The Ice Palace by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920
The magic trick:
Brilliant characterization of the female lead, Sally Carrol Happer
Perhaps, in many ways, this is the first story in the famed career of one Zelda Sayre. Of course we know that Scott wrote “The Ice Palace,” but the character of Sally Carrol Happer is so fully realized, one can’t help but imagine her as Zelda put to paper. Many of Sally Carrol’s quotes in the story very easily translate to the writer’s voice Zelda used in her letters. But perhaps I’ve done too much biographical reading on the Fitzgeralds.
Let’s take this story on its own merit. It is quite good. The North-South contrast is more solid and more believable than it has any right to be considering it was penned by a 23-year-old Northerner. Ah, but there I go again dipping into biographical context. My apologies.
My point is this: Sally Carrol Happer’s character is extremely well-drawn. We see, first, how comfortable she is at home in the southern summer, with her southern friends, spending time in southern cemeteries, thinking about southern ghosts. And then we see just how uneasy – if not frightened bordering on mania – she is in the northern winter, where the people seem foreign and cold and stiff and faceless.
The story works on a few different levels, but it is the portrait of Sally Carrol as a fish out of water that registers the strongest. And that’s quite a trick on Fitzgerald’s part.
“No, no, it’s not me, it’s them – that old time that I’ve tried to have live in me. These were just men, unimportant evidently or they wouldn’t have been ‘unknown’; but they died for the most beautiful thing in the world – the dead South. You see,” she continued, her voice still husky, her eyes glistening with tears, “people have these dreams they fasten onto things, and I’ve always grown up with that dream. It was so easy because it was all dead and there wasn’t any disillusionment comin’ to me. I’ve tried in a way to live up those past standards of noblesse oblige – there’s just the last remnants of it, you know, like the roses of an old garden dying all round us – streaks of strange of courtliness and chivalry in some of these boys an’ stories I used to hear from a Confederate soldier who lived next door, and a few old darkies. Oh, Harry, there was something, there was something! I couldn’t ever make you understand, but it was there.”