I just dug up my copy of The Great Gatsby, full of my highlighting and marginalia from junior year. I can’t think of a friend who didn’t read it for American Lit in high school, and I’ve only met one person who didn't love its clarity and beauty. I looked at the dedication: “Once again to Zelda.” But the epigraph took me by surprise.
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
—Thomas Parke D’Invilliers
Plenty of books have interesting epigraphs, as Kayla recently pointed out, but I couldn’t believe I had missed this one completely. The poem’s inclusion does make sense, I suppose: the whole book is about self-interested characters trying to charm each other. And there’s a visible shift across the novel from Gatsby’s aloofness, with his showy library (“Knew when to stop too—didn’t cut the pages,” a guest at one of his parties declares), all the way to his final, embarrassingly honest determination to “fix everything the way it was” in order to woo Daisy once more. So the D’Invilliers quotation is a fitting epigraph—another green light leading Gatsby on.
But then I decided to look up Thomas Parke D’Invilliers, figuring he was a nineteenth-century author or a British dignitary. I was wrong. D’Invilliers is a pseudonym for Fitzgerald himself. I was struck by this subtle trick. A pseudonymous epigraph per se isn't all that dishonest, but F. Scott could just as easily have left it unsigned. The same name had surfaced in This Side of Paradise, actually: in that case, D’Invilliers was a stand-in for F. Scott's friend, John Peale Bishop, and in the novel he was an aspiring poet. In real life, as is implied in The Great Gatsby's placing his pseudonym next to several lines of verse, he became an accomplished poet.
But the line's been blurred here: is the Thomas Parke D'Invilliers of the epigraph supposed to refer to John Peale Bishop or Fitzgerald himself? If the author had chosen to call his masterwork Gold-Hatted Gatsby or The High-Bouncing Lover, this question might have been an even more significant one. As it is, it reads like a fumbling attempt on the author's part to erase his presence in the book.
Nick says of himself, “I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.” I didn't always buy that Nick was a fully reliable narrator, given the way he often withheld information from me. So I wonder: if Fitzgerald has been playing with truth from that prefatory page of the book, what else has remained buried under his words, undermining or contradicting the seemingly straight trajectory of his story? Few interpretations of The Great Gatsby have succeeded in aligning F. Scott Fitzgerald with any of the characters within, so why does a trace of him linger here? And if Nick is a liar by virtue of his author's manipulations, then how much has he, as a narrator, been hiding from us about the American Dream?