Gloria is a very beautiful girl who is spoiled and willful, unwilling to settle down into domesticity and mundane life. She wants to live life to the fullest each day and then die.
Anthony is the heir to a vast fortune who never does a single day’s work in his life. He attempts to write, but gets stuck in the writing process. He anyway lacks the discipline and the will power to focus on any one task. These two flighty and frivolous people are made for each other and they fall madly in love and marry.
And then what? They spend the rest of their lives together partying and waiting for the inheritance they are due so that they can party some more.
But then the much awaited for inheritance doesn’t materialize. Their apartments get smaller, their clothes less-trendy and more frayed, and the need for alcoholic oblivion even stronger.
What begins as a sweet and involving love story quickly spirals downward into the depths of alcoholic misery.
Things then take a turn for the worse. Anthony has bounced checks, he’s thrown out of a club where he and his friends once held court. They’re at the absolute bottom. Then he wins his lawsuit. He’s rich again, but as the book concludes with Anthony and Gloria aboard ship for Italy, you get the sense that they haven’t won anything at all. They haven’t even learned their life lessons.
It’s downright depressing to read, but this unpromising pretext forms the basis for a pretty compelling story thanks to Fitzgerald’s compelling writing and descriptions.
Here’s how Gloria is described…
All she wanted was to be a little girl, to be efficiently taken care of by some yielding yet superior power, stupider and steadier than herself. It seemed that the only lover she had ever wanted was a lover in a dream.
In two sentences he has captured the essence of her character, that of a child who wants protection from her husband. Though she shows signs of intelligence and determination (when she’s not obsessing about her looks or shopping), she does not have enough motivation to actually pull things off.
For example, the couple is really broke, and it’s imperative that they earn some money. So what does Gloria do? She contacts a friend to help her make it into the movies. When it doesn’t work out in the first attempt, she gives up. Not only does she give up, but she doesn’t even try for another employment opportunity in another profession!
It’s like…my first screen test failed, so I am never going to do anything else again. Can you imagine the levels of cluelessness? I mean most actors struggle to get their entry into films for years, and this babe was giving up at the very first obstacle. I was facepalming at this point.
Her husband is no better. He is a graduate from Harvard!!! How come he is never able to find anything worthy of employment? His efforts at finding work are ludicrous in the extreme. He too does not have any tenacity. After a couple of attempts, he settles to drink. Towards the end of the book, Anthony has become that dreaded being – a drunken bore.
So, yeah, I didn’t like these characters, but I love how they are written. So relatable. I mean we all know versions of Anthony and Gloria. Social butterflies during our school/college years. They seemed to have no worries, no weaknesses, and no real cares. Most of these people somewhere along the way stop partying and find something to do– you cannot imagine these people are so aimless and drifting at 30. I guess The Beautiful and Damned is something about what happens when the butterflies of the world keep going well past the point of excusable youthful mistakes.
And yes, this book is downright depressing, but it does have its moments of black humor. At one point, Anthony is talking to his friend Dick –an author of great success–and Dick talks of how vapid modern fiction is, and how everyone asks him whether he’s read This Side of Paradise (an earlier Fitzgerald novel). Dick decries how detestable the characters in the book are and wonders whether girls were really like that.
It was funny and telling at the same time…Throughout while reading The Beautiful and Damned, that was my exact same reaction – are there really people so vapid in this world? I guess Fitzgerald must have known some as he seems to have created two excellent character sketches in this book.
An under-rated gem of a book. Depressing, but still worth reading just to experience Fitzgerald’s lovely poetic writing.
I read this book as part of The Classics Club reading challenge and as part of Allie’s Modern March reading event. Like I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I meant to start and end this book in March and planned a series of posts. Plans went awry pretty fast when I started reading this book and just couldn’t stop. Oh, well, that’s how it goes. When a book gets under your skin, it gets under your skin, and nothing can be done about it.