The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)

 

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This past year the world went Gatsby-crazy.  Because there was a new film adaption of The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Lurhman, the acclaimed novel jumped out of the high school curriculum and back into popular consciousness.  In the United States and Canada there were reports of marked book sales increases.  Even Brooks Brothers began selling a Great Gatsby inspired clothing collection.  It’s always great when classic literature gets the dust shaken off its covers and is read for enjoyment.  But what about the other works of F. Scott Fitzgerald?
    The Beautiful and Damned is a novel that is the least known and read of his writings.  Is it because it’s a slighter work compared to his stories and his other novels?  To a certain extent, yes.  While focusing on similar themes as The Great Gatsby, it doesn’t have the same mystique of that novel.  It also doesn’t have the youthful energy of his debut novel, This Side of Paradise.  To be honest, it doesn’t even have the fun of his short stories.  So what does it have?  A gripping story, strong characterization, detailed description of jazz-era New York, and themes that modern readers understand.
    The story revolves around Anthony and Gloria Patch.  They are a young couple living amidst the whirl of The Roaring Twenties.  Like many newly-married couples they aspire to a life of comfort.  Furthermore, the fortune of Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch, looms in the background.  As they grow more materialistic, their lives unravel and they become more discontented.  It’s a sad story about people who try to find happiness in material things, and as a result, lose more than they gain.  Eerily, the novel, out of all of Fitzgerald’s stories, best foreshadows the later tragedy of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  Gloria’s beauty fades, and Anthony drowns his problems in alcohol.
    It’s also interesting that when people think of The Great Gatsby they think of New York City.  However, the majority of the novel takes place on Long Island.  The Beautiful and Damned, in fact, is a more city-centered novel.  The majority of the sights and sounds mentioned in the novel were actual things that could be experienced at the time of the novel’s publishing.  The reader really gets the vibe of post-World War I New York City life, the glitter and the gutter.  Not only is the reader introduced to the social scene of New York, but one encounters the social dilemmas, such as immigration and ethnicity, that were discussed and debated at the time.
    If you choose to read this novel, what can you bring to the experience?  Take your time as your eyes and mind take in the scintillating prose.  Fitzgerald was one of the masters of modernistic baroque language.  Although his prose style is often considered old-fashioned when compared to his fellow modern, Hemingway, one cannot help but be lifted on figurative clouds when reading some of his best descriptions.  One should also take time to connect to the characters of Anthony and Gloria.  If one is not invested in the characters at the start of the story, one will wonder why he took this literary journey, and he’ll feel empty without any resolution.  So go ahead and step into The Roaring Twenties, dancing the Charleston and Lindy Hop and hiding away in a speakeasy, and enjoy a “hidden” work by Fitzgerald. 

-December 5, 2013