The Beautiful and the Damned
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In 1913, a 25-year-old man, Anthony Patch, falls in love with a socialite named Gloria. The pair is ill-suited, neither one practical or hardworking, but their passionate love is based more on momentary infatuation than a long-lasting partnership. What follows is their marriage and then their inevitable disillusionment with each other and their lives. Fitzgerald’s gift for language is clear in every description. His novel paints a poetic picture, even though the characters themselves fill you with disdain.
“Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know—because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot. And when I got it it turned to dust in my hands."
"I've often thought that if I hadn't got what I wanted things might have been different with me. I might have found something in my mind and enjoyed putting it in circulation. I might have been content with the work of it, and had some sweet vanity out of the success."
The progression of their marriage is all too familiar. They’re delighted with each new thing they discover about each other. Every new behavior is endearing instead of infuriating, but soon the delightful revelations turn to irritating quirks and then to soul-crushing habits. As you learn who your spouse truly is, flaws and all, it can be incredibly painful to come to terms with the marriage if you’ve chosen badly.
“It was, at first, a keen disappointment; later, it was one of the times when she controlled her temper."
Their downfall is so tragic because it’s so inevitable, yet it still comes as a surprise to them. They are trapped in a state of arrested development, perpetual partiers who are shocked when they begin to grow older and realize the life they love requires money that they don’t have.
Anthony is a pitiful character. He expects his family to give him money and has never had to work for a living. Because of this he has a view of self-importance but a lack of self-respect. As the story progresses he loses himself more and more in drink. Gloria reminded me of Estella from Great Expectations. She’s so admired that most men bore her. She flits from one to another with no real attachment. It’s not until she’s unhappily married for years that she begins to grow up. Her downfall feels all the more tragic because she doesn’t really become aware of what she values and desires until she is saddle with an alcoholic husband and those dreams are even farther out of reach.
BOTTOM LINE: For me it’s Fitzgerald’s writing and not his characters or plot that make him great. Tender is the Night is still my favorite of his books, but this one captures that unique moment in time when an entire generation glittered with hope before reality set in. That oft repeated pattern still rings true today when bright-eyed millennials realize the party finally has to stop.
“In a panic of despair and terror Anthony was brought back to America, wedded to a vague melancholy that was to stay beside him through the rest of his life.”
"A classic," suggested Anthony, "is a successful book that has survived the reaction of the next period or generation.”
“Surely the freshness of her cheeks was a gossamer projection from a land of delicate and undiscovered shades; her hand gleaming on the stained table-cloth was a shell from some far and wildly virginal sea….”