Paperback (Penguin Modern Classics, 364 pages)
First published in 1922; this edition published 2004
Rating on Goodreads: 5 stars
“Anthony and Gloria are the essence of Jazz Age glamour. A brilliant and magnetic couple, they fling themselves at life with an energy that is thrilling. New York is a playground where they dance and drink for days on end. Their marriage is a passionate theatrical performance; they are young, rich, alive and lovely and they intend to inherit the earth.
But as money becomes tight, their marriage becomes impossible. And with their inheritance still distant, Anthony and Gloria must grow up and face reality; they may be beautiful but they are also damned.”
How to describe the entirety of this novel?
Often I will put one or two lines on Goodreads after finishing a book. For The Beautiful and Damned, the lines were as follows:
“What a beautiful and strangely desolate novel. My goodness.”
And The Beautiful and Damned is exactly that. It soars from theatrical beauty and then plummets to cold desolation, to unfolding of horrific emotion. The characters are at once vivid and on the verge of crumbling. The prose, as ever, is delicious, decadent and evocative.
The theatricality comes mainly in the form of Gloria, a shining beacon for the indulgence of the Jazz Age, who delights in the social freedom and seemingly exquisite nature of her life, and who enthrals Anthony Patch, a writer and the narrator of this tale of excess. Within the first few pages of their encounters, it occurred to me that both characters seemed to represent both Scott and Zelda. Once this idea had taken hold, I found it impossible to shake off, and by the time I closed the book on the final page, I was convinced that this was what The Beautiful and Damned was: Scott’s wishful thinking for their life and his bitterness and adoration for his wife poured into a single novel.
Which is heartbreaking, but it makes for a compelling and achingly wistful tale. Admittedly, it took me a good few pages to get into the story – I was waiting for Gloria to appear and ignite the fireworks – but when the lady arrived, I was gripped. I followed every encounter with wide eyes, and I admit that I had no idea how the novel would end, if it would be happy or not. When the end did indeed come, I found the climax very startling, very sudden. Some might argue that it was too sudden, that the novel feels cut off or rushed because of it, but I disagree. It left me shocked, but realising later on that it had been building up to it, with both characters hurtling towards trouble and not knowing how to stop. It was gripping, wonderful, and agonising all at once.
Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I adore Fitzgerald’s style, and The Beautiful and Damned only reinforced this love for his writing. It is a complex exploration of human character, and the heights it goes to are dizzying, as are the sudden falls.
I highly, highly recommend this. I cannot recommend it enough. The Great Gatsby might be considered his masterpiece, but I much prefer the characters in The Beautiful and Damned. They’ve stuck in my head much longer than Gatsby or Daisy Buchanan have.
And that really is saying something.