"... of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors, and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year’s shining motor-cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered."
Ripe, beautiful, cool, gay, radiant, (not) musty, fresh, breathing, redolent, shining, (scarcely) withered. What I'm seeing in today's Gatsby sentence are a lot of adjectives, adjectives all about a house, a house that we're told is a mystery. The adjectives tantalize us about the nature of the mystery. Every adjective says sex. If only we could get upstairs to the bedrooms or into those corridors. Those places are alive! They are breathing.
But within that sex and life there is a hint of death. What does it mean to be "laid away already in lavender." I'm picturing the lavender in a sachet, put in a drawer to impart a semblance of freshness. How do you put musty romances away like that? Those are your memories (or maybe old love letters). But don't worry about that. The point here is that these romances are alive, fresh and breathing. I mean, they are alive somewhere in this house, this mysterious house you've just entered, if only you could find your way into the bedrooms and corridors.
Here at the entry point, we just have a hint. There's a smell. It's ripe. It's redolent. It's not musty. It's not that lavender you use on old things. It's like shining motor-cars
and dances where there are flowers. Shining motor cars? It's the famous new car smell people are always raving about, and I guess they loved it back in the 1920s when F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing "The Great Gatsby." So there's this wonderful spell of fresh romance and it smells like new cars and dance flowers.
We've already encountered dance flowers in our little sentence-a-day Gatsby project. My self-imposed rule is to stay within the boundaries of one sentence. But it's so strange to me that a sentence that names one flower goes on to say "flowers" without saying what kind. I guess you could say those flowers are like the women in the romances that are happening now. They aren't memories, which are specific and can thus (in some poetic logic) be laid away with specific flowers. These women could be anybody. Maybe their namelessness is part of the adventure that goes with those unseen rooms and corridors.
But I can't help thinking back to that sentence we looked at on January 2d, which had Daisy — a named woman, named after a specific flower — drowsing at dawn with the shreds of her evening dress "tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed." It seems that when the romance is over and laid away into memories, the flowers can be specified. In the January 2d sentence, the flowers, orchids, were dying (as Daisy was drowsing). The flowers we see today are not dying. They are part of romance that is happening right now.
And yet, here it is again, that hint of death: The flowers are withered. Scarcely withered, yes, but withered. And withered is our last adjective. This is another sentence with a narrative trajectory: We went from ripe to withered, in a sentence full of life — hints of life, life just out of reach, with a whiff of death. A mystery!