Last page of
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an ęsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Copyright © 1925 by Charles Scribner’s Sons
Copyright renewed 1953 by Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan


Ah, so you think orgastic is wrong, eh? You remember it as orgiastic?

Well, like most people, I had grown up with the original Scribners Library edition of The Great Gatsby from prep school, and had quoted from that last page for years at cocktail parties. But one day I noticed a new “corrected” edition at my local bookstore, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Jeffries Professor of English at the University of South Carolina. I naturally opened it to the last page.

I, too, was shocked to see this “orgastic,” and, turning to the editor’s notes, I found:

When Edmund Wilson re-edited the novel after Fitzgerald’s death, he tampered with the eloquent coda: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future . . . ” substituting orgiastic for orgastic.

In his essay “Getting It Right: The Publishing Process and the Correction of Factual Errors—with Reference to The Great Gatsby,” Bruccoli explains further:

. . . when Edmund Wilson edited The Great Gatsby in 1941 he emended the celebrated line “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future, that year by year recedes before us.” He subsequently explained: “The word orgastic, on the last page, I took to be Scott’s mistake for orgiastic—he was very unreliable about words.” But Fitzgerald’s intention is certain. Perkins had queried orgastic, and Fitzgerald replied that “it expresses exactly the intended ecstasy.” Wilson’s emendation to “orgiastic future” became the standard reading in later editions of the novel.

It’s fascinating, and it’s clear that Fitzgerald meant “orgastic” (of orgasms) rather than “orgiastic” (of orgies). It’s a sexier word, but the loss of this one i meant I had to change my whole cocktail-party rhythm.

You can find the entire essay at http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/essays/right.html.

Note on the text of The Great Gatsby Copyright © 1991, 1992 by Eleanor Lanahan, Matthew J. Bruccoli and Samuel J. Lanahan as Trustees under Agreement dated July 3, 1975, created by Frances Scott Fitzgerald Smith.

Passage from essay Copyright 1997, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.


Page last revised October 30, 1997.