Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (3.5/5)

The back says: Few writers have been as successful as F. Scott Fitzgerald in conveying autobiographical materials into literary art. The Beautiful and Damned transforms the now-familiar stories about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s early marriage – the scandalous public behaviour, the nights of drunken revelry and says darkened by the ever-present shadow of insurmountable debt – into a captivating work of fiction.

Anthony Patch, “one of those many with tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no actual creative inspiration,” and the beautiful, flirtatious Gloria, are newly married. Anticipating an inheritance from Anthony’s family, they embrace a style of life far beyond their means. In chronicling their decline – moral, physical, and financial – and offering a grimly ironic twist at the end, Fitzgerald created a satirical yet poignant portrait of the generation he and his work would define, not only for his contemporaries, but for all future readers.
I say: Anthony and Gloria have got to be two of the most tedious characters I’ve ever read about. Honestly, everything about them wearied me to distraction and I often contemplated just giving up on the story. But, as per usual, I stuck with it – and even though they only annoyed me more and more as the story progressed, the end sort of made up for it.

And not just because I no longer had to follow their stupidity, but because... actually, that was the only reason.

I despise the end and all of its implications.

When I read The Great Gatsby I was extremely underwhelmed, and the more people I talked to, the more I sort of started questioning if I hadn’t missed something. However, having now read my second novel by Fitzgerald I realise that it’s not necessarily me missing something, but more me having an issue with the prose and the characters; the first being exceedingly sentimental and the latter attempting to be larger than life, but rather turning out to be absurdly hyperbolic – and I can’t stand either. The way that Fitzgerald describes everything from the weather and the scenery to the people is tinged with a sensation that I cannot relate to; he’s romanticising these things when I can look upon them with nothing but scorn.

I don’t understand Anthony and Gloria, nor do I have any wish to. They are two spoiled brats used to getting everything they was without having to work for it, and cannot fathom why they shouldn’t spend the rest of their lives that way. There’s one instance, after a bit of hardship, where I thought that Anthony had perhaps grown when he says:
“I’ve often thought that if I hadn’t got what I wanted things might have been different with me. I might have found something in my mind and enjoyed putting it in circulation. I might have been content with the work of it, and had some sweet vanity out of the success. I suppose that at one time I could have had anything I wanted, within reason, but that was the only thing I never wanted with any fervor. God! And that taught me you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it – but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone –“ – p 282
But, much like everything else Anthony says, it was either a moment of clarity that he later discarded, or fancy words he spoke just for the sake of it.

I’m giving this a 3.5 because despite the fact that I hated was wearied by Anthony and Gloria, as well as the prose, there was some instances of excellent writing – like the above quote – that really kept me going. Moreover, Fitzgerald painted a vivid, if somewhat partisan, portrait of New York’s high society at the beginning of the last century.

*This is my twenty-sixth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

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