Originally called “The Flight of the Rocket,” The Beautiful and Damned is the story of Anthony Patch’s life between his twenty-fifth and thirty-third years. The novel follows the progression of his intense love for the dazzlingly beautiful Gloria Gilbert. It traces their attachment through their courtship and marriage, through their apparently endless round of parties and gaiety, to their eventual financial difficulties, and finally to their triumphant achievement of Anthony’s “great expectations.” The victory comes too late, however, and the conclusion is more bitter than sweet.
As the novel opens, Anthony Patch, handsome, intelligent, and moderately well educated, wants only to live a life of luxury. When he inherits his grandfather’s many millions, he will be able to do exactly that. Until then, he has enough money to continue to live comfortably although without any particular goal. Someday, he tells his family and friends, he may write, but in actuality he lacks both the discipline and the ambition of his friend Richard Caramel.
When Anthony meets the incredibly beautiful Gloria Gilbert, his life changes. He pursues her, eventually marries her, and believes that he has everything that he needs to be happy—except his grandfather’s money. The years that follow, however, gradually take Anthony and Gloria from blissful romantic happiness to alcoholic boredom. The novel becomes the story of how a lack of purpose and discipline can undermine everything else in life.
Fitzgerald saw The Beautiful and Damned as the story of a man with the tastes and weaknesses of an artist, but with no creative inspiration. While this outline suggests that Fitzgerald himself had a rather romantic idea of what makes an artist, the pertinence of the novel’s diagnosis is not confined to the artist manque. Anthony’s weaknesses are those of a rootless generation writ large. He has no focus to his life beyond Gloria’s beauty and his grandfather’s millions. Similarly, Gloria sees herself as a beautiful flower that needs only to be displayed to full advantage. The void at the center of their lives is soon filled with liquor.
Anthony and Gloria buy a car, rent a summer home, give endless parties, all the while living beyond Anthony’s income. Soon, they are dipping into their capital in order to pay their bills. As they become more desperate financially, they quarrel more and more frequently. When Adam Patch surprises them during a wild party at their summer home, he disinherits Anthony. When the old man dies, he leaves his millions to his secretary. To recover the fortune, Anthony begins a suit that drags on for years.
The world of illusion in which both Gloria and Anthony have been living is emphasized when Anthony is drafted in World War I and is sent to the South for training. Gloria has always been told that she is beautiful enough for a career in films, but now, when she finally tries to do it to earn a little money, she discovers that—at twenty-nine—she is too old. With despair, she realizes that her beauty is fading.
Anthony’s friends, Richard Caramel and Maury Noble, have made successes in literature and business, but when Anthony returns to New York after the war, he discovers that his financial situation is worse than he thought. He and Gloria barely have enough to survive, and that money is running out. They become desperate to win the lawsuit. Finally, they do win, but it is too late. Anthony has been broken, both mentally and physically.
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...
(The entire section is 1,213 words.)