Maybe it’s just me, but to me personally “The Beautiful and the Damned” drew a lot of parallels with Fitzgerald’s personal life and relationship with his wife, Zelda. Certain aspects of it come across as eerily autobiographical, but maybe that’s what makes the novel so positively fascinating.
Set in the age of jazz and prohibition, Anthony and Gloria represent a perfect picture of the entire high-society generation of that time. The transition between old money and the nouveau-riche of New York society is wonderfully presented, and both of our characters find themselves caught in the swirl of that new age, with nothing to offer it. They’re young and clueless and entirely devoted to the idea that lavish lifestyle is something that they’re both entitled to without having to actually do something to support that lifestyle. After putting all of their hopes into Anthony’s inheritance which he should have gotten from his exceedingly rich grandfather, they learn that the elderly gentleman wrote off all of his money to his aid and multiple charities instead. But even that doesn’t stop them from selling more bonds and throwing more parties all the while hoping to win the money back through the interminable court appeals.
From that point on, the couple’s story became a train wreck from which one can’t tear their eyes off. With the same apathetic attitude, Anthony develops a drinking problem all the while thinking himself being somehow cheated out of his rightful position in society. Driven to near poverty in a shabby apartment, both Gloria and Anthony live hand to mouth most of the time, yet both still positively refuse to do anything about it. The ending was… interesting. On one hand, I was glad everything turned out as it did for the couple; on the other, I was a bit disappointed as a lesson was clearly not learned by either.
The setting and the prose is fabulous as always, and Fitzgerald doesn’t disappoint with his imaginative metaphors and set of characters, some of whom you’ll love and some - detest. Fitzgerald was indeed the voice of his generation and the novel is worth reading just for that reason. It’s not as brilliant as “Gatsby,” but it’s brilliant nevertheless, in its own, somewhat shallow and destructive, way. Highly recommended.