The Late Gatsby and the Public Domain

Happy New Year in advance!

This year, a huge collection of literary and artistic works will make their way into the US public domain. Interestingly, this is only the second time this has happened automatically since 1978, when the 1976 Copyright Act came into effect (the first time was January 2020). Garin Pirina at Mental Floss explains how this happened:

Sonny Bono—who was not only half of Sonny and Cher but also the mayor of Palm Springs, California from 1988 to 1992 and a California congressman—is one person who is responsible The Great Gatsby‘s public domain delay. In 1998, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extends the Copyright Act of 1976. The latter established that works like The Great Gatsby would become public domain 75 years after the date of publication. But the 1998 act extended the publication date for certain works—namely: those published with a copyright notice and with copyright renewed—20 more years, giving The Great Gatsby a total of 95 years copyright protection. (The bill was named for Bono when the law passed the House of Representatives shortly after his death in 1998.)

On 1 January 2021 then, 95 years after its publication, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) will be released into the public domain. This also means that F. Scott Fitzgerald and S. A. Klipspringer’s The Late Gatsby (self-published by Shay K. Azoulay) will finally be eligible for publication in the USA—it is currently only available overseas, where different copyright laws prevail. First published in 2012 (three years after Quirk Books’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), The Late Gatsby flew largely under the radar. In the trend of the many literary mashups before it, The Late Gatsby combines Fitzgerald’s text with Klipspringer’s to reveal a dark secret: Jay Gatsby was a vampire. 

Like all good Gothic stories, The Late Gatsby presents itself as a found original manuscript, the ‘true’ and suppressed version of The Great Gatsby:

Recently discovered among F. Scott Fitzgerald’s papers, this early and uncensored version of “The Great Gatsby,” written in collaboration with S. A. Klipspringer, was suppressed for almost 90 years. Fitzgerald’s editor encouraged him to publish a fictionalized and sanitized version, claiming that “humanity just isn’t ready… to face this shocking truth.” Fitzgerald’s collaborator refused to cooperate and removed his name from the published work. He planned to publish his own version of the events but soon disappeared under unexplained circumstances. Now, for the first time, you may read the complete, horrific, and true story of Jay Gatsby.

And as a suspiciously named ‘A. Springer’ suggests on Goodreads, the Gothic fun only continues:

I was a little skeptical when I first saw this book – there have been too many unsuccessful mashups of classics and vampires/ zombies/ werewolves trying to ride the wave of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies– most of them written quickly and without much thought of the final product. This book, however, is very different.

The combination of The Great Gatsby and a vampire narrative works beautifully – you could even argue that the original text of Gatsby is hiding the fact that he is actually a vampire and that this book could have been written like Pale Fire – keeping the complete original text and only pointing out in footnotes where the “truth” about Gatsby is revealed (this also made me think of The New Annotated Dracula, where the footnotes imply that the author was under the influence of Dracula himself, who made him change details to protect his true identity). But I digress.

The book itself does a great job of fitting each character into the classic vampire structure, and has tons of winks at classic vampires. For example – the list of Gatsby’s guests at the start of chapter 4 includes many names from classic vampire novels and movies – Varney the Vampire, Renfield, Carmilla, and Arabellagosi (a reference to Bella Lugosi) – it’s fun to try and figure out where they’re all from.

The plot, as in the original, is pretty gripping, with added scenes of suspense and a lot of humor. All in all, it’s a fun quick read and I hope the note on Amazon regarding more books from Fitzgerald & Klipspringer isn’t just a joke. “Tender is the Flesh” sound like a great book.

If you’re looking to celebrate The Great Gatsby‘s voyage into the public domain, or just to revisit the text in a fun way, you can pick up an e-copy of The Late Gatsby on Amazon UK and (hopefully) very soon on the US Kindle store.

CODA: Late Gatsby‘s vivid red jacket is in contrast with Great Gatsby‘s rich blues, but as artist Francis Cugat’s early cover sketches show, in a parallel universe we might well have had a more bloody cover:



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