Jazz Age January: The Beautiful and Damned

If you think that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most popular title “The Great Gatsby” is a bleak read, then you have not started on “The Beautiful and Damned.” I have developed a love-hate relationship with it because it is downright depressing right from the start and it gets only worse as the story develops, making it a wonderful but tedious read to get through.

A semi-autobiography of the author’s marriage to his wife Zelda Fitzgerald, the novel centered around Anthony Patch, apparent heir to his millionaire philanthropist grandfather’s wealth, and his beautiful wife Gloria. Despite being physically attractive and financially comfortable, the couple led a destructive lifestyle filled with endless parties, booze and fun, typical of the decadence of the Roaring Twenties.

“There was the odor of tobacco always – both of them smoked incessantly; it was in their clothes, their blankets, the curtains, and the ash-littered carpets. Added to this was the wretched aura of stale wine, with its inevitable suggestion of beauty gone foul and revelry remembered in disgust… There had been many parties – people broke things; people became sick in Gloria’s bathroom; people spilled wine; people made unbelievable messes of the kitchenette.

These things were a regular part of their existence.”

All that merrymaking and revelry filled the grayness that permeated their empty lives. For Anthony, the wannabe author who lacked courage and will to execute anything in life, and for Gloria, the self-centered individual whose mere aim was to enjoy life and bear no children.

In between them, they wanted to do nothing, with Anthony proclaiming that “I do nothing, for there’s nothing I can do that’s worth doing.” Even in hard times, the couple evaded practicalities, choosing to down their sorrows in wine and whiskey while questioning the meaning of their existence.

“Life is so damned hard.” She was crying upon his shoulder. “So damned hard, so damned hard,” he repeated aimlessly; “it just hurts people and hurts people, until finally it hurts them so that they can’t be hurt ever any more. That’s the last and worst thing it does.”

Reading The Beautiful and Damned felt like riding on a derailed train heading for an inevitable disaster that Fitzgerald has powerfully weaved together. The rhythm of the plot was paced such that layers after layers were slowly peeled off from the glitz and glamour exterior to reveal the moral decay of the Jazz Age.

The Beautiful and Damned is a pulchritudinous masterpiece that will move you while leaving you angry and disappointed at the same time. And if it is the story of the relationship between Fitzgerald and his wife, it is hard to not to feel pathetically sorry for them.

Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald

This post is part of my participation in Jazz Age January, a challenge created by fellow book blogger Leah from “Books Speak Volumes.” If you want to find out more about it, check it out on her blog.

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22 thoughts on “Jazz Age January: The Beautiful and Damned

  1. Really enjoyed your review…timely for me as I am almost finished with Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. While this is fiction, it reads as though Zelda herself is speaking to you, making it seem…more intimate somehow. I am utterly fascinated by their story along with the Hemingway’s and all the various talent (writers/musicians/painters) that intermingled in Jazz Age Paris. I found myself inadvertently immersed with a whetted appetite for more, all from differing points of view. I recognize some will be Fiction and some Non-Fiction. To me, it is a beguiling thematic journey…one I am thoroughly enjoying!

    Didn’t mean to ramble, just thought it intriguing to find you here in the blogiverse discussing the very topic I am currently enamored with. Thank you for an amazing review!

  2. I love the way you describe this book! Calling it a train wreck is perfect. Anthony and Gloria are such a glorious disaster that you just can’t look away.

    What did you think of the ending? I can’t decide if I like that it ends with them inheriting and moving to Europe. It’s like there’s no lesson; they got what they wanted. But now they’ll just continue to spiral destructively, and they still won’t be happy.

    1. Hey Leah,

      The Patch couple is certainly a gloriously perfect disaster, and the ending is befitting, where Anthony in particular continues to live his life in denial and folly. The conclusion certainly is a sad and pathetic, but it fits well into the overall scheme of the novel to once again harp upon the emptiness and shallowness of the Jazz Age.

    1. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing that the Anthony Patch of the 1920s still exist in today’s society, giving a sense that things haven’t changed that much. Will swing by your blog when I have the time (:

  3. Great article! Scott and Zelda have always fascinated me. Their destructive lifestyle was so tragic, but as a teenager, I was really into their “angst.” No so much anymore. I like your blog.

  4. Gatsby was far from a bleak read. It was an engineering effort.

    You’ve read Shakespeare, I assume. The brilliance of that guy was language and cadence. If you read Shakespeare too fast or too slow you trip over the words. You have to keep up but not get too far ahead. Gatsby is the same. You will never appreciate unless you have to read it aloud in one sitting. You’re a simpleton. Fuck you.

  5. I would like to give the book a shot, now that I´ve read your post, but I guess after The Great Gatsby my expectations will overshadow the experience 😦 However, I believe I´ve heard that this was the work with the best reception at his time (TGG was not so popular at all!)

  6. Yep, that sounds about right. I am often astonished by just how frank and expositional Fitzgerald was with his own life. One would think that Zelda might have something to say about it. But then again, given their tumultuous relationship, I’m betting she did!

  7. I know what you mean about ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’; I’ve often wondered whether the sense that it is, at least in part, autobiographical makes it harder to stomach. Gatsby is so much rooted in myth and romance that his death is somehow fitting in its tragedy. The bleakness is tempered by that ‘extraordinary gift for hope’. Have you read ‘Tender is the Night’? It’s one of my favourite books – a bit meatier than Gatsby. Would definitely recommend.

  8. I remember reading many of Dostoyevsky’s books. of You get a little tired of wading for the long names and tongue twisters. And sometimes I get kind of confused with those layers you have described. How patience will reveal the beauty of books like these, become it finally comes to you.

  9. Hmm…not entirely sure if I am sold on this one. I have to admit that I suffered through The Great Gatsby and there was very little satisfaction when I finished it…the satisfaction was mostly related to the fact that it was over…the problem is, I like the way Fitzgerald writes but not necessarily what he writes about. For me, he is an epitome of beautiful words in bleak (although I would go for blank) context. But I think I might l give The Beautiful and Damned a try.

  10. pulchritudinous! now that’s a word! I enjoyed reading your review—I am not surprised that the depressed Fitzgerald would write an even bleaker novel than “Great Gatsby.” I thought the relationship between Fitzgerald and Zelda was rather accurately captured in “Midnight in Paris.”

    1. Yup, would definitely recommend The Beautiful and Damned if you’ve completed The Great Gatsby, which I thought was less bleak, not blank, as compared to the former. At least with Jay Gatsby, you could still feel he was acting out of passion but for the male protagonist, Anthony Patch, in the Beautiful and Damned, he was simply spineless and cringe worthy. Hope you’ll enjoy The Beautiful and Damned as much as I did!

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