Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Since reading Fitzgerald's first novel This Side of Paradise, I have been absolutely smitten with his lyrical writing and storytelling. He has the uncanny ability to make such vacuous, unlikeable characters  as Gloria and Anthony Patch in this his second novel The Beautiful and Damned seem interesting. I want to know more. I want to know what makes such self-absorbed, greedy people tick (and I want to shake them up and tell them to get over themselves for chrissake) It's a tragedy, really. They make a train wreck of their lives and as this FSF enthusiast notes it makes you wonder, would either Anthony or Gloria have been as miserable without the influence of the other? Alcoholism loomed large in their relationship bringing with it a vicious co-dependancy that was probably little understood a hundred years ago. Fitzgerald, though, was able to portray this condition with incredible insight and clarity most likely because he and his wife Zelda were themselves plagued with alcoholism. It's well known that Fitzgerald lived a similarly privileged life to those of the characters he writes about in his books and yet he doesn't glamorize the outward show of wealth in any positive or compelling way. His tales are cautionary tales. Even when it comes to drinking there are often one or two characters who 'don't use the stuff.' Jay Gatsby, too, if I remember correctly, never drinks alcohol in The Great Gatsby. Interesting, that. Perhaps this is why I find his work so compelling. His stories are excellent portrayals and character studies of people at the peak of one of the most classist times in modern history. The haves were leagues removed from the have-nots, totally oblivious, and just as fallible. Fitzgerald understood that alcoholism is an equal opportunity destroyer that makes no class distinctions.

A few weeks ago I came across a copy of Zelda Fitzgerald's biography at a used book store and could kick myself for passing it up. I left the store thinking the usual *yada yada* I have too many books already and I have to draw the line somewhere (right? right?) But then realized when I got home that I needed to know more about such a tragic figure. I decided to go back and get it the next day . . . BUT IT WAS GONE. Of course. Arrgh.

The Beautiful and Damned is the story of Anthony Patch and his wife, Gloria. Harvard educated and an aspiring aesthete, Patch is waiting for his inheritance upon his grandfather's death. His reckless marriage to Gloria is fueled by alcohol-induced fiascos  - first in hilarity, and then in despair. The Beautiful and Damned, a devastating portrait of the nouveaux riches, New York night life, reckless ambition, and squandered talent, was published in 1922 on the heels of Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise. It signaled his maturity as a storyteller and, more important, as a novelist. (back cover)


As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

This author has been on my mind a lot this year. I read Gatsby for the first time much earlier this year and recently rewatched the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version of the film.

There's something so tight about Fitzgerald's writing, and I've been toying with the idea of reading another one of his books. Not sure which one to choose, though.

Trish said...

When I find an author I like I try and read their work from first book to last. So perhaps read This Side of Paradise next, then Beautiful and Damned and go from there. Even though I've reread Gatsby recently too, I still figure a chronological order would be fun to follow for the remaining books.

I have Tender Is The Night on my bookshelf although I'm not sure where that falls in the chronology. I think it's his third? I'll have to look that up before I proceed.

I'm eager to see which one you choose and what your thoughts are.

laughingwolf said...

back in the mists of time i must have read fsf, but damned if i can recall which one or when

had my own probs w/booze, not alcoholism as such, rather drinking to excess at some events... learned my 'lesson' in my 20s, now limit it to 'first buzz', which, at my age, is like 3 beers! :O lol

bought 12-pack when i moved here july 2010, had last beer from it around november....