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Friday, September 26, 2014

Gone With the Wind

Last weekend, I was in Atlanta and was very fortunate to have the time to visit the Margaret Mitchell Museum. As a writer, I was interested in seeing the place where she wrote 90% of Gone With the Wind. It was a small apartment consisting of a living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen. To get to the kitchen, one had to walk through the bedroom. Each room was very small, and in the corner of the living room she wrote at a small table where she had natural light from two windows illuminating the area. She wrote on a manual typewriter, and whenever anyone would come to visit, she tossed a towel over the table so no one would know what she was doing.

When Opportunity came knocking, she turned it away - twice. She denied she had written a book at all, though one of her closest friends had spoken to a publisher about it. Even after she gave the publisher some of the chapters, she sent a telegram saying that she had changed her mind and wanted it back.

It's to our good fortune - and hers as well - that the publisher ignored her request and offered her a contract. Within three months, David O. Selznick had purchased the rights to the movie and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have seen some authors labor throughout their entire lives and never see any of their work in print. But though Margaret Mitchell resisted seeing Gone With the Wind published, there are some things that seemed destined to happen, against all the odds and against even her own efforts to derail it.

Could Gone With the Wind have been published today? Most scholars say no. It is a fabulously written book, but today's audience doesn't want to read hundreds of pages of backstory - which is what the reader must wade through to get to Scarlett's story. Scarlett herself is an interesting character for a heroine. She is spoiled and in the beginning what we'd refer to as "air-headed". She thinks only of herself and doesn't seem to look much beyond the end of her nose.

War changes all of that, of course. And that was precisely why Margaret Mitchell wrote the book. At its core is the eternal question: what makes some men and women break under the strain, while others rise above it? What do some people have deep inside themselves that keep them going, against all the odds, despite all the obstacles, while others are ready to give up? Why do some people continue moving forward while others spend entire lifetimes lamenting the loss of what they once had? And why do some people dream of someone they could never have, while the one who is perfect for them is right in front of them?

In the end, Scarlett is transformed. At times she is ruthless; at times she is money hungry; at times she is bull-headed, short-tempered and in her own words, a poor mother. But there is something about her character that tells us that we, too, can survive if only we try.

Perhaps a key to the book's initial success was the timing. America was in the grips of The Great Depression. Yet when people had trouble putting food on the table, they were doling out three dollars for a book. Perhaps the story fed their souls, giving them hope, showing them that throughout history there were trials and tribulations that would eventually be overcome. We will never know just how many people were affected by this story; how many were inspired to keep going despite the odds, how many were taken out of their own sorrows and placed into another day, another time, another era. And perhaps that is why the book was published; it was not only a great read but it feeds the soul like few books can.


2 comments:

Shane Hayes said...

Splendid posting, Trish. Good topic, solid, insightful, well-stated reflections; some new information to many readers, including me. I can't help thinking she was being coy in resisting the publishers overtures. If no one had courted her, she'd have been writing query letters like the rest of us. A novelist wants to be read. She basked in fame for the rest of her life and loved it. She and Harper Lee are inspiring anomalies that prove one book can do the impossible -- win the author a lasting niche in world literature -- if it has singular qualities and arrives at the right cultural moment. I owe you an email. Will pay. Best, 2065Shane

maggiethom said...

That must have been pretty cool to go and visit where she did a lot of her writing. That fear of putting your stuff out there is pretty powerful. So glad she overcame it. I don't know if her book would have been published today but there are many people today who absolutely love it. It is interesting how some things are 'fated' to be. :)