F. Scott Fitzgerald began his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, in July 1920. Late in March he had completed “May Day,” just before This Side of Paradise was published; and on April 3 he and Zelda Sayre were married in New York. April was given over to a honeymoon and parties in New York and Princeton. By May the Fitzgeralds rented a cottage in Westport, Connecticut, where the parties continued through June. Finally by July he settled down to work again. It had been his belief, expressed in an earlier letter to Maxwell Perkins, that his “fall novel” could be finished up in three months; and he assumed the same length of time when work was actually begun. But the first draft took him ten months. By May 1921 it was finished, and the Fitzgeralds sailed to Europe for the summer. It ran as a serial in The Metropolitan Magazine starting in September. Soon after that the Fitzgeralds were back in St. Paul awaiting the birth of their child. Fitzgerald devoted October and November to going over The Beautiful and Damned for book publication. It came out the following March.
The success and the notoriety of This Side of Paradise had thrust Fitzgerald, by the summer when he began to write The Beautiful and Damned, into New York literary life. George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken now became his good friends. Editors and critics like Burton Rascoe of the New York Tribune sought him out for reviewsand opinions. James Branch Cabell, author of Jurgen and in 1920 among the most famous of living American novelists, entered into a genial exchange of letters with him. Fitzgerald began to speak out about the novels of his contemporaries; he even began to read them. Almost as soon as his professional career was launched he had earned a place among a group of leading writers and critics who seemed to share his values and aims; but whatever pleasure he derived from this swift acceptance, it may not have been wholly the best thing for him. It was obviously a great advantage for Fitzgerald to learn, as he put it in his review of Charles G. Norris's Brass, “that books were being written in America.” But he was not yet certain what kind of American book he wished to write, nor even what kind he liked to read. He may have been strengthened by the companionship and sense of solidarity drawn from his literary loyalties; but any commitment to group values could only retard, rather than push forward, his development of a self-sustaining literary and intellectual point of view. There are suggestive insights into this problem to be gained from the triangular correspondence that took place late in 1920 among Fitzgerald, Rascoe, and Cabell.
Fitzgerald entered the exchange—Rascoe and Cabell were old friends—when Rascoe sent him a copy of “Fanfare,” the Knopf advertising pamphlet on Mencken. Mencken and Nathan had been “up at the apartment drinking with us the other night,” Fitzgerald said in reply, “and he [Mencken] was quite enthusiastic about Main Street.” Then Fitzgerald went on to add his opinion of another widely publicized first novel of the “post-war generation,” Floyd Dell's The Moon-Calf. “This Moon-Calf is a wretched thing without a hint of glamor,” he wrote, “utterly undistinguished, childhood impressions dumped into the reader's lap with a profound air of importance, and the sort of thing that Walpole and Beresford (whom I abominate) turn out twice a year with great bawlings about their art. I'd rather be Tarkington or David Graham Phillips and cast at least some color and radiance into my work! Wouldn't you?” Fitzgerald appears to be taking his stand here for sentiment and against realism; and he must have reinforced this impression when he wrote to Rascoe a short time later, “I still think Moon-Calf is punk, Poor White is fair, and Main Street is rotten.” But Rascoe was not reading these pronouncements for their philosophical import. After Fitzgerald's first letter he wrote to Cabell, “They tell me, too, that Floyd Dell's Moon-Calf is a good piece of work, despite the letter I have today from F. Scott Fitzgerald denouncing it a shade too fervently to be disinterested… (From what I have been able to gather the themes of Moon-Calf and of This Side of Paradise are parallel, Dell's being only, as Fitzgerald guts it, without glamour.)” To Rascoe, no doubt, there was no such thing as a disinterested opinion about a book; he had been a literary editor too long to harbor that illusion.
Fitzgerald was never to waver in his dislike for Moon-Calf; rather it must have grown when Knopf advertised it as “The most brilliantly successful first novel of many years.” But his views on Sinclair Lewis and Booth Tarkington did waver, and he appears too often like a good ideologue gamely trying to follow the literary party line. He came to write Cabell after Zelda Fitzgerald had procured from the novelist an autographed first edition of Jurgen. The thank-you note provided Fitzgerald another opportunity to take a poke at Floyd Dell. “I'm all for Salt, The Titan, and Main Street. At Poor White I grow weary—but at Moon-Calf—My God! … I appreciated your qualified tribute to Tarkington in Beyond Life. I agreed with it perfectly.” Fitzgerald may truly have believed that Main Street was “rotten” and “I'd rather be Tarkington,” as he had written Rascoe. But Lewis had dedicated Main Street partly to Cabell; and in Beyond Life Cabell had gently played at Tarkington with razors:
Mr. Tarkington has not mere talent but an uncontrollable wizardry that defies concealment, even by the livery of a popular novelist… Mr. Tarkington is a gentleman whose ability none of us have any choice save cordially to love, and to revere. It is for that reason I resent its waste, and voice my resentment unwillingly. In short, I throw my brick with one hand, and with the other remove my hat… the fact remains that out of forty-nine years of living Mr. Tarkington has thus far given us only Seventeen. Nor would this matter were Mr. Tarkington a Barclay or a Harrison, or even the mental and artistic equal of the trio's far more popular rival, Mr. Harold Bell Wright. But Mr. Tarkington has genius. That is even more tragic than the “pleasant” ending of The Magnificent Ambersons.…
The end of Fitzgerald's variegation on Main Street came a month later when he wrote a letter of congratulation to Sinclair Lewis. The language is worth regarding. “Dear Mr. Lewis,” he said, “I want to tell you that Main Street has displaced Theron Ware in my favor as the best American novel. The amount of sheer data in it is amazing! As a writer and a Minnesotan let me swell the chorus—after a third reading.” This is rather equivocal praise. Fitzgerald had just then read The Damnation of Theron Ware for the first time; and “sheer data” was not the kind of stylistic quality Fitzgerald was likely to admire. But no doubt it reflects the equivocations in his own mind between the Tarkington path and the path—to leave his contemporaries aside—of Frank Norris. His uneasy absorption of two professional manners into one comes out in this curious manifesto to relatives in St. Paul: “Still, as you know, I really am in this game seriously and for something besides money, and if it's necessary to bootlick the pet delusions of the inhabitants of Main Street (Have you read it? It's fine!) to make money, I'd rather live on less and preserve the one duty of a sincere writer—to set down life as he sees it as gracefully as he knows how.” For Norris that one duty was to set down life as truthfully as he knew how. What, since “May Day,” had happened to truth?
Truth, principally, was no longer an issue. It had been discovered, catalogued, and stored away; the novelist's new duty was not to find it, but to tell it well. At the time Fitzgerald began The Beautiful and Damned, these were his views; and thus his early plans for the novel represent no new intellectual or artistic development, but simply reiterate the least interesting and most obviously borrowed themes of “May Day.” His first statement on the subject of the novel came August 12, 1920, in a letter to Charles Scribner II. “My new novel,” he explained, “called The Flight of the Rocket, concerns the life of one Anthony Patch between his 25th and 33d years (1913-1921). He is one of those many with the tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no actual creative inspiration. How he and his beautiful young wife are wrecked on the shoals of dissipation is told in the story. This sounds sordid but it's really a most sensational book and I hope won't disappoint the critics who liked my first one. I hope it'll be in your hands by November 1st.” Here, all over again, is the character of Vandover from Frank Norris's Vandover and the Brute; here, all over again, is the idea derived from Conrad through Hugh Walpole through Mencken's Book of Prefaces, “that life is too strong and remorseless for the sons of men.” In a later letter to Shane Leslie, Fitzgerald promised that the new novel would be “much more objective” than This Side of Paradise. But Fitzgerald felt objective because others were doing the subjective thinking for him.
Those others, of course, were Frank Norris and H. L. Mencken. Had Leslie been a reader of Mencken, the very next sentence would have given Fitzgerald's objectivity away: “I am now working on my second novel—much more objective this time and hence much harder sledding. But the bourgeoisie are going to stare!” This latter sentence is pure “Menckenese,” the first direct copying of Mencken's style in any of Fitzgerald's writing, if the sentence Mencken quoted from Hugh Walpole is excepted. But as Fitzgerald absorbed Mencken's ? ideas he absorbed Mencken's way of expressing ideas as well. And later, of course, Fitzgerald's correspondents would not need to know Mencken's language to read into Fitzgerald the shaping hand of a mentor. To his relatives the McQuillans he described Mencken as “my current idol”; and to James Branch Cabell he wrote, “I have just finished an extraordinary novel called The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy”—the second working title of The Beautiful and Damned— “which shows touches of your influence, much of Mencken, and not a little of Frank Norris.” This reference to Cabell's influence is obviously flattery, most probably false; Fitzgerald had read little or nothing by Cabell at that point. But “much of Mencken, and not a little of Frank Norris” nicely reveals his literary and intellectual debts.
Fitzgerald was not the only writer in 1920 who thought with perfect fluency because he had fallen wholly under the spell of Mencken's ideas. As a critic Mencken exerted far more immediate influence on writers and readers in 1920 than any American critic has since; the explanation has primarily to do with particular historical circumstances that cannot be repeated. He had published and encouraged, as an editor and reviewer, the writers who emerged as major figures after the war, among them Dreiser, Lewis, and Sherwood Anderson. His study of the American language, undertaken during the war and published in 1919, encouraged writers to break from genteel convention and listen to the spoken language of the day. Above all, his attacks on American patriotism, puritanism, and middle-class values expressed the mood of rejection that young intellectuals after the war felt toward American society. None of Mencken's literary followers could have guessed in 1920 that the master was tiring of literature, considered that his useful work had been done, and wanted to turn to political and social topics; not even Mencken himself could have foreseen the extraordinary popularity he attained among people who misinterpreted him, indeed who were meant to be his victims; it would have been difficult to believe in 1920 that from the perspective of the next generation Mencken's contribution to the truly creative and original aspects of postwar American literature would be rather small. In 1920 most American writers would have valued Mencken's praise above that of any other critic; and in the August 1920 Smart Set Mencken began his review of This Side of Paradise by calling it, “the best American novel that I have seen of late.”
Mencken's review of This Side of Paradise appeared just as Fitzgerald was getting his second novel under way; and though when their friendship blossomed the writer and the critic must have talked occasionally about Fitzgerald's work, the review came at a decisive point in Fitzgerald's planning. As a document of Mencken's public opinion on Fitzgerald, therefore, it may stand in lieu of their unrecorded private conversations. “In 'This Side of Paradise,' ” Mencken wrote, Fitzgerald “offers a truly amazing first novel—original in structure, extremely sophisticated in manner, and adorned with a brilliancy that is as rare in American writing as honesty is in American statecraft.” This is a fair sample of Mencken's 1920 reviewing style, in its vagueness and its political and social similies. It must have flattered Fitzgerald to be so singled out as one of the elect; yet in praising Fitzgerald's sophistication and “artistry” Mencken had picked elements of style and point of view that Fitzgerald had rejected, in all but his Saturday Evening Post stories, in favor of greater realism in language and theme.
Mencken's discussion of content took the same form. “The first half of the story is far better than the second half. It is not that Fitzgerald's manner runs thin, but that his hero begins to elude him. What, after such a youth, is to be done with the fellow? The author's solution is anything but felicitous. He simply drops his Amory Blaine as Mark Twain dropped Huckleberry Finn, but for a less cogent reason. But down to and including the episode of the love affair with Rosalind the thing is capital, especially the first chapters. Not since Frank Norris's day has there been a more adept slapping in of preliminaries.” Again, Mencken makes a highly favorable comparison with a writer Fitzgerald greatly admired, Frank Norris; and the reference to Huckleberry Finn, though more equivocal, also must have been flattering. But whatever generic relationship Fitzgerald's characters bear to Mark Twain's boy heroes, Fitzgerald had not given up on Amory Blame's development the way Mark Twain seemed to give up on Huckleberry Finn. In fact Amory is more centrally isolated a character in the second half of This Side of Paradise than he was in the first. What Mencken found unsatisfactory, then, was Fitzgerald's positive answer to Amory's dilemmas, the credo of constructive individualism. In content, also, Mencken chose to praise aspects of the novel that most closely adhered to genteel character stereotypes and conventional norms. Mencken's favorable review of This Side of Paradise is thus not without its ironies. Had Fitzgerald followed the criticism of the great “sham-smasher,” he would have paradoxically been pushed even deeper into the genteel Tarkington groove.
Fitzgerald may not have been aware of the inconsistencies between his aims and Mencken's, though they were re-emphasized when Mencken reviewed Flappers and Philosophers in the December 1920 Smart Set. After Fitzgerald had sent Mencken the book of stories with its self-disparaging inscription, Mencken had encouragingly written, “I suspect that it is a great deal better than you think it is.” But in the review Mencken took even wider license from Fitzgerald's denigrating hints; with his three-way division into “worth reading,” “amusing,” and “trash,” Fitzgerald may also have suggested Mencken's opening metaphor: “F. Scott Fitzgerald in 'Flappers and Philosophers'… offers a sandwich made up of two thick and tasteless chunks of Kriegsbrot with a couple of excellent sardines between. In brief, a collection that shows both the very good and the very bad… From 'Benediction' the leap to 'The Offshore Pirate' and other such confections is like the leap from the peaks of Darien to the slums of Colon. Here is thin and obvious stuff, cheap stuff—in brief, atrociously bad stuff.” Mencken posed two alternatives for Fitzgerald's future. “Will he proceed via the first part of 'This Side of Paradise' to the cold groves of beautiful letters, or will he proceed via 'Head and Shoulders' into the sunshine that warms Robert W. Chambers and Harold McGrath?” By December 1920 Fitzgerald was deep into The Beautiful and Damned, and Mencken's choice of “cold groves” or “sunshine” must have seemed to him equally unacceptable places to be.
Whether it was through some unarticulated sense of these discrepancies, or through a more general desire not to be completely swept off his feet, Fitzgerald was seeking by the end of 1920—even as he was paying greater homage to Mencken—ways to maintain his distance and his critical perspective. When Burton Rascoe sent to Fitzgerald his “Fanfare” pamphlet on Mencken, Fitzgerald replied, “why has no one mentioned to him or of him that he is an intolerably muddled syllogism with several excluded middles on the question of aristocracy? What on earth does he mean by it? Every aristocrat of every race has come in for scathing comment yet he holds out the word as a universal panacea for art.” Fitzgerald had had his own ideas on aristocracy; though the kind of aristocrat Fitzgerald had criticized through Dick Humbird in This Side of Paradise was properly called by Mencken a “plutocrat.” At that time Rascoe was asking his correspondents to help him distinguish Mencken's “oft-repeated code of honor” from the fundamentals of Christian ethics. To this inquiry Fitzgerald answered, “Mencken's code of honor springs from Nietzsche, doesn't it?—the agreement among the powerful to exploit the less powerful and respect each other. To me it has no connection with Christian ethics because there is no provision for any justice to 'the boobery.'” There were thus three subjects on which Fitzgerald potentially might come to disagree with Mencken: art, aristocracy, and ethics. He had sensed their differences even as he fell more deeply under Mencken's influence. But in the winter of 1920-21, with no competing intellectual interest on his horizon, Fitzgerald linked himself more closely with Mencken than ever.
Until that winter Fitzgerald had tried to keep separate in his mind the standards of fiction set for him by Mencken, and the standards set by the editors of high-paying popular magazines. By New Year's Eve, 1920, the wall had been broken through, and Mencken's values poured over in a flood to wash out the other. “Here … am I with six hundred dollars' worth of bills and owing Reynolds $650.00 for an advance on a story that I'm utterly unable to write,” he confessed that day to Perkins. “I've made half a dozen starts yesterday andtoday and I'll go mad if I have to do another debutante, which is what they want.” In fact he wrote no short fiction for the next nine months; and the stories he wrote and published while The Beautiful and Damned was under way are of almost no value except as they reflect his difficulties with the short form. There were five. Two, “Jemina” and “Tarquin of Cheapside,” do not strictly count, for they were slightly revised versions of stories dug out of the Nassau Lit. “The Jelly-Bean” and “The Lees of Happiness” were written before the novel was begun; “His Russet Witch” (retitled “O Russet Witch!” for book publication) was done in time taken from the novel. These three represent Fitzgerald's fiction at its weakest. They are of interest chiefly because they seem to be serving the function of dreams, to express and so clear the mind of its tag ends, anomalies, and contradictions.
“The Jelly-Bean” was the last of what Fitzgerald called his first manner, the “flapper” stories. The “flapper” in Fitzgerald's commercial stories had never been so interesting as the cruder but more imaginative conception, in several of the Princeton stories, of the genteel romantic heroine. Fitzgerald gave the intellectual and moral qualities of those early heroines to his later heroes, and the “flapper,” whatever her value as a well-observed social phenomenon, represents either conventional morality, or is immoral. Nancy Lamar, the “flapper” in “The Jelly-Bean,” was the first “flapper” Fitzgerald observed through the eyes of his post-“May Day” realism.
“Like nails.” She yawned again and added, “Give me a little more from that bottle.”
Nancy Lamar drinks corn liquor from a bottle, swears, gambles, and writes bad checks. Her head is filled with wild romantic notions derived from Lady Diana Manners (in John Davidson's Ballad of a Nun) and sentimental English novels. “Nancy had a mouth like a remembered kiss and shadowy eyes and blue-black hair inherited from her mother who had been born in Budapest” (20). There is a suggestion here that she belongs to the convention of dark ladies in romantic fiction; and also that “Jewish blood” flows in her veins. Thus the reader is prepared for her punishment; but though her sudden marriage at the end of the story to a man she does not love ispresented as a punishment, Nancy Lamar's new husband also happened to be an extremely wealthy man. One need not worry so over her future.
The more interesting aspect of Nancy's marriage is its effect on Jim Powell, the “Jelly-Bean.” Jim was an idler, a corner loafer; his “unconscious ennui,” his “half-frightened sense of adventure” are suggestive of the character of Huck Finn in its first form, in Tom Sawyer (19). Like Curtis Carlyle in “The Offshore Pirate,” Jim is an effort to portray the lower class outsider, the economic outcast, the “running-mate of poor whites” (19). But as Curtis Carlyle is a bogus concoction of the aristocrat Toby Moreland, Jim Powell too comes from the best Southern landed blood, fallen on hard times. It was Nancy Lamar's presence that pulled Jim out of his ennui, sparked in him “a vague and romantic yearning” (23). For twice helping her out of bad scrapes he earned her kiss, and it seemed “an enchanted dream” (30). Then he learned of Nancy's marriage, and felt broken. “All life was weather,” the story ends, “a waiting through the hot where events had no significance for the cool that was soft and caressing like a woman's hand on a tired forehead. Down in Georgia there is a feeling—perhaps inarticulate—that this is the greatest wisdom of the South—so after a while the Jelly-bean turned into a pool-hall on Jackson Street where he was sure to find a congenial crowd who would make all the old jokes—the ones he knew” (34). Through this last touch of “Dreiser-Conrad realism” the reader is left to ponder the meaninglessness of life. The sentimental reader gains his pleasure from flapper deviltries and romantic yearnings; and the realistic reader rises superior at the end. One can eat his cake and have it too; but only at the cost of cold and lifeless characters, for whose ignorance one is led to feel, not pity, but something closer to contempt.
“The Jelly-Bean” represented in fact a watershed. In form and subject matter it belongs to the earlier group of stories. The next two stories belong to the period and the mood of The Beautiful and Damned. Much of their interest derives from the fact that Fitzgerald used them to experiment with the themes of the novel, particularly the theme of marriage; they also provide the first evidence of Fitzgerald's new concern with time.
“The Lees of Happiness” tells the story of a marriage betweenbeauty and intellect. Fitzgerald had already taken up this subject in the story “Head and Shoulders,” and was working it out again in his new novel. Where “Head and Shoulders” treated the idea frivolously, “The Lees of Happiness” turns it into heavy-handed naturalism. Jeffrey Curtain, a famous author, marries Roxanne Milbank, a famous actress, and they prepare to live happily ever after. But fate will not let them be. “A blood clot the size of a marble had broken” in Jeffrey's brain. He was to live for years as a speechless, sightless, motionless vegetable; and Roxanne was to care for him faithfully every day for all those years. This loyal but tragic love is made even more remarkable by contrast with the marriage of Jeffrey Curtain's friend Harry Cromwell. Harry's wife, Kitty, is a thoughtless self-serving egotist who eventually divorces Harry to marry a wealthy man who can provide her with the luxury she craves. Kitty Cromwell is a negative projection of Gloria Gilbert of The Beautiful and Damned. She expresses Gloria's values—” 'Harry doesn't care about going out.' Spite crept into her voice. 'He's perfectly content to let me play nursemaid and housekeeper all day and loving wife in the evening.' ” (129)—without Gloria's beauty or glamor. Roxanne Curtain possesses the beauty and glamor, but it is to her, and not to Kitty, that life has dealt its harshest blows. Roxanne portrays other aspects of Gloria Gilbert. The curious suggestion is made about her, as was to be made about Gloria in the novel, that she possessed the temperament of an adolescent, even of “a little girl” (124). And Roxanne, like Gloria, can love what is past and never to return. ” 'You can't love that,' ” Harry says, referring to the “expressionless mummy” that was Jeffrey Curtain. ” 'I can love what it once was,' ” Roxanne answers. ” 'What else is there for me to do?' ” (135, 136). In “The Lees of Happiness” the bad succeed and the good fail. To Roxanne Curtain and Harry Cromwell “life had come quickly and gone, leaving not bitterness, but pity; not disillusion, but only pain. There was already enough moonlight when they shook hands for each to see the gathered kindness in the other's eyes” (139). They are not “hard” in the way Fitzgerald's flappers are “hard”; but they are strong enough to preserve their values despite their plight. Though the story is limited by its inexorable naturalism, Fitzgerald has dropped his tone of superior irony; for the first time in his “realistic” stories there are characters one may pity and admire.
“O Russet Witch!” is also, in a way more surreal than real, a story of beauty and intellect. Merlin Grainger is a bookstore clerk who throughout forty years of life continually encounters a “Caroline” who represents, so he believes, “my romantic yearning for a beautiful and perverse woman.” But Merlin's “Caroline” is really a beautiful society woman, Alicia Dare; and all the magic fantasy moments in Merlin's four decades of romantic imagining were actual true life antics of Alicia Dare. When he learns this, Merlin is crushed. “He knew now that he had always been a fool. 'O Russet Witch!' But it was too late. He had angered Providence by resisting too many temptations. There was nothing left but heaven, where he would meet only those who, like him, had wasted earth” (119). This didactic ending unfortunately is not true to the story. “O Russet Witch!” is a story about the need for fantasy to give color to drab lives, and also about fantasy's inevitable disruptive effects on stolid middle-class respectability. Merlin Grainger's life is portrayed in its mundane aspects by a realistic treatment and in its fantasy visions by an interesting kind of surrealism. The sentimental moralizing at the end has no foundation either in the story's realism or in its fantasy; to suggest that Merlin, by not resisting the temptations of “Caroline”— Alicia Dare, could have attained her or what she symbolized, is to render both the realism and the fantasy meaningless.
These last two stories were relative failures; Fitzgerald was to admit it in the annotated table of contents to Tales of the Jazz Age, where they were reprinted. He refused to give the editors yet another debutante story. And by the end of 1920 he had fallen several hundred dollars into debt. A stable income from professional writing did not then seem assured; and even if it were, there was no proof that Fitzgerald could live within it. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that he was attracted to the new medium, motion pictures, which seemed to have at its disposal sums of money the literary world could not come close to matching. In the previous winter he had sold “Head and Shoulders” to the Metro studios for $2,500; later Metro also bought “The Offshore Pirate” and Fox purchased “Myra Meets His Family.” Apparently he had also tried his hand at writing directly for the films. Here then was a source of income paying four or five times as much as the highest-paying magazine. “I have written numerous short stories to be published by Scribner's this fall, under the title of Flappers and Philosophers, he wrote Shane Leslie in August 1920. “I am living royally off the moving picture rights of these same stories.” When Mencken reviewed the book of stories it turned out that the two stories he singled out to condemn as “confections” were “Head and Shoulders” and “The Offshore Pirate”; the third story sold to the movies, “Myra Meets His Family,” Fitzgerald had not even considered good enough to include in the book.
This slap from Mencken did not deter Fitzgerald from pursuing the financial possibilities in the movies. In his hard-hearted, let-the-philistines-be-damned letter to his aunt and uncle McQuillan, Fitzgerald wrote, “I am waiting to hear from a scenario I outlined on Griffith's order for __—who is a colorless wench in the life as is her pal, __. But I am not averse to taking all the shekels I can garner from the movies. I'll roll them joy pills (the literary habit) till doomsday because you can always say, 'Oh, but they put on the movie in a different spirit from the way it was written!'” Whatever pose this represents, it is not the embattled but high-principled artist; whatever contradictions it entailed, Fitzgerald was capable of supporting them. If he planned The Beautiful and Damned as a slap at bourgeois conventions, immediately when the novel was completed he planned, as he wrote James Branch Cabell in February 1921, “to sell my soul… and go to the coast to write one moving picture.” Apparently nothing came of any of these plans. But Fitzgerald's interest in motion picture work revived in spurts over the next five years; finally in 1927 he went to Hollywood for a brief trial as a screenwriter. If Fitzgerald's interest in movies was founded on anything more than money, probably it was his own self-definition as an entertainer. However much Norris and Mencken had taught him to think first of truth and art, Fitzgerald had not lost his old idea of serving, through his talents as an entertainer, as a spokesman or a popular leader. And however much he had learned from Mencken to despise the bourgeoisie, he was always concerned with who was in his audience—and how many. Inevitably the growth of the movies into the most popular of art forms should have held his attention.
There remains one final issue to be raised from this period before The Beautiful and Damned was completed. Between the first draft of the novel, and its revision, the Fitzgeralds went to Europe. They were abroad for less than two months in England, France, and Italy, and from the evidence that exists, at this moment when other young American writers were gathering on the docks to expatriate themselves, Fitzgerald hated Europe. From London, as the trip was ending, Fitzgerald wrote Edmund Wilson:
God damn the continent of Europe. It is of merely antiquarian interest. Rome is only a few years behind Tyre and Babylon. The negroid streak creeps northward to defile the Nordic race. Already the Italians have the souls of blackamoors. Raise the bars of immigration and permit only Scandinavian, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts to enter. France made me sick. Its silly pose as the thing the world has to save. I think it's a shame that England and America didn't let Germany conquer Europe. It's the only thing that would have saved the fleet of tottering old wrecks. My reactions were all philistine, anti-socialistic, provincial and racially snobbish. I believe at last in the white man's burden. We are as far above the modern Frenchman as he is above the Negro. Even in art! Italy has no one. When Anatole France dies French literature will be a silly jealous rehashing of technical quarrels. They're thru and done. You may have spoken in jest about New York as the capital of culture but in 25 years it will be just as London is now. Culture follows money and all the refinements of aestheticism can't stave off its change of seat (Christ! what a metaphor). We will be the Romans in the next generations as the English are now.
So for the time being Fitzgerald would go home in order, as Mencken said of himself, not to miss any of the show.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's second novel is about the American show, and how to live it through. The Beautiful and Damned is the novel of ideas to which This Side of Paradise had been the preface. There is little enough in common between Fitzgerald's first and his second novel, but they share most significantly almost exactly the same span of time: the decade from 1910 to 1920. This Side of Paradise takes its mood and its themes, not from the early atmosphere of the twenties in America, but from the problems and aspirations of the decade before; but if the mood and themes of The Beautiful and Damnedcan be placed chronologically, they belong to a decade even earlier. As a young man's novel—Fitzgerald was still only twenty-five when it was published—The Beautiful and Damned is a companion volume, not to Three Soldiers and The Enormous Room and other young men's novels of 1922, but to the young Frank Norris and the young Dreiser and the early Conrad. This Side of Paradise represented an advance over Fitzgerald's collegiate writing; The Beautiful and Damned marks neither a development nor a retrogression in Fitzgerald's work, so much as a recapitulation, out of order, of a bypassed state of growth.
The charm of This Side of Paradise lay in its sense of mastery and self-assurance; the languor in The Beautiful and Damned comes from its sense of drift and self-despair. In This Side of Paradise Fitzgerald devised a set of values by which to meet the postwar world; in his second novel these values are given notice only once, in Tudor Baird, “a relic of a vanishing generation which lived a priggish and graceful illusion and was being replaced by less gallant fools.” Tudor Baird is killed in the next sentence. These values were developed in This Side of Paradise through—and partly despite—shifts in the narrative voice between the soliloquy and the dramatic monologue. The speaker of the dramatic monologue in This Side of Paradise, when it was finally attained, was the novel's central character, Amory Blaine; in that novel Fitzgerald had achieved detachment by putting Amory's first-person point of view into the third person. The voice of the dramatic monologue is established early and maintained throughout The Beautiful and Damned; yet the speaker in the novel, the spokesman of a fixed point of view, is not one of the characters, but the author himself. In its chronology and social background The Beautiful and Damned may be called the least autobiographical of Fitzgerald's five novels; yet in no other novel is the reader invited so persistently to pay attention to the author's voice and character.
Unfortunately, where Fitzgerald is most exposed he is also most vulnerable; where he shows himself the most, he is least himself. Readers of The Beautiful and Damned who thought they were getting F. Scott Fitzgerald's latest views on the Jazz Age were wrong. They were getting H. L. Mencken's views and a prediction, perhaps, of what Frank Norris's opinions might have been. Whatever value Fitzgerald may have derived from his discovery of Norris andMencken had been spent before the novel, for in The Beautiful and Damned his own voice is almost wholly lost among their echoes. Fitzgerald had merely borrowed from Norris's Vandover the general conception of Gordon Sterrett in “May Day”; for his hero in the novel, Anthony Patch, he took over many details as well, from Vandover's passion for the bath to his animal behavior. For his stories Fitzgerald had adopted some of Mencken's views; in the novel he uses Mencken's characteristic language. The Beautiful and Damned is filled with musical metaphors; they were a fixture of Mencken's style, though Fitzgerald had never used them before.
Mencken's domination of the novel's social point of view is so complete that even Fitzgerald's sense for history and social nuance was crudely blunted. A perceptive awareness of social change had been one of the exceptional qualities of This Side of Paradise. Though The Beautiful and Damned covers almost precisely the same period as the earlier novel, it is almost completely insulated from an awareness of social change. The novel moves from prewar days through the First World War into the twenties, but little in it bears any intrinsic relationship to the historical circumstances under which it occurs. In the end Anthony and Gloria Patch win Adam Patch's fortune because Prohibition had brought about a reaction against reformers, and the judge may have thought “Adam Patch made it harder for him to get liquor” (419); but Mencken in his review of the novel quite correctly dismissed this as a deus ex machina.
The Beautiful and Damned indeed is crowded with observations on American social life. But none forms a creative insight within the work of art; rather each is, as Fitzgerald said of one such observation, “a study in national sociology” (70). At times the style incorporates the opaque and banal clichés of popular social history: “Babe Ruth had smashed the home-run record for the first time and Jack Dempsey had broken Jess Willard's cheek-bone out in Ohio. Over in Europe the usual number of children had swollen stomachs from starvation, and the diplomats were at their customary business of making the world safe for new wars. In New York City the proletariat were being 'disciplined,' and the odds on Harvard were generally quoted at five to three. Peace had come down in earnest, the beginning of new days” (391). At other times it adopts Mencken's particular form of commentary on American social types and socialvalues: “In April war was declared with Germany. Wilson and his cabinet—a cabinet that in its lack of distinction was strangely reminiscent of the twelve apostles—let loose the carefully starved dogs of war, and the press began to whoop hysterically against the sinister morals, sinister philosophy, and sinister music produced by the Teutonic temperament” (306). Mencken's style and his views were developed to serve distinctive journalistic and moral purposes; the reader who wants to judge their strength and cogency had better try them in Mencken's books, rather than Fitzgerald's. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that The Beautiful and Damned is a product of careless haste and intellectual confusion. Originality might have been its redeeming quality; but the excessive and literal nature of its borrowing dominates the novel. What remains is to discover how Fitzgerald's distinctive style and themes entered into the novel, and what significance they hold for his mind and art as a whole.
In his review of This Side of Paradise Mencken had singled out the first chapter for particular praise. “Not since Frank Norris's day,” he wrote, “has there been a more adept slapping in of preliminaries.” Fitzgerald attempted to match Mencken's standard in The Beautiful and Damned with a first chapter equally adept; this chapter brings together in a remarkable way Fitzgerald's confusing and contradictory styles and themes. Up to the last two pages of the chapter its purpose is to “slap in the preliminaries” of the novel's hero, Anthony Patch. The opening page prepares the reader for a continuation of This Side of Paradise; in a style marked half by banter, half by romantic yearning, Anthony is presented almost exactly as Amory Blaine in the first novel had been left, as “a distinct and dynamic personality, opinionated, contemptuous, functioning from within outward—a man who was aware that there could be no honor and yet had honor, who knew the sophistry of courage and yet was brave” (3). Yet immediately on turning the page one encounters the style and perspective of H. L. Mencken—the series of unusual and oddly juxtaposed adjectives and descriptive nouns, the affectation of medical bluntness about life, a snidely historical tone implying the ignorance and fatuousness of most endeavor-utilized to bring forth Anthony's family background, and especially his grandfather, the notorious reformer Adam Patch, for whose “will to power was substituted a fatuous puerile desire for a land of harpsand canticles on earth” (15). There is only one indication that Fitzgerald is trying to speak in his own voice, and there he revives an old confusion: “Virginians and Bostonians to the contrary notwithstanding, an aristocracy founded sheerly on money postulates wealth in the particular” (4). An aristocracy founded sheerly on money is not an aristocracy at all, but a plutocracy; this had been one of Mencken's points in his essay on “The National Letters,” as elsewhere. By introducing this misunderstanding into the novel Fitzgerald rendered suspect his themes that were founded on the aristocratic virtues of his characters.
When Anthony returns to the scene a page or two later he has already lost all trace of his first description and has been transformed into a lesser Vandover—a wealthy, lazy Harvard man, a dilettante and dabbling aesthete, whose pleasure in beauty was most fully expressed in a weak and sentimental eroticism. Fitzgerald then went back to This Side of Paradise for the dramatic form of dialogue he vised to introduce Anthony's friends Richard Caramel and Maury Noble and their intellectual points of view. Caramel is the functioning creator, a writer; Maury, the complete cynic; Anthony, the man pathetically torn between creativity and passive cynicism, ready to slip into the purposeless abyss that lies between them. They begin the principal intellectual debate of the novel, on the nature of art and artists; and it becomes obvious at once that Fitzgerald is talking consciously about himself. There is a hint that Anthony's asceticism and detachment are in fact masks to cover a deep fear of uncontrollable natural force, “the threat of life” (27). But this fearful aspect of man's helplessness before natural force is quickly dissolved into something of a cosmic joke. The “Flash-Back in Paradise” introduces universal themes, jazz age and flapper themes, and inadvertently deals another blow to the concept of artistocracy on which Fitzgerald later will insist.
THE VOICE: … You will be disguised during your fifteen years as what is called a “susciety gurl.”
BEAUTY: What's that? …
THE VOICE: (At length) It's a sort of bogus aristocrat. (29)
With the “meaninglessness of life” and the borrowed disdain for middle-class values so dominant in the novel, it is curious that the opening page should introduce Anthony Patch so strikingly in language reminiscent of This Side of Paradise. The values of the genteel romantic hero come up only once in The Beautiful and Damned, merely, with the death of Tudor Baird, to record their demise. Yet in an implicit way the qualities of genteel romantic heroism—either in their sentimental form or in the constructive reinterpretation made by Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise—echo everywhere in the novel. In one sense the genteel hero has been broken up among the major male characters in the novel. Dick Caramel represents the entertainer; Maury Noble, the man who can give others—at least Anthony—a sense of security; Joseph Bloeckman, the Jewish movie producer, the entrepreneurial aspect of giving pleasure to others; certainly all three represent the drive for wealth and conventional success. Anthony Patch, oddly, least of all the male characters possesses qualities of the genteel hero; his presumably is the superior intelligence, a capacity more claimed for him than demonstrated. Yet in the more important sense it is around Anthony that the values of genteel romantic heroism echo most significantly.
In the late nineteenth century the genteel romantic hero had been one way, in literature, of getting around the social and scientific issues raised by Darwinian naturalism; Mark Twain's progression from Innocents Abroad to Tom Sawyer demonstrates how the genteel romantic hero had served as the answer, for a time, to his intellectual dilemmas. Thus in so thoroughly adopting naturalism Fitzgerald had thrust himself back in time into an intellectual position where genteel heroism was not an adequate answer. Anthony Patch represents that intellectual position; the literary genre of “the meaninglessness of life” may have been fashionable in the early twenties, as Edmund Wilson in his portrait of Fitzgerald said, but the moral issues of “the meaninglessness of life,” for some American intellectuals of the late nineteenth century, had been literally a matter of life and death.
Anthony was burdened by the fear that absolute knowledge was meaningless. “One must understand all”—that was Anthony's desire “—else one must take all for granted” (45)—that was Maury Noble's solution, but Anthony could not grasp it. He was unable to choose between wisdom and weakness. “I can imagine,” Anthony said to Dick Caramel, “a man knowing too much for his talent to express.Like me. Suppose, for instance, I have more wisdom than you, and less talent. It would tend to make me inarticulate. You, on the contrary, have enough water to fill the pail and a big enough pail to hold the water… Say I am proud and sane and wise—an Athenian among Greeks. Well, I might fail where a lesser man would succeed. He could imitate, he could adorn, he could be enthusiastic, he could be hopefully constructive. But this hypothetical me would be too proud to imitate, too sane to be enthusiastic, too sophisticated to be Utopian, too Grecian to adorn” (36). So the meaninglessness of life, once he had succumbed to it, became the justification for his indolence. “I do nothing, for there's nothing I can do that's worth doing” (65). He would wait for “some path of hope … some purpose yet to be born” (55-6). Meanwhile he could be aimless and depressed, obsessed with “A self-absorption with no comfort, a demand for expression with no outlet, a sense of time rushing by, ceaselessly and wastefully—assuaged only by that conviction that there was nothing to waste, because all efforts and attainments were equally valueless” (93). He recognized that strength lay in ignorance. When he first went to work in a brokers' office, “He felt that to succeed here the idea of success must grasp and limit his mind. It seemed to him that the essential element in these men at the top was their faith that their affairs were the very core of life” (231). Considering the members of his college class who had become successful, he remembered “the days of his integrity,” when “he would have cried that to struggle was to believe, to believe was to limit” (285). But he preferred instead to build his life on “the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined” (417). Anthony Patch fell in love with Gloria Gilbert.
For Anthony, Gloria was an escape from his intellectual dilemma. “He had realized at last what he wanted—to kiss her again, to find rest in her great immobility. She was the end of all restlessness, all malcontent” (107). Anthony was blinded by love; but it was an illusion even greater to think that an energetic debutante like Gloria would provide him immobility. In Gloria Gilbert, Fitzgerald tried to portray the apotheosis of the postwar debutante. Yet he was not satisfied with a single method of exalting her above mankind's common herd. He tried all he knew. The most obvious one was simply to deify her. This the “Flash-Back in Paradise” accomplished, informing the reader that Beauty would inhabit the soul of a “susciety gurl” (29). Another was to borrow from the romantic way of exaltation; Gloria became the Beautiful Lady Without Mercy from Keats's poem. A third was to borrow the language of H. L. Mencken and make Gloria into a Nietzschean superman, a woman of indomitable will. All three means of exalting Gloria play together in the novel in not too clear a way; and still she remains the simple little Kansas City debutante, anxious for marriage to a man of wealth, happy to be taken care of, wishing only to be “forever and securely safe” (155).
One cannot criticize an author for endowing a character with multiple and conflicting personalities, for he is only being true to human life. But in creating Gloria Gilbert, Fitzgerald seems to have taken as his norm something beyond human life. He meant to give his novel a universal theme, as he had also tried to do in the novella “May Day.” But universal language pervades the novel as if it were a medieval fantasy, and ultimately social observation becomes irrelevant; for Anthony and Gloria are playballs of the gods, not responsible for their own conduct, and surely not to be considered as judgments on their place and time. “It never occurred to him that he was a passive thing, acted upon by an influence above and beyond Gloria, that he was merely the sensitive plate on which the photograph was made. Some gargantuan photographer had focussed the camera on Gloria and snap!—the poor plate could but develop, confined like all things to its nature” (105-6). The Beautiful and Damned might as well be about the Stone Age as the Jazz Age.
The universal theme is pressed so forcefully that whatever validity other themes possess seems quickly to fade. “Her eyes appeared to regard him out of many thousand years …” (102). “… not knowing that they were but following in the footsteps of dusty generations but comprehending dimly that if truth is the end of life happiness is a mode of it, to be cherished in its brief and tremulous moment” (137). “She did not know that this gesture of hers was years older than history, that, for a hundred generations of men, intolerable and persistent grief had offered that gesture, of denial, of protest, of bewilderment, to something more profound, more powerful than the God made in the image of man, and before which that God, did he exist, would be equally impotent. It is a truth set at the heart of tragedy that this force never explains, never answers—this force intangible as air, more definite than death” (414). It is carried through the imagery of the novel to link nature—the sun, life-giving nature— with the gods who play with destinies. To Anthony, courting Gloria, “She was a sun, radiant, growing, gathering light and storing it-then after an eternity pouring it forth in a glance, the fragment of a sentence, to that part of him that cherished all beauty and all illusion” (73). But that was one of his illusions; the sun was still in his sky, and the morning of their wedding broke “in yellow light through his east window, dancing along the carpet as though the sun were smiling at some ancient and reiterated gag of his own” (151). Soon, for Anthony, Gloria “hung like a brilliant curtain across his doorways, shutting out the light of the sun” (191). The end of the novel, the climax of Anthony's alcoholism and his moral and physical self-destruction, the day when their appeal on Adam Patch's will is to be decided, opens in sunshine. Gloria calls Anthony to see it. “Anthony glanced mechanically out the window …” (442). She goes with Dick Caramel to the courtroom. Anthony remains behind, “looking down blindly into the sunny street” (443). Dorothy Ray-croft, Anthony's Southern lover, suddenly appears. Anthony turns on her in animal rage and drives her out. His mind cracks. Gloria and Dick return with the exciting news that they have won the case, thirty million dollars are theirs. “They found Anthony sitting in a patch of sunshine on the floor of his bedroom” (446). The sun puts the spotlight on Anthony for Fitzgerald's last naturalistic irony. Anthony has reverted in his madness to his childhood stamp collection. “He held up a handful of stamps and let them come drifting down about him like leaves, varicolored and bright, turning and fluttering gaudily upon the sunny air…” (447).
In the second way Fitzgerald exalted Gloria, the goddess Beauty became, in her romantic guise, the Beautiful Lady Without Mercy. Fitzgerald turned back to his collegiate emulation of the nineteenth-century Romantics. Returning to a romanticism he had once rejected in This Side of Paradise gave Fitzgerald another chance to write prose poems—“Her eyes were gleaming ripples in the white lake of her face; the shadows of her hair bordered the brow with a persuasive unintimate dusk. No love was there, surely; nor the imprint of any love. Her beauty was cool as this damp breeze, as the moist softness of her own lips” (102)—which conflicted with the dominant tone of popular sociology and naturalistic irony. It also gave him a dramatic issue that “the meaninglessness of life” could not match. Anthony's love for Gloria may have been an escape, but it would not have been so interesting unless it was also a seeking; the Keatsian motif supplied his answer. “She was beautiful—but especially she was without mercy. He must own that strength that could send him away. At present no such analysis was possible to Anthony” (116).
Gloria is the Beautiful Lady Without Mercy, a theme reiterated almost as often as the universal theme. Yet the romanticism it signifies is much more interesting in relation to Anthony than to Gloria. To Maury and to Anthony alike, Gloria is both the Universal Beauty and the Beautiful Lady Without Mercy. But there is also a belle dame sans merci who lived in Anthony's heart; it is she who lies behind the affair with Dorothy Raycroft at his Southern army post. Anthony, the romantic, always let his “superior intellect” slide into a vague aestheticism, and his aetheticism descend into erotic yearning. He could play with a simple girl like the movie usher Géraldine simply to indulge his erotic fancy. But Géraldine was drawn from Mencken's world, Dorothy Raycroft from Fitzgerald's. “For years now he had dreamed the world away, basing his decisions upon emotions unstable as water. The little girl in the white dress dominated him, as she approached beauty in the hard symmetry of her desire” (342). Anthony succumbed to Dot not only because her will was more powerful than his own, but because the intensity of her will had given her a certain beauty in Anthony's romantic eyes. The romantic themes in The Beautiful and Damned are less clear than the universal themes, perhaps because they came more from within Fitzgerald than from without. Yet in the contradictions and inconsistencies of the romanticism in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald was working out his more lasting, and more original, themes.
In This Side of Paradise Amory Blaine's “ancient distinction” was between the romantic and the sentimental. Only when he shifted from sentimental complacency to a romantic sense of impermanence was Amory capable of action. But for the plot of The Beautiful and Damned Fitzgerald turned around this “ancient distinction.” The romantic is there caught in the middle between the naturalistic and the sentimental. It is Maury Noble, who truly believes life is meaningless, who can strive for wealth and success; it is Gloria, the sentimental reader of Penrod, or Dorothy, the ignorant Southern girl, who can crave love and by that craving find it; it is Richard Caramel whose aspiration to do good makes him a successful writer. The romantic does not know what he wants or how to get it. He is so frightened by the thought that things will not last that it destroys him.
The central confusion in the romanticism of The Beautiful and Damned is of time: the present, the future, the past. Anthony becomes aware of his romanticism when he realizes that the moment is unique and irreplaceable—that things will not last. In a night club with Gloria, “—Anthony for the moment wanted fiercely to paint her, to set her down now, as she was, as, as with each relentless second she could never be again.” She asks him what he was thinking. ” 'Just that I'm not a realist,' he said, and then: 'No, only the romanticist preserves the things worth preserving' ” (73). From Anthony's earlier impulse to paint her, it would be logical to assume he means that only a memory or images of moments may be preserved; but he may mean that his emotion can be preserved through time, or he may mean nothing at all. For a short time later “a spark of wisdom, a true perception of his own from out the effortless past,” is struck in Anthony's mind: memory is short. And when Anthony and Gloria visit the Custis-Lee mansion in Arlington, it is Anthony who cries out like a sentimentalist, “Don't you want to preserve old things?” and Gloria who insists on the romantic belief that things will not, and should not, last.
Fitzgerald added his own comment on how the past is transmitted to the present with a Mencken-style historical quip. “The grey house had been there when women who kept cats were probably witches, when Paul Revere made false teeth in Boston preparatory to arousing the great commercial people, when our ancestors were gloriously deserting Washington in droves” (177). History, too, is bunk. Romanticism is again defined as “imminency of action” (214); love, a chance embrace that exists only in the present, “coolly sought and quickly forgotten” (207). Yet in the end it is memory that produces the complicated final ironies. Anthony in fact returns to his past, but only in madness. As he sails for Europe, successful and wealthy at last, reminiscences occupy him; and they are false memories, false memories that as they console him only deepen the reader's ironic sense that life plays many hoaxes and truth is wholly lost. For amid the dialectic between romantic present and sentimental past, it is the future—in the form of the fortune he expects when Adam Patch dies—which is the source of Anthony's undoing. Anthony is made incongruously to believe in the reality of his grandfather's future bequest, though his conviction that life is meaningless gives him no faith in any other aspect of the future. One can accept this from Anthony Patch, but only at the cost of his reiterated intelligence and sophistication. Fitzgerald was toying here with an idea of great interest and importance, the mingling in one mind of romantic ideology with sentimental emotion. This combination, in one of its forms, lay behind the nineteenth-century concept of the genteel hero; in another form it led to Amory Blame's successful revision of genteel heroism, and in a third form to Anthony Patch's failure; later in other forms it would become an important part of Fitzgerald's three major novels. But in The Beautiful and Damned its value was lost in the confusions of Fitzgerald's many themes.
Gloria's “Nietzscheanism” is another source of the confusion caused by the mingling of overlapping and sometimes contradictory themes. It was Fitzgerald's purpose to make the reader see how much Anthony was controlled by Gloria; how he, weak and without will, succumbed to her power even when she did not wish it so. This end was accomplished by the theme of meaninglessness, to escape which Anthony desired to rest in Gloria's immobility; and by the theme of beauty, to which Anthony was susceptible. Anthony's efforts to assert his will against her will are entirely compatible with other aspects of his occasional desire to do something meaningful; it is not necessary to know that Gloria is a “consistent, practising Nietzschean” (161) to account for Anthony's failure. Moreover, this emphasis on her Nietzschean power strains her credibility even more, since she had already been elevated beyond the human to the stature of a goddess or a belle dame sans merci: particularly when the traits of character that most distinguish her individuality are sentimental ones—reading a movie magazine, crying over a long-dead kitten, wishing for her mother. In the details of her life Gloria would represent an interesting satire on the postwar debutante, were it not that Fitzgerald went to great pains, not to satirize her, but to elevate her significance. Of the several ways he went about it, the “Nietzschean” theme is the least relevant to any other theme of the novel; the greatest value of Gloria's “Nietzscheanism” lies in what it reveals of Fitzgerald's understanding of Nietzsche. Here is how he defined her code: “The magnificent attitude of not giving a damn altered overnight; from being a mere tenet of Gloria's it became the entire solace and justification for what they chose to do and what consequence it brought. Not to be sorry, not to loose one cry of regret, to live according to a clear code of honor toward each other, and to seek the moment's happiness as fervently and persistently as possible” (26). This is a precise enough statement of certain attitudes toward middle-class values and certain types of behavior that Nietzsche favored; but Anthony and Gloria, as characters and in their actions, misrepresent and abuse their Nietzschean creed.
The novel's racism is also revealing of the confusion of purposes which lies at the heart of The Beautiful and Damned. When the reader is asked to admire Fitzgerald's aristocrats he is meant also to admire their racist views; when he is asked to feel contempt for their weakness and blindness he is meant also to condemn their racist views. There is no need to go through every derogatory remark made in the novel about Italians, garlic-eaters, train riders, Negroes, Jewish shopkeepers, the millions “swarming like rats, chattering like apes, smelling like all hell… monkeys!” (394). The career of Joseph Bloeckman can stand for the whole. Bloeckman is introduced as an uncouth Jew, typical as much of all stupid, aspiring Americans as of his “race,” an object of derision and contempt both in Gloria's and in Anthony's eyes. Bloeckman was a showman, an immigrant boy who had raised himself from circuses through vaudeville into the movie industry. “The moving-picture industry had borne him up with it where it threw off dozens of men with more financial ability, more imagination, and more practical ideas …” (97); but as time goes on, as Anthony and Gloria reach their peak of happiness and begin their inexorable slide down, they catch glimpses of Bloeckman on his escalator going up. Year by year he grows in dignity, in manners, in style. Anthony and Gloria, Dick and Maury, all end contemptibly or fatuously; Bloeckman, who began contemptibly, is the only major character who is made to rise in esteem. At the end Anthony, drunk and morally and physically broken, confronts him,now Joseph Black, fit, wealthy, proud. “Not so fas', you Goddam Jew,” Anthony shouts (437). Enraged, Bloeckman beats him up. The reader is on Bloeckman's side, contemptuous of Anthony and his prejudices. Yet the curse has been made; Black is still Bloeckman, the immigrant Jew with intent eyes, upward creeping, growing rich as his movies ground out their “ancient moral tale for the edification of the national mind” (398). Bloeckman's part in the novel shows that the racism of Anthony and Gloria does not receive Fitzgerald's unqualified endorsement; rather it shows how adept Fitzgerald could be in the sentimental writer's trick of giving the reader both the discharge of the feeling and the condemnation of it; how skilled he was at having it both ways.
The Beautiful and Damned is not a novel that shows off Fitzgerald's literary skills; but it does talk a great deal about them. The novel is filled with conversation about literature. Some of it is spoken by Anthony, some by Dick Caramel, the novelist; but no reader familiar with Fitzgerald's earlier work or with his career could fail to see that it was about Fitzgerald. His public statements are put into the mouths of characters; This Side of Paradise is mentioned by name. There is a certain fascination in reading his remarks about himself; there is also a certain disquiet, for however much he was exorcising in a useful though not particularly artistic way his own fears and self-doubts, he was admitting that his fears and self-doubts went deeper than any of his readers could have suspected.
Dick Caramel is an unpublished writer when the novel opens; but he has already made the leap forward from college tastes that Fitzgerald had not made until after This Side of Paradise:
“He's inclined to fall for a million silly enthusiasms. If it wasn't that he's absorbed in realism and therefore has to adopt the garments of the cynic he'd be—he'd be credulous as a college religious leader. He's an idealist. Oh, yes. He thinks he's not, because he's rejected Christianity. Remember him in college? Just swallow every writer whole, one after another, ideas, technic, and characters, Chesterton, Shaw, Wells, each one as easily as the last.” (21)
The next time Anthony talks about Dick he sounds like Fitzgerald's warning conscience:
“So long as he sticks to people and not to ideas, and as long as his inspirations come from life and not from art, and always granting a normal growth, I believe he'll be a big man. … He tries to go to life. So does every author except the very worst, but after all most of them live on predigested food. The incident or character may be from life, but the writer usually interprets it in terms of the last book he read. … Dick, of course, can set down any consciously picturesque, character-like character, but could he accurately transcribe his own sister?” (46-7).
Dick's first novel, “The Demon Lover,” is a great success, though it is damned by all the upright clergymen and public librarians of Mencken's America. Thereafter Dick describes the joys and sorrows of the suddenly successful young writer:
“It's been mighty funny, this success and all,” said Dick. “Just before the novel appeared I'd been trying, without success, to sell some short stories. Then, after my book came out, I polished up three and had them accepted by one of the magazines that had rejected them before. I've done a lot of them since; publishers don't pay me for my book till this winter… I'm certainly writing faster and I don't seem to be thinking as much as I used to… I get a thing I call sentence-fever that must be like buck-fever—it's a sort of intense literary self-consciousness that comes when I try to force myself. But the really awful days aren't when I think I can't write. They're when I wonder whether any writing is worth while at all—I mean whether I'm not a sort of glorified buffoon.” (188-9)
If one doubted that Fitzgerald was reminiscing about his own problems, he supplies the necessary evidence when Anthony quotes, as Dick's, part of Fitzgerald's “The Author's Apology” to the American Booksellers Convention in 1920. Then Dick was confronted with the same type of financial bait that Fitzgerald had met. “In the two years since the publication of The Demon Lover, Dick had made over twenty-five thousand dollars, most of it lately, when the reward of the author of fiction had begun to swell unprecedently as a result of the voracious hunger of the motion pictures for plots. He received seven hundred dollars for every story, at that time a large emolument for such a young man—he was not quite thirty—and for every one that contained enough 'action' (kissing, shooting, and sacrificing) for the movies, he obtained an additional thousand” (222). Noneof Dick's later stories was up to the quality of the novel, and some, to Anthony, were “downright cheap.” “These, Dick explained severely, were to widen his audience. Wasn't it true that men who had attained real permanence from Shakespeare to Mark Twain had appealed to the many as well as to the elect?” (222).
This too was a motive Fitzgerald in the past had shared. Later, when Anthony tries to take up writing, Dick gives him advice based on practical experience: ” 'Well, it'd be a year and a half before you'd make any money out of a novel. Try some popular short stories. And, by the way, unless they're exceptionally brilliant they have to be cheerful and on the side of the heaviest artillery to make you any money” (301). By the end Dick Caramel had become a fourth-rate writer. In the novel it is the fall of 1920, and a new best-seller is crowding Dick Caramel's type of fiction out of the market. ” 'You know these new novels make me tired. My God! Everywhere I go some silly girl asks me if I've read This Side of Paradise. Are our girls really like that? If it's true to life, which I don't believe, the next generation is going to the dogs. I'm sick of all this shoddy realism. I think there's a place for the romanticist in literature' ” (421). This is a clever touch, a confession and an exculpation—a play for the sympathy of literary insiders and a titillation for would-be insiders. Failing adequately to display his talents in his second novel, Fitzgerald managed at least to advertise his first one.
Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon by Robert Sklar (New York: Oxford Up, 1967).