Sunday, April 03, 2011
The Beautiful and Damned - post in progress
If you came here looking for this post yesterday, I apologize for the delay. I finished reading The Beautiful and Damned Friday night, but I have not had a moment to write up my response until now. I went to East Texas yesterday to celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of my older brother and his wife. It's hard to believe that they have been married for 30 years; it makes me feel really old and really good.
The Beautful and Damned is not a story about a happy marriage. Anthony Patch is the grandson of the very wealthy Adam Patch, an industrialist who becomes a rabid reformer in his old age. Anthony is beyond reform, a proud member of the idle rich. While he is a graduate of Harvard, he has no ambition for anything except the wait for a hefty inheritance. Gloria is a great dancer who is beautiful and fun from a rather wealthy family. Gloria's only goal in life is to enjoy it--carpe diem. Once they are married, living on Anthony's yearly allowance left to him by his parents, Anthony and Gloria set about the business of partying all the time. Even when times are bad and money is tight, they party. Eventually, Adam dies and doesn't leave them anything, and Anthony contests the will, which seems to be a neverending process and puts them in dire financial straits.
I'm not sure that I can say that I enjoyed this book, but I was completely captivated by the telling of the story despite unlikeable characters. I wanted to like Gloria especially. At first, I thought she was a spunky, free-spirited woman who was not content to behave as society expected. Then I realized that she is just a selfish beauty queen who always has to be the center of attention. Anthony is no better, talk about feckless. He only cared about being rich so that he didn't have to do anything except appear to be the kind of person he wanted to be. At times, I wondered why one or both of them didn't commit suicide and/or kill the other one.
I can't quite decide what Fitzgerald was trying to show with this story. On the one hand, I would say that he was making a case against the idle rich, but Anthony wins in the end, even though he can't enjoy his winnings. I definitely think he's trying to say something about the idea that living without a purpose is a hollow way to live, but the examples of people living with a purpose, the rabid reformer Adam Patch, Anthony's friend Richard Campbell (Gloria's cousin) and eventually his other friend Maury Noble, are just as unlikeable as Anthony and Gloria.
I have more to say, but I have to go to bed now. I'll try to update this tomorrow evening before I go to the NCAA championship game or Tuesday evening. Later.