Gatsby revisited

I guess you probably know that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, opens next month.

It may well be really good. The 1974 one wasn’t all that bad either. So I have been rereading The Great Gatsby and really savouring it – not for the plot, but for totally gobsmacking writing like this, which no film could ever really emulate:

For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes. All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the Beale Street Blues. while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust. At the gray tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low, sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor.

The hopeless comment of the Beale Street Blues…

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Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the book – but nor did I the first time I read it, because I had to teach it in an HSC some time in the 1970s.  Not absolutely convinced being on the HSC entirely does the book a favour either.  For the skeptics about the novel see Neither love nor loathing…a review of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Great Gatsby is a strange book for me to review. Exciting neither great love nor great loathing, even I find my own opinions of it rather dull. I read the story in a rather matter-of-fact frame of mind and finished it without feeling any great emotion or shock. The story simply began, padded along and then rolled serenely to a close. As I clapped the covers together, having finished, I didn’t feel any strong emotions, rather just an “oh, so that’s how it ends” reaction. It seems odd to me that a book such as The Great Gatsby should feel more alien to me than, say, a book set hundreds of years ago like Middlemarch or a story about a gender-shifting Duke like Orlando…but it does.

That reviewer, it appears, was reading for plot and life lessons. This time round I wasn’t. Rather like Melina Marchetta, whose introduction to the new Text film tie-in was published in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, I was rather savouring the brilliance of the language which can make even lists sing.

On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.

“He’s a bootlegger,” said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. “One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass.”

Once I wrote down on the empty spaces of a time-table the names of those who came to Gatsby’s house that summer. It is an old time-table now, disintegrating at its folds, and headed “This schedule in effect July 5th, 1922.” But I can still read the gray names, and they will give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby’s hospitality and paid him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him.

From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man named Bunsen, whom I knew at Yale, and Doctor Webster Civet, who was drowned last summer up in Maine. And the Hornbeams and the Willie Voltaires, and a whole clan named Blackbuck, who always gathered in a corner and flipped up their noses like goats at whosoever came near. And the Ismays and the Chrysties (or rather Hubert Auerbach and Mr. Chrystie’s wife), and Edgar Beaver, whose hair, they say, turned cotton-white one winter afternoon for no good reason at all.

Clarence Endive was from East Egg, as I remember. He came only once, in white knickerbockers, and had a fight with a bum named Etty in the garden. From farther out on the Island came the Cheadles and the O. R. P. Schraeders, and the Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia, and the Fishguards and the Ripley Snells. Snell was there three days before he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs. Ulysses Swett’s automobile ran over his right hand. The Dancies came, too, and S. B. Whitebait, who was well over sixty, and Maurice A. Flink, and the Hammerheads, and Beluga the tobacco importer, and Beluga’s girls…

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7 May 2013

Compare Schulz: Why I Despise The Great Gatsby.

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Australia’s population–a very long view indeed

Two items in recent days attracted my attention: Ancient Australia ‘deliberately’ settled  and  Record births, but wave of migrants push nation past 23m.

The first refers to a paper by Alan Williams published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Prehistoric Australia was settled by thousands, not just a handful, of humans, suggesting deliberate rather than accidental colonisation of the continent, according to new research.

Archaeologist Alan Williams, of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, reports his new model of population growth and decline today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“This paper presents a new reconstruction of prehistoric population of Australia,” says Williams, whose publication is part of a PhD he is completing.

He says previous regional models of Australia’s prehistoric population have suggested a small founding population of around 50 people.

“Typically, the founding population has always been thought to be quite low — literally a family group or a small band of people accidentally getting here, for example on a raft,” says Williams.

“But what this paper suggests is it probably would have taken 1000 to 3000 people to reach the numbers of Aboriginal people observed at time of [European] contact.”

He says the findings suggest Aboriginal colonisation of Australia could have been deliberate rather than accidental.

“A thousand plus [people] is not just a couple of guys falling off a raft — it’s something more than that.”…

Williams’ new population curve spans around 50,000 years, leading up to the time of European contact.

“I’ve accumulated radiocarbon data from every archaeological site I can get my hands on in Australia,” he says.

“We’ve got about 5500 dates, which is the most comprehensive data base of that sort in Australia.”

The findings support previous suggestions that the Aboriginal population peaked 500 years ago at around 1.2 million. The data also shows the population suffered an 8 per cent decline following contact with Macassans and Europeans after 1700.

Also supported are previous findings that population levels were low during the Pleistocene, but rose substantially in the Holocene…

Fascinating stuff.

The other story centred on the fact that some time last Tuesday night Australia’s population passed the 23 million. When I was born it was 7,234,904.

The Sydney Morning Herald print edition on Tuesday offered a rather wonderful graphic:

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pop2013a

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Note the shifting sources of migration (the orange circles) and the Indigenous population (yellow ochre). Compare Aboriginal population in Australia.

Experts estimate the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at 700,000 at the time of the invasion in 1788 [3]. It fell to its low of around 93,000 people in 1900, a decrease by almost 87%.

It will take until 2021 for population figures to recover. If the current annual growth rate of 2.2% remains stable Aboriginal people can be as many as 721,000 by 2021 [3].

A problem is though how many people identify themselves as Aboriginal. “There are a large number of people who don’t answer the Indigenous question in the Census,” explains Patrick Corr, Director of Demography with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) [4].

“We have approximately 1.1 million people whose Indigenous status we don’t know, so we have made some assumptions.” This uncertainty lets the ABS tag some figures as ‘experimental estimates’.