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Chapter 2 - The Beautiful and Damned and Literary Decadence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2023

Michael Nowlin
Affiliation:
University of Victoria, British Columbia
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Summary

This chapter reconsiders the significance of The Beautiful and Damned (1922) to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s development as a writer and his place in American modernist literature. This second novel occupies a minor position in the Fitzgerald canon and is often regarded as a move away from his experimentations with romanticism, aestheticism, and decadence to naturalism. By contrast, this chapter argues that the novel remains committed to fin-de-siècle theories of aesthetic hedonism propounded by Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde in formal, thematic, and intellectual terms and brings them into productive tension with naturalism. The Beautiful and Damned is informed by Paterean theories of perception and hedonism in its preoccupation with the brevity of life, the fragility of beauty, and the necessity of cultivating a heightened mode of perception and consciousness. Naturalism, meanwhile, is deployed strategically as in the narrative to expose the naïve and illusory nature of the aesthetic hedonism of its protagonists. This chapter further argues that Fitzgerald’s reliance on fin-de-siècle tropes should not be understood as anomalous or derivative but, rather, that it situates The Beautiful and Damned in a broader “new decadent” literary movement within American modernism.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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