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.
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.