By Laura Gibbs
‘There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going…’ – The Beautiful and the Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Although F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sweeping definition of beauty may seem flowery or overblown, it has really made me reflect on love. Traditional ideas about ever-lasting romance and happy endings don’t really seem to fit these days; in a world of swiping right, eternal love can seem unrealistic and downright naïve. Fitzgerald preempts this transient, revolving-door dating landscape, but does so without cynicism. Love may be transient and fleeting, but the very nature of this transience is exciting and moving in itself.
The arena for finding love has transformed dramatically since the onset of online dating, with 1 in 5 relationships in Britain now beginning on the internet. With a viral PhD paper entitled Why I Don’t Have a Girlfriend claiming that the chances of finding love on a night out in London were around 3 in 1 million, no wonder people are turning to the internet.
With up to 100 swipes per day, an app like Tinder gives us options. The advent of the coronavirus pandemic has made any other mode of dating impossible, and the internet our only viable option for love. There were always plenty more fish in the sea – but now we can access them in a couple taps of a screen. With this multitude of options, though, people are becoming increasingly disposable.
We name love with one word now, but the Greeks had many words for it. Traditionally, romantic love was seen in terms of ‘agape’ relating to the undying love one has for their spouse or family. Restricting love in this way, within the conventional bounds of marriage seems fundamentally flawed. I would favour a view of love in terms of the Greek ‘eros’.
Typically associated with sexual desire, eros also denotes the appreciation of beauty. To think of this beauty purely in the visual sense would be reductive, it can be the appreciation of the beauty of love itself.
From Fitzgerald’s works, it seems he preferred the feeling of longing to the actualization of stable love. His most renowned novel, The Great Gatsby, may seem to promote a destructively idealistic or unattainable love, but this is not the case. The beauty of the love Gatsby feels for Daisy is lost when he is presented with the mundane reality of what that love would become.
The distant green light that beams from Gatsby’s side of the bay reflects his unattainable hope, yet I believe it would have been better if this love had remained idealized. Nick Carraway seems to be the only one who can understand this, noting ‘He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy’. Gatsby has formed his identity out of his desire, and this desire only becomes destructive when he considers making it real.
The Beautiful and the Damned satirizes this theme. We are told that ‘A woman should be able to kiss a man beautifully and romantically without any desire to be either his wife or his mistress’. Provocative statements like these could seem comical at first, but they show a new and inspiring view of love. Love doesn’t lose its power in Fitzgerald’s writing – it merely loses the sentimentality of traditional novels. For me, this is no big loss.
In both The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald seems to tell us the same truth about love – it is beautiful because it won’t last, not because it will.
Image: Samantha Fulton