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[289] The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald

“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.

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18 Responses

  1. I finished “The Curious case of Benjamin Button and six other stories” 3 days ago, and was eyeing the next Fritzgerald to read. It would either be this or “Tender is the night”. 🙂

    • Although the story has nothing to do with Tender is the Night, this book is considered the successor of Tender as Fitzgerald continues the same line of exploration in wealth and marriage.

  2. I read a reviewed tender is the night about a week ago which my my first Fitzgerald novel. I LOVED it, I’m thinking of reading the great gatsby for my next Fitzgerald outing.

  3. The title itself gives you a feel of foreboding. I’ve been pondering lately about my reaction to darker books. There are some that are as dark as they come, but I love them. And others that just make me want to jump from a tall building at the end. Is my reaction determined by my mood, or something else? I don’t have the answer yet.

    • It does—and that is the reason why I decided to go for it, to see how differently Fitzgerald describes a doomed marriage in comparison to The Great Gatsby. This book is far more depressing because it’s more a mental deterioration.

  4. This is the first review I’ve read of this work. I’ve been thinking of reading Fitzgerald again soon, but this probably won’t be the one I choose. Am considering the collection of stories I just bought or Tender is the Night.

    • This is probably Fitzgerald’s most esoteric novel. It never occurred to me to read it until I saw it featured at A Different Light Books, a bookstore that specializes in LGBT literature. But there isn’t a single gay character in this novel.

  5. This is so embarrasing but…I have never read Fitzgerald. It sounds as I though I need to add this one to The Great Gatsby which has already been near the top of classic TBR list for quite some time.

  6. This one is on my list to read. It sounds like it will be depressing to read about people who have so little regard for others but then Fitzgerald is so good at portraying characters like that.

    • This book is related to Tender is the Night in terms of style and literary form. Both novels are less plot-driven than The Great Gatsby, which is also very dramatic.

  7. I bought this book for Christmas but haven’t read it yet. I didn’t get :depressing” from the blurb on the cover but now I am curious. Perhaps enough to read it over the next couple of months. Sure, it’s not a summery read but I tend to read meatier things over the summer. I just have more time to read then.

    • Think of this novel as a character study and a social commentary. I have to slow down in various areas of the book to ponder the deeper social issues Fitzgerald is raising.

  8. I already have this book in my must read stack. Thanks for the review!

  9. I loved Gatsby, but this doesn’t sound like it’s on the same level. Though Tender is the Night might be worth it, from what I’ve heard…

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