Review: The Beautiful and Damned

The Beautiful and Damned
The Beautiful and Damned
F. Scott Fitzgerald
New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995

Review Copyright © 2000 Garret Wilson — February 2, 2000, 1:08 p.m.

In The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald continues his tradition of painting pictures of fallen castles, of psychological riches to rags, in a novel that joins his typical talent for description with a well-constructed plot. It introduces the reader to Anthony Patch, soon joined by wife Gloria, as he does nothing while waiting for something of meaning to arrive, never realizing that meaning had passed him by, in the end leaving him with nothing.

Anthony, although he has enough for a comfortable existence, moves to New York to wait for his grandfather to die so that he can inherit several million dollars. Through one of his friends, he meets Gloria. He informs her that, "I do nothing, for there's nothing I can do that's worth doing" (65). Gloria retorts: "I don't know anything about — what you should do, or what anybody should do." Anthony determines that she's a "quaint little determinist." "It's your world, isn't it?" "Well...isn't it? As long as I'm — young" (66).

So Gloria joins in the waiting, Gloria taking Anthony's world for her own, and they both take life as it comes. The finality of their destination is clear long before the end is reached, yet Fitzgerald does a particularly good job of providing an end that, for the reader, is worth following along in order to reach. For, wrapped in Fitzgerald's wonderful descriptive mastery of language, exists a steady, magnetic purposeful plan, inhabited by beings themselves devoid of purpose.

Fitzgerald, as always, does not disappoint with his use of language: "Her bosom is still a pavement that she offers to the hoofs of many passing stallions, hoping that their iron shoes may strike even a spark of romance in the darkness...." (270) is but one of his many illustrative passages that seem to stand on their own and make the story worth reading, if only to pass by and admire these passages that blossom as if they were roses planted in an orchard; even if removed, they could be admired by themselves and neither would the roses lose their beauty nor the orchard its usefulness.

Sometimes so many are in bloom as to make it seem that spring has arrived:

"I suppose it's because you've been busy — as much as anything else," smiled Mrs. Gilbert somewhat ambiguously. The "as much as anything else" she used to balance all her more rickety sentences. She had two other ones: "at least that's the way I look at it" and "pure and simple" — these three, alternated, gave each of her remarks an air of being a general reflection on life, as though she had calculated all causes and, at length, put her finger on the ultimate one.

Richard Caramel's face, Anthony saw, was now quite normal. The brow and cheeks were of a flesh color, the nose politely inconspicuous. He had fixed his aunt with the bright-yellow eye, giving her that acute and exaggerated attention that young males were accustomed to render to all females who are of no further value.

"Are you a writer too, Mr. Pats?... Well, perhaps we can all bask in Richard's fame." — Gentle laughter led by Mrs. Gilbert.

"Gloria's out," she said, with an air of laying down an axiom from which she would proceed to derive results. "She's dancing somewhere..." (38-39).

It is just these passages that confirm in my mind the connection between Fitzgerald and Arundhati Roy, for had I not know better, I would have thought the following to spring from the pages of The God of Small Things:

"But you see," she said in a sort of universal exposition, "you're not an ancient soul — like Richard."

The Ancient Soul breathed a gasp of relief — it was out a last (85).

Fitzgerald uses other devices, but they seem to remain obedient to and in conjunction with his flowing descriptions. His use of foreshadowing is sometimes evident, even obvious: "He wondered, often but quite casually, about Bloeckman — finally he forgot him entirely" (135). This foreshadowing is to be coupled with strong irony. Is it possible that Gloria let Bloeckman go so easily because she thought she could always have him, could always rely on him as a backup plan? Not only does she finally turn to Bloeckman and come away with nothing, in an ironic twist Anthony goes to Bloeckman to solve his problems and comes away with more than he started with.

This use of foreshadowing also represents another aspect of the storytelling: Fitzgerald is confident enough at times to simply tell the reader what is going to happen, because the author's power of conveying the message makes the journey enjoyable even if the destination is fully known.

Both Anthony and Gloria certainly tried to enjoy their own personal journey, but only as a sort of hopefully-suspended moment in time. Gloria at one point notices something problematic about the situation:

"...Anthony. Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay. And just as any period decays in our minds, the things of that period should decay too, and in that way they're preserved for a while in the few hearts like mine that react to them... Trying to preserve a century by keeping its relics up to date is like keeping a dying man alive by stimulants... Would you value your Keats letter if the signature was traced over to make it last longer? It's just because I love the past that I want this house to look back on its glamourous moment of youth and beauty, and I want its stairs to creak as if the footsteps of women with hoop skirts and men in boots and spurs... There's no beauty without poignancy, and there's no poignancy without the feeling that it's going, men, names, books, houses — bound for dust — mortal ——" (167).

Gloria doesn't seem to be saying that only loss brings real appreciation; instead, it seems she's saying that true enjoyment only comes with a realization that things are only temporary, that any feeling of immortality brings with it a feeling of boredom — a typical Gloria-related mood in its own right. But they neither seem to weather the fading effects of time in any productive way. Particularly telling, in hindsight, is Gloria's abandonment of her diary, writing after her entries regarding her marriage to Anthony: "FINIS" (148).

Indeed, both their lives seem have ended before beginning, regardless of their reaching for a past long gone. Gloria, in sickness, hunted for her dead mother (394) and Anthony, in a drunken, broken stupor, tries to bring back the influence of the name of his dead grandfather, Adam Patch (439). But the past had left and, even after their goals were realized, their dreams were shattered with nothing left to hold on to.

At one point in the little gray house, Gloria determined that "she was probably with child" (203). There seems to be no mention of this state of affairs anywhere else in the book, except perhaps an implication in Gloria's driving over to "see Constance Merriam" (205). While the situation is probably open to a multitude of interpretations, I can't help but wonder, "whither went their youth?" Gloria could always sense the hurrying force of time; she even cried over leaving the "two little beds — side by side" that they had enjoyed so much (168). In the end, Anthony was confronted, in the form of Dot (444) with a past that would not leave but could never be reclaimed. In more ways than one, their youth was gone forever.