Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kenneth Grahame

The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavors of mankind have been directed toward the dissipation of that wonder... Science analyses everything to its component parts, and neglects to put them together again... Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Lancelot in shining armour on a moonlit  road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?  ~~ Kenneth Grahame

Given the Olympics Opening Ceremonies having just aired, it seems fitting to do a post on Kenneth Grahame. In between reading some of my more serious, academic books I decided to revisit a couple of old childhood classics of his -- his famous The Wind In The Willows and maybe lesser known The Reluctant Dragon, a story originally featured in his 1898 book, Dream Days.

Grahame was born in Scotland in 1859, but sadly orphaned at an early age. Still a young child, he was moved to England to live in the care of relatives. He grew up to have a mix of jobs aside from writing, including being a social worker at night and the Secretary of The Bank Of England by day. He was also part of the London-Scottish Regiment. The shy-natured Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1889 who later gave Grahame a son, Alastair (who went by the nickname "Mouse").

"I write not only for children,
 but for adults who remember what it is like to be children."

How cute was he!

Wind In The Willows

This classic came about when Grahame brought home a mole as a pet for his son and the housemaid accidentally killed it. The stories started as a way to comfort Alastair and let him know that the mole would live on in the stories. Alastair enjoyed the stories so much, he begged his father to continue them in letters even when the young boy was sent on trips with his mother to visit family. The stories continued to grow through these letters between father and son. Grahame's wife, Elspeth (who had always encouraged her husband's writing) found the stories so adorable, she recommended that Grahame have them published as a book. The end result was The Wind In The Willows, published after Grahame retired from the Bank of England. Sadly, Alastair, who was sickly and blind in one eye (perhaps the reason for the side profile in the pic above?) battled depression, committing suicide at the age of 19 (the link under Alastair's pic will take you to an article discussing the sad story).  The pain of his son's death stayed with Grahame until his death in 1932 at the age of 73.  I've read elsewhere that excitable Frog who was always curious about "the next big thing" was based on Alastair's energetic and inquiring nature. 

1966 illustration of Toad by beloved children's illustrator
Tasha Tudor (my favorite of all the illustrators I've seen
tackle TWITW)

Re-reading this book as an adult, I am struck by how relatable the characters are, even now. Everyone knows someone like all of these characters. Have a friend always into the latest gadgets, fashions, trends? That's Toad. Rat is the one you might call very "granola", he loves the outdoors and simple living. Mole loves experiencing new things and meeting new people even if he has some trepidation in being outside of his comfort zone. He's ever curious about what's going on just over the next hill. See what I mean? Even the landscape, especially The Wild Woods... at least the way Rat describes it... sounds like that sketchy part of town you know to avoid as much as possible.  Perhaps that's part of the eternal appeal of this book, it just never gets old. 

BTW... There's a 1996 Terry Jones live action screen adaptation that's a nice mix of eerie and sweet and there was a really cute BBC / PBS Masterpiece Theatre aired version made in 2006. You can watch the whole thing (but in sections of course) on YouTube.

1996 Terry Jones adaptation:

2006 adaptation with Bob Hoskins & Matt Lucas

I also heard that yet another version was set to be released this year with Ricky Gervais doing the voice of Mole... does anyone know, did that project get shelved or is it still in the works? Just curious. 

The Reluctant Dragon

Perhaps not quite as famous as The Wind In The Willows, I think I first read The Reluctant Dragon when I was about nine years old. I recently found my old copy in a box of books in my mom's storage. I remember really liking the book but not much else so I figured it was time for a refresher. I think it took me maybe 45 mins to read (and I'm a slower reader), it's that short but so adorable! The dialogue is very fun and witty, making the story move very quickly. And I loved that the dragon spoke like "a perfect English gent"! This is the story of a dragon who makes his home on a hill above a quiet English village but instead of wanting to attack the villagers, he wants to be friends with them, recite poetry, eat delicious foods, and just bask in good friendship. How do you convince a bunch of medieval villagers of that though? There's one little boy (just known as The Boy) who lives in town who climbs up the hill every day, not showing a moment of fear around this dragon but instead is the first of the humans to offer up his friendship while explaining that the rest of the town won't be won over so easily. 

The Reluctant Dragon illustration by Ernest H. Shepard
"Do for goodness' sake try and remember that your a pestilential scourge or
you'll find yourself in a most awful fix."
The Boy to The Reluctant Dragon

The dragon has a pretty funny hashing out with St. George, the knight you may have read about in legends who was reputed to be quite the dragon-slayer. They calmly and sensibly discuss the terms of a faux battle to appease the riled up locals --  where George is allowed to strike the dragon, how much noise will be made, etc... all as if it were some business deal between friends!

Written in 1898, I wondered if this book was maybe the idea behind Disney's Pete's Dragon but it turns out Disney did a 1941 cartoon adaptation of this book, sticking with the book's title for the cartoon. Though I thought I had seen just about every old Disney movie out there, I can't seem to remember this one. 

The dragon has the characteristic high, squeaky voice of so 
many characters in early Disney movies. Not quite how I pictured 
the dragon in the book but still a cute clip:

and this was a little before my time, but I found this ABC-TV clip of a show where Grahame's characters The Reluctant Dragon and Mr Toad were given a show together... anyone see this when it was on?

"Banquets are always pleasant things, consisting mostly, as they do, of eating and drinking, but the especially nice thing about a banquet is that it comes when something is over, and there's nothing more to worry about, and tomorrow seems a long way off."  ~~ Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon

Grahame uses a unique humor to teach kids the importance of really getting to know people before you judge them. People (or dragons) may seem scary or anti-social on the outside but maybe they really long for people to take an honest, non-judgemental interest in them. :-)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Have You Read Anything By Charles Martin?

On one of my recent perusals of a local Goodwill Store book section, I found a couple of books by this guy Charles Martin. Had never heard of him before, but I was intrigued by the covers. Come to find out he's a Christian author with a number of books already under his belt! Christian fiction is not something I actively seek out but it's not something I necessarily steer clear of either. I enjoyed both of these books so much, I unashamedly googled Charles Martin and to tell you the truth, had I not read about his Christian roots, I would not have guessed anything about it from the writing. These books do not preach at you, they just have beautiful, simple but powerful stories about loving marriages. I saw my own marriage in these books, the lengths my husband and I would go to for each other (fingers crossed no such thing happens because Martin writes some pretty hardcore medical problems for his leading ladies, part of the pull of the story -- you get so pulled into the characters you want to know if they'll pull through).  One thing that really appeals to me about these books is they're not overly sappy. The men are like my husband, there's no doubt they love their wives but they don't have to spout sonnets 24/7 or burst into tears over how achingly beautiful life is all the time. Not saying they can't feel that way on the inside but I'm a bit of an old fashioned girl. I like men TO BE MEN, throw me a nice letter or a surprise gift, improptu trip or something from time to time but if you profess too much, the special moments stop being so special. I like that Martin lets his men be men and his ladies be sassy but loving. I would say if you like Nicholas Sparks, Martin is better! I like a few of Sparks' books but some of his recent stuff gives me cavities (figuratively, of course. I care for my books too much to gnaw on 'em.. :-P).

The Dead Don't Dance

Dylan Styles is orphaned at a young age and goes to live with his grandparents, Pappa & Nanny, in an old farmhouse in South Carolina. Dylan grows up, meets lovely, lively Maggie and gets married. Maggie and Dylan continue to live in the old farmhouse (which Dylan inherits after his grandparents pass away). Dylan has a "city job" as an English professor but feels his real interest lies in continuing his grandfather's farming work... problem is, the farming isn't really making any money. Maggie has complications with a pregnancy and winds up in a coma. Dylan, refusing to let his wife go, starts to look at where his priorities have been and where maybe they need to be now. There are some great side characters in this story, mainly in Dylan's English class, such as Marvin, the class clown, and Koy, the emo chick who becomes an important friend to Dylan. My favorite character was Dylan's ball-bustin' best friend Amos (who is also the town sheriff), who never lets anyone wallow in self-pity. I know with the coma and all that, it sounds like this would be a sap-fest, but seriously, the characters are compelling and the dialogue feels real. There is a sequel to this book called Maggie. Haven't had a chance to read it yet... but soon :-)

Me Phi Me, "Revival"
Reading The Dead Don't Dance
 had me remembering this song :-)
If you're trying to place where you might have heard 
this one before, it was on the Reality Bites soundtrack.
That's right... going a little old school for y'all! 

Trace Adkins, "Muddy Water" 
The ending had me thinking of this song... 

Where The River Ends

A similar story, concerning a South Carolina couple, Doss and Abbie Michaels, but with a "wrong side of the tracks" element thrown in. Doss is a struggling artist, Abbie is a socialite /model/ politician's daughter who throws her social status to the wind, deciding to marry Doss and promote his artwork.  With Abbie's encouragement, Doss develops a reputation for making beautiful paintings from visually unattractive subjects. 

Again, Martin writes in a sick wife, this time it seems terminal. Ironically, the woman that taught her husband to see the beauty in ugly struggles to find how her husband can still be attracted to her as she gets more and more sickly and more dangerously thin each day (combination of the illness and the treatments). Doss in a similar way struggles to show her he sees the beauty of her soul, which always makes her beautiful inside and out to him. But ladies, you know how resistant we can be to believe such things when we feel that low. My favorite scene in the whole book comes when Abbie is in the hospital for a treatment and her husband keeps hearing the nurses talk about her or mention her on the overcom, but they refer to her by her room number, "1054". He gets fed up and calls the whole floor staff to his wife's room:

I'd like to introduce you all to my wife. This is Abbie Michaels. You can just call her Abbie. She's a wife, a daughter, a friend, she has a tendency to talk with her hands, she likes Lucky Strike jeans and she sees beauty where others don't. She is not and has never been '1054' {to which a head nurse starts to say HIPPA laws mandate...}... I know you all work hard. A lot harder than most give you credit for. I am thankful for what you do and how you do it, but HIPPA's wife is not lying in that bed. I need to ask you to look at the woman in that bed and not think of her as a number. Not a statistic. Hope is what feeds us. And to be honest, it's running in short supply around here. 

BOOM! Gotta love that kinda fella, not afraid to demand respect for the woman he loves! Doss, working off of a sort of bucket list of 10 "normal life" things Abbie wants to do in her lifetime (things that have no connection to her fame or family money, just everyday living moments), decides to take her on a river trip from SC to Florida, rather than have her wither away in the hospital. This book ponders the question of whether, in one's final days, it's better to have quantity or quality of life. Do you fight just to have more days in general or do you make the most of the days you think you have? The one problem I had with Doss is he always seemed to get tangled up in confrontations with people but didn't have a bit of fighting ability, ever! He would talk brave but physically he was always getting whooped on! :-S Sometimes it's best to nod or shrug and move on lol. 

"All My Love" by Led Zepplin
Doss talks about how special this song is 
to him and Abbie

One of the elements of the story I really enjoyed was all the art history and amazing paintings that were special to Abbie & Doss woven throughout the story. I love art history so having a character tell these stories was like candy to me :-)

"Woman In A Grove" by Jacek Malczewski
"People are always telling me I'm beautiful. Okay, so what. I've spent most of my life in front of the cameras. People use my image to sell a product. That's all. At the end of the day, they've used me -- my face or figure, which by the way I had nothing to do with -- to tell everyone how they are not like me. Hence, you're not beautiful. Or, you're not pretty. Or, you don't measure up. If you want to make great art, something that can reach beyond time and space, find someone, find someone who isn't and show them that they are. Paint the broken, the unlovely... and make them believe." ~~ Abbie

Abbie and Doss visit numerous art galleries and museums in their time together -- some of their favorites mentioned:

"While her body is provocative, it is drawn in such a way that leads you time and time again to her face, the angle of her neck,the inviting drop of her shoulders, the playfulness in her eyes, the relaxed crossing of her legs. It's what a nude should be." ~ Doss

How dedicated are you to your art? When Bernini was in the process of sculpting this bust, titled "Damned Soul", he burned his forearm with a hot iron to get the face of agony just right!!

This book surprised me... how much it tugged at my heart. Similar books usually have me internally yelling "AHH C'MOON!" where the woe-is-me thrown into overdrive. But Martin's characters thankfully feel like real people. The ending in Where The River Ends has a bit of a what-you-might-expect-tearjerker wrap up but until then you really want to be on the boat ride with these two!

"River In Forrest" from
"The river can be a magical place. As much as I've been here, I still don't quite get her. No matter how you hurry or how hard and fast you pull on the paddle, the river controls the tempo. She stretches every minute and steals back every second. Rivers do this naturally. They don't give two cents about the destination. Name one straight river and I'll show you a man-made canal. People make a big deal about how their watch automatically sets itself to atomic time from a tower somewhere in Colorado, but if we were smart, we'd set our watches to river time. We'd wrinkle less and wouldn't grow old as quickly." ~~ Doss Michaels

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Anderson Cooper on "Clandestine Classics" series

This honestly did make me laugh out loud when I saw it - had to share. This is Anderson Cooper during his Ridiculist segment talking about the new series of books coming out called Clandestine Classics. Inspired by the success of 50 Shades Of Grey, this series aims to reissue classic novels with amped up sex scenes added. The HHMMM in all this is the series including titles such as 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Sherlock Holmes (where Holmes and Watson are supposed to get it on) --  check out Anderson's take on it all... cracks me up :-)

You can check out all the titles in the series here:

Classic Reads July 2012

After all these years of ladies recommending Georgette Heyer books to me, I finally managed to sit myself down with one! It's funny how when I was in jr high, my grandmother insisted I read Jane Austen because I expressed interest in historical fiction, then later after I had read some of Austen's books, that's when people started mentioning Heyer to me because of the similarities. Even more similarity than I expected, as it turns out. While reading Heyer's Venetia, I realized that 38 yr old Lord Jasper Damerel, the semi-reformed rake and owner of Elliston Priory Estate and his love interest, 25 yr old Venetia Lanyon could easily be interchangeable with Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Even Edward Yardley, with his creepy, won't-take-no-for-an-answer fixation on Venetia reminded me of P&P's Mr. Collins. Conway, Venetia's elder brother has a backstory of being torn between two women, Clara and Charlotte, having to decide if he marries for passion or for prudence, reminding me of the triangle of Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby and Sophia Gray in Austen's Sense & Sensibility.

For readers not familiar, Venetia is the story of Jasper Damerel, a 38 yr old man who returns to his hometown after running away with a married woman years before, establishing himself among the local gossips as a legendary roguish character... the "ladies, hide your daughters!" type, at least by reputation. The now older, trying to put his past behind him Damerel returns to resume residence in his family's estate, Elliston Priory, when he meets his neighbor and renowned local beauty, Venetia. Venetia lives in an nearby estate with her younger brother, Aubrey, who suffers from something vaguely called "bone illness", which keeps him from being too physically active but gives him time to immerse himself in books, particularly Greek classics.

Venetia knows of Damerel's reputation but grows to like him anyway and of course this leads to love. By the time she realizes it's full blown love, Damerel tries to save her from a life of shame and encourages her to go abroad and live with relatives, leaving him before too much of an attachment develops. The rest of the story turns into a will they or won't they deal... your typical Regency romance in some respects, but Heyer has a great wit that makes the dialogue fun.

"She was the delightful creature who cut up her brother, and cast the pieces in her papa's way, wasn't she? I daresay perfectly amiable when one came to know her."  ~~ Venetia having a lighthearted discussion with her brother, Aubrey, about the Greek classic The Medea. Painting is "Medea" by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

"How very odd, to be sure!" {Venetia}
"What is?" {Damerel} 
 "Wishing to kiss someone you never saw in your life. It seems quite madbrained to me, besides showing a sad want of particularity. However, I daresay it is one of those peculiarities of gentlemen even of the first respectability which one cannot hope to understand, so I don't refine too much upon it."  ~~ Venetia reflecting on her first meeting with Damerel

********* SMALL "MAYBE , KINDA?" SPOILER ALERT ************

There was one bit in the story that had me scratching my head a bit. There was a part where Venetia's aunt said she was comforted in the fact that Mr. Hendred (Venetia's uncle) was given Damerel's "word as a gentleman" that Damerel would not propose to Venetia.... well, a good part of the book has most of the characters going on about what a rake Damerel is, so my question is, if Damerel is a rake, how could one trust his word as a gentleman and if he was a gentleman, why would he have to give his word, he would already be considered an honorable man and no one would have an objection to him being with Venetia anyway?

Overall, a good fast and fun read :-) So there, I am officially initiated into the works of Heyer!

The other book I burned through recently was Willa Cather's O, Pioneers!  This book tells the story of an immigrant sod house community in Iowa, made up of Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Czech residents trying to make a successful life for themselves in America. Most of the story focuses on Alexandra Bergson and her family. There's something so heavy and sad about the character Alexandra. You get the sense of opportunities lost because of family obligations with her. I found myself wondering if she ever really knew love or was every day just about keeping the locals fed and the settlement taken care of?

There is often a good deal of the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon. 
"Hard on you? I never meant to be hard. Conditions were hard. Maybe I never would have been very soft anyhow; but I certainly didn't choose to be the kind of girl I was. If you take even a vine and cut it back again and again, it grows hard, like a tree." ~~ Alexandra to her brother

-- peasant woman --

This book is an easy read but action wise it moves at a more steady, slow pace -- at least until you get near the end, where I found myself thinking "wait, what? where did all that come from??" The writing is fittingly as plain as the characters. Not plain in a bad way, but admirably minimalistic, in that Cather is able to create this community full of such strong-willed, seemingly indomitable souls in so few words.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Odd Couples

Here's a couple books for you to check out that have unusual couples, unusual in that you might have an "ick" or "what tha..." moment here and there reading about them, but the writing is so good, I had to throw some props their way!

THE GIANT'S HOUSE by Elizabeth McCracken
(National Book Award Finalist .. figured it couldn't totally suck..)

This is the story of Peggy Cort, a 26 yr old "spinster" librarian living in the Cape Cod area in the 1950s where she meets 11 yr old James Carlson Sweatt, who suffers from gigantism. By the age of twelve, James is 6'5. James and Peggy develop a friendship at the library, Peggy giving him books that take his mind off of his disability and social awkwardness. Somewhere in the midst of their friendship, Peggy finds she's actually falling in love with James but realizes this is an inappropriate feeling to have towards someone still not legal. She can't seem to shake her deepening affection for him so she just keeps it to herself, struggling with seeing James grow up over the years, learning to flirt as a teenager, struggling with not knowing how to dance, etc. With everything that goes on, at the toughest moments James always comes back to Peggy, one night confessing his own feelings. You'd think this book would be really awkward to read but nothing inappropriate happens. James grows up, becomes a man and Peggy continues to help him as his condition worsens. It's actually really sweet (and bittersweet) the way this relationship develops between them. The one problem I did have with the story was the last few chapters, the way McCracken decided to wrap things up confused me, it felt a little disjointed and then like she quickly brought it back and tried to tie things up neatly.  But definitely give this one a try. It's a slow burn kind of read, doesn't really race through, but the development in itself is powerful.

There's some great quotes in this book. Check it out:

On history:

For some people, history is simply what your wife looks good in front of. It's what's cast in bronze, or framed in sepia tones, or acted out with wax dummies and period furniture. It takes place in glass bubbles filled with water and chunks of plastic snow; it's stamped on souvenir pencils and summarized in reprint newspapers. History nowadays is recorded in memorabilia. If you can't purchase a shopping bad that alludes to something, people won't believe it ever happened. 

On Love:

Despite popular theories, I believe people fall in love based not on good looks or fate but on knowledge. Either they are amazed by something a beloved knows that they themselves do not know; or they discover common rare knowledge; or they can supply knowledge to someone who's lacking. Hasn't everyone found a strange ignorance in someone beguiling?

I loved him because I wanted to save him, and because I could not. I loved him because I wanted to be enough for him and I was not.
Truthfully, this is the fabric of my all my fantasies: love shown not by a kiss or a wild look or a careful hand but by a willingness for research. I don't dream of someone who understands me immediately, who seems to have known me my whole life, who says 'I know, me too.' I want someone keen to learn my own strange organization, amazed at what's revealed; someone who asks, 'and then what, and then what?' But you can't spend your life hoping that people will ask you the right questions. You must learn to love and answer the questions they already ask. Otherwise you're dreaming of visiting Venice by driving to Boise, Idaho. 

THE MOST WANTED by Jacquelyn Mitchard

This is the story of Arlington "Arley" Mowbrey a 14 yr old girl who, partly from a dare, partly out of a sense of charity, decides to write to Dillon LeGrande, an inmate at a South Texas prison who just happens to be 25. It starts out innocent enough because Arley doesn't expect anything more than a simple pen-pal sort of communication. But Arley feels a freedom in telling all her inner feelings to someone she figures it won't matter to. She figures the guy will think she's crazy and not write back. To her surprise (but not to the reader's 'cause c'mon 400+ pages here.. of course he wrote back!) she gets a letter from Dillon with him saying how moved he was by her honesty... and so starts the blossoming of their relationship. Did I mention Arley lied about her age to impress this guy she thought wouldn't care about her? Ahh plot muck :-). Well Dillon's not a total perve.. I guess.. he does take a pause and consider "okay.. she's 14" but then that leads to "well she's a mature kind of 14". Okay... bit of an ick moment there but hear me out. No, I'm not a wackadoodle myself endorsing these kind of things, I was disturbed by a lot in this book but because it was so well written I kept reading. And it helped that the story is broken up and alternated between the POVs  of Arley and Annie, her lawyer, who acts as the voice of reason in the story... oh, and Annie has a sweet, legal love affair of her own ;-)

 I thought Arley was a well developed character in that in the beginning we see her acting as if she knows exactly what she's doing but later as things get twisted up (as any adult could see from a mile away that they would), she freaks out and wants to be free of everything, though Annie tries to tell her it's too late, the proverbial bed's been made. I like that the teenage character actually sounded her age without going to the cliche airhead tone, but instead you get to see the mix of almost-adult thinking with the "can I get my mom to write a note" stage of life still in there. This book gets pretty dark as the story moves along. I hoped for Dillon to be that one in a million case of rehabilitated former sick puppy... seems like there were shreds of good guy in there. I was curious to know more about the backstory of Dillon and his brother but there wasn't much given. Oh, and Arley's mom? OMG.. that lady was pretty much flat-lining on the mom-o-meter. I don't think I've read such an exaggerated case of a woman having kids for the welfare money!

She did not neglect her children; neglect might have required more concentration than Rita was able to muster up.. Arley's mother simply did not love her, and not only did she not love her but she regarded Arley's school successes, as well as her timid attempts to involve herself in extracurricular activities, as a source of irritation, an obstacle that got between her and her right to cheap labor. 

Is it any wonder Arley turned out such a confused girl? Still, here's another book that offers great writing if you can get passed the taboo subject matter. 

"You asked somebody, they'd always say kin is kin. But that doesn't mean the same thing to people everyplace. When you grow up with all kinds of love from your blood kin, maybe you don't have that desperate hope for someone out there waiting who can make up for all the things blood never brought you. Someone who can look deep inside you and see things no one ever bothered to tell you were there." * Arley

Oh and btw.. wondering about Arley's name? Yeah.. her mom's one of those women who named all her kids after the towns they were conceived in... Arley is for Arlington, Texas... awkward name to try to pull off as feminine... poor girl  :-(

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Gone With The Wind (Part 3 of 3) - Getting The Book Up On The Big Screen

Before we get to the movie stuff... here are a few 
fun trivia facts about the book:

  • When thinking about the title of the book, Margaret Mitchell threw around a few ideas, one of those being to call it "Tote The Weary Load", a line from the Stephen Foster song, "My Old Kentucky Home". Didn't have quite the ring to it that she was looking for but in one part of the novel, Scarlett, while feeling pretty low, keeps thinking of the line, trying to remember the name of the song she used to sing with Rhett. Finally, Mitchell writes to her editor and says:

    "The more I think of it, the more I incline to "Gone With The Wind". Taken completely away from its context, it has movement, it could either refer to times that are gone with the snows of yesteryear, of the things that passed with the wind of the war or to a person who went with the wind rather than standing against it."

  • The last chapter of GWTW was written 1st! The first chapter wasn't finished until the book had found a publisher, proving there's no one right way to write a book!
  • Scarlett's mother's, Ellen O'Hara, was originally named Eleanor D'Antignac (bit of a cumbersome name to read). Katie Scarlett, for the longest time, was written with the name "Pansy". Mitchell really thought Pansy identified well with the character (to me, seems like such a cutesy name for such a $%*& lol). Publishers weren't really feeling Pansy either but the name was not changed to Katie Scarlett until 6 months prior to the book's release.
  • While writing GWTW, Mitchell was reading an English translation of Frigidity In Woman In Relation To Her Love Life by the German doctor, Wilhelm Stekel. This book may have influenced some of the character traits written into Scarlett. 
  • Editing GWTW proved to be a painful process for Mitchell -- She ended up cutting out a whole 2 chapters (one chapter equaling 30 pages) from the manuscript. The ideas from those pages -- Rhett loaning money to Hetty Tarelton for horses; Sherman's army invading Atlanta; Mammy leaving Scarlett in Atlanta and going back to Tara alone; Miss Pitty's property being run over by carpetbaggers, as well as the post-war life history details of many minor characters -- these ideas were left in, just condensed considerably
  • The character Frank Kennedy nearly died of pneumonia -- not in the book we've read but in the author's mind. Mitchell debated back and forth about having the KKK element in the novel and thought maybe Frank should just go quietly from pneumonia, but in the end decided to leave his fate as is to illustrate the dark post-war realities of the time. 
  • Mitchell flat out DID NOT want a happy, tidy ending. She always intended the opening to be left open to the reader's interpretation. With pressure from the publisher about the ending possibly being TOO vague, too open, Mitchell did some minor tweaking on the last lines to hint at the suggestion of a resolution / reconciliation. 

As Scarlett said, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

Once the movie rights to GWTW were bought, Mitchell kept up a heavy correspondence with the studio, David O. Selznick (producer) and her writer / crew member friends involved with the film to keep up to speed on everything -- what the sets looked like, who was being tested for what roles, everything. Gone With The Wind was one of the most desired acting jobs of the day, everyone and their mother in Hollywood was in on that casting call. Heavyweights like Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford were discussed for the role of Scarlett. Even Eleanor Roosevelt suggested her own maid for the role of Mammy! That role, as everyone knows, went to Hattie McDaniel, whose portrayal of Mammy led her to become the first African American to ever receive an Academy Award (she won Best Supporting Actress). I was surprised to read that Mitchell was not a fan of McDaniel for the choice of Mammy. In Mitchell's own words, "...she lacks dignity, age, nobility, and so on and... she just hasn't the right face for it.". I thought she did just fine myself :-)

one of my favorite lines in the movie:
"Miss Scarlett, you done had a baby. You ain't never gonna be no 18 (as in waist inches) again."

Casting directors argued over Thomas Mitchell versus William Parnum as Gerald. 

Mitchell had some casting ideas of her own. She wanted Miriam Hopkins for Scarlett and Elizabeth Allen for Melanie Wilkes. She suggested Charles Boyer or Jack Holt for Rhett. 

Miriam Hopkins

Charles Boyer

In the end, I'm glad they went with the principals they did:

Olivia De Havilland as Melanie Wilkes
Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Can you believe Leslie Howard was 46 when he played young Ashley Wilkes?! When I was watching the film on TCM the other day, the film closed and Robert Osbourne did his closing notes, mentioning that Leslie Howard never got a chance to see the impact the film had on audiences everywhere. In 1943, Howard was traveling overseas when somehow a rumor got around that Winston Churchill was on the same plane he was on. Churchill, in fact, was not a passenger on that flight, but the plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe, Seventeen people were killed in the crash, one of them being Howard. 

Casting was not the only cause for debate and argument during the making of this film.  The script itself proved to be one of the biggest hurdles. Screenwriter Sidney Howard and producer David O. Selznick constantly debated over plot points -- what would work, what wouldn't, what needed to be cut altogether. Scarlett's children, including the miscarriage from the novel were edited out of the movie script, Selznick saying, "these infallible pregnancies at single contacts are a bit thick".  All except Bonnie Blue -- Selznick believed she was an important element in bringing the faulty relationship of Rhett and Scarlett to the screen. It was also decided to edit out the heavy presence of the KKK from the film, Selznick writing to Howard:

I for one, have no desire to produce any anti-Negro film... I do hope that you will agree with me on this omission of what might come out as an unintentional advertisement for intolerant societies in these fascist-ridden times...
After numerous heated arguments, Selznick decided to fire Howard as screenwriter. He brought in a slew of novelists and screenwriters to hammer out the rest of the script, at least until Howard's replacement could be found, one of the temps being none other than Mitchell's old acquaintance, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I wondered if this was one of the reasons why I like the film so much, being that Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers, but then I read that much of what he contributed never made it to the FINAL final script (so it wasn't used in the film).

I was thinking that Groucho Marx, William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell would probably be on the script before this business was over.   ~~ Margaret Mitchell expressing her amusement in all the ridiculous script switch ups. 
During filming, there was never one official script for the actors to work from, just a collection of revisions and daily changes. When the movie wrapped, everyone was given leatherbound editions of the complete script. 

August 1938, Clark Gable was the first actor to be officially contracted to the film. By New Year's of 1939, none of the other principal players had been signed on yet, not until January 13th anyway. Then the cast was pulled together. But there was still no full script for any of the actors to work from. Dialogue changed daily. Interesting thing about the cast was that most of them were not widely  known by US moviegoers prior to this film. . Vivian Leigh, English actress, was mostly known for her part in A Yank At Oxford (1938) and for being the lover and later wife of legendary actor Laurence Olivier. Olivia De Havilland was known for playing Maid Marian in the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood

Selznick finally decided to reinstate Sidney Howard as primary screenwriter for the film. The final script, the one that you see on the screen was made up of Howard's original ideas! :-P The filming was finally able to be completed. When the movie wrapped, everyone was given leatherbound copies of the full script (had I been there, I would have felt it was a bit of a joke to finally get a full script after the film was in the can!).

Mitchell's biographer, Pyron, had something interesting to say about Vivien Leigh's performance of Scarlett:

If Scarlett is courageous and indomitable, she is also coarse, vulgar, violent, mean-spirited, vengeful and uncultured. She is also truly and genuinely stupid about folks...Vivien Leigh was just too beautiful and she played the role with too much intelligence and too little repulsive snarl. The less beautiful Bette Davis of Jezebel might have captured more of the book's heroine. 

Gone With The Wind the movie went on to break all kinds of box office records and to this day remains a favorite film for many. Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh were so overwhelmed with fame and accolades, they took to having retreats with friends in Blowing Rock, NC (not too far from me!)

Gone With The Wind (2 of 3) - The Woman Behind The Book

"Write a book. I can't find anything at the Carnegie {public library} that you haven't read except books on the exact sciences."  - John Marsh to his wife, Margaret Mitchell, after numerous trips to the library gathering books for his invalid wife. 

To get the backstory on Gone With The Wind, I read Southern Daughter by Darden Asbury Pyron. This bio is great for those academically interested in Mitchell and her writing process but as far as casual, leisure reading? Wooooo, is it dry! Still, I did get some interesting tidbits here and there. 

"Georgia Peach" Margaret Mitchell came into the world on the day of her parents 8th wedding anniversary, November 8th, 1900. Mitchell was born into a family of book lovers, though some preferred to read only serious, non-fiction works. As a child, Margaret's mother was advised by Margaret's grandfather to focus on history and philosophy selections "to edify the mind" and "not waste your time in those little novels". Margaret pushed for more freedom in her reading choices while her mother tried to instill the same rigidity she was raised on, even trying to pay Margaret to read her classics:

"Mother used to give me a nickel for each of Shakespeare's plays, a dime for Bulwer-Lytton (and I was underpaid!), a dime for Dickens, fifteen cents for Nietzche and Kant and Darwin. Vanity Fair was in the fifteen cent class but I couldn't or wouldn't read it... I never could get past the part where Becky threw away the book."   
~~ Margaret Mitchell
Margaret didn't enjoy school as a child, preferring instead to stay home in her tomboy threads reading  novels. Margaret's mother used her child's ambivalence about education to share an important life lesson, telling Margaret "the scrupulous, the weak and cowards meet an inevitable fate. They don't deserve to survive because they don't fight, don't know how to fight." The talk seemed to make a strong impression on Margaret because she wrote similar words for Rhett Butler as he explained his disdain for Ashley Wilkes. I got the impression that Margaret's mother was quite the powerful force, being highly involved in the suffragette movement. Margaret later wrote in a letter "My mother was small and gentle, but redheaded." LOL that's funny that that just explains everything ;-)

As a child, Margaret would take horse rides with elderly Civil War vets and listen to their stories (can you imagine? How cool would that be!). On one of these rides, she was thrown from her horse. Her father sold the horse and never let her own another as a child. Wonder if this inspired the tragic scene with Bonnie Blue? I read that Mitchell often claimed that she never intentionally tried to put herself anywhere in any of the characters in GWTW, but given what I've read about her life, I feel like Scarlett and Melanie reflected different sides of Mitchell. She loved being a flirt with boys and had a very strong, determined nature, proving herself in a man's world (much like Scarlett) but she felt shy and awkward in social situations, having instead a close network of friends she remained fiercely loyal to and a husband she loved to mother (like Melanie). Other GWTW connections found in her life? See below:

 1) Margaret's mother, who was known for her charitable works in the community, lost her life in the 1918 Influenza epidemic, much like Scarlett loses her mother (also known for her charitable acts) to illness. 
2) Her father was devastated, just like Scarlett's father. 
3) Ellen O'Hara's stoicism seems inspired by May Belle Mitchell's serious nature. 
4) Margaret took over family home after mother's death just as Scarlett did. 
5) "Men adored her, and she, in turn, needed men. Males, however, exerted the most ambivalent attraction for her. While she relished male company and flaunted her collection of suitors, marriage failed to interest her. Sex repulsed her. These divergent impulses created the fiercest cross currents in her life, just as they underlined the divergent tendencies in her own character...they represented the the tangle in her life, and in the process of her affections, she tangled many an admirer's life as well." >>this is how biographer Pyron described Mitchell. Dunno though... sounds pretty Scarlett to me :-)

Mitchell's first experience with love was with young aristocrat, Lt. Clifford Henry, who was sadly killed in WWI. Teddy Roosevelt gave the eulogy at Henry's funeral. Margaret carried Henry's picture around with her for the rest of her life and sent flowers to his parents every year on the anniversary of his death. She made an idol of him, regarding him as her guardian angel, protecting and guiding her throughout her life. Henry was described as being reserved, shy, with a poetic bent ... perhaps giving Mitchell some inspiration for Ashley Wilkes? After the death of Henry, Mitchell seemed to be one major contradiction when it came to anything around love, sex and romance. She wasn't interested in having much of any of that actually in her relationships, but she had an extensive erotica library. She loved reading underground writings deemed perverse by mainstream, but with her men, she seemed to prefer more platonic or mothering arrangements. She was also fascinated with medicine and read many  books on neurology and psychology, which I'm sure helped her with character studies.

Margaret's 1st marriage was to Berrien Kinnard Upshaw (known as BK or "Red" for his dark red hair). They married Sept. 2, 1922 and then honeymooned here in NC, stopping first at the famous Grove Park Inn (hotspot for many writers such as Fitzgerald  -- whom Margaret met before either of them became famous -- O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, etc), traveled through Wrightsville Beach area, and on to Raleigh to meet the new in-laws. Most of Mitchell's friends didn't really understand the match, except to think that he was someone Margaret liked to mother. Within 6 months, it was clear the two had virtually nothing in common, at least not enough to sustain a successful lifelong union. Red's employment was sporadic, so when Margaret searched for work for herself to help them out, Red became angry, feeling like a failure as a husband / provider. Desperate measures led Red to become a rum runner. She got a job working for the local paper in Atlanta. When Margaret started using her maiden name in her byline, Red took the hint and assumed the marriage was over. Ten months after their wedding day, in the summer of 1923, Margaret officially filed for divorce.

Mitchell's wedding to "Red" Upshaw - Mitchell had amorous relationships with 3 out of the 4 men in this pic. The guy on the end with the mustache was the 4th - Margaret's brother. The guy on the left looking in Margaret's direction is John Marsh, who would later be her 2nd husband... oohh the tension in that room!

In the wake of the divorce, Margaret tried to do the whole independant woman thing, traveling around the world, primarily through Hawaii, Panama and Cuba. After hanging in Cuba for awhile, she eventually got restless so she came back to Georgia to try to settle into Southern domesticity.

Marriage #2 was with Red's old roommate and a mutual friend of Red and Margaret's, John Marsh. John had had an interest in Margaret for years, Red had just beaten him to the punch. John was a quiet, bookish, somewhat socially awkward fella with a number of health issues. Again, someone for Margaret to lovingly mother without having to feel pressured about sex. While I didn't read about them having a great passionate romance, they did seem to have a loving companionship. About nine months after their marriage, a mysterious arthritis-like bone ailment struck Margaret. Doctors couldn't figure out what it was exactly, just vaguely labeling it "a toxic buildup in the body". Their course of action? They just started operating on one body part after another, hoping to find the source of the pain. She even had her appendix and tonsils removed with no improvement in her bone and joint pain. The pain built up in her ankles, causing one to break and leave her on bed rest for months. She lost most of her ability to walk, except with use of canes or walkers. Oddly though, while Margaret got weaker, John's health showed improvement. Didn't last, but for awhile he was the stronger one.

John and Margaret

This ailment is was pushed Mitchell to sit there and really hammer out GWTW. She had to take a leave of absence from her job at the paper, so she pretty much had nothing else to do except read and work on her own novel. In his bio, Pyron points out that this could have a good deal to do with GWTW's famous lengthiness. Mitchell also suffered bouts of depression, worsened by her stressing over her novel. It's said that she agonized over what she saw as the "lousiness" of her novel (though what writer doesn't have that "wow, this sucks!" moment sometimes when trying to critique their own work -- we're all our own worst critics!).

After the publication of GWTW, Mitchell was very involved in the process of putting together and casting its famous screen adaptation. After the movie was released, Mitchell and her hub-hubs had months of publicity madness, but after a time the initial fervor died down and they were allowed to settle back into their quiet lives, at least somewhat. On August 11, 1949 John and Margaret decide to step out for the evening and go see a movie in town. They park across the street from the theater and attempt to walk over when they see a car barreling down the road right at them. In the process of trying to jump out of the way, Margaret instead stepped in front of an oncoming taxicab. She was rushed to the hospital where she fell into a coma. Five days later, the swelling in her brain claims her life. Mitchell was laid to rest in Oakland Cemetery, the final resting place for many of Atlanta's elite.
John Marsh met up with his wife again in 1952.

The intense eyes of Margaret Mitchell