Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jordan Baker

Over the past few months, it has been fascinating for me to hear people's reactions to my non-human interpretations of the characters of The Great Gatsby. In interviews and reviews, in questions after panels and presentations, and in emails from friends and complete strangers, I've received a lot of comments about how the various characters resonate with people. But of all the character portrayals, the one that has attracted the most surprising and varied responses is Jordan Baker.

Jordan is a bit of a mystery - a cool, jaded and casually dishonest golf champion with whom our narrator, Nick, begins a largely "off camera" romance. I've never felt very much for Jordan Baker, perhaps because she is so unemotional and distant. By contrast, Daisy captures my heart, despite her extravagant flaws, largely because of the maelstrom of frailties, charms, failures and human(!) warmth I see tumbling inside her.

So I drew Jordan as a squidlike creature: cold, inscrutable and sleek with her sinuous tentacles always under control. The interesting thing is that this portrayal has given rise to reactions that I did not contemplate or expect. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense though - Jordan is a rather "blank" character who presents a deliberately smooth, guarded face to the world. This means that we are almost obliged to paint our own interpretations onto her, according to our own feelings and predilections.

During one radio interview, the interviewer said he felt I'd dealt too harshly with Jordan Baker, making her more unpleasant than the original book intended. And it is true, I feel little sympathy for Jordan. For starters, she is an inveterate liar, which immediately loses her many points with me! So I can certainly accept that I've portrayed her in an unflattering light. Whether it is any harsher than Fitzgerald's depiction is hard for me to say.

What intrigues me more, though, is the people who tell me that they are attracted to my version of Jordan. One lady told me that her daughter, who was studying The Great Gatsby at school, thought that my Jordan was lovely - and "much prettier than Daisy". More startlingly, one gentleman asked if it was "wrong" that he "found Jordan erotic". This question was asked in a public forum, and I have to admit, I was not sure how to answer! I have always found Jordan's disdainful, downturned mouth and half-lidded eyes very unattractive (contrasted with Daisy, whom I find beautiful and sweetly seductive). But, as they say in Spanish, sobre gustos no hay nada escrito - when it comes to taste, there is "nothing written".

Perhaps the most thoughtful and most deeply engaged response to Jordan that I have heard came from the Australian poet, Robert Adamson. Robert has permitted me to quote his response here, and I do so at length because it is both lovely and amazing. Who would have thought that someone would relate so personally to Jordan the squid?

I forgot to mention you made Jordan sympathetic. I hadn't really thought much about her, in the novel or the two movies, until your version of her. She might even be my favourite character now!
Maybe it's because I love squid.


In your book I find Jordan more interesting, she seems interested somehow in Nick in a real way. I almost think that if I met her, in your book's world, I'd want to shake her, though also I think I'd want to show her that there's a more interesting life away from her crowd. I'd take her fishing and show her the swamp harriers circling, and the mullet jumping , I take her out on the river on a full moon, and then in the morning cook her a sand whiting in a campsite. I'm sure you could make her see the light and change her ways.

How fabulous! The thought of cooking a sand whiting for a squid tickles my fancy very much!


spacedlaw said...

Funny, I also thouht she cared more about Nick that he was willing to see or maybe even than she herself was ready to ackowledge, her interest being something like that you would have for some exotic creature. He doesn't quite belong to her word and it is probably something that attracts her.

fabulous heretic said...

Jordan's air of mystery and danger makes her attractive. Daisy is tranparent.

Robert Adamson said...

Wednesday/ Thursday 2am

Thinking of Jordan and squid in general late at night on the Hawkesbury River NSW:

The river here tonight has a dark yellow, waxing moon: it floats, a soft egg
above black mountain escarpments and reflects across the first hour
of the run-out tide. The surface, liquid black onyx, is vibrating
with the chuckling calls of nightjars and the two noted song of the
brain fever bird. (koels) Great bats, flying foxes, beat the night atmosphere
with their leathery wings, heading for our banana palms and figtrees.
Under the surface huge mulloway (60 pounders) are moving along the water
column feeding on pulsating, luminous Gould's squid.


Nicki Greenberg said...

Luminous squid and a soft egg moon... how gorgeous. Even the most hardened of society girls would have to feel some wonder out on the river at night. You might crack Jordan's mystery yet.

Thank you Robert, Nathalie and Mr Fabulous for new insights into a character who often slips through my fingers.


Greg G said...

Did I ever tell you that Jordan was my favourite character in the novel?

Truman Capote made both her and Nick gay in his rejected script for the 74 film version - I think that's a slight stretch, but they both definitely had a bit of the outsider in them.


Nicki Greenberg said...

I'd love to see Gatsby adapted by Truman Capote - he's one of my favourite writers. And I can just see him playing a cameo role as an extra at Gatsby's parties!

Seems that the idea of Nick being sexually ambivalent/ambiguous is quite popular. I always pictured Jordan as sexless though.