... when he wrote that sentence, which is today's sentence from "The Great Gatsby." (Every day we isolate and talk about one sentence from "The Great Gatsby.")
El Greco painted that "View of Toledo" circa 1600. That seems too long ago for a man to have been painting like that. It's hard to understand how that could have happened. But maybe you are thinking: Toledo!? Was that part of the Ohio Inquisition we were just talking about?
I'll remind you once again of the look for the light question that almost always works in "Gatsby" sentences. Here we've got the absence of light. After last night, when Gatsby was his own light source...
(GIF by Chip Ahoy.)
.... tonight we have the moon and it is lustreless.
Lustre is a lovely word, evoking lust, though its lineage is different. Lust comes from the Germanic, and lustre comes from the Latin and is all about illumination. "The quality or condition of shining by reflected light; sheen, refulgence; gloss," says the OED. But here there is no light to the moon. Lustreless. It's a night scene. There are houses, here in America, not off in Spain, but you get the picture. It's like that El Greco. And in case you don't see it clearly — F. Scott Fitzgerald has a bunch of adjectives to make the point: conventional, grotesque, crouching, sullen, overhanging, and — as noted — lustreless.
Even as there is contradiction in depriving the moon of its light, we've got contradiction in conventional and grotesque. It's an ordinary scene, houses on a landscape at night. But see it as grotesque. Put your El Greco distortion glasses on. Did you know that the etymology of the word grotesque has to do with painting and that, like El Greco's painting, it goes back to 1600?
c.1600s, originally a noun (1560s), from Middle French crotesque (16c., Modern French grotesque), from Italian grottesco, literally "of a cave," from grotta (see grotto). The usual explanation is that the word first was used of paintings found on the walls of basements of Roman ruins (Italian pittura grottesca), which OED finds "intrinsically plausible." Originally "fanciful, fantastic," sense became pejorative after mid-18c.Grotesque was a happier concept 300 years ago. Who knows what happened in grottoes back then?