The Great Gatsby has long been synonymous with Long Island, but what if Fitzgerald’s true inspiration came from time spent here in Connecticut?
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald honeymooned for five months in the summer of 1920 in a modest gray house in Westport, Connecticut. This experience had a more profound impact on both of their collective works than any other place they lived. Having just married and recently kicked out of some of New York City’s finest hotels, they were, for the first time, nestled in their very own place, albeit for only five months. It was a time Fitzgerald called “the happiest year since I was eighteen.” He had, after all, just achieved success with his first novel, This Side of Paradise, and was suddenly awash with money.
The Fitzgeralds lived a wild life of drinking, driving, and endless partying while living in suburban Connecticut. As it happens, living near the beach, they were neighbors to a larger-than-life reclusive multi-millionaire, F.E. Lewis, who hosted outrageously extravagant parties. Could there be a connection between Lewis and the mysteriously elusive Gatsby?
Historian and author Richard “Deej” Webb of the recently published book, ConnectBoats Against the Current: The Honeymoon Summer of Scott and Zelda: Westport, Connecticut 1920, and film director Robert Steven Williams of the soon to be released documentary, Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story, examine this possibility and more.
Webb grew up in Westport, CT a few doors down the street from where F. Scott and Zelda lived some forty years earlier. As a boy, he could see the gray house the Fitzgeralds rented from his bedroom window. When Webb learned that author Barbara Probst Solomon, who grew up across the river from the F.E. Lewis estate, proposed in a forgotten 1996 New Yorker article that Westport was the real setting for Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, he was stirred to actively research her claim.
Webb and Williams researched the Princeton Archives where many of Fitzgerald’s papers are kept. They interviewed dozens of Fitzgerald scholars, met with Scott and Zelda’s granddaughter, Bobbie Lanahan, and tracked down a descendant to the original publisher, Charles Scribner III, to find answers to many unresolved questions.
Webb’s book and William’s documentary tell the local history behind the famous novel and its tragic hero, debunking the long-held belief The Great Gatsby was solely inspired by the Fitzgeralds’ time in Great Neck, Long Island.
The Graduate Institute’s Writing and Oral Traditions Master’s Program Lecture Series and The Hamden Arts Commission are pleased to welcome author Richard “Deej” Webb and filmmaker Robert Steven Williams for an evening exploring Connecticut’s influence on The Great Gatsby, one of America’s greatest literary classics.
Please join us for this exciting event on September 13, 7-9 pm at the Thornton Wilder Auditorium in Hamden, CT.
Richard Webb is an author, documentary filmmaker, and historian. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, he is an award-winning educator who has taught at the high school and university level for more than 25 years. Considered a local authority on Westport history, he is a consultant to the local historical society and has given talks throughout Fairfield County on the Fitzgeralds’ time in Westport.
Robert Steven Williams is an executive producer, director, writer, and editor. His production company, Against the Grain Productions, produces short videos primarily for not-for-profits including the Paul Newman charity Safe Water Network and Land is Life, an organization that safeguards the rights of indigenous people around the world. Williams’ debut novel, My Year as a Clown, released on the indie imprint Against the Grain Press and distributed by INscribe Digital, received the silver medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards in 2013. It has sold more than 5,000 digital copies and reached number one on three Amazon charts.