I loved This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald as much as I hated The Beautiful and Damned (also by Fitzgerald).
Fitzgerald’s first novel…uses numerous formal experiments to tell the story of Amory Blaine, as he grows up during the crazy years following the First World War.
…beware, spoilers ahead!
We follow the life of Amory Blaine from childhood until just after college. He spends a lot of time trying to discover himself and we spend a lot of time examining this kid’s ego. Amory’s ego is a running theme throughout the story. He is convinced he has exceptional promise and is an exceptional person. He’s entitled, boastful, and quite conceited throughout the story.
Amory has a strange relationship with his mother – he calls her Beatrice – but she sends him to expensive schools and he befriends a former lover of hers, Darcy, who is now a monsignor in the church. Amory has long conversations with him, mostly about how alike and special they each are. It’s almost as if he’s actually Beatrice’s baby-daddy, rather than Amory’s father.
Mostly, we follow Amory’s romantic and intellectual pursuits as he discovers and makes peace with his place in the world. From his manipulating his way into a first kiss as a thirteen-ish year old at a birthday party through to his failed college relationships, Amory’s focus is always on Amory unless it’s on his latest beloved. He attends Princeton University, and on vacation kindles a romance with the beautiful Isabelle (who reminded me of The Beautiful and Damned’s Gloria). He quickly becomes disillusioned with her, and he goes back to Princeton. From early on in the novel, it’s clear that Amory is both attracted and repulsed by romance with women.
Amory is then shipped out to serve during World War I. One of his friends dies in combat or something, but Amory doesn’t seem particularly bothered by this. In fact, throughout the entire book, Amory doesn’t seem to care when people die much at all. This includes his father, as he’s completely unemotional when his father passes away, and is more interested in the state of his family’s finances and how they will affect him. He’s completely self-involved to the point where it’s actually kind of disgusting, and he only seems affected by having to look at dead bodies, but he never really seems bothered by death. He watches one of his friends die in a car accident, and only really seems bothered that he had to look at the body.
The only time he seems affected by the death of a person is when Monsignor Darcy dies, and that mostly seems like it’s because he and Darcy would sit together and talk about how exceptional they were, and now he can’t do that anymore.
Anyway, the real turning point in his life is meeting Rosalind Connage, a New York debutant. The pair of them are madly in love, but because he is now poor (his parents, mostly his father, irresponsibly lost their fortune), Rosalind chooses to marry a rich man, which devastates Amory.
There’s also a scene where Amory and a different girlfriend play a game of chicken on horses towards a cliff – she leaps off her horse and the horse goes over. Actually, I’m not sure it’s a game of chicken as much as she’s crazy and Amory dumps her soon afterwards. But yeah, that kind of upset me a lot. Poor horse, stupid bitch.
Anyway, at the end of all this, when Monsignor Darcy dies, Amory makes his most iconic statement, after forming an opinion on everything and then un-forming his opinions on everything, he says, “I know myself, but that is all.”
In spite of the fact that Amory is arrogant, self-centered, and kind of smug most of the novel, I do really like him. As he grows up, he realizes more and more that he doesn’t really know anything very well at all. He does fall in love, even if it is a superficial, shallow kind of love a lot of the time (like with Gloria and Anthony in The Beautiful and Damned), and he does think a lot. A lot of the book is his conversations with his good friends about philosophy, art, life, etc…
This novel was particularly interesting because it blends a bunch of different types of writing. Sometimes it’s a fictional narrative, there are poems and things that Amory writes, sometimes written as a play, sometimes free verse, etc… Actually, it was interesting but I did find it a bit irritating. Pick what you want to write and stick with it; none of this switching over from one thing to another.
The whole story is semi-autobiographical – Fitzgerald needed to publish a novel in order to win over his socialite love who wouldn’t marry him unless he made some money (like Rosalind and Amory). A bunch of the characters, including Amory’s best friend, Thomas Parke D’Invilliers, who is the fictional writer of the poem at the start of The Great Gatsby (I looked it up because I remembered the name), are based on actual people that Fitzgerald knew. Beatrice was based on a friend’s mother, and Rosalind was based on Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda.
Amory’s final lament, “I know myself, but that is all,” is the culmination of what has gone on throughout the book. After trying to figure out what has interested him, and formed him, from his mother to losing or discarding love (and abandoning the idea of finding inspiration or love in women after Rosalind), after shunning convention (which he finds he despises), and losing all his money, Amory has finally solved the quest of the book, which is to discover himself.
This book is a bit disjointed. It makes odd jumps in both time and style, and can be a bit unclear. There is an episode where Amory is in New York City with friends and believes he is being chased by some sort of supernatural specter (the devil maybe)? All this happens after an evening of heavy drinking. Amory drinks frequently throughout the novel to cope with physical and emotional pain and it can get quite tedious both listening to his self-indulgent whining and his arrogant conversations with friends. His belief in his own exceptionalism is irritating, and watching someone go back and forth from engaged to apathetic with his own life is downright infuriating.
His love affairs are melodramatic and for someone like me, who doesn’t fall in love easily, unbelievable in a lot of ways. Love at first sight? No. Never love again because you got dumped once as a twenty-ish year old? No. More infatuation than actual love? Definitely.
But Amory is a lot like me, a lot like many people I know, a lot like many people who have been forced to grow up, whether early by circumstance or just the passage of time. He’s got more of an ego than a lot of people, but for the most part, he is a kid who experiences the ups and downs of love, both the desire to be normal and the desire to be different, the pressures of school and a social life, and is just trying to figure out who he is and where he fits in the world.
…And then he grows up.
This culminates at the end of the story, with the payoff being that Amory comes to realize his own selfishness, something a lot of Fitzgerald characters never do. And I loved him, and this book, for it.
This book was free on Kindle, and I’m glad I didn’t spend any money on it, because, frankly, it pissed me off. Tremendously pissed me off.
“The Beautiful and Damned”, first published in 1922, was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel. It tells the story of Anthony Patch (a 1920s socialite and presumptive heir to a tycoon’s fortune), his relationship with his wife Gloria, his service in the army, and alcoholism. The novel provides an excellent portrait of the Eastern elite as the Jazz Age begins its ascent, engulfing all classes into what will soon be known as Café Society. As with all of his other novels, it is a brilliant character study and is also an early account of the complexities of marriage and intimacy that were further explored in “Tender Is the Night.” The book is believed to be largely based on Fitzgerald’s relationship and marriage with Zelda Fitzgerald.
I also read this in the Bahamas. It took me a long time to get through it, even though it was only 400-ish pages.
I picked this up for a stupid reason - it was on the season finale of Gossip Girl, and by a classic author of whose work I’d always intended to read more. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for those who don’t know. But I should have known that if Serena van der Woodsen loved it and related to it, it would hugely infuriate me. But I enjoyed The Great Gatsby in high school, so I figured, “What the hell, why not?”
The Beautiful and Damned might be hailed as a spectacular character study in marriage and intimacy and blah blah blah but you know what? This was a not-so-compelling story about two spoiled rich kids who are infatuated with each other, get married, waste money on extravagant triviality, and then don’t know what to do when their money runs out.
There was so much to dislike about this book. First, there were the characters.
At the start of the book, I found Gloria incredibly irritating. Yes, she was devastatingly beautiful, but she was nothing of substance. She was a self-centered, self-absorbed rather callous wanna-be socialite who led men on and whose opinions were shallow, uninteresting, and unsubstantial. Her only goal was to catch a husband. I found Anthony less annoying, although he was older than Gloria.
By the end, I liked Gloria better than Anthony. She might have been shallow, and whiny, and still self-centered, but at least she was strong enough not to descend into alcoholic despair, which is what happens to Anthony. Gloria has a touch of “the alcoholism” as well, although she’s much less whiny so I’m willing to forgive her.
The turning point of the book, some time in the middle, is when Anthony’s uber!conseravative grandfather walked in on an out-of-control party at Anthony’s & Gloria’s summer home, and then disinherits them, leaving them with no future inheritance, which is what they were relying on to get by.
They contest the will, but that takes a long time. Anthony joins the army. He has an affair. He never goes over for World War I, the war ends before he’s deployed, but he goes through the training. Gloria never has an affair, although her friends urge her to have one, and disapprove when she doesn’t. He’s FURIOUS with the idea that she might have had one though, and rushes back as soon as he has the opportunity when the war is over. So he’s a hypocritical bastard as well.
Then there’s some more huge parties and nights out they can’t afford, and they’ve moved into a terrible apartment, and on and on. They’ve lost their friends, their status, their money, and while Gloria is aware of this but trying to get by, Anthony becomes temperamental and falls victim to alcoholism.
Finally, they win their settlement in court - they’re worth $30 million. But that same day, Anthony’s gone completely mental and the book ends with Gloria with a mentally regressed Anthony with all their money but still unhappy.
Looking for a credible analysis of the book (SparkNotes has become a completely useless website and this book wasn’t even on there), I first went to Wikipedia, which is ideal for stuff like this. The footnotes are priceless. Anyway, someone theorizes that this book is about vocation - “What do you do when you have nothing to do?” and I think that, at the heart of it all, is what made me so.damn.angry.
The answer to all the problems of Anthony and Gloria Patch is that Anthony GETS A JOB. Gloria would have had a more difficult time getting a job, I think, during that time, but the bottom line is that Anthony decided work was beneath him. Seriously. Someone he knew (his grandfather?) even got him a job at one point, which he quit after a couple of weeks because he “didn’t like it.” He tried writing, he sucked at it, still no job. Things just got worse. And worse. And worse. And getting a JOB didn’t cross Anthony’s mind. He’d rather regress to being a mental 12 year old staring at his stamp collection than get a job.
Their sense of entitlement is matched only by their arrogance and neither of them have any really redeeming qualities. No wonder Anthony’s grandfather disowned them, I’d try to as well. They were so obnoxious I just wanted the book to be over, although I hated Anthony so much more than Gloria by the end.
Next, there’s the issue of how nothing really happens, but this is so hugely dwarfed by how much I hated the characters that it almost doesn’t matter. But, yeah, there’s literally almost no plot. The plot progresses, I’d say from about page 150 or so, as such: Anthony and Gloria spend too much money. Anthony and Gloria say they’re not going to spend too much money. Anthony and Gloria pretend they’re going to do something serious about their money problem. Anthony and Gloria then go and immediately spend too much money. Rinse. Repeat. There’s also some pseudo-intellectualism in there, but mostly, it’s all about the Benjamins.
The first 150 pages is devoted mostly to pseudo-intellectualism and Anthony and Gloria “courting,” which is, more or less, as boring as it sounds. He wants to have sex with her - er, he falls in love with her, I mean - because she is SO BEAUTIFUL, OMFG. Then he’s wearing her down, and after putting him off, she consents to marry him completely out of the blue.
There were a lot of lines in this book that I found particularly insightful. The line about Gloria’s father crushing all moral courage out of Gloria’s mother and her mother mistaking it for tolerance struck me especially deeply. There was another line that I liked but can’t remember it, so I guess I didn’t like it that much. But certain lines do not justify the mostly unimpressive experience of an entire book.
I don’t recommend this book unless you are doing some kind of study or particularly love Fitzgerald. I was just not impressed with the book. At all.