Gone with the Wind has been my favourite film for as long as I can remember, but this is only my second reading of Margaret Mitchell's novel. It was first published in 1936 and the following year won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It's set in Georgia around the time of the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era, a period which, you'll be alarmed to know, I know nothing about other than what I've read in Gone with the Wind! Nevertheless this did not hamper my enjoyment in the least.
The novel tells the story of the very charming Scarlett O'Hara, the daughter of the genteel Ellen Robillard O'Hara and Irish immigrant and plantation owner Gerald O'Hara. If you've watched the film it's surprising to know that in the book Scarlet is specifically described as not beautiful: the opening line of the book describes instead her more as alluring:
Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
|Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, Olivia de Havilland as Melanie,|
and Leslie Howard in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind
produuced by David O. Selznick.
Another surprise, Scarlett is only sixteen at the start of the novel, which is spring 1861. It's a period of instability, and the men talk of war with the Yankees, but this serves merely as an irritating distraction for Scarlett who is more concerned with suitors, dresses, and Ashley Wilkes, who, she quickly learns, is to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton despite admitting he loves Scarlett (he sees himself, however, as better matched to Melanie). When war is declared their world changes; all Scarlett's beaus are off to fight, and she hastily marries Ashley's brother Charles. When he is killed she and her son Wade go to live in Atlanta with Melanie and Aunt Pittypat, and, throughout, Rhett Butler, a very dashing and highly cynical man weaves in and out of her life. And if I go on describing the plot I'll spoil the story!
|Clark Gable as Rhett Butler.|
It is an incredible reading experience. Gone with the Wind is an epic, and in it Mitchell describes not only Scarlett's life and maturity, which is fascinating enough, but the Civil War, and, most importantly, the effects of it, the changes it brought not only in politics but the ways of life in the South. It is told from the perspective of those from the South, specifically Georgia, so we get a very biased view which raises some very pertinent questions on the issue of racism and slavery (it adheres to the belief popular at the time - white people were supposed to look after black people, and they were happier being slaves: there is little violence against slaves shown). Nevertheless what it does show the upheaval and confusion, and, to refer back to the title of the book, a society 'gone with the wind'. Scarlett is an astonishing character, she changes from a 'southern belle' determined to catch a man to a woman who is ruthless in her attempts to gain financial stability at any cost and, quite simply, survive the trauma of her own life and loves, and the war. Mitchell portrays this change in her, her evolution and her understanding of herself, so remarkably I'd say Scarlett is one of the strongest characters I've come across. Above all else, it is a fantastic plot, absolutely gripping and absorbing, one to be read again and again, and I can't think what took me so long to re-read it. I could say a great deal more on this, but I'm too afraid I'll spoil the reading experience if you haven't read it. But do read it if you haven't, and if you have, it's probably time to read it again!