January 23, 2013

"A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight, and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble."

For some reason, that's been my official favorite "Great Gatsby" sentence for a long, long time. I thought I'd bring it out today after getting unreasonably angry at yesterday's "Great Gatsby" sentence (here in our Gatsby project of looking at one "Great Gatsby" sentence each day in absurd isolation). You remember, the crowded hams and the salads of harlequin designs. People said to me, Althouse, you are wrong, this is a perfectly wonderful sentence, it describes sumputuousness and sensuousness. Sumptuousness! I was contemptuous of all this you-us-ness. I said:
1. Any hack writer can use a lot of words and create a picture of a "sumptuous" feast.

2. I'm a reader, a consumer of the words, not of the food itself, so it's not like I'm getting a lot to eat here.

3. "Sumptuousness" seems like a corny idea, like something from a Harlequin (!) romance, especially in the effort to make it seem to refer to sexuality.

4. I'm not getting enough of an elite vibe from the food choices. They seem rather awful. It really does make me feel like it's Thanksgiving at Mom's, not a glorious affair at Gatsby's. Crowded hams! Could ya scootch over, Mom?
Then betamax3000 came in with sharp analysis attributed to Naked Advertisement Copywriter Robot:
Naked Advertisement Copywriter Robot has analyzed sentence and determined an 8.6 correlation with:


Suggested improvement: addition of the word "drizzled."
And so forth.  And that put me in a cheerful mood and prompted me to whip out the official Althouse favorite sentence. Three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble. I love that. After reading that, you feel like taking an oath never to say anything as banal as: I was introduced to three men, but I didn't catch a single name. Or: Someone introduced us to three men, but the sound quality in the room was such that they might as well all have been named Mr. Mumble. No, you realize, from now on, I must remember to simply assert that the men were introduced as Mr. Mumble. Let the reader lag for a quarter of a second and imagine that could be their names and then get it. Readers are quick. They get this comic, surreal accuracy.

Similarly surreal, the tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight. Don't bother us with the human being carrying the tray. No one thinks there's some magic floating tray. We get it, and we feel woozy with cocktails, so that it's no wonder every man is Mr. Mumble and every woman is a swatch of color — yellow, in the twilight.


chickelit said...

How many times does the word "yellow" come up in a search of "The Great Gatsby"?


I am curious (yellow)

edutcher said...

As I said, your anger puzzles me; perhaps we are all more susceptible to the inherent sensuality.

This sentence, however, is Dickensian.

Mr Mumble?

Right out of Pickwick or Oliver.

Ann Althouse said...

"How many times does the word "yellow" come up in a search of "The Great Gatsby"?"


Ann Althouse said...

Blue gets 22.

Ann Althouse said...

Red can't be counted via Kindle, which includes the letters "red" within other words, like "declared," "considered," and "incredulously."

chickelit said...

Red can't be counted via Kindle, which includes the letters "red" within other words, like "declared," "considered," and "incredulously."

Even when you search it with spaces on both sides?

" red "

This works in google.

Ann Althouse said...

Purple: 0
Orange: 4
Brown: 7
Black: only 13 (very surprising)
White: 50 (the book is racist!)
Green: 19
Pink: 6
Lavender: 6

Ann Althouse said...

"Even when you search it with spaces on both sides?"


It's a problem with the Kindle app. They should fix it.

Ann Althouse said...

Another problem with the Kindle app is that word searches max out at 100. For example, "light"... which gets ridiculous. It's everywhere. But I can only see the first 100.

"Dark" gets 37. "Shadow" 14. "Shade" only 4.

traditionalguy said...

Now we are into the higher air with cocktails that are so bewitched that they levitate among the men who mumble.

That's a magical evening.

bagoh20 said...

" Any hack writer can use a lot of words and create a picture of a "sumptuous" feast."

Whew! That's a relief - I thought I might be a hack writer, but if I wanted to create a picture of a sumptuous feast, I'd write something like "a somechewist feast". So I'm clearly not a hack, but something else entirely.

Anonymous said...

Naked Advertisement Copywriter Robot finds the sentence evocative of good times in association with an upper-scale mode of living.

Suggested advertisement product usages:

Option One: Premium Vodka.

Suggested scenario: a server asks the three gentlemen introduced as Mr. Mumble for their drink requests.

The three Mr. Mumbles indecipherably give their orders; the server shakes his head.

A well-groomed confident man in a crisply tailored suit enters the scene and promptly takes a seat between the two women in yellow, who smile warmly at his arrival.

The confident man holds up three fingers (index, ring, pinkie) and states with authority: "Three Gatsbys". The women grin appreciatively, and the server smiles and nods knowingly at the camera.

Cut to product shot; then:

The server returns with the three Ketel One beverages for the confident man and his female acquaintances as the three beleaguered Mr. Mumbles mumble dispiritedly amongst themselves.

Pitch Line: "Clear. Distinct. Gatsby Premium Vodka."

Anonymous said...

Option Two: Women's Shoes.

Suggested scenario: the three Mr. Mumbles are attempting to engage in conversation with the two women in yellow, but are only able to make disjointed, inarticulate sounds that mix with the festive background of a party.

The men make brief eye contact with the women, then look down towards the floor.

Reaction shot: the women look perplexed, unsure.

Again the men make brief eye contact with the women, then look down, again, towards the floor.

Reaction shot: the women look begin to look peeved, eye-rolls imminent.

For a third time the men make brief eye contact with the women, then look down towards the floor. This time the camera follows their visual trajectory and settles on the women's shiny yellow high-heeled shoes.

The middle Mr. Mumble takes a step forward, makes longer eye contact, and says clearly: "Nice shoes."

Reaction shot: the women smile at this recognition of their good taste and reply in unison: "Thank you - they're Gatsby's."

Close-up of shoes, then:

A soft-focus medium shot of the five actors walking away from the camera to the awaiting party.

Pitch Line: "Make them speechless: Gatsby Shoes."

EMD said...

I think "The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain." is my favorite.

How about this menagerie ...

"There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms up-stairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, 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."

EMD said...

The confident man holds up three fingers (index, ring, pinkie)

The Inverse Shocker?

bagoh20 said...

Some of the "blue"s could be "bluey".

EMD said...

I think Foucault's Pendulum should be next.

I do enjoy a grueling slog.

madAsHell said...

I dunno.
You like to parse words.
I'm thinkin' that might be a distraction.
Consider Bastogne and General McAuliffe.

EMD said...

I dunno.
You like to parse words.
I'm thinkin' that might be a distraction.
Consider Bastogne and General McAuliffe.

I think Fitzgerald would appreciate McAuliffe's austerity.

kentuckyliz said...

My niece's high school graduation garden party was a Gatbyesque affair.

Floral cushioned furniture dragged outdoors.

A G&T bar. Lime wedges on a glinting pewter platter. Prisms of sunshine through the ice and crystal.

My brother in a cream colored linen suit and suspenders, bow tie, and straw hat.

My beautiful niece in a Hepburnish floral dress, a style of beautiful far classier than this age allows.

Anachronistic and timeless.

Chip Ahoy said...

Ann's favorite sentence in Gatsby.

Old Dad said...

A perfect Gatsby sentence--all light, and color, and intoxication, and sex.

It's twilight. Ghostly waiters are in shadow, but their trays of cocktails catch the sunset--tails of cocks, quite literally the multicolored tail feathers of chanticleer and red robin--the cocks.

Their prey are dressed in yellow. Look at me, but caution. The yellow girls, in turn, safely lead on the Mr. Mumbles, even though the odds are 3-2.

Dante said...

Mr. Mumble reminds me of General Grievous in the latest Star Wars.

Dante said...

Their prey are dressed in yellow. Look at me, but caution. The yellow girls, in turn, safely lead on the Mr. Mumbles, even though the odds are 3-2.

Since it is out of context, and there are at least two in "us," I would say odds are from bottom of 3 - 2 to at least 5 - 2.

Chip Ahoy, very nice. I have to learn about this graphics stuff. Do you mind telling how long it took to make it?

Dante said...

And my addition to the conversation: Yellow.

Smilin' Jack said...

1. Uh, I thought we were looking at these sentences in isolation. This one has nothing to do with food.

2. Are you really hungry or something?

3. Ditto

4. Maybe you should try raiding the fridge, rather than one of the greatest novels ever written.

Chip Ahoy said...

About 30 minutes. I think. That's my honest guess, but time's not my bag, man.

I remembered that painter's name, Maxwell Parish. It hit me in a flash, like this, dzzzzit, dzzzzit.

I found the pictures quickly. The thing that took time was selecting the men. There are faster ways to select or eliminate what you don't want, but the way I like is tedious because it goes dot dot dot dot dot all around the thing.

yashu said...

Ah, fab choice! This sentence makes me happy too. Althouse has great taste.

To pluck sentences from their context, to appreciate them only as isolated units detached from the larger wholes in which they they play their parts, is a perverse exercise... but a fun one. (Kinky reading.)

A sentence like this has something of the aesthetic quality-- the ah!--a of a Japanese haiku. (According to Wikipedia, "the fundamental aesthetic quality of both hokku and haiku is that it is internally sufficient, independent of context, and will bear consideration as a complete work.")

Chip Ahoy :)

betamax3000 :)

Fprawl said...

Not Sumptuous.
What my wife calls her figure.

a SWVA liz said...

I can't believe you waited until sumptuous feast to get angry with Fitzgerald. I found him over the top and nauseating once you started isolating his sentences. I am a hack writer, but find his purple prose way over the top. The only way I can take it is in context. But the debates are definitely of interest. So revealing.

a SWVA liz said...

Nice Chip Ahoy. Fitzgerald and Max Parish. Perfect.

Astro said...

There's that word again.
I'm waiting for 'Ticktockman Romances'.
Who must repent and do his penances?

Anonymous said...

Naked Advertisement Copywriter Robot's suggested advertisement product usages:

Option Three: Life Insurance

Suggested scenario: the three Mr. Mumbles are murmuring amongst themselves, dressed in conservative suits. As the camera pulls back we see we are inside a well-appointed upscale home with traditional dark-wood furnishings. The home is filled with somber people dressed in blacks, grays, and dark blues, all murmuring, and there is a framed photograph of a dashing older man on a table: this is a wake after a funeral.

Voice-over: "What would become of the ones you loved if you were to die unexpectedly?

Cut to: the three Mr. Mumbles, nodding heads wanly and still murmuring.

Voice-over: "Would they be cared for? Would they be able to continue the lives they lead?"

Cut to two older women looking at two young women in black coats leave the main room.

Older woman number one: "I hear that he had life insurance."

Older woman number two: "Better than that, dear: he had Gatsby's Insurance."

Cut to: the two young women entering the kitchen, removing their black coats. Underneath the coats are vibrant yellow party dresses. They proceed to interact with a lively group partying with champagne and truffles, smiling and generous in body language.

Voice-over: "Gatsby Insurance: For When Its Time For Them To Get Back To The Party."

Ann Althouse said...

I'm writing this many years later, in 2019...

The Kindle software has been fixed, so I can count the red, and I'm here to give you closure. There are 9 appearances of the word "red" in "The Great Gatsby."

1. "I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Mæcenas knew."

2. "Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay."

3. "Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard."

4. "The sister, Catherine, was a slender, worldly girl of about thirty, with a solid, sticky bob of red hair, and a complexion powdered milky white."

5. "One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song."

6. "We passed Port Roosevelt, where there was a glimpse of red-belted ocean-going ships, and sped along a cobbled slum lined with the dark, undeserted saloons of the faded-gilt nineteen-hundreds."

7. "I had on a new plaid skirt also that blew a little in the wind, and whenever this happened the red, white, and blue banners in front of all the houses stretched out stiff and said tut-tut-tut-tut, in a disapproving way."

8. "She asked me if I was going to the Red Cross and make bandages."

9. "The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water."