“Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”
“I shall go on shining as a brilliantly meaningless figure in a meaningless world.”
“I don’t care about truth. I want some happiness.”
This is Fitzgerald’s second novel, written in 1922. I figured that with all the hype surrounding the new Gatsby movie, I would delve into some of his other work. Of course, I read Gatsby. Everybody did. But I never read his other novels.
Fitzgerald has a dark view of wealth, people with real money, society folks, and the upper crust. It all seems tinged with, let’s face it, jealousy. And all his women protagonists are Zelda. But on to The Beautiful and the Damned.
Anthony Patch is a young man from a wealthy family, with no money of his own. He aspires to a life of the aesthete, and is highly insulted at the thought he might actually have to work to get money. His hopes all hinge on his extremely wealthy grandfather, and much of the story revolves around his sniffing up to the grandfather so that the old man will leave him his fortune. But because he is not doing what the old man feels he should, he is slipping out of the good graces of the grandfather, and in serious danger of having all that money go to charities.
Among the blasé, jaded group of acquaintances, he has three close friends from college. Each friend represents a sort of archetype of the era. And then among these society types, he meets the beautiful young woman who will become his wife. He is obsessed with Gloria, and Gloria is obsessed with herself, and frankly admits it. She thinks of no one but herself, and doesn’t see why this is any kind of a problem. Their life becomes a round of drinking and parties, endless, debilitating parties with no purpose.
The plot is the story of Anthony’s gradual disintegration, having no core moral fiber. When the grandfather finally dies, he has left Anthony out of the will, and Anthony, almost now totally penniless, starts a suit to contest the will. This court case goes on and on and on, as Anthony falls lower and lower. His life is all about waiting for money that may never come.
Fitzgerald’s books are commentaries on the times and morals and standards of the elite of his day. And they are bleak and filled with a growing hopelessness. The ending of this book seems on first glance to be a happy one. But only at first glance.