Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gone With The Wind (1 of 3) - The Book

Oh, what luck! I've been thinking out this post all day and as I turned on the tv tonight, Gone With The Wind was playing on TCM! That is one beautifully shot movie. I've seen it dozens of times. The movie actually made me really curious about the original book, and then while reading the book I was also reading a bio on Margaret Mitchell  --- between these two books and the movie, I came across so much good stuff I wanted to hash over, I decided to break this one up into three posts rather than have one really tediously long post. So Part 1 will be the book, Part 2 Mitchell and the story behind the book and Part 3 movie details.

I'm sure, given the iconic rep this book has, that I'm probably going to upset the mass majority here, but truthfully now ... I wasn't overly blown away by this book. There. I said it, hate mail be damned. I did not fall madly in love with Mitchell's opus here. But hear me out -- that's not to say that I failed to find anything good in this massive book, there were elements I really liked. I just ended up feeling like the book could have used some serious editing {btw, after reading the Mitchell bio, I found out that the book DID go through massive edits but sorry, to me it felt like some parts in there could have still been whittled down without damaging the story}. I'm surprised this is considered such an epic romance -- there were a good deal of unrequited feelings back and forth but not much lovey stuff that stayed with me. Big man Rhett doesn't even show up 'til Chapter 6. Much between Ashley and Scarlett seemed more on Scarlett's end. I'm not sure Ashley really knew wth he wanted. Seemed like he was just playing a game of Marry, Screw, Kill in his head, but just with Scarlett and Melanie. Too much the gentleman to kill anyone, he marries Melanie and at least thinks about EH HEMing Scarlett.

author Margaret Mitchell

 I think part of what drove me crazy, other than Scarlett's mind-blowing self-centeredness (gets tedious reading about THAT much pouting and plotting!), was the horrible communication skills of virtually everyone in this book. If there were a few hash-it-out powwows in there, might have made a world of difference for these people. But then I guess where would the plot tension be, huh? Rhett thought Ashley was a pompous wimp, Ashley called Rhett "an arrogant devil" who "looked like a Borgia". Melanie adored Scarlett but Scarlett thought Melanie was too sweet and mild, too weak natured. Scarlett found Rhett's constant way of laughing at any situation aggravating while Rhett thought Scarlett was pretty and strong-willed but essentially had the maturity of a child, again something he always seemed to smirk at. How was anyone suppose to find solid common ground here? But I did find some romanticism in the way Mitchell described the South of Scarlett's parents. Scarlett's mother , Ellen, marries at the age of 15 to Scarlett's father, 28 yr old native of Ireland, Gerald. Gerald was Ellen's #2 choice after she was denied the choice of making a union with her first love... which happened to be her cousin. Scarlett  (her first name actually being Katie) is the 1st of six children for the pair, who do, over time, seem to develop a genuine deep affection for each other. I did feel though that Ellen had a distance to her, never seeming to get over the loss of her first love.

He {Gerald O'Hara} found poker the most useful of all Southern customs, poker and a steady head for whiskey; and it was his natural aptitude for cards and amber liquor that brought Gerald two of his three most prized posessions, his valet and his plantation. The other was his wife, and he could only attribute her to the mysterious kindness of God.

AWWW :-D Too bad that kind of appreciation for spouses didn't rub off on Scarlett! That girl went through husbands like handbags. And fertile, that girl! Finding the men that could hit it first time every time and result in pregnancy... DANG. And I haven't read about it anywhere else, but I got the sneaking suspicion that Mitchell hinted at Scarlett suffering from postpartum depression with the first baby. Gotta say though, I cracked up at single girl Scarlett's frustration at dating protocol:

"I wish to Heaven I was married. 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 saying I feel faint after a waltz when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I'm tired of saying 'How wonderful you are!' to fool men who haven't got one-half the sense I've got, and I'm tired of pretending I don't know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they're doing it."

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, Rand Brooks as Charles Hamilton

Man, do I remember that feeling! Thankfully, I married a man who prefers women to act naturally and has never voiced objection to having a wife with something more than feed corn in her head :-P.

The characters that really drove me to keep reading were Melanie Wilkes and Rhett Butler. I liked Melanie's kindness, quiet wisdom, and almost saintly patience with Scarlett's brattiness, though I wondered if she really didn't see the way Scarlett felt about her or she just set herself to push past it and love her anyway. Rhett was entertaining as the self-aware, light-hearted rogue with an easy laugh who seemed to have a tender hearted side that slipped out from time to time. When he opened up, he was wide open, like many men I'd imagine, though they might not show it. He quietly loved Scarlett while letting her believe he felt nothing more than a humorous flirtation or a determination to "have her". Not sure why he let her think so crassly of him when he actually felt more deeply about her but again, plot tension I guess. I couldn't figure how a worldly guy like Rhett could be so enamored with such a close-minded, set in her ways girl but I could appreciate his attempts to enlighten and educate her, such as:

My dear girl, the Yankees aren't fiends. They haven't horns and hoofs, as you seem to think. They are pretty much like Southerners -- except with worse manners, of course, and terrible accents. 
BTW, one reason Scarlett vocalizes for hating the Yankees was that the Civil War kept her from having real coffee with sugar and cream (as if it was completely the Yankees fault that there was a fight at all... ).  In her defense though, I get pretty grumbly myself if I do not have access to real coffee with cream and sugar when I get a hankerin' for it ;-) I will say that there are scenes in the middle where you see glimpses of Scarlett outgrowing her pampered, spoiled ways but they come and go like the tides. She really makes some headway in finding maturity towards the end but then you're left thinking "Lotta good it does you now!"  My optimistic side closed the book indulgently thinking such a girl would have found the answer she wanted. If nothing else, she was good at getting what she wanted.


"You grow up and be a brave man like your father, Wade. Try to be just like him, for he was a hero and don't let anyone tell you differently. He married your mother, didn't he? Well, that's proof enough of heroism." ~~  ;-)   Rhett to Scarlett's son Wade (Wade's father was Scarlett's 1st husband and Melanie Wilkes' brother, Charles Hamilton, who gets killed in the Civil War). 

"My pet, the world can forgive practically anything except people who mind their own business." ~Rhett Butler

My one other tiny gripe with this story is, as a redhead myself, I gotta ask yet again, WHY OH WHY does every redhead in books and movies gotta be a stripper, drug addict, homewrecker, witch or "lady of the evening", to put it nicely?? I myself have never been ANY of those things but lord, do we reddies get a bad rep! Rhett's favorite lady companion, when he's not with Scarlett, just happens to be the red haired madam around town, Belle Wattling. 

This book was worth a read, and it is a commitment to read to the end (and I did), with the 1000 something pages. There's a good deal of historical content here. Mitchell definitely did her research, which doesn't surprise me being that she was a journalist prior to writing the book. Fact checking was surely in her blood. This one just didn't make my personal mental list of epic, not to be missed works. Give it a go though, my fellow history buffs. Scarlett might rub you wrong but Rhett will help you laugh it off and Melanie will be the best girl friend you wish you had in your circle.