Since I don’t think anyone will get the reference (it’s a stretch), I’ll just state up front that the title of this post is a play on Cole Porter’s great song “Begin the Beguine” of 1935. The Beguine is a Caribbean dance – “beguine” is the Creole word for a white woman on Martinique and Guadeloupe. Porter’s song is full of romantic longing and nostalgia, loss and regret. Not unlike Gatsby.
Porter and Fitzgerald were contemporaries, both ambitious Ivy Leaguers who craved artistic and social success. Porter enjoyed plenty of each, thanks in part to his own wealth and that of his wife. Fitzgerald and Porter met in France through mutual friends, the stylish American expatriates Gerald and Sara Murphy. (The Murphys served as the models for Dick and Nicole Diver in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.)
Gerald Murphy, Ginny Carpenter, Cole Porter, and Sara Murphy, in Venice, Italy, 1923.
So, what essay contest, you ask? Let me get to the point.
This year President Herbst is sponsoring a UConn Reads essay contest for undergraduate students. The first prize is a semester’s worth of textbooks at the Co-op. The contest poses a simple question: what makes Gatsby your classic? Why is it a book with enduring value for you? You may choose your own approach or focus on some of the key aspects of the American experience addressed in the book – e.g., conflicts of class and culture; the nature of the American dream and its price; the complexities of romantic love and marriage; truthfulness, fidelity, and cheating in their many forms; American regionalism.
For full details on the essay contest, see the UConn reads website.
And for Artie Shaw’s classic swing version of “Begin the Beguine” see this video. Jo Stafford’s smooth delivery brings out the nostalgic tone in this version. And of course I can’t resist Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition, with her distinctive phrasing.