most students raised in the public education system, Freshman year of high school turned your reading classes to literature studies. This name change is subtle and influential in how a teacher will approach the students’ curriculum. Classical titles and convoluted names begin raining upon the young mass of heads, and while most students begrudgingly finished their assignments, I fastidiously and hungrily read through my homework. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has been my fundamental love story that all others have been held in comparison. I had read Shakespeare, but on my own time over the summer, which delayed my introduction to Romeo and Juliet.
A feeling of lethargy has set into me as I’ve made some life choices, and a return to classical reading has helped me feel anchored to my flimsy education, at least before time floats it away from my grasp. Fitzgerald penned The Beautiful and Damned as his second novel after This Side of Paradise. Published in 1922 as the Jazz Age began, Fitzgerald mirrored The Beautiful and Damned after his marriage with Zelda, in his estimation the first American flapper.
Like most writers, his prose is borrowed stories from reality, which is always a mix of the bittersweet. This novel was a hard read for me because of my lack of interest initially, although this did not attenuate my desire to finish the book.
Perhaps my youthful mind has encapsulated The Great Gatsby in an unjustified aura, but The Beautiful and Damned paled in comparison to the great love affair of Daisy and Gatsby. In truth, all the great love stories as defined by literary historians have been tragic in their endings. The Beautiful and Damned is no exception.
It is another tragic love story, reflecting Fitzgerald’s own personal anguishes – his struggle with alcoholism, his financial straits and his marriage woes. As always, Fitzgerald wrestles with his prose to include moral and philosophical questions about life and love. Can money coexist with love? How does a Jazz baby conform to the process of aging? Where does one draw the line on decadence?