The Beautiful and Damned was the book I chose for the recent Classics Clubs Readathon – (starting post) and (end post).
I love The Great Gatsby and I thought this would be a similar quick, engaging read, suitable for a readathon. I also recently read a biography on Chanel and Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast where the Scott Fitzgerald’s were referenced several times. I knew this book was said to be biographical in nature and I was very curious.
The first problem I had is that this is not Scott Fitzgerald at his best. The story is slow to start and there are odd chapters written like a play. The ending is also poorly realised and unconvincing.
The second problem is the length. Too many words that say so little. There is almost none of the succinct, revealing and elegant phrasing that you find in The Great Gatsby.
The third problem for me, was Zelda/Gloria. Scott regularly used Zelda as a model for his female characters. Zelda’s mental health issues are well documented – whether it was schizophrenia, manic depression or the more recent suggestion that she had borderline personality disorder.
The stories told by Anthony about Gloria’s flippant attitude towards money and work, her angry outbursts that became “the primary duty of Anthony’s day” and anecdotes like the tomato sandwich and laundry bag all rang true.
Gloria’s oft quoted maxim of “How I feel is that if I wanted anything I’d take it” sums up her attitude towards people, experiences and things.
Up until a few years ago I would have read about this type of personality with curiosity and perhaps a little bit of disbelief. But having someone in your life who actually acts like Gloria is exhausting, trying and incredibly frustrating. There is nothing charming or lovable about it at all!
But I’m obviously meant to be learning something from all this as I keep reading books and watching movies that feature such personalities!
Scott obviously learnt from this book that making the carefree, decadent aristocrats the protagonists didn’t necessarily work as it’s hard to make them appear sympathetic, romantic or charming.
I didn’t care about their disillusionment, their despair or their decline as I didn’t like them very much. Gatsby works because the same disillusionment, despair and decline is told through the eyes of a sympathetic outsider.
Is The Beautiful and Damned a classic? Only just.
The real interest for me was seeing how a writer developed and practiced his craft until he was able to produce a truly great classic like The Great Gatsby.