‘The Beautiful and Damned’ is a tragic story about a Gloria and Anthony, who meet and marry in Edwardian America (is there such a thing? I mean, I know Edward wasn’t an American monarch… Let’s call it ‘America-in-the-1910s’). The pair are wealthy, leisurely, self obsessed and the centre of the New York social scene.
Scott has written the story in three parts, taking us first through Gloria and Anthony’s courtship, then their marriage and then their… let’s call it… ‘settling-down’. I expected a clear tragic arc through the parts: things looking up in the first part, realities of life hitting in the second and then a plunge down into darkness in the third. But it was a little more nuanced than that. Which, of course, made it all the more tragic to read.
Knowing also about the incredibly difficult relationship between F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald also made it a tragic read. My impulse at every moment was to read this story as autobiographical, and even though the plot doesn’t line up neatly with the events of their lives, I would bet all the money that Scott used events and truths about their own relationship to create these two incredibly self-destructive characters.
The book was long and sometimes hard work to get through, but whenever I felt like giving up I would stumble across beautifully poetic passages. The quote I remember clearest was Anthony discovering ‘privilege’ through his military service – an interesting take on it from a rich white man:
The world was divided primarily into those two classifications.
It occurred to him that all strongly accentuated classes, such as the military, divided men into two kinds: their own kind — and those without. To the clergyman there were clergy and laity, to the Catholic there were Catholics and non-Catholics, to the negro there were blacks and whites, to the prisoner there were the imprisoned and the free, and to the sick man there were the sick and the well… So, without thinking of it once in his lifetime, he had been a civilian, a layman, a non-Catholic, a Gentile, white, free, and well…
‘The Beautiful and Damned’ made me thankful for contemporary mental health care. And also for the good support Matt and I have had through our marriage, all the marriage courses we have done to help us communicate well and not be mean to each other. Ugh – it was painful to read about so many little quirks in their relationship escalating into poisonous habits. But still worth it for those beautiful passages embedded throughout. I’m glad I persevered to the end.