“She was doubting now whether there had been any moral issue involved in her way of life—to walk unworried and unregretful along the gayest of all possible lanes and to keep her pride by being always herself and doing what it seemed beautiful that she should do . . . ” [3, II, 330]
Never has a novel been more depressing than The Beautiful and Damned. The way this book depresses is not about physical perishing—not that from warfare, abuse, or violation of humanity as in A Fine Balance, but a perishing from within, a perishing from a lack of sensibility. The book is a devastating portrait of the debauchery of the Jazz Age, when socially elite and privileged make up the Cafe Society. The Beautiful and Damned is about a young couple, Harvard-educated Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert, living out their days to the hilt in New York City as they await the death of Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch from whom they expect to inherit his stupendous fortune.
Gloria laughed, torn between delight and derision; she resented his sophistry as at the same time she admired his nonchalance. She would never blame him for being the ineffectual idler so long as he did sincerely, from the attitude that nothing much was worth doing. [2, II, 178]
Spoiled and capricious, Gloria does not intend to do any domestic work at home, let alone seeking employment. She is one minute in love with Anthony and the next he comes a thing of indifference to her. Considers himself an aesthete, Anthony finds it difficult buckling down to some work. He dapples in writing stories. Instead of keeping down expenses, the couple, feeling entitled because of the imminent inheritance and their social status, lives a life of high-handed extravagance. While they live high in the hog, completely blind and senseless, under the deception of the glamorous lifestyle, they spiral into tragedy.
Things had been slipping perceptibly. There was the money question, increasingly annoying, increasingly ominous; there was the realization that liquor had become a practical necessity to their amusement—not an uncommon phenomenon in the British aristocracy of a hundred years ago . . . after Adam Patch’s unexpected call, they awoke, nauseated, and tired, dispirited with life, capable only of one pervasive emotion—fear. [2, III, 233]
The Beautiful and Damned reads like a social document that meditates on marriage, love, and money. It doesn’t assume much of a plot other than that the finality of the couple’s destiny is clearly marked long before the end is reached. Anthony and Gloria do nothing while waiting for something of meaning to arrive, never realizing that meaning had passed them by, in the end leaving them with nothing. Fitzgerald’s masterful prose, filled with romantic imagination, guides this couple, doomed from the beginning, to the end in his grand scheme of purpose, which is made known through the many asides provided by the surrounding characters, except that this literary plan is populated by beings who are devoid of any purpose. Consider his figurative language, strong and pervasive:
“It is seven thirty on an August evening. The windows in the living room of the gray house are wide open patiently exchanging the tainted inner atmosphere of liquor and smoke for the fresh drowsiness of the late hot dusk. There are dying flower scents upon the air, so thin, so fragile, as to hint already of a summer laid away in time.”
386 pp. Modern Library Classics. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow] *I select Borrow in comparison to The Great Gatsby, which is a Buy because I do enjoy a story with more dynamics in the plot.