Book Review: The Beautiful and Damned
In continuing my 2018 focused on fiction, I turned to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned. My wife had gotten the ebook for free and in having "purchased" the kindle version, I was able to purchase the audiobook version on the cheap. And so I did. It was a great follow up to my reading of Tender is the Night.
It allowed me an avenue for comparing and contrasting Fitzgerald directly within himself and his maturing writing. With many of the same themes of young immature love, lustful confusion, obsession with money, and the ever pressing need to be it in the grandest society, Fitzgerald is surprisingly not repetitive. For even in the people we would consider most shallow there is amazing depth.
The Beautiful and Damned revolves around the life of Anthony Patch and his wife eventual wife Gloria (Gilbert). Anthony is the lone relation of the venerable Adam Patch. Senior Patch is loaded and the purveyor of every possible social reform that Anthony (and thus Fitzgerald) could hate.
This occupation with his grandfather's money and persistent belief that a true man does not have an occupation lead Anthony and Gloria through the ringer of life. Nothing short of millennial turmoil can describe the cacophonous life and futile struggles they endure as they spend money as fast as they drink their booze. While the early portion of the book is built off this extravagance, the later portions simmer like dying coals. Anthony and Gloria become shells of themselves and the same topics and discussions once vibrant early on become painful in contrast.
Unlike Tender is the Night, The Beautiful and Damned has numerous religious remarks that expose a clear nerve in Anthony Patch (and presumably). This includes Fitzgerald's own creation religion of "Bilphism." Something akin to reincarnation, the theme of old souls and aged experience runs throughout the book. It is capped perhaps most ironically by Gloria's own retorts on delaying death and decay. However, my favorite line is a humorous one coming from a ditzy (I mean craaaazy) female character name Muriel:
"I'm a Catholic but, as I always say, I'm not working at it.”
As I just mentioned, the highlight of the book for me came during Anthony and Gloria's trip to Robert E. Lee's house shortly after their wedding. The entire scene is wistfully depicted by Fitzgerald. And amidst the emotive depiction, Gloria is given paragraphs of beautiful prose on history, beauty, and letting things fade away. The comments are powerful on their own, but they have a unique irony in light of the Bilphist undertones that pervade Gloria's character throughout the book.
I'll close this section with a couple of my favorite sentences from her discourse:
Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay. And just as any period decays in our minds, the things of that period should decay too
Trying to preserve a century by keeping its relics up to date is like keeping a dying man alive by stimulants.
There's no beauty without poignancy and there's no poignancy without the feeling that it's going, men, names, books, houses—bound for dust—mortal—
Read by Kirby Heyborne, The Beautiful and Damned was an enjoyable read. There are some peculiar formatting choices by Fitzgerald throughout the book that alter the dialogue style. These are not particularly kind to an audio version, but neither is there much to be done by the reader. Heyborne handles the natural breaks included by Fitzgerald and does the best he can in keep a harmony about the dialogues.
More to his actual skill, Heyborne is good if not diverse with his voices and his added singing were a delightful change of pace. Some of the male characters lacked the vocal quality and depth provided to the ladies.However, Heyborne does a great job of reading with a "slurred voice" when the characters are becoming inebriated. This detail adds to the story in dynamic ways. Heyborne provides a satisfying performance and one that I will gladly enjoy again.
In conclusion, The Beautiful and Damned was not as satisfying as Tender is the Night. With more time spent on the early portion of Anthony and Gloria's life, the ending felt rushed. Written earlier in Fitzgerald's life, the ending is perhaps symbolic of his own lack of knowledge about how he would rectify the life of wild parties he and his wife had developed. Nonetheless, The Beautiful and Damned is bound with plenty of enjoyable moments or beauty and provocation.