Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Scott Fitzgerald's Romance with the South

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Scott Fitzgerald's Romance with the South

Article excerpt


I suppose that poetry is a Northern man's dream of the South. (1)

Scott Fitzgerald's attitudes toward the American South were shaped by the two most important relationships in his life: with his wife, Zelda Sayre of Alabama, and with his father, Edward Fitzgerald of Maryland. Born and bred in the North, Fitzgerald nonetheless developed an early tug toward the country of his father's youth, sympathizing with the lost cause of the Confederacy and admiring the impeccable manners of the Old South. This tendency to glamorize the South, inherited from his father, Scott Fitzgerald never lost. Settling into a house in the San Fernando Valley in 1938, he at first found the place, which Sheilah Graham had located, rather drab, but when Buff Cobb came for a visit, admired the garden, and remarked that its fence pickets looked "like little gravestones in a Confederate graveyard," Fitzgerald ran inside to tell Sheilah that Buff had "made the place livable! We've got romance in the house." (2)

The case was different with the reckless young girl who caught him on the rebound at a 1018 dance in Montgomery, materializing before his eyes in her fluffy organdy beneath a wide-brimmed hat as "the very incarnation of a Southern belle." (3) Perhaps Fitzgerald fell in love with the image as much as with the girl; she brought glitteringly alive to him his own ties to the South. Together they took flower-scented walks where the wall "was damp and mossy ... [and] the wisteria along the fence was green and the shade was cool and life was old." (4) To celebrate their engagement, they strolled past the headstones of the Confederate dead, and Zelda told him he would never understand how she felt about those graves, but he insisted that he did--and proved it in "The Ice Palace." To Fitzgerald their marriage was symbolic, "the mating of the age" between the golden beauty of the South and the brilliant success of the North. (5) But Zelda like any mere mortal was inadequate to the ideal; their marriage fractured even before her beauty faded and her mind fissured. As early as 1022, the honeymoon barely over, he wrote Edmund Wilson of "the complete, fine and full-hearted selfishness and chill-mindedness of Zelda." (6) The threat of that disillusionment, suggested by his novels, is still more precisely spun out in half a dozen stories Fitzgerald wrote, during the 1920's about the confrontation of a young man from the North with the girl he loves from the South--stories which could hardly be more autobiographical.

This theme lies persistently at center stage in "The Ice Palace" (1920), which contrasts the Southern--Sally Carrol Happer, indolence, heat, and a sense of the past peculiar to Tarleton, Georgia--with the Northern--her fiance Harry Bellamy, vigor, cold, and the three-generation newness of St. Paul, Minnesota. During their engagement, Sally Carrol travels north to meet Harry's family and is appalled by the howling winds and fierce cold of the Northern winter, a coldness she observes too in Harry's friends who do not trouble to pay gallant compliments to her. As to Harry's family, she gets along fine with Mr. Bellamy, who had been born in Kentucky, but not with Mrs. Bellamy, who objects to Sally Carrol's smoking and, not understanding about double names in the South, persists in calling her "Sally," a name she hates.

In Tarleton, she had been content to drop syllables, fall asleep on automobile rides, stretch out on the worn couch in the library, or droop, too tired to yawn, her nineteen-year-old chin resting "on a fifty-two-year-old sill." In the North, by way of contrast, everyone is hyperactive, and the Bellamys' home, though it has "a lot of expensive things in it that all looked about fifteen years old," is not, somehow, comfortable.

In Georgia, Sally Carrol had wandered through graveyards, conjuring up romantic visions for those who lay, like "Margery Lee," beneath the sun- and rain-washed headstones. …

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