BOOK (1922)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am


The Beautiful and Damned
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charles Scribner's Sons

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about beauty and youth in a way that none of his peers would match. 'His talent,' said his friend Ernest Hemingway, 'was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings.'

The blistering success of Fitzgerald's debut, This Side of Paradise, came when he was 24. By the time it was published he had married Zelda Sayre, who was to be the great light and darkness of his life.

He later said: 'I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings under a mauve and rose sky; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again.'

Fitzgerald was, by most accounts, a troubled man - petulant, vain, magnificently destructive and bizarrely indulgent. He looked, according to Hemingway, 'like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty' with 'a delicate, long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty'.

His preoccupation with all that glitters marked his fiction from the start, as did New York's wild and precarious jazz age. The Great Gatsby remains, perhaps, the perfectly crafted American novel.

The Beautiful and Damned never received such high praise. It was only the author's second novel and by no means his best. Overall it drifts and whines; the characters are annoying and the plot is thin.

The joints of the book are exposed too - the moments where he must have, in a tantrum or a flight of fancy, thrown down his pen and picked it up again some days later, blurry and jangling, to try to live up to the promise of paradise.

He told his publisher, Charles Scribner, in August 1920 that the book 'concerns the life of one Anthony Patch between his 25th and 33rd years. He is one of those many with the tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no actual creative inspiration. How he and his beautiful young wife [Gloria] are wrecked on the shoals of dissipation is told in this story'.

Fitzgerald's relationship with Zelda seems to have informed this novel more than any of the others, although it would be easy to read them all as richly or weakly imagined versions of the author's life.

In 1930, Fitzgerald wrote to his wife at a clinic in Switzerland. 'The Beautiful and Damned ... was all true,' he claimed. 'We ruined ourselves. I never honestly thought that we ruined each other.'

Ten years later, he told his daughter that 'Gloria was a much more trivial and vulgar person than your mother. I can't really say there was much resemblance except in the beauty and certain terms of expression ... We had a much better time than Anthony and Gloria had.'