Gone With The Wind

So, for the past few weeks I’ve been tackling the epic saga of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s incredible civil war romance, Gone With the Wind. The novel, which won a Pulitzer prize for Literature in 1937, is set to be re-released this April with a new cover featuring the stunning Vivienne Leigh, raising a perfect eyebrow at you.

I must say, the book is stunning. The description is incredible, the landscape is rich, the society is on edge, so you get sucked into the lazy summer haze of elite Georgian society – barbeques and balls, d├ębutante dresses and the frenzied attempt to catch a husband. You feel the world slipping away as the southern states are flung into war, and the third part of the novel, where Scarlett navigates the new post-war world contrasts the lazy days against the frantic hum of a new society. I found this amazing, as it paralleled to The Jazz Age of the 1920s – coming out of an awful war, the world went crazy with parties and spending up big. It was the same in the 1800s of Georgia. And Scarlett is determined to make the most of it!

The novel is character driven and I think a lot of where the 1934 film failed was that the characters seemed shallow and stupid, making the worst choices and being completely blind. I’m not saying that they are sterling examples in the novel (a lot of the characters are despicable!), but there is a depth to Mitchell’s writing. You tend to understand Scarlett more in the book – her thoughts, her respect and love of her mother Ellen, her infatuation with Ashley and her love/hate relationship with Rhett – are all explained well and understandable reactions for a person who was brought up the way she was and facing the situations of desperate war, starvation and threat of death. (For example of this, women were told the only way to catch a husband was to appear to be completely brainless and weak, and then the day after the wedding be like “surprise, I can math’. Scarlett does plenty of playing dumb to seem cute and innocent, only to hide the shrewdest, most cunning strategies. For a while there, she’s a self-made millionaire!)

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Scarlett is amazing and I do believe, a feminist icon. She saves a plantation, saves her own and Melanie’s life in the face of an oncoming army, and makes millions rebuilding a city through owning successful timber mills. She has many, many faults and issues, but she is essentially a survivor, and so she survives. Also, Mitchell had some very modern ideas, one of the most impressive being a woman’s need for financial security, “land remains”. It takes Scarlett half a book to realise this but fair dinkum it saves her life. I love book Scarlett. I hate Melanie. I don’t really care if she is the “true hero” of the book, she’s so darn annoying and perfect. I also hate the racism; yes, the book is historical and written during a not-so-great time of US history (1931) and set in a really awful time of US History (1800s Civil War) but seriously, the racism is crazy and something that doesn’t click at all with a modern reading generation. Half the guys in the book are in the Ku Klux Klan. The book hit the wall when I read that, I had quite liked Ashley Wilkes until I found that out.

So, why should you actually sit down and read this book? If I haven’t completely set you off it now, it is still an interesting book from a historical approach – the research Margaret Mitchell must have conducted is incredible and the Civil War was a tumultuous time of social and political change which is navigated in the novel. The book also won a Pulitzer prize, so it is incredibly well written. And it’s got a love story that actually does make your heart break a little in hoping that everything will work out alright (but frankly, my dear…). Overall, it’s a book worth investing the time in (and of course the book is way better than the film, so don’t try to cheat!)

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