The Great Gruesome Gatsby ConnectionSubmitted by jrd3820 on Sun, 03/16/2014 - 21:44
"Careless People raises the specter of a 1922 murder"
Special for USA TODAY p.m. EST March 1, 2014
On Sept. 20. 1922, the front page of every newspaper in New York was splashed with headlines about the gruesome murders of Edward W. Hall, minister of a church in New Brunswick, N.J., and Eleanor Reinhardt Mills, who sang in the church choir.
The New York Times reported that although both were married to other people, Hall and Mills "had long been friendly." Their artfully arranged bodies were discovered beneath a crabapple tree, with love letters scattered around them. No one was ever convicted of the crime.
This shocking event, Sarah Churchwell argues in her new book, Careless People, would inform F. Scott Fitzgerald's third novel, The Great Gatsby, published in 1925. Both Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, followed the scandalous case closely, which would later be described in the press as "the murder of the decade."
Although Gatsby's connection to what became known as the Hall-Mills case has been made previously in scholarly articles and passing references elsewhere, Churchwell explores in depth the thematic links between the plot of the novel and the case itself. The Hall-Mills affair did not directly inspire Gatsby, she notes, but the loose parallels include "mistaken identity, fraudulent pasts, social climbing and class resentment."
Plus, Hall is said to have given Mills a novel that is the same book Nick Carraway reads in Gatsby while Tom Buchanan is with his mistress, Myrtle. (Of course, both the real-life case and the novel share the aspect of infidelity ending in tragedy.)
The book is stuffed with wonderful and quirky cultural nuggets, too: 1922 was the year that the poet E.E. Cummings gave us the first use of "partied" as a verb; Listerine invented a malady called "halitosis" and urged women to use their mouthwash to combat it; the terms "brand name" and "mass market" were used for the first time. And Virginia Woolf jotted down notes for the novel that would become Mrs. Dalloway. It was the year that T.S. Eliot published The Waste Land, James Joyce published Ulysses, and the first English translation of Proust's Swann's Way was released.