Friday, July 7, 2017

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald


A time to grieve.
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Odie, a few hours before his passing. July 5, 2017

I got Odie and his sister Breeya for my son when he was eight years old.  He wanted to name them "Odie" and "Nermal"  after two pets in his favorite comic strip, "Garfield".  I wasn't thrilled with the name "Odie".  Couldn't my son have chosen something more "doggish" like "T-Bone" or "Sir Bow Wow the Third"?

No, "Odie" it was, but I drew the line at "Nermal".  I couldn't see myself calling Nermal in for din din or walkies or "Nermal! Let that poor bird go!"

So Derek named her after a girl he had a crush on in his third grade class.

They reached their fourteenth birthday this summer but Odie had been slowly sliding down that inevitable descent for the last several months until he finally reached the bottom. 

Death is horrible and it was hard watching Odie's life slowly ebb away,  but I believe that God restores all things.  

I am listening to Bruckner's Symphony No. 2, George Solti is the conductor.





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The Beautiful and DamnedThe Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Aside from the Great Gatsby this is the only other novel I've read by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Years ago when living on a small Caribbean island, with limited things to do, I read a large collection of books that I had had the foresight to bring with me (it got dark at 6pm every evening after which it wasn't safe to leave my apartment). One book was a collection of Fitzgerald's short stories and I enjoyed them immensely. This book I also enjoyed.

The Beautiful and the Damned starts like most of his short stories. Young man falls hopelessly in love with young, beautiful, charming, highly intelligent yet distant girl. Her beauty, her charm draw the young man in like a siren's call. Her smile, which is no more than a mask of aloofness, lets no one in and drives him mad, almost to despair.

Fitzgerald invented the prototype of the Manic Pixie Girl that is so popular in Romantic movies of today. You know the type, she's sweet, sexy, devil-may carish. She dances in the rain, sings along in movie theaters and other behavior that would be considered irresponsible and weird in real life but comes across as funny and sexy in the movies.

The man is mesmerized and the fact that she's just out of reach emotionally keeps him reaching for her. Today's aggressively eager woman might learn a thing or two from these girls. Don't chase the boy, run away and have him chase you.

Ah, but I'm hopelessly old-fashioned. I'm also happily married, but that's topic for another time.

Most of Fitzgerald's short stories end with the boy finally catching the girl. I don't say they all end happily, they're more complicated than that, but they don't continue into married life.

The Beautiful and the Damned does. The boy in this story, Anthony Patch, does finally catch the girl he passionately pursues but that is half the story. The rest of their story is about their married life. It is not a pretty tale, it is a tragic, but fascinating one.

The interest does not lie in the storyline per se. I suppose lots of authors have written about drunk people racing toward destruction, but Fitzgerald's writing simply bubbles and flows like an icy, clear water brook down a mountain side. His insight into the human soul, his ability to lucidly display its depraved nature, its desperate longing for greater things and its inability to save itself both repels while it simultaneously draws the reader in.

Anthony and Gloria get married. They soon discover that what, on Anthony's part at least, manically attracted them to the other person was not enough to sustain a marriage.

Gloria is still lovely to look at, but her impulsive behavior,self-absorption and strong will have lost some of their allure.

We are not entirely sure why Gloria married Anthony. He perhaps bored her less than the other men who sought her attention. She doesn't seem to have much of a conscience or reason to do anything except have a good time.

And what is a good time to Anthony and Gloria? Getting pleasantly inebriated with friends. This naturally costs money and neither of them have much. Anthony is counting on an inheritance he will receive at his grandfather's death.

Anthony is both contemptuous of his grandfather and also fears him because a wrong move could cost him millions of dollars. His grandfather points out Anthony's lack of ambition and also employment. He offers to provide Anthony employment. Anthony is a writer. His grandfather can get him a job as a war correspondent. (WWI has just started).

Anthony immediately protests. He could never desert Gloria! At the same time he imagines himself in uniform and the glamour this kind of work would give him.

Gloria would also like to work. A friend who produces Hollywood movies would like to give her a screen test. But Anthony absolutely refuses to permit it. His wife will never degrade herself like that.

So what do they do? Live on what little stipend and savings they have, but mostly they spend it on alcohol and parties with friends. They also make very foolish decisions such as renting both a country house and apartment in New York City.

They see that they are acting foolish but cannot seem to stop themselves. They know they must stop holding and attending parties, but when the evening rolls around, the empty life they see around them impels them to the social amusements. Life isn't worth living until after the fifth or sixth drink.

This cannot last and it doesn't. The grandfather dies, but unfortunately he dies shortly after walking in on a typical gathering of Gloria and Anthony's and everyone there is quite sloshed. The grandfather, a strong prohibitionist, goes home, cuts Anthony from his will and dies.

Anthony retains an expensive (and I mean very expensive) lawyer to contest the will. The court case drags on for years in Bleak House-ian style. In the meantime, Anthony is drafted, travels south for training but luckily avoids actual service since the war ends before he finishes boot camp.

He returns to Gloria and they carry on.

The two slide steadily toward the abyss. A few unexpected things happen toward the end and I won't deprive you of a good read by spoiling it.

Anyone familiar with Fitzgerad's real life can see obvious autobiographical connections. I was constantly reminded of Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" where Hemingway describes Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda in a way not very different from Anthony and Gloria.

Because they were close friends who spent a lot of time together in Paris, I found myself comparing Hemingway's writing to Fitzgerald's. I can only describe Hemingway's writing as a large, heavy, aggressive predator and Fitzgerald's as a lightweight boxer who rapidly and gracefully dances around his opponent getting jabs in that are only painful to himself. Hemingway enjoyed slaughtering his perceived enemies.

Hemingway's stories may pack a punch, but Fitzgerald's go down as smoothly as one of the alcoholic beverages his characters are forever imbibing.


Here is a very interesting article from the New Yorker about F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It was written in 1926.
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Breeya, Derek and me saying "goodbye."
"Behold, I make all things new." Revelation 21:5

12 comments:

  1. I am so sorry to hear about Odie. I love animals. Their death's are so difficult.

    I have read both The Great Gatsby as well as tender is The Night from F. Scott Fitzgerald. Tender is the Night is also about a marriage that eventually disintegrates. It seems similar as there is a lot of depravity as well as a character headed for a self - made disaster that he cannot seem to stop. Though the characters are terribly flawed I found it to be terribly sad.

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    1. H Brian. I did not realize that Odie's death was going to be so hard on me. I was glad that I was there for him at the end.

      I also noticed that Fitzgerald's people are rather depraved, yet there is something about them that is appealing in the sense that I like to read his work.

      Have a good weekend.!

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    2. Sorry about Odie. Pets become like family members, and it is still difficult to say goodbye.

      Re: The Beautiful and the Damned

      Wow, this is a short story? I'm definitely interested! Reminds me of one of those accidents you should turn your eyes away from, but cannot. And so, yep! I want to read this, too.

      I like your advice about playing "hard to get." I tell my daughters: don't pursue him; let him choose you - and then discern if he's worthy. : )

      I'm trying to get through This Side of Paradise, but I'm on vacation, and it's difficult to find time to read.

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    3. Thanks Ruth. I did not know I was going to be so sad over a pet but we had him a long time.

      This is not a short story it is Fitzgerald's second novel (This Side of Paradise being his first). I probably should have given that back ground information in the review.

      It reads like his short stories to about half way and then takes a sad turn.

      I have TSoP too, but I think I'm going to take a break from Fitzgerald for a while.

      Where does someone go to vacation when they live where everyone else vacations? :)

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  2. Bruckner is one of those composers who are always around, but somehow miss out on serious consideration; it seems to me, anyway... terribly sorry about doggie; we still miss Uncle Wiggley and it's been six months...
    i've never read any Fitzgerald: to confess, i don't think i'm that interested in human aberrations; it all seems so impossible and hopeless to do anything about them, they're so prevalent... perceptive review, though, tx
    who was it that said: life is what happens when you're not paying attention...

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    1. Hi Mudpuddle. I love my spotify because it allows me to give attention to little listened to composers.

      I am still sad about Odie. I've never had an animal so long. He and Breeya are the first dogs I had as an adult. I really like that photo I took of him. I think I'll frame it.

      Human aberrations might not be the most inspiring things to read about but I just really enjoy the way Fitzgerald writes. It really flows and sparks.

      I looked up that quote. I can't find an original. I guess it's just a cliche.

      All well on the home front?

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    2. well, no... the fight goes on; tx for asking...

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    3. Sorry to hear it. Was hoping for good news. Rooting for the best...!

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  3. Sharon, losing a family friend (pet) is difficult, and I hope you can embrace the joys more than the sadness. As for FSF, I have read TBatD, but The Great Gatsby is among my favorite novels of all time, but the sadness is difficult for me (i.e., I find no joys in TGG). Best wishes from a former owner of 3 dachshunds who brought me much joy when they were alive.

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    1. Hi R.T. Thanks, I appreciate your condolences. I'm not sure I should have witnessed Odie's passing. He was so sick, yet his body fought the final end. I can't get it out of my head.

      Dachsunds are so cute and sassy. I'm sure they were a lot of fun.

      I like the Great Gatsby too. I have not seen any of the movies, but I need to read the novel again since it's been a few years. You're right, there is great sadness in F's stories.

      He should have written a book "All the Sad Young Men." Oh, wait. He did. I'm not being snarky, I really just remembered that after I wrote it.

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  4. So sorry for your loss, Sharon. I'm another fan of Fitzgerald's work, especially The Great Gatsby as well as many of his short stories. Thanks for the review of this one, for some reason I've never picked it up, but now I think I'd enjoy it.

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    1. Hi Marcia. I think you would enjoy it as well. Fitzgerald has a way of making his characters so interesting.

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I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.