The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

January 16, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): The work that signaled Fitzgerald’s maturity as a storyteller and novelist, The Beautiful and Damned is a devastating portrait of the excesses of the Jazz Age. Anthony Comstock Patch is a Harvard-educated gallant who leisurely aspires to author a book as he awaits an enormous inheritance upon his grandfather’s death. Not quite gorgeous, but considered handsome here and there, he thinks himself an exceptional young man — sophisticated, well-adjusted, and destined to achieve some subtle accomplishment deemed worthy by the elect. Gloria is a sparkling young socialite and a rare beauty. Armed with an incisive wit, she’s at once level and reckless.

Patch’s impassioned marriage to Gloria is fueled by alcohol and consumed by greed. The dazzling couple race through a series of alcohol-induced fiascoes — first in hilarity, and later in despair. The Beautiful and Damned is a piercing and tragic depiction of New York nightlife, reckless ambition, squandered talent, and the faux aristocracy of the nouveaux riches. Published in 1922 on the heels of Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, it gives evidence to the sharp social insight and breathtaking lyricism of one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The portrayal of Anthony and Gloria’s relationship felt very real to me. I’ve been in relationships like that, where things are only good when the money’s there and the couple spend all their time recklessly living it up instead of working, paying bills, and saving. Just as with Anthony and Gloria, that lifestyle is fun for a while, but soon becomes strained and exhausting. Their deterioration hit way too close to home and was very hard to read about at times.
  • Speaking of hitting too close to home, I was surprised to learn that this book predates Scott’s own marriage to Zelda Sayer. Wow, shouldn’t he have used this as a real-life cautionary tale? Was he just perversely determined to become Anthony in the flesh? Yikes.
  • The scenes towards the end of the book where Anthony tried to muster up the courage to ask Maury Noble and the film producer Mr. Black for money were just gut-wrenching. Again, if you’ve ever been in a position of pride/independence and then had to swallow that pride to borrow money… well, Fitzgerald captures those feelings perfectly.
  • The novel really picked up steam after Anthony joined the Army and went south. I didn’t like the Dot character or the way Anthony carelessly disregarded his marriage vows, but that separation from Gloria seemed to be the impetus for the only true action in the entire book.
  • Anthony’s pitiful attempt at becoming a salesman was another part that I found to be very realistic. Anthony is EXACTLY the kind of person who would spend more money trying to make a sale (e.g. getting drunk in bars in order to try to sell stocks to the bartender) than he would ever earn in commissions.
  • Some of the writing was truly wonderful. This particular novel of Fitzgerald’s is generally derided by critics for being too overwrought, and while I do agree that many of the descriptions and adjectives are so ornate as to be distracting, it’s clear that this wasn’t written by an ordinary talent.

Disliked:

  • The first half of the novel dragged in a LOT of places. Gloria and Anthony were interesting for a while, but then their scenes became way too repetitive. They drank, they spent money, they fought, they were irresponsible, they were unproductive members of society….how many different times and in how many different ways did we need to see that?
  • I didn’t like the ending. I thought it would have been more interesting had Gloria and Anthony NOT received any money from the Adam Patch estate. Their downfall was delicious, and since they were utterly selfish characters without any positive qualities, I would have preferred that their descent continue until they were forced to work. To have $30 million fall into their laps at last didn’t feel right. The fact that Anthony was so frail at the time of his inheritance mitigated the situation — but only a little.
  • Dot was kind of a scary little stalker, wasn’t she? First the stunt about threatening to commit suicide if Anthony didn’t come see her right away, and then tracking him down in New York City when she knew damn well he was married… Women who are that desperate always give me the creeps.
  • Did F. Scott Fitzgerald really name check himself in this book by mentioning This Side of Paradise as something that the young folks of the time were reading???
  • Richard Caramel was a tedious character. What purpose did he serve? Was he meant to make Anthony jealous because Anthony wanted to write? Was he meant to be a parody of FSF and his contemporaries? Whatever the case, I didn’t like him.

Rating:

This was my second time reading The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and now that I was able to look at it with the perspective of one who has been through similar situations, I have a whole new appreciation for the characters of Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert. But the book still lacks the tightly focused writing and well plotted structure that Fitzgerald would become famous for with his third novel (Gatsby), and the story wasn’t very compelling after all is said and done. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

Leave a Reply