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The Great Gatsby Steps into the Public Domain

alex atkins bookshelf booksAnd as Nick Carraway sat there brooding on the old, unknown world of publishing, he thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning — F. Scott Fitzgerald’s copyright for The Great Gatsby would expire… Say what? Applesauce, Old Sport!

On New Year’s Eve 2020, as revelers peeled back their face masks to take a sip of champagne and kiss their partners, a classic American novel, The Great Gatsby, without even a glimmer of an ostentatious roaring 20’s party stepped into the vast obscurity of the public domain. Gatsby had a great run. Since 1925, the book has sold over 30 million copies. But the reality is that every year, as literary works pass the 95-year term of their original copyrights, they pass into the public domain. So what does this mean? Readers can access for free the full text of the books on collaborative digital libraries like HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Google Books. Moreover, those books can be freely quoted, copied, published, reimagined, or adapted as screenplays or stageplays. For example, on January 5, Michael Farris Smith published Nick, a prequel to The Great Gatsby. (The cover art is reminiscent of the painting “Celestial Eyes” featured on the cover of the first edition.) In this novel, Smith explores the life of Nick Carraway after serving in WWI and traveling through Europe, years before he meets Jay Gatsby. The publisher describes the novel this way: “Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s periphery, he was at the center of a very different story-one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I. Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance-doomed from the very beginning-to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavor of debauchery and violence. An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply.”

Here are some other notable works that are in the public domain as of January 1, 2021:
1984 by George Orwell
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
A Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw
Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs by Dorothy Scarborough
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Those Barren Leaves by Aldous Huxley
The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill
The Trial (in German) by Franz Kafka
The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton

So we read on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the books of the past.

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Read related posts: What is a First Edition of The Great Gatsby Worth?
The Meaning of the Ending of The Great Gatsby
The Most Beautiful Cover Designs of The Great Gatsby
What Was the Greatest Year for Literature?
The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels

For further reading:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Nick by Michael Farris Smith

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