Vanity

Let’s Discuss — The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Anthony Patch with no record of achievement, without courage, without strength to be satisfied with truth when it was given him. Oh, he was a pretentious fool, making careers out of cocktails and meanwhile regretting, weakly and secretly, the collapse of an insufficient and wretched idealism (Location 593)

As a whole, I didn’t really care for The Beautiful and Damned, but there were some good parts. Primarily Anthony’s philosophical and sometimes poetic musings, many of which I didn’t always agree with. Fitzgerald consistently underlines the concept of a generation with displaced senses of entitlement and lack of direction.

Although Anthony Patch is basically a waste, he’s not totally unlikeable. He experiences bouts of depression, insecurity, nervousness, etc.  And then he meets Gloria Gilbert…Gloria is the quintessence of beauty and a society girl. If she’s “ugly” in any way, it’s her excessive selfishness and over-the-top vanity. In fact, Fitzgerald is heavy-handed with the theme of beauty. You’ll read this at the beginning of the novel:

The Voice: Yes, it is truly a melancholy spectacle. Women with receding chins and shapeless noses go about in broad daylight saying “Do this!” and “Do that!” and all the men, even those of great wealth, obey implicitly their women…

Beauty: But this can’t be true! I can understand of course, their obedience to women of charm—but to fat women? To bony women? To women with scrawny cheeks? (Location 298)

Together Anthony and Gloria are almost always in a state of inebriation. Drunk off their egos and too proud to admit their faults. They’re that really annoying couple who argue all the time but never break up. They enable each other’s bad habits and pretend all is well in front of their friends. It gets to a point where it only makes sense they would marry.

They go on blowing money they don’t have, throwing parties, refusing to do anything to earn a living. And all this happens in anticipation of the death of Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch, a very rich man whose name carries weight in high society. There is a point in the novel where Anthony joins the military and is separated from Gloria for a time. The military experience seems to purge him of the idle poison…for a little while anyways. But eventually Anthony and Gloria reconnect and settle back into their old ways. And because of their silliness and laziness, they lose the weak identities they’ve established for themselves while waiting for the inheritance money. Although I would also argue they never had a true identity, just an ideal and beauty. Fittingly they aren’t left a dime in the will.

I guess the moral of the story is: find something to do, even when it seems like there’s nothing to do because there’s always something to do, and you’ll be a better person for doing it.

Especially since the alternative is getting piss drunk every day, having no money and arguing with your spouse all the time…yeah that sounds about right.

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Let’s Discuss — The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that Genius lasts longer then Beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place (14)

Basil Hallward paints a remarkable portrait of his friend and muse, Dorian Gray. It’s his best work, something to be admired. Yet the piece of art becomes an object of hate and fear. Basil has given eternal life and beauty to the Dorian in the portrait, whereas, the actual Dorian will eventually be marked with imperfection, age and ugliness. To Dorian it’s unfair and unbecoming, and somehow he inadvertently sells his soul for eternal youth.

Dorian undergoes an intellectual and moral transformation. The change of his psyche is contrasted with the stagnation of his physical being. He doesn’t age. He becomes a fickle person, seeking sin, pleasure or any experience that can satisfy his search for what he considers beauty or novelty of the moment. He commits a heinous crime, develops shady habits and ruins his reputation. He goes from loved by all, to detested by most. He has the face of youth, innocence and good, but not the soul to match.

I have such mixed feelings about this book. The beginning was rough for me because I kept running across passages like this:

He was bareheaded, and the leaves had tossed his rebellious curls and tangled all their gilded threads. There was a look of fear in his eyes, such as people have when they are suddenly awakened. His finely chiseled nostril quivered, and some hidden nerve shook the scarlet of his lips and left them trembling (23)

and this:

As he thought of it, a sharp pang of pain struck through him like a knife, and made each delicate fiber of his nature quiver. His eyes deepened into amethyst, and across them came a mist of tears. He felt as if a hand of ice had been laid upon his heart (27)

Aren’t they too…I don’t know–mushy?

I suppose they’re meant to be romantic and artistic, but I find the descriptions, and in particular, the use of the word quiver very irksome.

Maybe it’s just me.

Anyways, once I got over that, I was annoyed with Harry/Lord Henry. His musings, while very quotable, are silly. However, he’s such an important character in the book. It’s clear that his haughty attitude and naturalist view of society influence Dorian Gray substantially. In fact, Dorian becomes Harry’s social experiment. Harry poisons, pokes and prods hims; drops crumbs, which eventually lead Dorian to corruption.