Who really said it?
January 25, 2019 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm editing a commentary for publication, and I'm trying to track down the source of a quote that I believe has been misattributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby: “There’s a loneliness that only exists in one’s mind. The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”

I have searched the entire text of Gatsby and have not been able to find this quote, so I'm turning to the hivemind to keep me from the rabbit hole.

Participants in a 2013 discussion on Goodreads have concluded that the quote is in the introduction to one of the (many) editions of Gatsby, but they weren't able to pin down which introduction.

One clue: A Goodreads commenter who has the Penguin Classics Gatsby couldn't find "There's a loneliness ..." in Tony Tanner's introduction to that edition.
posted by virago to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Aaargh -- my first sentence should read:
I'm editing a commentary for publication, and I'm trying to track down the source of a quote referenced therein that I believe has been misattributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby ...
Who will edit the editors?
posted by virago at 9:50 AM on January 25, 2019


I don't think that Goodreads thread concludes that, just says that Goodreads says that. I think it is highly, highly likely that the answer is "some random person on tumblr".
posted by brainmouse at 10:20 AM on January 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


I just checked archive.org and got nothing.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2019


This exact question, on reddit, six years ago, with brief discussion concluding the quotation is misattributed.
posted by gauche at 10:41 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


A 2014 article HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ ends its run after five seasons mentions it as "An apocryphal quote going around".
posted by readinghippo at 10:44 AM on January 25, 2019


gauche: I saw that discussion on reddit – I came here because I thought that someone on AskMe might be able to drill down a little more. (My publication deadline won't accommodate an hours-long Google search, as much as I would enjoy it.)

Looks like it's brainmouse and readinghippo for the win!
posted by virago at 11:02 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


gauche: "This exact question, on reddit, six years ago,"
And also on Yahoo answers, also six years ago.

I think the actual source probably is "some random person on tumblr," but tumblr makes it very hard to search by date.

Twitter is easier. This quotation first appeared on twitter on April 15, 2012, with no attribution (though in quotation marks). It then appears in about twenty tweets without attribution.

It is then attributed to the Great Gatsby three days later, on April 18, 2012. This is likely a case of someone just attributing a quotation to some famous name.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:04 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is a paragraph that espouses a similar concept, but it's not Fitzgerald at all but Merwin from 1921.
posted by jessamyn at 11:07 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Agreed with "some random person". I did a date-limited Google search for "The loneliest moment in someone’s life". The first hits show up in 2004 (on a prefab essay website and on Pinterest, which didn't exist in 2004, so a caveat that Google search is hardly authoritative).

As far as language goes, I'd be surprised if it turns out to have been written by anyone known for their expressive ability. "Blankly" is such an anemic word, and "stare blankly" such a cliche. It doesn't feel like the kind of expression a strong writer would choose to hang such a central statement on. Also the first sentence doesn't flow smoothly into the next, the shift from "one" to "someone" is a little clumsy, and the use of the singular they was, while not unknown, frowned upon until pretty recently.
posted by trig at 11:15 AM on January 25, 2019 [7 favorites]


Like trig I also tried to limit Google Search results to mid-2011 to mid-2012. It gives a possible picture for what happened. My best guess (this part is speculation) is that this appeared on Tumblr sometime winter 2011-2012, moving between Tumblr and Pinterest. It was codified into a Goodreads quote on Feb 22, 2012 (Goodreads doesn't have the date of quote creation on its page, but the Google search results I linked at the beginning show that). Then as it continued to be a meme in Tumblr/Pinterest lands, people possibly saw the Goodreads quotation as evidence that yes, this is in the book somewhere! Thus by April 2012 you have the Twitter and Reddit questions - people see the quote, see the Goodreads citation, assume it's valid, but can't find it in the text.

(Side note, there are some false positives of earlier search results on Google that are caused by a mix of older date-time stamps of blog posts and presumably more recently updated sidebars/About Me language on those pages.)
posted by Sock Meets Body at 11:17 AM on January 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sock Meets Body: "It was codified into a Goodreads quote on Feb 22, 2012 (Goodreads doesn't have the date of quote creation on its page, but the Google search results I linked at the beginning show that)."

Great work, but I don't know how much faith to put in Google search result dates. It's true that Goodreads doesn't provide the date the quote was created, but it does give dates for when it was favorited. The earliest such date is July 6, 2012, and then they come pretty fast and furious: July 30, Aug 1, Aug 14, Sept. 13, Sept. 14, Sept. 29, etc. My guess is that the quotation was put up on Goodreads not long before July 6, maybe June or May.

My guess is that the earliest Twitter quotation I found is pretty close to the origin of the quotation: within a few days or (maybe) weeks, probably.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:00 PM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Somewhat similar from Ravi Zacharias in 2004: "The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it has just let you down." (Originally published 1990, new edition 2004, printing linked 2009--can't find an earlier edition right now so can't guarantee it appeared before 2009.)
posted by flug at 11:12 PM on January 25, 2019


Sally Koslow's Another Side of Paradise: A Novel (2018) includes a variation on part of this quote in speaking of Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, but she doesn't quote it, just writes in these words: "I am Scott's Kathleen, The Last Tycoon's seductress, excluded and silent outside the gate of her darling's empire. The loneliest moment in someone's life is when she watches her whole world fall apart, and all she can do is stare blankly." Maybe Koslow thinks she is quoting from Fitzgerald in an obscure way?
posted by mmw at 7:38 AM on January 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thanks, everyone, especially crazy with stars and mmw as well as brainmouse and readinghippo (eponysterical)! I've learned a lot about where quotes come from.
posted by virago at 12:46 PM on January 26, 2019


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