Sun, 21 Jun 2020
The reaction I got when I told people what I was reading recently was one of thinly disguised ‘What on earth are you reading that for?’
When I questioned them more closely, however, nobody actually admitted they had read it themselves and they were basing their rather haughty reaction on the fact that the film is extremely long.
Well, to quote Rhett Butler’s actual words, “My dear, I don’t give a damn!”
For all it’s detractors – usually founded on ignorance – Gone With the Wind is actually a darn good read. It does what the film could never do, gives the characters much more depth than you see on the big screen. That is the beauty of the written word.
We may see Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara stamp her foot and pout, but we can’t know what is going on in her head unless we read the book.
And then she is actually a very funny, albeit ultimately tragic, creation. I found myself laughing out loud during some of the early parts of the book when she is trying to convey one emotion and it is misinterpreted by many to convey a different one.
Time and again her selfish motives are misconstrued as caring and for the good of others, which sends her into an even greater frenzy. When her first husband Charles Hamilton dies, rather ignominiously before entering battle, she sulks and has tantrums – not as everyone assumes because she is missing him, but because she is so annoyed that she has to behave like a widow and can’t party.
When she helps Melanie Wilkes deliver her baby, she is doing it out of necessity rather than affection. She is constantly being misunderstood except, of course, by the one person who can see straight through her and knows exactly what motivates her - Rhett Butler.
Rhett is a complex character. He’s clever and astute and plays characters off against each other, but he is also quite brutal and although all he wants is for Scarlett to love him for who he is and to realise how much he loves her, he is also adept at hurting her.
As the cast paraded through the pages, the familiar names came to life off the page and all memories of the film were obliterated.
Ashley Wilkes is so annoying and wet, you have to wonder how Scarlett got quite so blinded by him for so long. His wife, Melly, is a wonderfully strong character and you can feel the power behind that small frame emanating across genteel Atlanta society.
If the characters and their relationships, faults and acts of heroism made for an absorbing read, the passages of war diatribe were rather boring. This was like a superior (very superior) Mills & Boon, a love story with many levels and some fascinating characters.
Apparently Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind while she was convalescing from an illness to give her something to do. She never intended to get it published and only sent it to a publisher in a fit of pique after someone laughingly joked about her writing abilities.
Thank goodness she did.
This is a truly epic book and fully deserves its place in literary history. Thanks goodness, too, that she changed the name of the heroine to Scarlett from Pansy – not the same impact at all and very difficult to imagine.