Fitzgerald began outlining his third novel in June 1922. He longed to produce an exquisite work that was beautiful and intricately patterned, but the troubled production of his stage play The Vegetable repeatedly interrupted his progress. The play flopped, and Fitzgerald wrote magazine stories that winter to pay debts incurred by its production. He viewed these stories as all worthless, although included among them was "Winter Dreams", which Fitzgerald described as his first attempt at the Gatsby idea. "The whole idea of Gatsby", he later explained to a friend, "is the unfairness of a poor young man not being able to marry a girl with money. This theme comes up again and again because I lived it".
In October 1922, after the birth of their only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, the Fitzgeralds moved to Great Neck, New York, on Long Island. Their neighbors in Great Neck included such newly wealthy personages as writer Ring Lardner, actor Lew Fields and comedian Ed Wynn. These figures were all considered to be nouveau riche (new rich), unlike those who came from Manhasset Neck, which sat across the bay from Great Neck—places that were home to many of New York's wealthiest established families. This real-life juxtaposition gave Fitzgerald his idea for "West Egg" and "East Egg". In the novel, Great Neck (Kings Point) became the "new money" peninsula of West Egg and Port Washington (Sands Point) became the "old money" East Egg. Several Gold Coast mansions in the area served as inspiration for Gatsby's estate including Land's End, Oheka Castle, and the since-demolished Beacon Towers.
While living on Long Island, the Fitzgeralds' enigmatic neighbor was Max Gerlach.[e] Purportedly born in America to a German immigrant family,[f] Gerlach had been a major in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, and he later became a gentleman bootlegger who lived like a millionaire in New York. Flaunting his new wealth,[g] Gerlach threw lavish parties, never wore the same shirt twice, used the phrase "old sport", and fostered myths about himself including that he was a relation of the German Kaiser. These details about Gerlach inspired Fitzgerald in his creation of Jay Gatsby.
During this same time period, the daily newspapers sensationalized the Hall–Mills murder case over many months, and the highly publicized case likely influenced the plot of Fitzgerald's novel. The case involved the double-murder of a man and his lover on September 14, 1922, mere weeks before Fitzgerald arrived in Great Neck. Scholars have speculated that Fitzgerald based certain aspects of the ending of The Great Gatsby and various characterizations on this factual incident.
Inspired by the Halls–Mills case, the mysterious persona of Gerlach and the riotous parties he attended on Long Island, Fitzgerald had written 18,000 words for his novel by mid-1923 but discarded most of his new story as a false start. Some of this early draft resurfaced in the 1924 short story "Absolution". In earlier drafts,[h] Daisy was originally named Ada and Nick was Dud, and the two characters had shared a previous romance prior to their reunion on Long Island. These earlier drafts were written from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator as opposed to Nick's perspective. A key difference in earlier drafts is a less complete failure of Gatsby's dream. Another difference is that the argument between Tom Buchanan and Gatsby is more balanced, although Daisy still returns to Tom.
Work on The Great Gatsby resumed in earnest in April 1924. Fitzgerald decided to depart from the writing process of his previous novels and told Perkins that he was intent on creating an artistic achievement. He wished to eschew the realism of his previous two novels and to compose a creative work of sustained imagination. To this end, he consciously imitated the literary styles of Joseph Conrad and Willa Cather. He was particularly influenced by Cather's 1923 work, A Lost Lady, which features a wealthy married socialite pursued by a variety of romantic suitors and who symbolically embodies the American dream. He later wrote a letter to Cather apologizing for any unintentional plagiarism. During this period of revisions, Scott saw and was influenced by early sketches for the book's cover art. Soon after this burst of effort, work slowed while the Fitzgeralds moved to the French Riviera, where a marital crisis soon developed.[i]
Despite his ongoing marital tension, Fitzgerald continued to write steadily and submitted a near-final version of the manuscript to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, on October 27. Perkins informed him in a November letter that Gatsby was too vague as a character and that his wealth and business, respectively, needed a convincing explanation. Fitzgerald thanked Perkins for his detailed criticisms and claimed that such feedback would enable him to perfect the manuscript. Having relocated with his wife to Rome, Fitzgerald made revisions to the manuscript throughout the winter.
Content after a few rounds of revision, Fitzgerald submitted the final version in February 1925. Fitzgerald's alterations included extensive revisions of the sixth and eighth chapters. He declined an offer of $10,000 for the serial rights to the book so that it could be published sooner. He received a $3,939 advance in 1923 and would receive $1,981.25 upon publication.
Fitzgerald had difficulty choosing a title for his novel and entertained many choices before reluctantly deciding on The Great Gatsby, a title inspired by Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. Previously he had shifted between Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, Trimalchio, Trimalchio in West Egg, On the Road to West Egg, Under the Red, White, and Blue, The Gold-Hatted Gatsby, and The High-Bouncing Lover. The titles The Gold-Hatted Gatsby and The High-Bouncing Lover came from Fitzgerald's epigraph for the novel, one which he wrote himself under the pen name of Thomas Parke D'Invilliers.
Fitzgerald initially preferred titles referencing Trimalchio,[j] the crude upstart in Petronius's Satyricon, and even refers to Gatsby as Trimalchio once in the novel. Unlike Gatsby's spectacular parties, Trimalchio participated in the orgies he hosted but, according to literary critic Tony Tanner, there are subtle similarities between the two characters. By November 1924, Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins that he had settled upon the title of Trimalchio in West Egg.
Disliking Fitzgerald's chosen title of Trimalchio in West Egg, editor Max Perkins persuaded him that the reference was too obscure and that people would be unable to pronounce it. Zelda and Perkins both expressed their preference for The Great Gatsby, and the next month Fitzgerald agreed. A month before publication, after a final review of the proofs, he asked if it would be possible to re-title it Trimalchio or Gold-Hatted Gatsby, but Perkins advised against it. On March 19, 1925, Fitzgerald expressed enthusiasm for the title Under the Red, White, and Blue, but it was too late to change it at that stage. The novel was published as The Great Gatsby on April 10, 1925. Fitzgerald believed the book's final title to be merely acceptable and often expressed his ambivalence with the name.
The artwork for the first edition of The Great Gatsby is among the most celebrated in American literature and represents a unique instance in literary history in which a novel's commissioned artwork directly influenced the composition of the text. Rendered in the contemporary Art Deco visual style, the artwork depicts the disembodied face of a Jazz Age flapper with celestial eyes and rouged mouth over a dark blue skyline. A little-known Barcelonan painter named Francis Cugat—born Francisco Coradal-Cougat—was commissioned by an unknown individual in Scribner's art department to illustrate the cover while Fitzgerald was composing the novel.
In a preliminary sketch, Cugat drew a concept of a dismal gray landscape inspired by Fitzgerald's original title for the novel, Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires. Discarding this gloomy concept, Cugat next drew a divergent study which became the prefiguration to the final cover: A pencil and crayon drawing of a flapper's half-hidden visage over Long Island Sound with scarlet lips, one celestial eye, and a single diagonal tear. Expanding upon this study, his subsequent drawing featured two bright eyes looming over a shadowy New York cityscape. In later iterations, Cugat replaced the shadowy cityscape with dazzling carnival lights evoking a Ferris wheel and likely referencing the glittering amusement park at New York's Coney Island. Cugat affixed reclining nudes within the flapper's irises and added a green tint to the streaming tear. Cugat's final cover,[k] which Max Perkins hailed as a masterpiece, was the only work he completed for Scribner's and the only book cover he ever designed.
Although Fitzgerald likely never saw the final gouache painting prior to the novel's publication, Cugat's preparatory drafts influenced his writing. Upon viewing Cugat's drafts before sailing for France in April–May 1924, Fitzgerald was so enamored that he later told editor Max Perkins that he had incorporated Cugat's imagery into the novel. This statement has led many to analyze interrelations between Cugat's art and Fitzgerald's text. One popular interpretation is that the celestial eyes are reminiscent of those of fictional optometrist T. J. Eckleburg depicted on a faded commercial billboard near George Wilson's auto repair shop. Author Ernest Hemingway supported this latter interpretation and claimed that Fitzgerald had told him the cover referred to a billboard in the valley of the ashes. Although this passage has some resemblance to the imagery, a closer explanation can be found in Fitzgerald's explicit description of Daisy Buchanan as the "girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs".