William Kowalski nominated F. Scott Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby, in the Globe and Mail's ongoing search for the 50 Greatest Books. Gatsby would be high on any list I would compile, so Kowalski gets no argument from me about the importance of this novel. I have long thought of it as a near to perfect novel.
What I didn't know was that this near to perfect novel had near to perfectly awful initial sales, and that its author would be dead a full decade before the American culture it so perfectly portrayed actually started to pay attention. As Kowalski writes:
"When Fitzgerald died, in 1940, most of the copies from the tiny second run sat unsold in a warehouse. It was not until the 1950s that The Great Gatsby entered the popular consciousness. By 1960, after the Beat Generation had risen to notoriety, but before the great disillusionment of Vietnam, it was Scribner's top seller.
It was its placement in history, just as the last, pathetic layers of the United States' facade were collapsing, that determined the book's fate, for it resonated with those who had finally caught up to Fitzgerald's desire to expose the myth of U.S. greatness."
So, here is another example of the logic behind extending copyright on a creative work past the death of the work's author. The full economic effect of The Great Gatsby, like its full cultural effect, was delayed. Because Fitzgerald's rights to his own work extended some years past his death, he would have been able to leave those rights to a beneficiary who, presumably, benefited. Furthermore, those limited rights to the work had no negative effect on the culture, as The Great Gatsby is still a standard text on high school reading lists, and it continues to inspire "future creators" with its brilliance.
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."