Sunday 15 June 2014

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Things are sweeter when they're lost.  I know - because once I wanted something and got it.  It was the only thing I ever wanted badly.  And when I got it, it turned to dust in my hands."

Anthony Patch is living off his grandfather's allowance in New York when he meets lively society girl, Gloria Gilbert.  Once they marry, they quickly become known for their decadent lifestyle full of alcohol, constant partying and a refusal to settle down to adult life.  At first, they are happy but when Anthony's money starts to run out, the cracks in their lifestyle and marriage begin to show.

Truly, I love Fitzgerald.  No one writes misery and disillusionment better than him, and The Beautiful and Damned fits his themes perfectly.  It's all there - the boredom that comes from not being productive, the reliance on alcohol as a crutch to get through the day, the shallowness of happiness that comes from constant partying, and the steady decline of a marriage.  This is the third Fitzgerald novel I have read (the other two being The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night), and I know that this semi-autobiographical style of writing can become repetitive, but Fitzgerald is just so good at it that it doesn't matter at all.

It goes without saying that the writing is beautiful.  Fitzgerald particularly excels when he's writing about emotional conflicts, arguments or the consequences of them.  He has a poetic way of putting across feelings, and he's remarkably perceptive about human nature.   There's no attempt to varnish Anthony or Gloria, to make them more appealing than they are, and I loved that.  Gloria is portrayed in all her shallow desire to remain beautiful at all costs, and Anthony's lethargy and passiveness (combined with an undeserved arrogance) are shown as key flaws.

However, The Beautiful and Damned is probably my least favourite of the three Fitzgerald novels I've read so far.  It's still extremely good, but I feel like Gatsby had more polish and Tender is the Night had more emotional engagement.  The trouble with Beautiful and Damned is not that the characters are unlikeable, which they most certainly are, but that I never really bought that they had strong feelings for each other.  Tender is the Night is heart-breaking as the two central characters can't work it out despite loving each other, but Anthony and Gloria seemed to just fall into marriage and even their arguments seemed affected by their lethargy.

The Beautiful and the Damned isn't a book to pick up if you are after happily ever afters and characters you can root for, but it is a remarkably perceptive and beautifully written book.  I've now finished all of the Fitzgeralds on my classics club list, but I'll definitely be adding more when I compile volume two.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1921
Edition Read: Vintage UK, 2010
Score: 4 out of 5

The Classics Club

The Classics Club: Book 28/72
My full list of classics to read (and existing reviews) can be found here.


  1. I recently read this for the Classics Club too and thought it was beautifully written but I totally agree not likeable characters even though I did like reading about them. From your post sounds like I should read Tender is the Night next.

  2. If I had that edition, I couldn't help but read it! Gorgeous! I've never had any luck besides The Great Gatsby, but I'm determined to try again.

  3. I know I've read this, but as I find with all Fitzgerald, it didn't really stick with me. I think it's something to do with the writing being so beautiful that I don't really pay attention to the story, if that makes sense? I only know what happens in Gatsby now (after about 4 reads!) because I saw the movie. So basically, all this means I don't really know if I like Fitzgerald at all- I know that I admire his writing, but that's about all I do know. Glad you liked this, anyway!

  4. I've only read The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald but I'd like to try his other work. I might try Tender is the Night next based on your review, although The Beautiful and the Damned does sound really interesting. The cover of this edition is beautiful too. Glad you enjoyed the book :)


  5. I love the way Fitzgerald writes, too. I remembering liking The Beautiful and the Damned when I read it, but it's been a few years. Your post makes me want to pull it off the shelf and reread it. :) Great review!

  6. Gatsby is it for me. I've read it at least six times. Years ago I read some of Fitzgerald's other books, starting with This Side of Paradise, and I've always loved his writing. But nothing can top Gatsby.

  7. I love the cover on this edition! I've yet to try Fitzgerald and probably will start with The Great Gatsby and see how that goes before trying any of his other books.

  8. Love that cover! I've never read anything by Fitzgerald apart from Gatsby, and I haven't even reread Gatsby as an adult. I'm worried I won't love him anymore now that I'm grown!

  9. This is a great review, Sam. Fitzgerald was so perceptive and really knew how to craft a beautiful phrase. I'm glad you liked it! :)