In The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert fall victim to their wealth. Born into a social class that promises unconditional financial security and the leisure to pursue fruitless projects, they conduct their lives with the expectation that their poor work ethic and imprudent financial decisions won’t cost them wealth, respect, or happiness. However, when Anthony’s disinheritance by his grandfather, Adam Patch, robs the couple of their financial security, they find themselves in a trap: having grown up rich, Anthony and Gloria lack the financial sense and work ethic that could repair their financial standing, leaving them to undertake an embarrassing lawsuit—one that loses them respect in their community—to restore their wealth. Fitzgerald sums up his message about wealth and ruin in the epigraph of his novel, “The victor belongs to the spoils.”
Anthony’s total financial dependence on his grandfather makes him a financial “victor” among his peers during his youth. However, his early sense that he has won prosperity cripples his ability to develop financial independence, and he wastes the potential of his early head-start. Anthony goes to Harvard, uses his grandfather’s money and mother’s inheritance to travel abroad, and rents a luxurious apartment in New York on an allowance from the same sources. His privileged youth allows him to make potentially-valuable social connections with other Harvard-educated men, but since he knows that he has his allowance and inheritance to fall back upon, Anthony lacks the motivation and discipline to use his elite education or social connections. Instead of writing the book he hopes to publish, he spends his days drinking with his friend Maury, another lazy aspiring writer, and making fun of their friend Richard for working incessantly on his own novel. When Anthony’s grandfather disinherits Anthony, however, Anthony has no job and no success as a writer upon which to fall back. He and Gloria have become accustomed to an expensive lifestyle that might be supported by an established career but that would be difficult to maintain on an entry-level wage. Even when Anthony attempts to work as a salesman, his drinking and lack of discipline quickly derail his success, and he only regains his stability through an immoral and embarrassingly public lawsuit against the man who inherited his grandfather’s money.
As Anthony and his friends move further into adulthood, their lives diverge tellingly. Anthony’s descent into alcoholism and his failure as a writer contrasts with Richard’s slow but steady literary success and Maury’s gradual settling into a comfortable but unspectacular life. The growing contrast between Anthony and his friends emphasizes that it’s Anthony’s sense of entitlement that has derailed his life—after all, Richard worked hard for his success, and Maury (unlike Anthony) pulled himself out of the carousing phase of his life years ago in order to become a responsible adult. Anthony’s entitlement leads him to lose the respect of his community—even strangers recognize Anthony as the infamous man who lost his mind and bodily integrity to alcoholism following the suicide of Shuttleworth, the secretary he sued for his grandfather’s money—but importantly, Anthony’s financial stability is restored through the lawsuit, allowing him and Gloria to live out their lives without knowing the utter ruin for which they seemed destined. Through this fate, Fitzgerald satirizes the society that allows this couple to skate by on dumb luck. The American class system endows them with spoils that hinder their development into responsible adulthood. Despite all the unhappiness they endure as a result, their victory in the lawsuit perpetuates the promise that young socialites can emerge victorious, despite wasting their potential and succumbing to foolishness and immorality.
Wealth and Waste ThemeTracker
Wealth and Waste Quotes in The Beautiful and Damned
…[T]o Anthony life was a struggle against death, that waited at every corner. It was a concession to his hypochondriacal imagination that he developed the habit of reading in bed – it soothed him. He read until he was tired and often fell asleep with the lights still on.
One of those men devoid of the symmetry of feature essential to the Aryan ideal, he was yet, here and there, considered handsome – moreover, he was very clean, in appearance and in reality with that especial cleanness borrowed from beauty.
While it seemed to him that the average débutante spent every hour of her day thinking and talking about what the great world had mapped out for her to do during the next hour, any girl who made a living directly on her prettiness interested him enormously.
There was one of his lonelinesses coming, one of those times when he walked the streets or sat, aimless and depressed, biting a pencil at his desk. It was 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.
Always the most poignant moments were when some artificial barrier kept them apart: in the theatre their hands would steal together, join, give and return gentle pressures through the long dark; in crowded rooms they would form words with their lips for each other’s eyes—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. And then, one fairy night, May became June. Sixteen days now—fifteen—fourteen—
“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.”
“Don’t let the victor belong to the spoils.”
Things had been slipping perceptibly. There was the money question, increasingly annoying, increasingly ominous; there was the realization that liquor had become a practical necessity to their amusement – not an uncommon phenomenon in the British aristocracy of a hundred years ago, but a somewhat alarming one in a civilization steadily becoming more temperate and more circumspect. Moreover, both of them seemed vaguely weaker in fibre, not so much in what they did as in their subtle reactions to the civilization about them.
The phone clicked. Her eyes looking along the floor saw his feet cut the pattern of a patch of sunlight on the carpet. She arose and faced him with a gray, level glance just as his arms folded about her.
“My dearest,” he whispered huskily. “He did it, God damn him!”
It occurred to him that all strongly accentuated classes, such as the military, divided men into two kinds: their own kind – and those without. To the clergyman there were clergy and laity, to the Catholic there were Catholics and non-Catholics, to the negro there were blacks and whites, to the prisoner there were the imprisoned and the free, and to the sick man there were the sick and the well. . . So, without thinking of it once in his life-time, he had been a civilian, a layman, a non-Catholic, a Gentile, white, free, and well. . .
Gloria told over to herself the people who had visited them in the gray house at Marietta. It had seemed at the time that they were always having company – she had indulged in an unspoken conviction that each guest was ever afterward slightly indebted to her. They owed her a sort of moral ten dollars apiece, and should she ever be in need she might, so to speak, borrow from them this visionary currency. But they were gone, scattered like chaff, mysteriously and subtly vanished in essence or in fact.