I note on the table beside my bed this morning a new book with an orange jacket entitled The Beautiful and Damned. It is a strange book, which has for me an uncanny fascination. It has been lying on that table for two years. I have been asked to analyze it carefully in the light of my brilliant critical insight, my tremendous erudition, and my vast impressive partiality. Here I go!
To begin with, everyone must buy this book for the following aesthetic reasons: first, because I know where there is the cutest cloth-of-gold dress for only three hundred dollars in a store on Forty-second Street, and also, if enough people buy it, where there is a platinum ring with a complete circlet, and also, if loads of people buy it, my husband needs a new winter overcoat, although the one he has has done well enough for the last three years.
Now, as to the other advantages of the book—its value as a manual of etiquette is incalculable. Where could you get a better example of how not to behave than from the adventures of Gloria? And as a handy cocktail mixer nothing better has been said or written since John Roach Straton’s last sermon.
It is a wonderful book to have around in case of emergency. No one should ever set out in pursuit of unholy excitement without a special vest pocket edition dangling from a string around the neck.
For this book tells exactly, and with compelling lucidity, just what to do when cast off by a grandfather or when sitting around a station platform at 4 a.m., or when spilling champagne in a fashionable restaurant, or when told that one is too old for the movies. Any of these things might come into anyone’s life at any minute.
Just turn the pages of the book slowly at any of the above-mentioned trying times until your own case strikes your eye and proceed according to directions. Then for the ladies of the family there are such helpful lines as: “I like gray because then you have to wear a lot of paint.” Also what to do with your husband’s old shoes—Gloria takes Anthony’s shoes to bed with her and finds it a very satisfactory way of disposing of them. The dietary suggestion, “tomato sandwiches and lemonade for breakfast” will be found an excellent cure for obesity.
Now, let us turn to the interior decorating department of the book. Therein can be observed complete directions for remodeling your bathroom along modern and more interesting lines, with plans for a book-rack by the tub, and a detailed description of what pictures have been found suitable for bathroom walls after years of careful research by Mr. Fitzgerald.
The book itself, with its plain green back, is admirably constructed for being read in a tub—wetting will not spoil the pages; in fact, if one finds it growing dry, simply dip the book briskly in warm water. The bright yellow jacket is particularly adapted to being carried on Fifth Avenue while wearing a blue- or henna-colored suit, and the size is adaptable to being read in hotel lobbies while waiting to keep dates for luncheon.
It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.
I find myself completely fascinated by the character of the heroine. She is a girl approximately ten years older than I am, for she seems to have been born about 1890—though I regret to remark that on finishing the book I feel no confidence as to her age, since her birthday is in one place given as occurring in February and in another place May and in the third place in September. But there is a certain inconsistency in this quite in accord with the lady’s character.
What I was about to remark is that I would like to meet the lady. There seems to have been a certain rouge she used which had a quite remarkable effect. And the strange variations in the color of her hair from cover to cover range entirely through the spectrum—I find myself doubting that all the changes were of human origin; also the name of the unguent used in the last chapter is not given. I find these aesthetic deficiencies very trying. But don’t let that deter you from buying the book. In every other way, the book is absolutely perfect.
The other things that I didn’t like in the book—I mean the unimportant things—were the literary references and the attempt to convey a profound air of erudition. It reminds me in its more soggy moments of the essays I used to get up in school at the last minute by looking up strange names in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
I think the heroine is most amusing. I have an intense distaste for the melancholy aroused in the masculine mind by such characters as Jenny Gerhardt, Antonia and Tess (of the D’Urbervilles). Their tragedies, redolent of the soil, leave me unmoved. If they were capable of dramatizing themselves they would no longer be symbolic, and if they weren’t—and they aren’t—they would be dull, stupid and boring, as they inevitably are in life.
The book ends on a tragic note; in fact a note which will fill any woman with horror, or, for that matter, will fill any furrier with horror, for Gloria, with thirty million to spend, buys a sable coat instead of a kolinsky coat. This is a tragedy unequaled in the entire work of Hardy. Thus the book closes on a note of tremendous depression and Mr. Fitzgerald’s subtle manner of having Gloria’s deterioration turn on her taste in coats has scarcely been equaled by Henry James.
1 Kolinsky is the fur of the Asian mink, also known as red sable or Tatar sable.
First appeared in the New York Tribune, April 2, 1922, under the heading “Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald Reviews ‘The Beautiful and Damned,’ Friend Husband’s Latest.”