzgerald's handwritten manuscript of "The Great Gatsby," which shows how the author developed characters and the plot through rewritten passages that gave way to a 20th century classic.

The digital manuscript, written in pencil, has notes in the margins and crossed-out lines, examples of Fitzgerald scrupulously self-editing. The manuscript was later typed by Fitzgerald’s secretary and sent to his editor, Maxwell Perkins.

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"You’re watching the author at work," Don Skemer, the university’s curator of manuscripts, told NJ.com. "It shows you how he edited his work and how it became the work we know.

"There’s a lot of text that isn’t in the final version," he added. "There are whole passages he left out that have never been published, until now. And it all sounds like Fitzgerald, because he wrote it."

Standard reading for most high school students, "The Great Gatsby," is consistently near the top of the lists of the greatest books of the 20th century, with upwards of 500,000 copies sold annually, according to NJ.com. 

Interest in the book has surged since an adaptation of the film was released in May, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.

According to Skemer, Fitzgerald's manuscript was uploaded to the website as part of a long term plan to digitize various literary works and had nothing to do with the film's release.

Anyone can view the manuscript for free on Princeton's website.

The release of the work online coincides with the university's centennial celebration of Fitzgerald's freshman year at Princeton in 1913. Before he was able to graduate, the famous author served in World War I and never returned to Princeton.

Skemer told NJ.com that the author died while reading an article in the school's alumni magazine about the football team.

"It’s a novel about a very American theme, the American dream of success and the dark side of success," Skemer said. "Fitzgerald talks about the economic cycles of boom and bust and we have that on our mind a lot these days."

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The online work includes two pages from an earlier version of the book, which reveals Fitzgerald originally planned to set the plot in the Midwest in the 1880s as opposed to New York City in the 1920s. The original version did not include the character Nick Carraway, the innocent Midwesterner who was lured into New York City's lavish world.

"He always said writing was hard work and that he put his soul into it and you can really see it," said Skemer. "He was constantly revising and revising."

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Princeton University's library has digitized F. Scott Fitzgerald's handwritten manuscript of "The Great Gatsby," which shows how the author developed characters and the plot through rewritten passages that gave way to a 20th century classic.
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