I recently started reading a book that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, The Beautiful and Damned by the fan-favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald. A main reason for this being that it contains one of my favorite quotes that I’ve come across, “Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life”—it’s beautiful and genius. Now when I say I recently started reading this book, I mean I literally started reading it yesterday, so I am not too far into it at this point, but it has already started delving into major issues that I, and I’m sure many of my peers as well, find important and pressing within my own life. Do you ever read something that makes you so angry because it’s just so masterfully written, that you question all validity in your own writing skills? This is how I feel about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing, I cannot emphasize the word “genius” enough. A passage that I found especially beautiful and brilliant appears at the beginning of the section titled “A Flash-back in Paradise”, reading:
Beauty, who was born anew every hundred years, sat in a sort of outdoor waiting room through which blew gust of white wind and occasionally a breathless hurried star. The stars winked at her intimately as they went by and the winds made a soft incessant flurry in her hair. She was incomprehensible, for, in her, soul and spirit were one—the beauty of her body was the essence of her soul. She was that unity sought for by philosophers through many centuries. In this outdoor waiting room of winds and stars she had been sitting for a hundred years, at peace in the contemplation of herself.
When reading things like this I strive to see past my jealousy and instead attempt to emulate aspects of its beauty through my own writing.
A theme that is beginning to develop within the novel is the importance and purpose of art, specifically pertaining to literature, within the world. The protagonist of the novel seems to be Anthony Patch, a spoiled rich grandson, with dead parents, and a love for alcohol and being idle. His hardworking grandfather urged him to do something with his life, so Anthony claimed that he would write a history book, though he finds this to be an impossible endeavor. He struggled to get his words out on paper, and much preferred his idle life of privilege to working. Perhaps serving as an antagonist to Anthony could be his writer friend, Charles Caramel; together, the two of them harbor very different ideas about the purpose of literature, as well as its usefulness, one view being much more cynical than the other. This can be seen in a scene where Anthony, Charles (Dick), and Anthony’s much more similar friend, Maury Noble, get together for drinks and discussion.
Dick: (As though talking to himself) I think—that when I’ve done another novel and a play, and maybe a book of short stories, I’ll do a musical comedy.
Maury: I know—with intellectual lyrics that no one will listen to. And all the critics will groan and grunt about “Dear old Pinafore.” And I shall go on shining as a brilliantly meaningless figure in a meaningless world.
Dick: (Pompously) Art isn’t meaningless.
Maury: It is in itself. It isn’t in that it tries to make life less so.
Anthony: In other words, Dick, you’re playing before a grand stand peopled with ghosts.
Maury: Give a good show anyhow.
Anthony: (To Maury) On the contrary, I’d feel that it being a meaningless world, why write? The very attempt to give it purpose is purposeless.
Why do I write? To attempt to give purpose to a purposeless world. Although Anthony and Maury’s cynical views of writing as meaningless could make a writer want to question their work, the views of Dick in this excerpt—and throughout the rest of what I’ve read of the novel—once again give writing validity. Dick does not deny the notion that the world is meaningless, in the sense that the purpose of life has not yet been discovered, however, his optimism in believing that writing and art give the world more purpose and meaning really moves me. I identify with Dick’s views, or rather I hold it as an ideal. I want to believe in the power of literature, but through the highs and lows, sometimes I find myself harboring some of Anthony’s views. The Beautiful and Damned displays the inner turmoil of writers, and this plight is something that everyone within the creative writing community has experienced at one point or another.