With the release of Baz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby still fresh in the minds of moviegoers, we’re given a look into the glamourous lifestyles of 20s prohibition-era flappers and millionaire playboys. Cocktails swirl in time to garden party socials, fit with swinging jazz bands, lavish outdoor scenery, and all the high class drama Long Island can muster. But in Baz Luhrman’s glitzy rendering of the Fitzgerald classic we also see a reflection of our own age, post Internet-bubble. Kanye West and Jay-Z rap about their ‘other, other Benz’, and with films such as “The Wolf Of Wall Street” set for 2013 release dates, our own age glistens with just as much an illusory economic boom.
But in order to see the character of a character in Gatsby himself, we must also then look at Fitzgerald’s rendering of an age steeped in liquor, jazz, and its reckless children, before the West Egg. Published and semi-forgotten in the wake of Gatsby’s eventual literary crowning is the hidden gem of Fitzgerald’s earlier novella, The Diamond As Big As The Ritz. Gatsby’s avarice and glamour are tempered here in secrecy and suspicion in the hidden world of Percy Washington’s family mountain, made entirely of a solid piece of diamond. Familiar Fitzgerald characters and characteristics are at play here, weaving Fitzgerald’s taste for the high life with a blend of modern fairy tale. Diamond As Big As The Ritz takes the class-obsessed, (if not shallow) characters that Fitzgerald later tempers (and ignites) for Gatsby and blends them with an unnerving quality that suggests the darker elements at work behind monetary success.
Throughout Diamond As Big As The Ritz, a malicious undercurrent swims. The idea of the diamond-mountain being hidden away itself carries with it dark secrets as to its origin, and more specifically, how its secret has been kept. The novella carries with it the atmosphere of Bluebeard, or the Grimm brothers’ austere moments as it progresses, but with a modern twist. We experience the fairy tale from a distance, instead of through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, as is common in traditional fairy tales. This is much in keeping with Nick Carraway’s ‘tourist’ approach in Gatsby, and narratively leaves us the outsider, with the capability to judge and ruminate on the story’s events. It also provides much suspense as the novella revs to a sickening speed, involving a quick escape near the climax.
The mountain’s residents, conditioned as such to accept the penalties of forming human connection, while retaining such a secret, are shockingly acclimated to their guests’ fate. Those who attend and accept invite at the luxurious lodge do not survive their stay, in an attempt to secure the massive secret of their success. A dark twist on the Eden mythos is at work here, working through the metaphorical price of innocence, and the distillation of happiness. A cold irony arises, as the reader is made aware that the characters of the diamond mountain have both everything and nothing, being financially capable of affording ludicrous luxuries and security beyond any normal man’s means, but inable to foster or maintain real friendships or relationships without being assimilated into the wealthy family. This sort of casualty brings to mind the darker underbelly that America’s ‘land of opportunity’ offers, much in the same way that few in Gatsby’s world can survive in tact after living so fully, “so well, for so long”. Echoing the lines of Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, engaging in her own pseudo class-war, the residents of the diamond mountain cannot live this large for too long, and surely enough the Eden archetype holds true.
The novella’s ending captures an intense and glorified trademark Gatsby moment, involving Percy Washington’s father (the mountain’s owner) reaching out to an unresponsive god, in a dazzling display of written prose that foreshadows the kind of lightning Fitzgerald bottles in his later work. Diamond As Big As The Ritz stands strongly in its own right, but in another way also provides interesting fodder for the mold Gatsby is set in afterwards in Fiztgerald’s career.
However, Fitzgerald does not improve upon the faults of his other novels here. The saving grace of his shallow characters remains that they reflect the shallowness of their desires and the caricatures they were created to be. But such as in the genre of fairy tale, the tale itself remains bigger than the sum of its characters. He has tilled the ground here for Gatsby to follow, and creates an interesting twist on the fairy tale motif for the jazz age that still holds relevance today. Its grandiose claims, austere mystery, and dramatic conclusion carry all the raw intensity of Fitzgerald’s best moments, compacted in a smaller volume. It reads with both the classic air and diction of Gatsby’s opening lines, but in a more reverent tone that echos with as much unsettling ambiance as it does mastery.
All in all, Diamond As Big As The Ritz, in its scant 100 or so pages is a brisk read. Its fairy tale elements are twisted in the author’s grip into an unsettling portrait of America, fitted with characters whose only desire lie in securing their fortune, else escape from it all together. Fitzgerald’s novella glitters amidst its cracks, for those who take the time to notice and unearth its deadly secrets.
- ‘A Diamond as Big as the Ritz & Other Stories’ – F. Scott Fitzgerald (emlinian.wordpress.com)
- A Novella Did You Say? (aworldinbooks.wordpress.com)
- Fairy Tales (yourbookspace.wordpress.com)