The Beautiful and Damned

The Beautiful and Damned Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1896, Fitzgerald grew up in Buffalo, New York. His family had recently gained a position in high society through his maternal grandfather’s work in the grocery industry. Fitzgerald’s father was a less successful businessman, though, and the family struggled to maintain their social status through his bouts of unemployment. Fitzgerald earned admission to Princeton in 1913 despite a mediocre academic record that did not improve once he was enrolled. He dropped out of Princeton in 1917 to join the army. He was never deployed, nor did he find himself especially suited to the disciplined life of an officer. Fitzgerald left the army in 1919 and the following year marked the instantly successful publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, as well as his wedding to Zelda Sayre. He went on to write The Beautiful and Damned during Zelda’s pregnancy with their daughter, Scottie in 1921-22. He had published four novels by 1925, including The Great Gatsby. Despite their acclaim, most of the novels sold poorly. Fitzgerald eventually tried his hand at Hollywood writing, but earned most of his income by publishing short stories, a practice that his contemporary Ernest Hemingway thought ill-befitting a literary artist. The Fitzgeralds split their time between New York and Paris, attempting through extravagant spending and extra-marital affairs to combat the lifelong depression they each experienced. Zelda spent her later years in a mental institution while Fitzgerald sank deeper into alcoholism. He died of a heart attack in 1940, at age 44.
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Historical Context of The Beautiful and Damned

The action of the novel occurs between 1914 and 1918, which encompasses World War I, a cataclysmic and unprecedented global conflict. The characters are aware on a surface level that the war is happening, but they never deeply engage with the meaning or proportion of the war, which shows their detachment from reality. The novel also occurs during the lead-up to the Prohibition era in the United States, which began in 1920 when the Eighteenth Amendment banned the trade of alcoholic beverages. During the time of the story, the temperance movement—which advocated for Prohibition—was strongly influential.

Other Books Related to The Beautiful and Damned

Fitzgerald’s later novel The Great Gatsby shares many themes with The Beautiful and Damned. Both novels condemn society’s normalization of alcoholism, extravagant spending, and instant gratification, and both novels address the performativity of high society. The Beautiful and Damned foregrounds the characters’ physical beauty not only through its title but also through overt references to a classical text about beauty and love: Plato’s Symposium. Perhaps Fitzgerald’s closest contemporary author was Ernest Hemingway, who made similar literary indictments of society during the World War I era. Although both authors were writing against a culture that allowed and even encouraged young people to drink and socialize to excess, Hemingway’s military service meant that many of his works, such as A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, dealt directly with veterans’ experience during and after the war. Fitzgerald was notoriously jealous that he did not have active military experience upon which to draw in his own work. Indeed, one of Anthony Patch’s many failings is his incompetence at the army training camp where he lives for a time. Anthony’s failure as a soldier and his discharge before ever seeing combat echoes Fitzgerald’s own fleeting attempt to join the army.
Key Facts about The Beautiful and Damned
  • Full Title: The Beautiful and Damned
  • When Written: 1921-1922
  • Where Written: New York
  • When Published: 1922
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: New York City, 1913-1921
  • Climax: Anthony’s encounter with Dorothy in his apartment the day of the lawsuit’s verdict
  • Antagonist: There is no distinct antagonist. Rather, Anthony and Gloria are their own antagonists, ruining their chances of happiness through their poor decisions.
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Beautiful and Damned

The Great American Author. Fitzgerald’s full name, Frances Scott Key Fitzgerald, should sound familiar. He was named for Frances Scott Key, the lawyer and poet who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner”—and a distant relative on Fitzgerald’s father’s side.

Hip-Hop Renaissance. In addition to two film adaptations (1922 and 2010), The Beautiful and Damned has made its way into pop culture through the 2017 G-Eazy album of the same name. G-Eazy, an American rapper also known as Gerald Earl Gillum, has stated in interviews that the overindulgence of Anthony and Gloria reminds him of his own life. G-Eazy parties to excess, he says, and Gerald must deal with the consequences.