Experts intrigued by choice of Great Gatsby passage at royal wedding

Jay Gatsby, the beguiling millionaire celebrated as one of American literature’s greatest characters, is an unlikely man on whom to model one’s husband.

Princess Eugenie was said to have been reminded of her new spouse, Jack Brooksbank, when she saw a description of the eponymous character in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

An extract from his 1925 novel read at the couple’s wedding speaks of the self-made socialite’s bewitching smile, which possesses “a quality of eternal reassurance in it”.

However, the passage from Fitzgerald’s magnum opus may be less flattering than it seems, experts on the text have suggested.

Sarah Churchwell, a professor in American literature who has written extensively about the book, said it is the moment when Fitzgerald first suggests Gatsby hides a deeper – and ultimately criminal – truth, as he meets narrator Nick Carraway.

In the book, the former soldier builds a fortune – along with a reputation for opulent parties – to embed himself among the wealthy elite of Long Island, New York, of which his married former lover, Daisy Buchanan, is a member.

Prof Churchwell told the Press Association: “It is the moment at which you see Gatsby’s facade – and the moment that facade also disappears.

“Nick says flat-out that he’s a ‘rough-neck’, which is not a compliment – that means he’s a thug and that he’s a fraud.

“The smile is an ingratiating smile that he’s using to charm people because he’s the frontman for a mobster.

“By the end of the story, it’s clear he is involved in financial crimes, he is a bootlegger – which is the equivalent of being a drug dealer – and he ends up in an adulterous affair and is shot dead because of it.

“That quotation right there is the first moment in which Fitzgerald begins to pull the veil away to say he is a rough-neck.”

Gatsby’s social-climbing ambitions are also laid bare in the passage, making it an unlikely choice as a royal wedding reading, according to Dr William Blazek, an associate professor at Liverpool Hope University who co-edits The F Scott Fitzgerald Review.

Dr Blazek told the Press Association: “I find it really fascinating that Eugenie chose this, as it’s really about the complexities of fitting in that the smile represents in some ways and how difficult and even impossible it is.

“It’s the subtleties of that class – the secure money, the old money – there are little things they can pick out that show he’s not part of that world.”

The Great Gatsby was written as a parable about the ravages of wealth and desire, framed by the pursuit of what became known as the American dream.

Nick – a member of the elite himself – notes his ostentatious neighbour is a man whose “elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd”, while his words are picked with “care” – implying he is mimicking the manner of a class to which he does not belong.

Dr Blazek’s views were echoed by Dr Tara Stubbs, an associate professor in English literature and creative writing from the University of Oxford, who said: “The sense that Gatsby doesn’t belong within the gilded worlds of West Egg and East Egg underlines Nick’s characterisation of him here, and it is therefore strange that possible parallels with the royal family and outsiders might not have been noticed before selecting the passage.”

She added, however: “The Great Gatsby is one of those novels that people often read for the beauty of its language, and if we read this passage out of context it can be seen as a gorgeous description of unspoken communication between two people, which is why (I imagine) it was chosen.”

Dr Blazek also welcomed the departure from the usual readings of scripture seen at royal weddings.

He said: “Thank you, Princess Eugenie, for reminding people of the greatness of The Great Gatsby as a novel and if it gets more people to go back to that novel then she has done a great service to literature.”