The shadow-figure behind The Great Gatsby: James, Duke of Monmouth
by James Ellis


In a letter dated July 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Maxwell Perkins that he wanted his next novel to be “new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned.” That Fitzgerald succeeded is almost an axiom of modern criticism. Among the most significant of the patterns that Fitzgerald developed is the special relationship that exists between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby. The purpose of this paper is to suggest one identification having to do with James, Duke of Monmouth, in order to establish how consciously and subtly Fitzgerald used the device of the double in creating his Carraway-Gatsby relationship.

The novel begins with Nick Carraway having completed his sojourn in the East and having returned to his family home in the Middle West. During the summer of 1922 he has lived through and, to a degree, shared in Gatsby’s pursuit of an illusion. The result is that Carraway is now a subdued, responsible young man who wants the world to be at a “sort of moral attention forever.” He has had enough of the corrupt East and its glamorous illusions. Thus, as he introduces himself to the reader in preparation for his telling the story of Gatsby, he draws attention to his own family tradition and, in the same sentence, admits that this tradition is an illusion. Carraway says, “The Carraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we’re descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather’s brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on to-day” (p. 3). This reference to “the Dukes of Buccleuch” is an important allusion whereby Fitzgerald early in the novel foreshadows the Carraway-Gatsby relationship.

Who were “the Dukes of Buccleuch”? Fitzgerald makes a second reference to them in the novel but again refrains from disclosing their identity. This time he refers to them under another of their titles—the Earls of Doncaster. This occurs in the scene in which Gatsby and Nick are riding into New York to have lunch together and Gatsby is attempting to impress Nick so that he will help him meet Daisy. In order that Nick will not think him “just some nobody” (p. 81), Gatsby tells him a romantic version of his early life. Part of the trappings that Gatsby provides for himself is his having been educated at Oxford, because, as Gatsby says, “all my ancestors have been educated there for many years” (p. 78). So just as “the Dukes of Buccleuch” are a family tradition for Nick Carraway at the time he meets Gatsby, so is going to Oxford for Jay Gatsby. He explains this to Nick: “It is a family tradition” (p. 78).

To help substantiate his story, Gatsby produces two items—his medal from Montenegro inscribed “Major Jay Gatsby… For Valour Extraordinary” and the photograph which was taken at Oxford. Nick, who till this time had thought Gatsby’s story a fabrication, is astonished at the medal since it seems authentic and thus would tend to support Gatsby’s story. He describes the second item as a “photograph of half a dozen young men in blazers loafing in an archway through which were visible a host of spires. There was Gatsby, looking a little, not much, younger—with a cricket bat in his hand” (p. 80). As he shows Nick the photograph, Gatsby says, “’Here’s another thing I always carry. A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity Quad—the man on my left is now the Earl of Doncaster’” (p. 80). Gatsby thereby provides another reference to “the Dukes of Buccleuch,” since the same man possesses the two titles.

What has not been pointed out about these two titles, however, is the fact that they were created for James, Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685). Monmouth was born 9 April 1649 in Rotterdam and was the illegitimate son of Charles II and an early mistress, Lucy Walters. In July 1662, Charles II summoned Monmouth from Paris to London. That autumn, in anticipation of his marriage to Anne Scott, Monmouth took the surname Scott and was knighted, Sir James Scott. On 14 February 1663, he was created Duke of Monmouth, Earl of Doncaster, and Baron Tyndall. On 20 April 1663, he married Anne Scott and was created Duke of Buccleuch. At this time Anne Scott held the title of Countess of Buccleuch in her own right and, as the wife of Monmouth, the courtesy title of Duchess of Buccleuch. On 16 January 1666, she was created Duchess of Buccleuch in her own right.

After the death of Charles II in 1685, Monmouth invaded England at Lyme Regis on 11 June. A Bill of Attainder was passed on 16 June attainting Monmouth of high treason and calling for his death and forfeiture of all titles. At Taunton on 20 June, Monmouth responded by having himself proclaimed King of England. He was defeated at Sedgemoor on 6 July and was captured two days later. He was returned to London, imprisoned in the Tower, and on 15 July 1685, beheaded on Tower Hill.

As a result of Monmouth’s attainder and execution, only the Scottish titles of Countess and Duchess of Buccleuch that she had held in her own right were left to Anne Scott. The title of Duke of Buccleuch descended to her and Monmouth’s grandson, Francis Scott, at her death in 1732. Later, by an act of parliament of 1743, Francis Scott was restored to the English titles that had been lost to the family by Monmouth’s attainder with the one exception of that title by which James Scott has always been best known to history— the Duke of Monmouth. In this way Francis Scott, who had been the Duke of Buccleuch since his grandmother’s death in 1732, became also in 1743 the Earl of Doncaster. The man whom Gatsby identifies in the photograph as the present Earl of Doncaster would be the descendant of this Francis Scott, the grandson of James, Duke of Monmouth.

Fitzgerald intended these titles to serve an artistic purpose in The Great Gatsby. I have seen neither the unrevised proofs nor Fitzgerald’s revised proofs, but evidence from the manuscript facsimile suggests that Fitzgerald attempted an earlier use of the Buccleuch-Doncaster-Monmouth device before arriving at his final effect. In the manuscript of the novel, Nick Carraway refers to his family tradition of “the Dukes of Buccleuch” just as he does in the published text. But the scene in the manuscript in which Gatsby makes reference to “the Earl of Doncaster” is different in one important particular from that of the published text. In the manuscript Gatsby says that the man on his left is now “the Earl of Kenson-Whey.” This would indicate that at some time in the composition of the novel Fitzgerald must have realized that he could intensify the relationship of Carraway and Gatsby by changing “the Earl of Kenson-Whey” to “the Earl of Doncaster.” In this way, he would preserve their aristocratic leanings and, at the same time, strengthen their relationship as doubles, since they would be looking back at the same family in their reference to the English aristocracy.

With this Buccleuch-Doncaster-Monmouth reference, Fitz­gerald, much like T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land, provided an historical archetype as background and commentary for Gatsby’s quest. For James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, Duke of Buccleuch, and Earl of Doncaster, nothing would suffice except that he assume the English throne as King James II. Similarly, for James Gatz nothing will do except that he be recognized as THE GREAT GATSBY, a recognition that waits upon his winning Daisy Fay, the golden girl who symbolizes the incarnation of all the powers of his imagination.

The end for Gatsby, as it was for Monmouth, is death. Nick Carraway, as the spiritual double of Gatsby, has been able to identify empathetically with him and to understand the meaning of Gatsby’s American Dream. Because of this he can make his judgment that Gatsby is “worth the whole damn bunch put together” (p. 185). Nick Carraway has also seen in Gatsby’s death the results of attempting to live an illusion. For this reason, as he begins to tell his story of Gatsby, Nick admits that his family’s tradition that they are descended from “the Dukes of Buccleuch” is only an illusion. In repudiating this illusion Nick makes a personal acknowledgment that he has learned from Gatsby’s story the danger of substituting illusion for reality.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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