An enticing picture in G2 on Thursday showed a soulful man, darkly handsome, white shirt unbuttoned, leaning forward to embrace a woman in a vibrant red gown. Above their heads was the legend: Gone With the Wind, to advertise the musical version of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, also running in London. Would this image, I mused, have been quite so alluring if the title across the top had been not Gone With the Wind, but, as was once proposed, Pansy? Or Tote the Weary Load? Or even – hardly credible, but I found it solemnly listed as one of the earlier contenders – Ba! Ba! Black Sheep?
And though copyright disputes are rare in these matters, they’re not unknown. David Lodge, who’s just published a novel with the not entirely grabby title Deaf Sentence, wanted to call one of his earlier books The British Museum Has Lost Its Charm – a line from the George and Ira Gershwin song, A Foggy Day in London Town. The custodians of the Gershwin legacy forbade him to do so, and he had to make do with The British Museum is Falling Down. Later he produced another book whose title came from the Gershwins – Nice Work (from the lines “Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try”). This time, there was no prohibition.
But pride of place in the study of titlography that I’ve just begun must go to F Scott Fitzgerald. This Side of Paradise started life as The Education of a Personage. The Beautiful and the Damned was at one stage due to be called The Flight of the Rocket. But the biggest struggle of all was over the book we know as The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald wanted to call it Trimalchio or, later, Trimalchio in West Egg.