Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay.
This is the story of Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert. Anthony, the grandson of billionaire Adam J. Patch, falls in love with a beautiful Kansas socialite, Gloria. Together, they believe in living in the moment whatever the consequences. Security is assured as they merely have to wait for Anthony to inherit millions after his grandfather’s death. Meanwhile, parties need to be thrown and places visited to indulge boredom. Love has a place in the forefront when there exists ample money to be spent. Their marriage is turbulent and definitely toxic. It is often said to reflect the relationship of the author Scott Fitzgerald with his wife, Zelda. As Anthony frustratingly states,
Just as he still cared more for her than for any other creature, so did he more intensely and frequently hate her.
The one person who shines through the book is Gloria Gilbert. She shows a fierceness in spirit and in her capacity to be an equal to Anthony. Expressing sexual freedom often seen in the women of the twenties, she says, “A woman should be able to kiss a man beautifully and romantically without any desire to be either his wife or his mistress.” She lives by a philosophy of “I don’t care“, living life on her own terms. Gloria is wild, self-centered, and indulges in a slew of romances and flirtations which is frowned upon by the society she lives in. When questioned about her choices, she answers,
Why should I lie? I’m not ashamed of anything I do.
Fitzgerald himself stated that Gloria was partially based on his wife, Zelda whom he also called “the First American Flapper.” Gloria’s attitude to life is reflected in Zelda’s famous statement,
I did not have a single feeling of inferiority, or shyness, or doubt, and no moral principles.
‘The Beautiful and Damned’ then, is an account of life in the “roaring twenties”. It was also called the Jazz age where wealth and beauty held esteem, the wine flowed high and life was lived in excess. But, this age also entertained glimpses of modern thought, individualism and artistic expression. In this context, lines like “the victor belongs to the spoils” is classic Fitzgerald in his element. People are slaves to ambition, money, and power but also display a certain freshness in thought. Other characters are also seen within this lens. Maury Noble is described as similar to Anthony, both being “in love with generalities.” There is Dick Richard Caramel, who can write only by observing people. The book charts the rise and fall in the fortunes of these people where the graph of their life has no particular direction.
My Reading Experience…
In comparison to ‘The Great Gatsby’, the language in this novel is more difficult. It requires greater attention with the author coining words like ‘bilphism’ along the way. (Bilphism is a religious belief in the reincarnation of the soul) The chapters are longer. Futher, I felt a lull lagging at various points that seemed to show the boredom felt by the main characters. Ironically, the book got more engaging at precisely those moments when I wanted to throw it in frustration. For me, Fitzgerald always manages to hit the point home in the least imaginable way with a perfect ending to boot! I rate this novel 3/5.
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