Monday, December 15, 2014

The Beautiful and Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

. I don't think I've ever read such a devastating depiction of a social class to which the author belonged as The Beautiful and Damned. Fitzgerald's book features two characters similar to himself and his wife Zelda. Anthony Patch is a Harvard man who fancies himself a writer (though he seldom does much writing). Living in New York just prior to World War I, he meets the lovely Gloria from Kansas City, a woman apparently interested in little other than her own beauty. They marry and proceed to live a life of leisure, partying, arguing, and drinking while they wait for Anthony's grandfather to die and leave them his millions. When he dies, however, they learn they have been disinherited. As they wait for their lawsuit challenging the will to be resolved, Anthony and Gloria descend into alcoholism and near-poverty.

Anthony and Gloria are utterly worthless people, and their friends, while more successful, are hardly less despicable.  The leisured upper classes at the dawn of the Jazz Age are generally portrayed as glamorous and carefree, but Fitzgerald--who should certainly know--depicts them much differently. The result is a depressing novel only partially redeemed by Fitzgerald's talent.

Favorite passage:
I learned a little of beauty-- enough to know that it had nothing to do with truth. . .

. . . desire just cheats you. It's like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it - but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you've got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone.

Experience is not worth the getting. It's not a thing that happens pleasantly to a passive you--it's a wall that an active you runs up against.

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