illustrated portrait of main character Gloria Gilbert Patch

The Beautiful and Damned

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald’s second novel, follows the decline—fiscal, physical, and moral—of Anthony and Gloria Patch. Like so many of Fitzgerald’s figures, the Patches are destroyed by great wealth; the irony in this novel is that they are undone not by the possession of money but merely by expecting it.

Anthony, the only heir of his wealthy grandfather, Adam Patch, is a young Harvard University graduate who lives on money left by his father and disdains work because he believes nothing is equal to his supposed abilities. He marries the beautiful Gloria Gilbert, and they sink into a pointless and destructive life, squandering their income in an endless round of parties and extravagant expenses. When Grandfather, an inflexible and intolerant reformer, walks in unexpectedly on one their gin-soaked parties, he writes Anthony out of his will. Following his death, the Patches must sue to claim the inheritance which lured them into destruction. At novel’s end, they triumph, but the cost has been high: Gloria’s beauty has been coarsened, and Anthony’s mind snapped by worry and drink.

Anthony and Gloria are selfish, self-indulgent characters who begin the novel with some perverse appeal but quickly deteriorate under the influence of greed, excess, and alcohol. As they move through their pointless round of pleasures, they demand wilder and stronger stimulation, but this only contributes to their downward spiral. Rejected as officer material when the United States enters World War I, Anthony is later drafted and, while on training in the South, has an affair. In the meantime, Gloria fails to win the film role she covets, which had been offered to her by a former admirer. All in all, the aptly named Patches made shreds of their lives.

A strong sense of moralism runs though all Fitzgerald’s works, and in The Beautiful and Damned it is married to the sophisticated, modern style of This Side of Paradise. The two elements are not cleanly fused, and this causes difficulties with the novel, chiefly with the view Fitzgerald takes of the main characters. The third-person narrator veers between bemused appreciation of Anthony and Gloria as unapologetic hedonists and hardly veiled disapproval of their waste of talent and lives. In the earlier portions of the book, Fitzgerald seems to have some sort of respect for the code the Patches have adopted for themselves, but as their lives and code cheapen, the tone of the book becomes harsher. It seems that even dissipation has its standards.

As with most of Fitzgerald’s writings, The Beautiful and Damned has many autobiographical elements. Quite a few of the pleasure-seeking, carefree antics of Anthony and Gloria—at least in the earlier sections of the novel—are based on escapades of Fitzgerald and his wife. In the second portion of the novel, Anthony is stationed in the South and has a love affair with a local woman; this echoes Fitzgerald’s history, but with significant exceptions. Fitzgerald was an officer, while Anthony Patch is an enlisted man; Dot, Anthony’s lover, is a common sort of woman, quite unlike the aristocratic Zelda. Most notably, Anthony and Dot have a simple but sordid relationship, unlike the romantic passion of which Fitzgerald and Zelda believed themselves to be the central characters.

Although The Beautiful and Damned is a more structured and planned book than This Side of Paradise, it still shows Fitzgerald as a writer learning the difficult skills of crafting a novel. Too often uncertain and wavering in its tone and point of view, overwritten in many of its descriptive passages, the book is redeemed by the power of its depiction of the deterioration of the Patches, who emerge for the reader as flawed but vividly memorable characters.

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