The Beautiful and Damned
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Beautiful and Damned provides a harrowing look at New York City’s cafe society during the emergence of the Jazz Age. Experiencing this world through the eyes of Anthony Patch, a socialite in want of motivation, direction, and purpose, the reader is introduced to many of the social vices common to the 1920s and still common today. Addressing much of the elitism and decadence common to this period, this mediation on love and morality remains a chilling and provocative read.
Bilphism – Philosophy
Idleness – Laziness
Wealth – Entitlement
Vanity – Alcoholism
For me these four sets of words sum up the scope of the novel. As a whole, I didn’t really care for the book but there were some good parts, primarily Anthony’s philosophical/poetic musings, many of which I didn’t always agree with. I think Fitzgerald wrote this with the intention of trying to make a point about a generation of youths with a displaced sense of entitlement, a lack of direction and a borderline insane resistance to find direction.
‘Anthony Patch with no record of achievement, without courage, without strength to be satisfied with truth when it was given him. Oh, he was a pretentious fool, making careers out of cocktails and meanwhile regretting, weakly and secretly, the collapse of an insufficient and wretched idealism’ p.24 Location 593
Although Anthony Patch is basically a waste, he’s not totally unlikeable. He experiences bouts of both depression and insecurity, and happiness and nervous excitement, as I’m sure we all do. But then he meets Gloria…This Gloria is the quintessence of beauty, a society girl. If she is ugly in anyway, it would be because she’s excessively selfish and full of herself. Fitzgerald is pretty heavy-handed with the theme of beauty. He even includes a lengthy dialogue between Beauty and The Voice at the beginning of the novel.
‘The Voice: Yes, it is truly a melancholy spectacle. Women with receding chins and shapeless noses go about in broad daylight saying “Do this!” and “Do that!” and all the men, even those of great wealth, obey implicitly their women…Beauty: But this can’t be true! I can understand of course, their obedience to women of charm—but to fat women? To bony women? To women with scrawny cheeks?' p.12 Location 298
Personalities like Gloria are preoccupied with the decadence of beauty, the ability to keep up outward appearance for dignity and honor. Together Anthony and Gloria become drunk off their own egos; too proud to admit their faults. They’re that really annoying couple who argue all the time but never break up. They go on enabling each other’s bad habits and pretending that all is well in front of their friends. It makes sense that they would marry. They go on together being downright silly; blowing money they don’t have, throwing parties, refusing to do anything to earn a living. All this happens in anticipation of the death of Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch, a very rich man whose name carries weight in high society. There is a point in the novel where Anthony joins the military and is separated from Gloria for a time. The military experience seems to purge him of the idle poison…for a little while anyways.
'As the heat faded, Anthony found himself increasingly glad to be alive. Renewed strangely through the body, he worried little and existed in the present with a sort of animal content. It was not that Gloria or the life that Gloria represented was less often in his thoughts—it was simply that she became day-by-day, less real, less vivid' p.145 Location 3564
But eventually Anthony and Gloria reconnect and settle back into their old ways. And because of their silliness and laziness, they lose the weak identities they’ve established for themselves while waiting for the inheritance money (Although I would also argue they never had a true identity, just an ideal and beauty). Fittingly they aren’t left a dime in the will. I guess the moral of the story is find something to do, even when it seems like there’s nothing to do because there’s always something to do, and you’ll be a better person for doing it. Especially since the alternative is getting piss drunk every day and arguing with your spouse.
The Beautiful and Damned