The Name Daisy: The Great Gatsby and Chaucer's Prologue to The Legend of Good Women


The names of many figures in The Great Gatsby are almost allegorically significant, but, until recently, not much has been said about Daisy Fay's first name apart from its being the name of a flower. Consideration has been given to the list of famously bizarre names of people attending Gatsby's party (49-51; see Houston and Crim), and attention has been paid to Gatsby's name (see Bellenir, Bennett, Cervo, Makurath, Plath, and Tamke). The first and last names of the narrator, Nick Carraway, have been subject to interpretation. His first name evokes a character in Petronius's Satyricon (Drennan 145) or—for those who regard him as an unreliable or duplicitously selective narrator—it may suggest “Old Nick” or Satan, the archetypal liar. His surname contains “car” and “away” (suggesting escape, perhaps romantic distance) and “arrow” as in the Pierce Arrow motorcar and Cupid's arrow (Dilworth 87). Daisy's husband, Tom Buchanan, nominally evokes the all-American boy Tom Sawyer, a (super-masculine) buck, and a (phallic, powerful) canon. His mistress Myrtle is named for the flowering shrub sacred to Aphrodite (Flahiff 96), of whom she is a compelling embodiment for both Buchanan and her forlorn husband, Wilson. (As an auto mechanic, Wilson is the Vulcan to Buchanan's Mars—Buchanan being an ex-football hero who bruises Daisy's little finger and breaks Myrtle's nose.) Some commentators note that Daisy Fay's surname evokes the powerful fays of romance, such as the Dam du Lac and Morgan le Fay, whose supernatural powers are redolent of their origins in pagan deities (Stein; Schlacks, American Dream). Others mention that Daisy's surname means fairy (Coffin 79). This association is pertinent to Gatsby's idealization of her, since a fairy is evasive, seldom if ever seen, believed in by few, if any, adults and therefore belongs to romance rather than realism. The association of Daisy with a fairy consequently undermines the realistic validity of Gatsby's idealization of Daisy. The primary, though archaic, meaning of “fay” is faith, a meaning to which we shall return. But first, what about her first name?

“Daisy” implies ordinariness and innocence. The flower after which she is named correlates, as any flower might, with a young woman “in full bloom.” Her name evokes a popular song with lyrics that express romantic desire: “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do./I’m half crazy over the love of you.”1 (A significant difference between the suitor in the song and Gatsby is that the former “can't afford a carriage.”) The name may also recall Henry James's Daisy Miller as a type of all-American girl subject to masculine attentions.2 Briefly and only in passing, K. G. Probert suggests an association between the name “Daisy” and the daisy in Chaucer's Prologue to The Legend of Good Women (194). This suggestion is taken up by Deborah Davis Schlacks in an extended consideration of the relationship between Chaucer's poem and Fitzgerald's novel—in which, we think, she misreads the Prologue and consequently misinterprets its relationship to the novel (American Dream 131-39). In this essay we will attempt to demonstrate that there is nevertheless a significant intertextual relationship between the Prologue to The Legend and The Great Gatsby, which involves and gives meaning to imagery in the novel and serves to emphasize generic contrast between Gatsby's romance and Fitzgerald's realism.

The suggestion that Daisy's name derives from the Prologue to The Legend is not as arcane as it may seem, for the medieval poem was fairly well known and widely appreciated in the early twentieth century. In 1933, F. N. Robinson wrote that, “Next to the description of April ‘with his shoures sote’ at the beginning of the Canterbury Tales, probably the most familiar and best loved lines of Chaucer are those in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women which tell of his adoration of the daisy” (480). Fitzgerald was interested in Chaucer and influenced by his work. At Princeton in the fall of 1916, he was enrolled in a semester-length course entitled “Chaucer and his Contemporaries,” taught by Gordon Hale Gerould, with whom he remained acquainted and who, he wrote, “rather likes me” (A Life in Letters 269). He also knew and liked Robert K. Root, a highly regarded editor of Chaucer (Flahiff 98). In her seminal essay, Nancy Y. Hoffman convincingly discloses matching characters and parallel events, which closely align Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde with The Great Gatsby. It is not surprising that evocation of Chaucer's Prologue to the Legend should occur in a novel whose main plot is largely structured on Troilus and Criseyde. The two Chaucerian works are explicitly linked in the Prologue to The Legend, and, according to Kathryn L. Lynch, more than any other of Chaucer's works, the Prologue to The Legend“cannot be understood in isolation from”Troilus and Criseyde (117).

In the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, Chaucer identifies the narrator as a comical version of himself, the translator of the Romance of the Rose and author of Troilus and Criseyde (lines 329-32).3 At great length, he declares his impassioned love for the daisy, a flower he personifies as female. (This is Chaucer's riff on the French tradition of poems in praise of the daisy—margaurite in French [Probert 194].) After declaring his love for the daisy in the language of sexual infatuation, he falls asleep and dreams of the god of love leading an entourage of women. Chief among them and walking at the god's side is Queen Alceste, who in Greek mythology died and went to Hades in place of her husband and was transformed into a daisy (lines 511-16). In the Prologue she is symbolically identified with the daisy: her green dress, gold hairnet, and white crown “Made hire lyk a daysie for to sene” (line 224: made her like a daisy to look upon). Alceste is “faire” (line 276), a word containing the maiden name of Fitzgerald's Daisy “Fay” homonymously and also orthographically since, in Middle English, the letters “i” and “y” are interchangeable. The god of love recognizes the narrator and blames him for disparaging women in the Romance of the Rose and Troilus and Criseyde, but Alceste intercedes to protect him, commissioning him to write, as a penance, “Of goode wymmen, maydenes and wyves,/That weren trewe in lovyng al hire lyves;/And telle of false men that hem bytraien” (lines 484-86: Of good women, maids and wives who were true in love all their lives. And tell of false men who betrayed them.). The narrator proceeds to retell the stories of Cleopatra, Thisbe, Dido, Hypsipyle, Medea, Lucrece, Ariadne, Philomela, Phyllis, and Hypermnestra—all of them betrayed by men.

Fitzgerald's Daisy has some affinity with these women as love's martyrs, since her husband has betrayed her in an ongoing adulterous relationship with Myrtle Wilson. Such affinity becomes problematic later, when Daisy “betrays” her husband in a sexual relationship with Gatsby and then “betrays” Gatsby by returning to her husband—although the latter betrayal might be seen as her return to marital fidelity and conventional virtue. The chief correspondence between The Legend of Good Women and The Great Gatsby is, however, between the daisy and Daisy.

When Daisy in the novel opens “up … in a flower-like way” (19), she is performing her name. She resembles a daisy in more than name since she is associated with its chief colors. In this she resembles a daisy, of course, and Alceste, whose dominant colors are white, green, and gold. Daisy's chief color is white, an image of purity and innocence. When we first see her, she is wearing a white dress (10), as she is also in on the day of the climactic encounter between Buchanan and Gatsby in the Plaza Hotel (90). Jordan Baker says about her: “She dressed in white and had a little white roadster” (59). Carraway imagines her “[h]igh in a white palace” (94). Hers was, she says, a “white girlhood” (19), and to receive Gatsby's first kiss she lifts her “white face” (86). She is also associated with green, the color of vitality and hope. For Gatsby her symbol is the distant “green” light at the end of her dock (20, 141), a light which Carraway implicitly associates with the “fresh, green breast of the new world” (140). (In Gatsby's imagination, Daisy replaces the “green” new world, reversing the cultural transformation in earlier centuries wherein nature or the idealized landscape replaced the beautiful woman as object of desire and subject of lyric poetry.) Gold symbolizes value, and like the Chaucerian flower and Alceste, Daisy is associated with gold—when she offers Tom her “little gold pencil” (83), when she “smoothed her hair” with Gatsby's “pure dull gold … brush,” (72), when Carraway calls her a “golden girl” (94), and when she drives Gatsby's yellow Rolls-Royce—a color-association that would be stronger were Daisy a blonde.4

Deborah Schlacks argues for resemblance between Alceste and Daisy, since, she contends, Alceste is “corrupt inwardly” and Daisy has a “corrupt soul” (American Dream 136). The basis of her argument is a brief mention in the Legend-Prologue of red rubies placed by Mars at the tips of the pearl petals of Alceste's crown (lines 533-34), which resemble the crimson tips of the daisy's petals. Schlacks understands the color red as here symbolizing “danger and violence” rather than “passion and love” (American Dream 136).5 She writes that Alceste justifies the negative associations of red by “manipulatively” imposing her will on the narrator when she assigns him the task of writing about good women (American Dream 133). Like Alceste, Schlacks says, Daisy is “dangerous” and has “a dark side” (American Dream 139), which results in her killing of Myrtle Wilson. We are able to strengthen one weakness in Schlacks's argument, a failure to establish a direct association of Daisy with the color red. Schlacks mentions the “thick, dark blood” of Myrtle Wilson (American Dream 109), but the directness of its association with Daisy is debatable. She is, however, directly associated with red, since the color of the carpet in her “salon” is “crimson” (90), and this may well correspond symbolically with Myrtle's blood.

But there are other weaknesses in Schlacks's argument, which, we think, invalidate it. Her interpretation of the Legend-Prologue seems forced because its associative leaps are long—between redness, “danger and violence,” manipulation (if it is manipulation, which is highly debatable), and the writing assignment. Moreover, the initial verbal assault on Chaucer's narrator is by the god of Love, not Alceste. And the writing assignment she gives the narrator seems utterly benign. Principally, characterization seems not to agree with the ominous connotations of the color red. For these reasons, Schlacks's is an anomalous reading of the Prologue.6

In the novel, characterization also resists Schlacks's argument. Daisy is not corrupt, inherently violent, nor particularly dangerous, no more, at least, than anyone who sometimes drives a car. When she takes the wheel of Gatsby's Rolls-Royce, she is “very nervous” (112), and for that reason most likely speeding, distracted certainly, possibly overwhelmed by her experience in the Plaza Hotel. Carelessness is dangerous and many people in the novel are “careless” (138), but Daisy is not particularly careless. Rather, she seems unlucky. She does not, after all, cause the accident; Myrtle does, by rushing into the road and forcing Daisy to choose instantaneously between striking her or an oncoming car. Gatsby remembers, “this woman rushed out at us just as we were passing a car coming the other way … first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and then she lost her nerve and turned back” (112). On what would have then been a two-lane highway, Daisy's choice is between injuring or killing this stranger and a head-on collision that would certainly injure or kill a number of people: the driver of the other car (and his or her passengers), Gatsby, and herself. But maybe it is less a choice than, as Gatsby thinks, a loss of nerve—something for which she can hardly be very much blamed. Nor does Gatsby turn back once he has taken the wheel. Schlacks's interpretation is, we think, a double misreading resulting in a direct parallel between what she mistakenly construes as a malign Alceste and a dangerous Daisy.

There is, however, a significant intertextual relationship between The Great Gatsby and the Legend-Prologue which deserves to be investigated. This relationship involves correspondence (with similarity and difference) between Alceste, as the embodiment of ideal married womanhood, and Daisy, who is benign and open-hearted (in her willingness to resume her relationship with Gatsby) but morally weak—she flees from the scene of the accident. She is like Alceste and the Chaucerian daisy in being an idealized love object, but of course she is no Alceste, though that is largely because Alceste inhabits a highly mythic romance while Daisy is a realistic character in a novel. This albeit dissonant correspondence between the daisy, Alceste, and Fitzgerald's Daisy implies further correspondence between the Chaucerian narrator in love with the daisy, the god of love honoring daisy-embodying Alceste, and Gatsby in love with Daisy. Through this triple correspondence, the Legend-Prologue establishes a normative, clarifying context in which to understand the interwoven imagery of sunlight and temperature in ways that illuminate the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby.

Gatsby's passion for Daisy has an equivalent in the Chaucerian narrator's love for the daisy, which the narrator expresses not as a person might his fondness for a kind of flower but in the language of erotic devotion. The narrator says of the flower, “I love it, and ever ylike newe,/And evere shal, til that myn herte dye” (lines 56-57: I love it, and ever equally anew/And ever shall until my heart dies), and “Ther loved no wight hotter in his lyve” (line 59: No man loved more passionately in his life). Watching the daisy open in the morning, he states that “That blisful sighte softneth al my sorwe” (line 50: That blissful sight softens all my sorrow), which corresponds to Gatsby's dependence on Daisy for his happiness. When the narrator is in the presence of the daisy, his desire is to “doon it alle reverence” (line 52: pay it all due respect). He has “so gret affeccioun,” (line 44: such great love) for the daisy, “That in my bed ther daweth me no day / That I nam up and walkyng in the mede / To seen this flour ayein the sonne sprede” (lines 46-48: That in my bed there dawns no day / That I am not up and walking in the meadow / To see this flower spread against the sun). The vigils of Chaucer's narrator, watching the daisy open in the morning and close at dusk, are evocative in retrospect of Gatsby's vigils of devotion to Daisy, the first at dusk at the end of chapter 1 (20), the second through most of the night at the end of chapter 7 (111-14) .

A subtle aspect of correspondence between Chaucer's daisy and Fitzgerald's Daisy involves sunlight. Brian Sutton first noticed that “Fitzgerald associates her affections for Gatsby with sunlight” (103) but also identifies her as the sun. It seems more correct to say that she is predominantly associated with, rather than identified with, the sun. Like a daisy, she is sensitive to the sun and in ways that are clarified by the Legend-Prologue. Affinity between the daisy and the sun is emphasized early in the Prologue by five references to the flower opening to the sun (lines 48, 64-65, 111, 117, 202) and in the dream portion of the Prologue by daisy-embodying Alceste walking with the god of love who is “corowned with a sonne” (line 230: crowned with a sun). In the first chapter of the novel, Daisy is repeatedly associated with the sun. She knows the date of the solstice: “In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year” (13). Carraway recounts how “the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face” (15) and depicts her “winking ferociously toward the fervent sun” (14). Expressing the intensity of the light and heat of the sun, the word “fervent” here hints at her being the object of erotic ardor, which, in turn, implies correspondence between the sun and Gatsby. As the sun causes the daisy to open in the Legend-Prologue, Gatsby prompts the “opening” of Daisy in the novel—a correspondence which is implied at the moment of their first kiss, in Louisville: “At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower” (87). The correspondence becomes direct in chapter 5 when Gatsby discovers again that Daisy returns his love. After the initial awkwardness of their reunion, Gatsby “literally glowed … a new well-being radiated from him” (70). His radiance recalls the god of love, whose “face shoon so bryghte/That wel unnethes myghte I him beholde” (lines 232-3: his face shone so brightly/That I could hardly look at him). When Gatsby notices “that there were twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled … like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light” (70). He is proud of his house, which he is about to show off to Daisy, because “it catches the light” (70). Light imagery symbolizing his erotic joy implies a correspondence between Gatsby and Chaucer's sun-crowned god of love as well as, by implication, a correspondence between Gatsby and Chaucer's narrator, since the god of love is the archetype of the comical, daisy-loving narrator dreaming about the god in the Legend-Prologue.

The correspondence between Gatsby and the sun emphasizes Gatsby's love for Daisy. As Warren Bennett notes, this imagery compensates for the absence of narration or dramatization of “the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy” (210), which Fitzgerald, agreeing with H. L. Menken, saw as a “weakness” in the novel (Letters 341). In chapter 7, the force of the sun's heat reflects the intensity of Gatsby's passion. Even before Buchanan reveals to Daisy the criminal source of his rival's wealth, a shift in Daisy's relationship to the sun suggests the insupportable nature of Gatsby's love. In chapter 1 the sun is warm, and the intensity of Gatsby's love is moderated by distance, the lovers not yet having been reunited. In chapter 7 the force of the heat is “broiling” (89), “oppressive” (94), and “baking” (95)—a metaphor for the fierceness of Gatsby's love and its oppressive demands, which now distress her. She no longer exudes a corresponding “warmth” (15) but reacts “guiltily” to the heat (91). The sun no longer falls on her face “with romantic affection” (15); instead “Her voice struggled on through the heat, beating against it” (92). Similarly she struggles against Gatsby in the suite of the Plaza Hotel. When he demands that she admit to never having loved Tom, she bursts out, “Oh, you want too much!” (103). She wilts, rather than flourishes, in the heat of his love. As the metaphoric source of this heat, Gatsby is not oppressed by it and remains, as Daisy comments, “so cool” (92).

After the confrontation in the hotel, the temperature changes significantly. Sutton has discussed Gatsby's association with the sun and the change in temperature from hot to cool by associating Gatsby's erotic-romantic success with the summer solstice, 21 June, and his failure with the approach of the autumn equinox, 24 September in 1922 (Sutton 105). But the change is not gradual and does not correspond to these meteorological events. Gatsby's romantic triumph occurs “late in July” (51). The narrative climax of the novel in the Plaza Hotel occurs “three months” after Carraway first visited the Buchanans (113), which must, therefore, be in early September, on a very “Hot!” day (89). The following day, the temperature changes—in the morning it promises to be “cool” (118). The sudden shift in temperature symbolizes an abrupt change in the love between Gatsby and Daisy. Carraway's supposition that the sky was now “unfamiliar” to Gatsby (126) suggests that he can no longer be associated with the Alceste-accompanying sun-crowned god of love. About the anticipated telephone call from Daisy, Carraway says, “I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come and perhaps he no longer cared” (126). Gatsby has reverted to the meteorological realism of the cooler, more distant autumnal sun. Carraway continues, “If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world…” (126). Certainly the autumn equinox is on its way, for “The night had made a sharp difference in the weather and there was an autumn flavor in the air” (119), and, as the gardener tells Gatsby, “Leaves’ll start falling pretty soon” (120). The “cluster of leaves” in the pool with Gatsby's corpse (126) is a final intimation of autumn. But rather than waning gradually with the change of seasons, the love affair between Gatsby-the-sun and the Daisy-the-daisy finishes quite suddenly. The realism that ends romance is autumnal, but the change occurs from one day to the next.

All of these correspondences have to do with the religion of love, a prevalent topic in Chaucer's poetry and largely the subject of The Great Gatsby. The analogy between religious devotion and erotic love is a central feature of courtly love, which is romance informed by the underlying religious myth that Plato evokes in Phaedrus. Infatuation with what seems to be a divinity “redeems” the lover, temporarily at least, from the boredom and ennui of ordinary life. This psychosexual experience subjectively gives meaning to life, as it certainly does for Gatsby. Of course, as Carraway realizes, the idealization of the beloved is doomed whether or not the relationship continues. Carraway surmises about the day of their reunion, “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion” (75). With considerable irony, her being the object of such idealizing love gives significance to the primary meaning of her maiden surname, which, we have seen, is faith.7 Daisy Fay was the object of Gatsby's erotic faith. His romantic hope was for a Chaucerian-ideal daisy-Alceste to whom he could be a daisy-loving narrator and (archetypally) god of love. Gatsby may have been murdered without fully realizing that Daisy has definitively turned away from him. If so, she remained to the end for him, to some degree and perhaps entirely, an undisappointing object and embodiment of erotic-romantic faith—though Carraway supposes that on his last day Gatsby realizes that his faith was in vain. If he has lived long enough to be disappointed, he has lost his faith, just as he has lost his Fay. Ironically, of course, owing to her marriage to Buchannan, she has not really—legally, at least—been a Fay for years. In various ways and degrees, Gatsby is simply too late. Nevertheless, the allegorical force of this loss of Fay-th is reminiscent (minus the irony) of Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, who loses his faith in mankind and, therefore, at a profound level loses his wife, whose name is Faith.

In the Prologue to The Legend, the daisy is associated with a pearl through the whiteness they have in common. Alceste's white crown is made of “o perle fyn, oriental” (line 221: a single pearl of the finest quality). Reference to the “perle” is especially pertinent to the daisy (symbolically identified with Alceste) as object of faith because in French a daisy is la marguerite, the immediate source of Margaret, a name originating in the Greek margaron, meaning pearl. Daisy-marguerite-margaron-pearl: the attenuated association, based on analogous whiteness, brings us back to religion. Not merely a valuable object, the pearl evokes the ultimate value by recalling the scriptural image of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says that when a merchant finds “a pearl of great price,” he sells all he has to buy it (Matthew 13: 45-46). Gatsby is like such a merchant, so much in love with Daisy that he dedicates his entire life to obtaining her. Fitzgerald echoes the biblical image when, after Daisy has returned to her husband, Carraway surmises that Gatsby “must have felt that he had … paid a high price for living too long with a single dream” (126). She is his “pearl of great price,” the heaven of his desire, something no human person, actually or for long, can be for another.

Daisy is, of course, associated with pearls in the novel. Her wedding present from Buchanan is a necklace of pearls worth an astonishing (in the 1920s) “three hundred and fifty thousand dollars” (60). The gift coincides with her receiving a letter from Gatsby, which sends her into drunken grief and causes her to discard the pearls. But, after the attentions of her mother's maid and Jordan Baker, “the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over,” and she went through with the wedding (61). Her choice of Buchanan over Gatsby is narrated through her acceptance of the pearls. Like the scriptural merchant but ironically, she sells all she has in order to obtain Buchanan-and-pearls. The price she pays is her love for Gatsby but also her fidelity to herself. If, as seems to be the case, she loves Gatsby more than or instead of Buchanan, her decision to marry is an act of weakness, impatience, and dishonesty, making her the opposite of Alceste, the daisy-queen with a pearl crown, whose honesty and goodness the god of love praises. Daisy is not like Alceste, who sacrificed her life for that of her husband. Instead, in marrying Buchanan, Daisy sacrifices Gatsby, her true love and, in that sense, her proper husband, to expediency and her own insecurity. The association with pearls, so positively symbolic in the Prologue to The Legend and in scripture, is ironic in the novel, furthermore, because Buchanan is no “pearl of great price.” This is emphasized by Carraway's parting sight of him, entering a “jewelry store to buy,” Carraway supposes, “a pearl necklace—or perhaps only a pair of cuff buttons.…” (140). If his first guess is right, this necklace is for a mistress, the successor of Myrtle Wilson, not for Daisy, to whom he has already given a pearl necklace.

A final point of interest is the etymology of the word that, in the Legend-Prologue, is spelled “dayesye” (lines 184, 218). It derives from the Anglo-Saxon dæges eage, meaning “day's eye”—as Chaucer's narrator realizes, for he says that this flower may be called “the ‘ye of day’ ” (184: the eye of day)—an etymology which emphasizes Daisy's association with the sun/Gatsby since, as John Kuhnle notes, the sun was once considered metaphorically the day's eye (150). The daisy resembles the sun: at night when the sun disappears, the daisy's petals close over its yellow center. It is also an “eye” that closes at night and opens in the morning, as its petals like eyelids and eyelashes open to the sun. The origin of “daisy” resonates with eye imagery in the novel, particularly the disembodied-billboard “eyes of Doctor T .J. Eckleburg” presiding over “the valley of ashes” (21). This “waste land” (22) symbolizes the spiritual condition of the novel's well-heeled fast set moving in and out of Manhattan. The domination of the large billboard, as an ophthalmologist's “eyes” over this symbolic landscape, implies the importance of accurately seeing or realizing the truth or of failing accurately to see or realize it. A less ambiguous, corollary image is the drunken seer, “the owl-eyed” man (37), who realizes at a glance that Gatsby's pretensions are bogus and is surprised that the books in his library are real, though their pages are uncut (38). If Daisy's name resonates etymologically with this imagery of seeing and failure to see, as we think it must, it bears on her final decision to return to Buchanan. Given contemporary divorce laws and the declared criminality of Gatsby, she may see that she really has no choice. But as the sun, Gatsby is also, and more poignantly, an eye and can see or fail to see. His choice of a quasi-religious value beyond pleasure implies awareness that the lives of his pleasure-loving contemporaries, law-abiding and not, are meaningless. What he fails to know is that no real woman, and therefore not Daisy, can be the “incarnation” (87) of ultimate meaning for him.

We do not know whether Fitzgerald read the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women though he may well have. What we can say is that there seems to be significant intertextual resonance between the Legend-Prologue and The Great Gatsby. This resonance clarifies the significance of Fitzgerald's imagery of sunlight and temperature. It also gives contextual emphasis to Gatsby's romance by giving the name of its object (Daisy) two idealistic literary antecedents: the daisy beloved of the Chaucerian narrator and Alceste, admired by the sun-crowned god of love. The effect of this multiple association is to designate Gatsby's love as properly the content of romance and therefore doomed within the realism of the novel.


  • 1

    “Bicycle Built for Two” (1892) by Harry Dacre, a song popular throughout the 1920s and after.

  • 2

    In 1939 Fitzgerald recommended Daisy Miller to his daughter, but he seems not to have “read a word of” Henry James before writing The Great Gatsby (Miller 84).

  • 3

    The Prologue exists in two versions, F and G. Throughout this essay we quote and refer to version F.

  • 4

    We are convinced that Daisy is not a blonde, but this has been a matter of debate. When she first shows up at Carraway's house “[a] damp streak of hair lay like a slash of blue paint across her cheek” (68), and later in the narrative, though earlier in time, Gatsby “kissed her dark shining hair” (117). These descriptions seem contradicted when Daisy says of her daughter's “yellowy hair,”“she's got my hair” (91). Joan Korenman believes that the apparent discrepancy between the descriptions of Daisy's hair and that of her daughter is irresolvable, expressing Daisy's dual origin in brunette Ginevra King and blonde Zelda Sayre, and serving simultaneously to evoke the fair and dark ladies of romance (578). We think, however, that Daisy had been, like her daughter, a yellow-haired child but is now a brunette, not because she dyed her hair—blondes seldom dyed their hair dark in the 1920s—but because, as often happens, her hair darkened with age.

  • 5

    As Schlacks notes, Chaucer's flower is not the tall American daisy, whose petals are always entirely white, but the short English daisy (Bellis perennis), whose white petals are sometimes tipped with crimson (American Dream 136).

  • 6

    In her interpretation, which she repeats in her 2009 essay “Echoes of the Middle Ages” (165), Schlacks is in agreement with the unpublished work of Higgs (87-94) and not, to our knowledge, any published Chaucer scholar.

  • 7

    For Fitzgerald, the religious significance of “Fay” may be strengthened by affection for his friend Father Sigourney Fay, to whom he dedicated his first novel, This Side of Paradise. Throughout Chaucer's works, “fay” (or “fey”) retains a glimmer of its original meaning in the colloquial expression “By my fey” (e.g., “The Knight's Tale,” line 1126; “The Clerk's Prologue,” line 9; and “The Wife of Bath's Prologue,” line 203).