I fell for this story with a loud thunk when I was in my early teens. I remember seeing the cover and that gorgeous white dress of Scarlett’s (from the movie) around the bookstores for years before I actually picked it up.
It took matching up “big, poofy, pretty dresses” with “Romance” to stir my interest – that, and growing up a bit more.
It wasn’t the size of the book that put me off – I’d been reading The Lord of the Rings for a couple of years by then, so length wasn’t an issue.
I think I had reached a point of desperation for a decent book one summer holiday, so I finally picked it up and started reading it.
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
It’s a great start, but what really hooked me was that Scarlett was sixteen years old, just over a year older than me. I identified with Scarlett and her restless spirit, then got sucked into the story, dying to find out if she ended up with Ashley or Rhett.
At fourteen, I was too young to really understand how wrong Ashley was for her, and how Rhett really did love her despite his distance. It took a few more years and a few re-readings to properly understand the dynamics of the triangle.
I was devastated the first read-through to find out that it wasn’t a proper romance. No one ended up with anyone. There wasn’t a happy ending.
But even at fourteen, I was drawn to the history, the politics, the way of life that had long gone. Like many people, I found the daily life of women in that era (well, any era, come to that) fascinating. The duality of expectations of women in the south doesn’t come through in the movie nearly as well as it does in the book, where Mitchell spends pages and pages talking about how superficial charm was rewarded, and naturalness was not. Where women were to appear to be fragile and sweet and as delicate as petals, but had to work like navvies behind the scenes to manage entire households and estates.
Quite a few years later, I lived through the beginning of a civil war myself, and after returning to Australia and my beloved books, I got to re-read Gone with the Wind with a new appreciation for the war that Scarlett finds such an inconvenience.
I’ve re-read Gone with the Wind just in the last few years, and now I’m older, different aspects of the story strike me more significantly than they used to. Scarlett’s selfishness and utter blindness about Rhett tends to drive me bat-crazy…but the writer in me nods in agreement with Mitchell; that’s exactly what Scarlett would be like. She’s true to her character…and only someone like her would have survived the war and thrived, instead of expiring genteely, like a true lady would have.
There was an official sequel written in the 80s, called Scarlett, that I was never able to read beyond the first third or so. I had known these characters for a very long time, and in Scarlett they weren’t behaving as I thought they should. For me, Gone with the Wind remains a stand-alone book, and in my mind, Rhett and Scarlett end up together, sometime after the story in the book closes. After all, tomorrow is another day and Scarlett nearly always gets what she wants.
- Gone with the Wind is the only book Margaret Mitchell ever wrote. She received a Pulitzer Prize for it.
- There have been more than 30 million copies of the book sold since it was published in 1935.
- When Mitchell wrote the first draft, the heroine’s name was Pansy.
- The character of Ashley Wilkes was based on Mitchell’s cousin by marriage, John “Doc” Holliday. Melanie was based on Mitchell’s third-cousin, and Doc’s first cousin and close friend, Mattie “Sister Melanie” Holliday. Doc moved West and became the gambler and gunfighter of “OK Corral” fame. Mattie joined a convent and became a nun, but maintained a correspondence with Doc, who died of tuberculosis in 1887, 13 years before Margaret Mitchell was born.