F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Beautiful and Damned. 1922; rpt. Amazon.com. 16 May 2012. E-book.
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are.
- “The Rich Boy” Fitzgerald
He remembered poor Julian and his romantic awe of [the rich] and how he had started a story once that began, “The very rich are different from you and me.” And how some one had said to Julian, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Julian. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.
- “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Hemingway
Many readers are familiar with The Great Gatsby. It is the best-known, and probably the best, of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s four completed novels—though This Side of Paradise sold more copies during his lifetime.
Like Gatsby, The Beautiful and Damned is about the “very rich.” The main characters of Anthony and Gloria Patch, correspond in some ways to Tom and Daisy Buchanan of Gatsby. The one physical difference is that Gloria is blonde while Daisy has dark hair (at least in the novel…). Though no athlete like Tom Buchanan, Anthony has had life greased easily on the fast track. He is the only living descendant of his grandfather, millionaire philanthropist Adam Patch. Anthony spends much of the novel waiting for him to die so he can inherit his fortune.
Anthony could be considered a stereotypical spoiled rich kid. We are told immediately that he appreciated irony, the “Holy Ghost” of the twentieth century. (14) “He went to Harvard—there was no other logical thing to be done with him.” (69) His goal is nothing more than to live the life of the idle rich.
He is clever, intelligent, and manages to marry the “Famous girl” Gloria Gilbert. She is beautiful “but different, very emphatically different.” (531) It does not take much imagination to see her as a stand-in for Mrs. Zelda Fitzgerald. Like Poe’s “Helen,” “She was the end of all restlessness, all malcontent.” (1196) Indeed, the cover of the original edition of the book pictured a couple that resembled the Fitzgeralds.
While it has been noted that Fitzgerald admitted Daisy Buchanan was “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” inspired by the Keats poem, Gloria is actually called that directly. Yet Gloria is probably the most sympathetic character in the book. One night at party at their country home in “Marietta,” Connecticut (based on Westport, where the Fitzgeralds lived for a year), Gloria flees a party. She is sober, but most of the other guests are drunk, including a stranger who is making unwanted advances. The fears she expresses are profound and moving—so much so that when some critics maintain that Zelda had a hand in some of her husband’s stories, this provides evidence for that hypothesis. It sounds like something that only a woman could understand. (I immediately thought of the painting Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi).
When Anthony is drafted, he is called the “Man-at-Arms,” and echo of the “knight-at-arms” in the Keats poem.
Much of the action takes place in New York City or the Connecticut coast of Long Island Sound. Like the Buchanan family, the Patches chartered four trains to transport guests from New York to Gloria’s hometown of Kansas City for their wedding. Like Tom and Daisy, they honeymoon in Santa Barbara. Unlike Tom, though, Anthony is faithful to Gloria until much later.
The Patches do move around some, but they do not move because of scandal as Nick Carraway insinuates about the Buchanans. They either do not like or cannot afford where they are living. And then Grandpa Patch surprises everyone with his will when he dies. This conflict echoes the contested will of Dan Cody in Gatsby.
Irony abounds as promised. Anthony’s college friends all become officers in the military when America enters the Great War. Anthony fails the physical—probably because of his drinking. However, he does not fail the physical when he is drafted later, so he becomes a private. He is promoted to corporal but then demoted when he gets drunk. What happens to him in the army parallels what is happening to him socially and economically.
There are other echoes of Gatsby in this book. As in many of Fitzgerald’s other works, popular songs are worked into the story line. One song entitled “Daisy Dear” reads, “The panic has come over us, So has the moral decline.” Is this a reason for choosing the name Daisy for The Great Gatsby‘s Gloria?
Anthony and his friends philosophize about why God does not exist. In this novel there is no Monsignor Darcy in the background as in This Side of Paradise, or even any suggestive eye doctor’s billboard. To Anthony and his Harvard buddies, existence and intelligence are mere instruments of circumstances. (2883) Besides, they observe, philosophy and science always change. The reader cannot help thinking that this is less intellectual than willful. When you are rich and young and good-looking—why would you want to have a God?
Maybe old Adam Patch needed a God because of remorse, but do we? And yet, there is a niggling, nagging theme that these people have no hope: They are truly “without God and without hope in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12) “I don’t care about the truth,” Gloria exclaims. “I want some happiness.”
Thanks to his amorality, his money, his drinking, and his pride, Anthony Patch does make a mess of things not unlike the way Tom and Daisy Buchanan do. Tom tells Nick Carraway that he has suffered, but no one believes him or feels sorry for him. Anthony Patch meditates on his suffering, and the reader sees that he has actually suffered some—but he has no one to blame but himself.
In The Great Gatsby the Buchanans escape Long Island, and we learn only that they get away with things and leave messes behind. In The Beautiful and Damned we see what happens to them. Yes, they do get away, literally. They join the expat Lost Generation in Europe. We can easily imagine them as guests at one of Dick and Nicole Diver’s parties. Perhaps they get away, but as the title implies, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Note: The references to the text are Kindle locations, not page numbers.
References for epigraphs:
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “The Rich Boy.” The Redbook. Jan-Feb. 1926. Project Gutenberg of Australia. Web. 3 Jan. 2011.
Hemingway, Ernest. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribners, 1938: 52-77. Print.