The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Tragedy
The Beautiful and Damned was published in 1922 by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story is set in New York City and centers on young artist Anthony Patch and his flapper spouse Gloria Gilbert. Fitzgerald based the personas of Gloria Gilbert and Anthony Patch on his wife Zelda and himself, respectively. Following the unexpected success of the author’s first book, This Side of Paradise, the story indirectly refers to the early years of the Fitzgeralds’ turbulent marriage.
1. Synopsis of The Beautiful and Damned
Set against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald depicts the flamboyant excess that comes with the period and the lives of the American elite who indulge in the pleasures it brings. The Beautiful and Damned follows Anthony, a promising artist, and his wife Gloria, a flapper, as they become “wrecked on the shoals of dissipation.” From dazzling hotels to fashionable cafés, readers follow Anthony and Gloria on their exhilarating but downward spiral.
2. Story Summary
2.1. Anthony Patcher
The Beautiful and Damned opens in 1913, and Anthony Patch is a sophisticated and attractive twenty-five years old. He has a superiority complex and believes he is destined for great things. The fortunate Anthony comes from a wealthy family where his grandfather Adam J. Patch is renowned for his exorbitant earnings in Wall Street. However, he grows up as an orphan who has lost both parents at a young age. Anthony enrolled in Havard, moving to Rome in 1912 after graduating, before returning to New York and living as a spendthrift.
We are introduced to his Harvard friends Maury Noble and Richard Caramel. The rest of Anthony’s evening is spent enjoying the sights and basking in the comfort of his wealth.
The story then cuts to a scene of a girl we know as ‘Beauty,’ who is told by a voice that she will spend the next few years as a socialite, showered with love and adoration.
2.2. Gloria Gilbert
Richard introduces Anthony to the Gilberts, as he is their nephew. However, Gloria is not present as she is attending a dance elsewhere. When he visits Maury a while later, Maury tells Anthony about Gloria’s beauty, clearly captivated by her. Until now, Anthony has only heard of Gloria through others but never met her in person. He invites Richard and Gloria to tea to get to know her. Anthony drinks that night and wakes up with a terrible hangover before recalling his appointment with Richard and Gloria.
Upon meeting, Anthony and Gloria are drawn to one another. Throughout their first meeting and multiple dates, Anthony learns that Gloria is notorious for her wildness and self-centeredness. Anthony admits that he finds a job pointless, but Gloria simply states that she is indifferent to lazy people. On one of their dates, the couple attends a cheap cabaret that Anthony is discomforted by, but Gloria is right in her element. Despite their differences and flaws, Anthony’s adoration of Gloria grows even though he already has a girl named Geraldine as his girlfriend.
Anthony has made little progress on his writing, while Richard is wholly focused on finishing The Demon Lover, his debut novel. Anthony also learns of Joseph Bloeckman, one of Gloria’s suitors. Gloria makes a hasty decision to host a dinner party upon returning home.
Anthony brings out Geraldine for lunch before attending a dinner party. At some point in the night, Gloria and Anthony sneak out and exchange a kiss. The morning after, Anthony’s mind is preoccupied with Gloria, but to his disappointment, she is unavailable to meet him anytime soon.
When they finally meet, Gloria plays on Anthony’s jealousy when he inquires about Bloeckman. They engage in conversation, realize they have a lot in common, and kiss. Gloria, however, becomes stand-offish as Anthony gives her a passionate kiss. Anthony departs, irritated by her abrupt change in attitude. Angered by their interaction, Anthony drives around town and realizes he is in love with Gloria.
Anthony resolves to refrain from seeing Gloria for six weeks, hoping that his absence will rekindle her interest in him. News soon arrives that Richard’s novel has been approved for publication, but Anthony is too distracted to feel happy for his friend. To distract himself, Anthony takes Geraldine out more frequently. By chance, he sees Gloria walking alongside a young man he has never seen before. The following day, Bloeckman runs into him at a pub and adds that he is bringing Gloria out to dinner. Anthony breaks his resolution and phones Gloria in the sixth week of his self-imposed separation from her. To his disappointment, Mrs. Gilbert answers instead.
When Gloria finally meets him, Anthony confesses his feelings for her wholeheartedly, and she reciprocates.
Caught in a passionate romance, the couple makes plans to marry. Unexpectedly, Anthony’s grandfather invites them to have the wedding at the Tarrytown mansion, even sending them a generous paycheck. Gloria reads her diary the evening before the wedding. She considers the names of the guys she has kissed and fell in love with. She closes the book after writing “FINIS” on the final page.
The wedding proceeds smoothly, and the couple embarks on their honeymoon to the Californian Coast. The couple begins to see each other’s flaws, Gloria being extremely lazy and Anthony having many internal fears. Maury and Richard advise Gloria and Anthony to hunt for a country house because they feel confined living in Anthony’s flat. They purchase a vehicle, and Gloria crashes it shortly. A realtor shows them a dated, gray house while they wait for repairs. Gloria and Anthony soon move in.
Their life passes by generally blissfully, and they even discuss having children. As the couple attends parties, Gloria grows increasingly jealous of the female attention Anthony receives. Soon, Gloria’s mother passes away.
The couple attends dazzling parties for the rest of Spring, spending their wealth carelessly. Their marriage is violently disturbed when they get into a physical fight after drinking with friends. Soon, Gloria expresses fear of losing her beauty because of a suspected pregnancy.
With war looming on the horizon, Adam Patch advises Anthony to take up a position as a war correspondent. On the way home, Anthony meets Bloeckman, who he discovers now lives near them. The couple agrees that Anthony should turn down the offer, and Bloeckman comes to visit. He offers Gloria a screen test to be a film star behind Anthony’s back. Although Anthony discovers this, he is swayed by Gloria’s beauty and forgives her.
Under his grandfather’s advice, Anthony becomes a bond salesman. However, Anthony is unable to hold the job for long, and to make matters worse, they can barely afford to pay rent. While the Patch’s finances begin to dwindle, Richard and Maury, on the other hand, experience continuous success.
In July, Richard and Maury visit with a guest, Joe Hull, who Gloria dislikes. Under a drunken stupor, Joe picks up Gloria. She hits him before escaping upstairs. However, Gloria sees a blurry figure and thinks Joe is at her door. She runs out, wanting to go to the city. Anthony chases her begging her to reconsider. Maury and Richard finally find the couple and spend the night talking, but Gloria still boards the morning train.
2.6. Finances in Flames
During one of their wild parties, Adam J. Patch arrives unannounced and surveys them silently before leaving. Adam’s visit prompts Anthony and Gloria to reconsider their careless spending and begin worrying. They make multiple attempts to contact Adam Patch and apologize but to no avail. Before long, news reaches them that Adam Patch has died, and to their horror, he has not left a single cent for them.
At their wit’s end, Anthony and Gloria spiral further into their lifestyle fuelled by alcohol and parties. Anthony attempts to make ends meet by writing short stories, all of which fail. At this point, Gloria considers contacting Bloeckman to take him up on his previous job offer, which angers Anthony. Under legal advice, they file a lawsuit to claim undue influence for the inheritance. When America joins the war, Anthony and his friends enlist to be soldiers while Gloria takes care of the lawsuit at home.
2.7. War and The Affair
While stationed at Camp Hooker, Anthony meets a girl named Dorothy Raycroft, and the two develop an attraction toward one another. Anthony is soon promoted to corporal and informed that he would be stationed elsewhere. Upon receiving the news, Anthony tries to break off with Dorothy but is unsuccessful. One night, he receives news of Dorothy threatening suicide, only to find that it is a ploy to gain his attention. While sneaking back into camp, he is discovered and stripped of his rank. He returns home amidst Germany’s surrender, finding Gloria at the Armistice Ball at Astor, and the two reunite with a passionate kiss.
2.8. Gloria’s Perspective
While Anthony is in the army, Gloria experienced extreme loneliness. One day, she runs into Rachael Barnes and is invited to join her along with two other soldiers. Gloria and one of them, Captain Collins, hit it off, but Gloria leaves before anything develops.
In this period, Gloria reconnects with an old lover, Tudor Baird, and they share a kiss. The following day, Tudor is killed in a plane crash. She agrees to many dates while being upfront about her marital status. Soon, Anthony returns, and Gloria is again given hope of security and bliss. However, the facade of happiness does not last long, and their dire financial situation again confronts the couple. Unable to tolerate it any longer, Gloria attends the screen test only to be told they require a younger woman, and this destroys Gloria’s self-confidence.
The Parkers’ marriage only further deteriorates, with Anthony becoming a serial alcoholic. In a drunken stupor, he confronts Bloeckman about rejecting Gloria for the movie role, only to be beaten up. After Gloria and Richard leave to attend the lawsuit’s final hearing, Dorothy shows up. Anthony turns violent and smashes a chair on the door, just as Richard and Gloria return with the fantastic news that they have won the lawsuit and $30 million.
Here, the story transits to a scene on a cruise ship, The Berengaria, where two passengers gossip about Anthony and how winning the lawsuit made him eccentric. Anthony now sits in a wheelchair and travels with a private physician. The Beautiful and Damned then comes to a close with Anthony musing about the challenges he has faced and his relationship with Gloria.
Anthony is an heir to his grandfather’s vast fortune and a Havard graduate who is an incorrigible loafer. He lacks ambition, making him unwilling to work even when pursuing multiple occupations. Anthony lacks the ability to act in the present due to his anticipation of future affluence, which ultimately leaves him with hollow relationships. Throughout the story, he uses partying and alcohol to compensate for his lack of ambition.
Anthony marries a stunning flapper from Kansas City. She spends extravagantly, which leads to his downfall. She is conceited and believes her attractiveness makes her more significant than everyone else. Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda Sayre served as a loose inspiration for this character.
Richard is an ambitious writer who is also Gloria’s cousin and one of Anthony’s closest pals. He is the one who connects Gloria and Anthony. He releases his book, The Demon Lover, over the course of the story and enjoys his fame for a while after it comes out.
4.1. Wealth and Hedonism
Gloria Gilbert and Anthony Patch suffer because of their money in The Beautiful and Damned. They live their life believing their lousy work ethic and foolish financial decisions will not impact their fortune, reputation, or social status because they were born into a social class that offers them financial security and the leisure to pursue worthless interests and throw weekly exorbitant parties. Born with a silver spoon, Anthony and Gloria lack the financial acumen and work ethic necessary to improve their financial situation, forcing them to file a humiliating lawsuit – which damages their reputation in the community – to recover their riches. The novel’s epigraph, “The victor belongs to the spoils,” sums up Fitzgerald’s message on prosperity and ruin.
4.2. Desires V.S Reality
Gloria Gilbert and Anthony Patch serve as prime examples of the cycle of unhappiness brought about by society’s normalization of perpetually wishing for better life without actually taking any measures to do it. Even when they lack the financial means to live their usual flamboyant lifestyles, they ignore this and live beyond their means. The Beautiful and Damned also features their painful and nearly pathetic attempts at pursuing their desired careers and failing, with neither being able to come to terms with their inadequacy and take steps to help themselves achieve their goals.
4.3. Beauty and Perception
Fitzgerald’s ambivalent opinion on beauty is implied in the book’s title, “The Beautiful and Damned.” His criticism of beauty adheres to the tenets of realism writers from the nineteenth century, such as Gustave Flaubert and George Eliot. They condemned beauty for detracting from more pressing social issues like poverty. The Beautiful and Damned, published in 1922, incorporates the realists’ discontent with beauty into a portrait of American high society in the 20th century.
The Beautiful and Damned‘s central socialites lose sight of what it means to live moral, useful lives as they grow preoccupied with the material beauty that rules the lives of Jazz Age elites. Anthony and Gloria often conflate self-worth and beauty. Their excessive concern with how others perceive them leads to a failure to truly achieve or contribute anything of value, eroding their actual value as individuals.
5. Writing Style
Fitzgerald abandoned the conventions of collegiate bildungsromans with his second book, The Beautiful and Damned, which was a departure from his first book, This Side of Paradise. Numerous critics would take issue with the novel’s unrelenting negativity. According to Louise Field of The New York Times, the work revealed Fitzgerald to be talented but overly pessimistic.
Critics started seeing an improvement in Fitzgerald’s writing’s artistry and quality with the novel’s publication. According to Paul Rosenfeld, some passages readily equal D. H. Lawrence’s artistic quality. The Beautiful and Damned demonstrated improved form and construction and awakened literary conscience, unlike This Side of Paradise, which had received widespread criticism from critics for its disorganized style.
6. Influence on Literature
The tremendous improvement in literary form and design between Fitzgerald’s first and second works, as noted by reviewers like John V. A. Weaver, portended great things for his future. Weaver anticipated that Fitzgerald would rank among the best writers of American literature as he developed as a writer. As a result, there was anticipation that Fitzgerald’s third book, The Great Gatsby, would be a substantial improvement. The Beautiful and Damned is often regarded by many literary critics as one of Fitzgerald’s weakest works more than a century later.
7. Quotes from The Beautiful and Damned
“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I shall go on shining as a brilliantly meaningless figure in a meaningless world.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
“We all have souls of different ages.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. Notable Book Covers of The Beautiful and Damned
9. Frequently Asked Questions about The Beautiful and Damned
What is the message of The Beautiful and Damned?
Throughout The Beautiful and Damned, Scott Fitzgerald demonstrates the value of life and the futility of existence without purpose. To determine their course in life, people should have goals and work toward them.
What is Bilphism?
Bilphism is a fictional religion in The Beautiful and Damned that Fitzgerald constructs that address the soul’s rebirth.
Why do Anthony and Gloria fail to fulfill their ambitions?
Anthony and Gloria fail to become a writer and movie star respectively, due to their laziness and preoccupation with their social life and keeping up appearances instead of working on their passions.