Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Classics and Cocktails: The Beautiful and Damned

This month's classic for the 12 in 2012 challenge was The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. After Tolstoy it was a fantastic relief. Reading it, I didn't feel like I was hiking up the world's steepest hill.

I love Fitzgerald's way with words and, as I read, I stopped often to jot down quotes I liked. For instance, on page 91, he writes that "All the evil hate in the mad heart of February was wrought into the forlorn and icy wind..."

Oh yes, that's the stuff.

The Beautiful and Damned is the story of Anthony and Gloria Patch, their relationship before they get married and what happens after. The relationship is based largely on Fitzgerald's own marriage to Zelda Sayre, a Southern belle from Montgomery, Alabama. The two were well-known for their drinking and partying.

Gloria, like Zelda, is beautiful and charming and much-pursued by the men around her.  She doesn't seem particularly impressed. At one point, Fitzgerald gives us this gem from Gloria's diary:

"I've decided that this matter of sticking to things wears one out, particularly when the things concerned are men." 

Amen, sister.

When Anthony first says to Gloria, "I love you," she says in return, "I- I'm so glad." Basically, she's the literary equivalent of John John here. "You love me? Um...count this penny."

Anthony's grandfather is excessively wealthy and Anthony is simply waiting for the money to come to him. So he spends his days drinking and living beyond his means. There is a common thread with a lot of alcoholics in books and, let's face it, in reality and it is this attitude of "When am I going to get what's coming to me?" 

Oh, dude, you're going to get what's coming to you. 

Anthony's grandfather dies and Anthony finds out that he has been cut out of the will. He decides to go to court to get the money he believes should be his. 

After war is declared, Anthony goes off to training camp down south, where he does very little other than have an affair with a woman named Dot and continue to be selfish and self-indulgent. When he comes back, it is clear his relationship with Gloria will never be what it was when it began. They were beautiful in the beginning and destined for great things, or so they perceived themselves to be. But the years of alcoholism and debt have robbed them of the ability to see beauty in each other. For me, it seems that all they ever really saw in each other was a reflection of what they believed to be true about themselves or what they wanted to be true. 

Even as Anthony is leaving on the train, you know that the connection between husband and wife was tenuous at best. Gloria is late and arrives in time only to see Anthony across a distance. "At the last they were too far away for either to see the other's tears."  

Gloria, too, is selfish and drinks excessively. She has always been beautiful and has always gotten what she wanted. "If I wanted anything, I'd take it... I can't be bothered resisting things I want."

At the end, the court decides in Anthony's favor and he inherits his grandfather's $30 million. But, by this time, Anthony has been losing control of himself and his alcoholism. He has been stumbling around New York, slurring his words and trying to sell bonds. I found the part about Anthony's attempts to be a salesman excruciating. I can't imagine much worse than going on cold calls. I'd probably get wasted drunk beforehand, too. 

On the same day the court will decide if he gets his inheritance, Anthony is pushed over the edge by a visit from pathetic and desperate Dot. He hurls a chair at her in a rage and, I assume, she runs back home to Mississippi. Gloria comes home to find him sitting on the floor with his stamp collection, acting like a little boy. 

"Get out," he says, protective of his collection. "Or I'll tell my grandfather." 

When the novel ends, Anthony and Gloria have all the money they wanted but Anthony is "a little crazy." 

As for Gloria, she is exactly what she never wanted to be. 

In the beginning, Gloria expresses her concern for being "clean" and she is drawn to Anthony because he seems "clean" too. "You and I are clean like streams and winds. I can tell whenever I see a person whether he is clean, and if so, which kind of clean he is.”

More than six years later, a character says of Gloria, "I can't stand her, you know. She seems sort of - sort of dyed and unclean, if you know what I mean." 

Here's a good example of what someone who is "clean" might look like: 

Here is what someone who is "unclean" might look like: 
Overall, I enjoyed the book, although I can't say there was a truly likable character among the bunch. It's a book about selfish people cursed with weakness and addiction. And I should confess I took a brief break from Jazz Age shenanigans to read a memoir by Bill Clegg titled Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man and a thriller titled Before I Go to Sleep

I found this review of The Beautiful and Damned from 1922. Apparently, the critic did not like the book at all: 
"The novel is full of that kind of pseudo-realism which results from shutting one's eyes to all that is good in human nature, and looking only upon that which is small and mean-a view quite as false as its extreme opposite, which, reversing the process, results in what we have learned to classify as "glad" books. It is to be hoped that Mr. Fitzgerald, who possesses a genuine, undeniable talent, will some day acquire a less one-sided understanding."


  1. Oh, shit. I think John-John and I went to the same school for awkwardly ditching dudes. O.O

    1. ha! Me too! I had a guy tell me he loved me awhile back (he was drunk, of course) and I imagine the look on my face was pretty much like poor John-John's there. "Count this penny!"

  2. I was thinking that at the end, Dot was just a hallucination and was the final blow that broke the camels back which drove Anthony to complete insanity. But i'm not too sure either.

    1. Oh, that's an interesting idea. Maybe a guilt-induced hallucination? But it's hard to imagine Anthony feeling much guilt about anything, so maybe not.


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