The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, adapted by Neville Teller

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4 Extra, 16-27 May 2011
Recorded in New York City in 1996 to mark the centenary of Scott Fitzgerald's birth, Neville Teller's adaptation (read by Sam Robards) came across as a tale of loss. In spite of his strenuous efforts to remake himself, Jay Gatsby ends up by losing his dreams, his wealth and his beloved Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby's death makes the narrator Nick Carraway experience a tragic sense of loss: Gatsby might not have been a close friend, but he was at least someone to be admired for his sheer chutzpah. Carraway is particularly upset by the reluctance of anyone - including Gatsby's erstwhile partner Wolfsheim - to attend Gatsby's funeral; it seems as if Gatsby had lost all his so-called 'friends' and acquaintances. This dishonouring of Gatsby's memory is hard for Carraway to accept, at a time in American history (in the years immediately preceding the Wall Street Crash) when the country was gripped by a sense of optimism and prosperity - as symbolized, for instance, by the fabulous parties Gatsby gives for New York City's beautiful people.
Robards' languid yet affectionate style of reading emphasized just how much Carraway regretted what had happened. He admired Gatsby's brave attempt to remake himself, by forgetting his past - as a poor boy Jay Gatz growing up in North Dakota - and reinventing himself as an Oxford-educated socialite. At the same time Carraway understands the futility of Gatsby's efforts; the past always came back to haunt him - as, for example, when Gatsby re-encounters Daisy Buchanan five years after the two of them had experienced a passionate relationship. Robards' voice softened in sympathy as he recalled Gatsby's sudden change of heart; rather than forgetting the past, he tries to recover it as he declares his enduring love for Daisy, despite the fact that she is now married to Tom Buchanan.
In the final part of this ten-part adaptation, Robards' tone changed slightly as he pronounced judgment on Gatsby's life; although perpetually trying to fulfill his dreams, success and happiness always elude him. Yet we should admire Gatsby's determination to try and deal with his past, either by forgetting or acknowledging it. The fact that he tries and fails to pursue both options suggests that the past is always there; no one can escape it. 
The real villains of the piece are the "careless" Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who screw up other people's lives (Gatsby, Myrtle Wilson), and then "retreat into their money," as Carraway puts it. Robards spat out the words "careless" and "retreat," to indicate the Buchanan's basic reluctance to commit themselves to anything except their wealth and status. They are nothing more than fair-weather friends, like most of the people who associated with Gatsby while he was alive.
As the story drew to its painful close, I felt almost as sad as Carraway at the fact that polite New York society had been deprived of a charismatic personality, one who sets rooms alight with his fancy clothes, insouciant manner and idiosyncratic way of speaking (the phrase "old sport," seems particularly redolent of the mid-twenties). The producer was Duncan Minshull.