posted 2012-03-21 23:16:54

The Beautiful and Damned

Book That Changed My Life

Max Gottlieb

Contributing Writer

Instead of spending your money on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close because of the DVD release hype, why not download an oldie but a goodie? The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald is just that book. Download it to your Kindle, Nook, iPod, iPad, iPhone, iWhatever, all for free.

In this novel, Fitzgerald transports his reader back to a New York before World War II, and even before Prohibition. His New York is the one people still dream about; the New York that makes the modern day city pale in comparison— lavish parties, excess in all aspects of life, rent that was actually affordable, and decadence beyond imagination.

It is within this setting that Fitzgerald is able to critique his generation as a whole. Purposeless, unmotivated, and too smart for their own good, his generation’s problems begin to sound a lot like the problems every generation faces. Looking back, it seems as if each previous generation somehow had it “figured out,” although this has never been the case. It is this underlying sentiment that keeps this novel relevant. Just when I thought I was sick of reading, The Beautiful and Damned changed my mind. As with all things, I tend to fall in and out of phases. One month I’ll do nothing but download new music, and the next I won’t be able to stand listening to any of it. The Beautiful and Damned is intellectually invigorating, and it is enduring books like this that remind me why I’m a literature major in the first place.

Published in 1922, The Beautiful and Damned poses many of the same questions people are still asking today. We are all unsure, at times, of ourselves and of our supposed paths, and The Beautiful and Damned shows that those paths probably don’t exist. Seems negative, right? It’s actually quite comforting. As college students, a majority of what we think about concerns our futures, and it’s easy to stray from the “paths” that we originally choose for ourselves. The Beautiful and Damned is a reminder that people far greater than myself have been asking these same questions for years— no one has it any more figured out than anyone else. The future plateau people look forward to, the one where everything will make sense with stable employment and no stress, will probably never exist. The existence of that plateau, however, isn’t the important issue. The important issue is how to deal with life as it comes and Fitzgerald highlights that through his characters’ inabilities.

Believed by many to be based on his turbulent marriage to Zelda Fitzgerald, the main characters, Anthony and Gloria Patch, are simultaneously the most shallow and intimate of couples. Gloria lives her life for no one but herself. Before she meets Anthony, her life consists of gentlemen callers and a never-ending array of parties. Holding power over everyone she meets, Gloria never fails to get what she wants out of life. Anthony, on the other hand, is a soon-to-be heir to a large fortune, and therefore sees no reason to work. He believes work deteriorates the human soul, but really his lack of interest in anything around him pushes him deeper into alcoholism and his own flawed psyche. His nihilism causes him to feel superior to everyone around him, and he sees no reason to change the way of life to which he is accustomed. Perhaps Anthony Patch is meant to devalue the worth of nihilism in an increasingly nihilistic world. Either way, he is an interesting and relatable character.

Fitzgerald, as always, writes with beautiful prose and an incredible insight. After reading this, my eyes were opened to aspects of my life that I had previously never considered. Not only that, but Fitzgerald is able to describe parts of the world that never seemed possible to put into words. That is the genius in his writing.