“Things are sweeter when they’re lost.”

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Following The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitz Gerald published several more books, including The Beautiful and Damned, focusing on the decayed indolence of the spoiled rich. Here, we follow the toxic love story of Anthony Patch, who plans to inherit his uncle’s immense wealth, and the beautiful, social princess, Gloria. The couple meet and woo during the Jazz Age, and they are both inspired by the freedom of a life devoid of work and true calling. They party, they philosophize with cynical friends, they drink, they assuage boredom with endless social debaucheries, and they wait for the old uncle’s fortuitous death. Ostensibly, they already have everything in life they have ever needed, and despite melodrama and meaningless quarrels and extra-marital flirtations, they are mostly secure in their bubble, living well, albeit in a perpetual state of boredom and longing. When the wealthy uncle dies, however, and leaves his estate to others, Anthony and Gloria must face a new sort of life.

The Beautiful and Damned is a slow book, one that echoes the ennui of its listless, quarrelsome characters. As with other Fitz Gerald stories, including my beloved Great Gatsby, there is no winsome protagonist here, no innocent to champion. These people are bred of selfishness and go through their shabby lives hurting others and being hurt in turn. Anthony even tells a story of kicking a kitten to death, simply because he wanted to, making readers and even the normally unflappable Gloria reel in disgust. I’m still traumatized by the very idea and the heartless description.

I felt only hatred for both characters, a kind of enmity so strong that it made me want to stop reading. Part of this is because the story was so slow. Unlike Gatsby, our plot is not a grand one. It is the everyday of watching a marriage dissolve and turn toxic between two equally childish and exploitative people, two people who have never learned the meaning of true love and of work or worthiness. The tale has explosive moments, including a shocking ending, but for the most part it is a sleeper story, opening the window onto a world so grotesque that we wish to escape it and these stifling, alcohol induced, jaded parties as quickly as possible.

The Beautiful and Damned reveals its glittering, false heart too early. From the beginning, we see the type of people Gloria and Anthony will be and the trajectory of their multiple daily betrayals. It’s a beautifully written, yet soulless glance into a world where people remain children, wanting what they cannot have, attaining without earning, demanding engagement and entertainment from a beleaguered society that barely tolerates them anymore. The moral is strong, the look into the last of this inherited wealth no doubt a cuttingly true one. But is it enjoyable for readers? No, quite the opposite. Despite the quality of the woven word, despite the message and the social critique, despite even the surprising ending, this was a book I frankly hated. While I recognize the quality, the reason for it being a classic, I was beyond relieved to shut the book, shuddering. While The Great Gatsby remains one of my favorite books, The Beautiful and Damned made me want to take a big step away from Fitzgerald and his other works. Perhaps that is a testament to his talent: evoking this tawdry world so well. Yet, as a reader, it would have been nice to see the occasional flash of humanity in these obvious monsters. Read with caution.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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