Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the wind

First Published: 1936 (Pan Books ed. 2013)
My copy: Borrowed from the Library where I work

Memorable quote: “I’m tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I’m tired of acting like I don’t eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired!”

Thoughts:
The most glaring omissions in my experience of the big literary classics are in the field of American Literature and so far I’ve been enjoying my efforts to fill in the gaps. So yes, I was a Gone With The Wind virgin (I haven’t even seen the film) and I’ll admit I approached this huge brick of historical romance with some trepidation. I was expecting a bit of a bodice-ripper, but what I discovered instead was something far more complex and enjoyably challenging. Mitchell’s world is utterly immersive and her characters evoke such powerful reactions – variously, I wanted to slap them, hug them, cringe away from them and punch the air in joy for them – that it’s hard not to get suckered in. It took me the best part of 10 days to get through this sprawling novel but it feels like time well spent.

The world probably doesn’t need yet another review of Gone With The Wind, but having invested so much time in it I’d like to share a few thoughts. It is, of course, set during the turbulent period of the American Civil War. History is so often written by victors (could polar exploration be the big exception to this rule?) so it was interesting here to get a rarer insight into the world of the losers, the plantation owners who find their whole way of life and systems of beliefs destroyed with the abolition of slavery. The novel elicits some complicated emotional responses around the issue of race and but it’s important to judge it as a product of its time, reflecting the mores of both its 19th century setting and the 1930s in which Mitchell was writing. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about American history to comment on Mitchell’s period accuracy but the book certainly feels convincing and vividly evokes the sights and sounds of the South, from the lavish ballrooms and barbecues to the blood sodden mud-prints of marching soldiers.  Indeed, I can readily believe how this book’s fame and power has now come to colour perceptions of history itself.

But the triumph of Gone With the Wind lies in its characters: flawed, complex, vibrant, overblown at times, yes, but captivating.  Anti-hero Rhett less cynical than he strives to appear; Ashley Wilkes failing to evolve in a brave new world;  Melanie with her deceptive strength in weakness, these are creations who expand to fill the considerable breadth of the narrative and who stay with you long after the final page is turned. Then above all, of course, there is Scarlett. Yes, I now, finally, believe the hype about Scarlett O’Hara. She’s a wonderful creation: headstrong and selfish – so often her antics made me cringe, but – at the same time it was hard not admire her practicality and single-minded pursuit of her goals. Scarlett speaks out with wonderful frankness against her society’s expectations of feminine weakness and frailty but never shrinks from adopting these pretences when they serve her needs. She is both the answer and the problem and several days after finishing the book I still feel like I’m trying to come to terms with my opinion of her. I can understand why devotees return to this book time and again. Gone With The Wind is the quintessential big read: big in size, scale, complexity and personality. Like its notorious heroine it is frustrating, even downright uncomfortable at times, but certainly never to be forgotten.

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11 Responses to Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

  1. Lucybird says:

    I was really surprised by how much I liked Gone with the Wind when I read it. I’m glad you enjoyed it too.

    I remember getting a negative comment on my review because people see the book as racist. It’s something I can understand but I don’t think it’s racist so much as it reflects the time and culture it came from.

    • roxploration says:

      It was a really pleasant surprise to me how gripping and layered the book was. I think it has gained a reputation over time for being all romance and bodice-ripping which isn’t my thing at all but – although there’s certainly passion – that’s very far from the truth. I just picked it up because it’s so famous and I felt bad for knowing so little about it other than it contained Scarlett O;Hara and that notorious line about not giving a damn! I’m so glad I went for it.

      Yes the racism question. That’s a shame someone responded to your review that way. I’ll admit I sweated over my mine in fear of that. The issue of race in the novel is certainly thorny. I did feel that Mitchell sympathised with the slave owners more than I was comfortable with but there are many sides to most of her characters. You can enjoy a character without agreeing with them, and like you say it’s we need to judge historical books as products of a time and own culture different from ours.

  2. I agree with you and Lucybird. Gone with the Wind is a great read. It was not something I would normally have read, except it was on a list I wanted to complete. I loved it, and learnt a lot about the period from it.

    • roxploration says:

      Hi! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Gone With The Wind is so famous and has such a reputation now that it does sometimes get overlooked by people who think they know all about it already but it’s really worth the read – huge as it is – and was so different from what I’d expected. Glad you think so too!

  3. drush76 says:

    [“The novel elicits some complicated emotional responses around the issue of race and but it’s important to judge it as a product of its time, reflecting the mores of both its 19th century setting and the 1930s in which Mitchell was writing.”]

    There were a good number of people in the mid-to-late 1930s, who found “GONE WITH THE WIND” – both the novel and the movie – racist. Just how much did the story reflect the mores of its setting and publication date?

    • roxploration says:

      Good question, and apologies for my delayed approval and reply – I have just got back from holiday. I would need to do more research to answer your question fully but you make a good point. The 1930s were a different era from our own and other things I have read from that time show that prevailing social opinion was different from today’s but that doesn’t cover everyone, of course and I’m not surprised to hear that many people objected to the novel’s portrayal of race even at the time of its first publication. Apologies if I cam across as oversimplifying things in the line you quote above. I wasn’t comfortable with all the characterisations in GWTW myself but I still think the book is a rollicking good read with a great storyline. So I do feel people who reject it outright because of its racism are missing out! I think the best way to handle a work like this is to read it, enjoy the bits that are good and discuss that things that were not.

  4. Carole says:

    Hi, Carole’s Chatter is collecting posts about Favourite Romance Novels. This looks like a good one. It would be super if you linked it in. This is the link – Your Favourite Romances There are over 25 links already. I hope to see you soon. Cheers

  5. Carol says:

    Saw your link at Carole’s Chatter. I read Gone with the Wind when I was about 19 and then read it again about a year ago. Then I listened to Vanity Fair by Thackeray on audio as I’d read somewhere that Mitchell was accused of plagiarizing his work. They are very similar – Mitchell is definitely more earthy but I was surprised that I liked Vanity Fair so much. For such a huge book it moved along quite nicely.

    • roxploration says:

      Hi! Thanks for stopping by! It’s been 7 or 8 years since I last read Vanity Fair (I remember being surprised how quickly I rattled through that monster tome too) but I can certainly see a lot similarities between Becky and Scarlett. It would be interesting to return to Thackeray now that I’ve read Mitchell….

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