“Perhaps - I want the old days back again and they'll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears. ”
The civil war. A beautiful woman at the height of selfishness. The love and death of home and land. Society wound up so tight an improper wink could undo you. Destruction, tragedy, political corruption, truth, lies, life, death, love, loss, big changes, new beginnings, intermingled with never ending cycles. All of this helps make Gone with the wind what it is: an epic novel that will never be forgotten, that will forever be loved, cherished, and discovered with delight by new readers for ages.
I am one of those new readers. In my early thirties I’ve finally read the rather intimidating sized tomb that speaks of southern charm twisted with the civil war and all the tragedies that surrounded it. Of course I’ve seen the film – several times – and I always loved the story. Scarlett O’Hara is far from the typical heroine. She’s easier to hate than to enjoy, her thought processes are understandable but leave the reader cold. Her motivations are for the sake of survival, but her climb toward the top still leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Even before she does what she has to because she ‘has to’, she’s not likeable. Her spoiled demeanor and enjoying being the main twinkle in every man’s eye at the barbecue, taking away boyfriends from all the women without a twinge of conscience, makes it easier to sympathize with the rest than with her.
Margaret Mitchell did a unique thing by taking an unlikeable woman and making it her story. It’s sort of a destructive, moral lesson tale that you can’t look away from, a literary train wreck impossible to ignore. While the movie had her spawn one beautiful, endearing child, the book showed her to have three kids instead. One from Charles, one from Frank, and finally one from Rhett. She was a horrible mother and some of the more heart wrenching scenes was poor Wade trying to psychologically adapt during the war. Ella is rarely mentioned and holds no scenes at all (unusual). I was especially irked when Scarlett was told a terrible tragedy by someone trying to help her, who sympathized with her plight, but was impatient through the tragedy to be on with her business. Even if Scarlett isn’t likeable with her thoughts, her motivations, and her outlook, she’s still fun as hell to read about.
“It was not often that she was alone like this and she did not like it. When she was alone she had to think and, these days, thoughts were not so pleasant.”
Rhett shines as a fascinating leading man. When he’s on the page, the paper almost shines. He steals the scenes and his dialogue especially amused me. Some say they are both evil in reviews and neither deserve happiness; I disagree. To me Rhett did have heart, he did have feelings, but he still enjoyed shunning a society which shunned him first. He spoke from intellectual insight and common sense, not letting falsely inflated southern pride puff him up to rush into a battle that had such poor odds. He didn’t mind speaking his mind, no matter how unpopular that mindset was. He did eagerly make money off societies failing, and without apology reveled in the riches he made from the war where it could be made. Still, he clearly hated the war, he warned against it, he hated the tragedy sowed. He was respectful to Mammie and her role in Scarlett’s life, he loved his daughter, he genuinely loved the spoiled woman his heart became cursed by.
Gone with the Wind is over 1000 pages, and inside those pages the author manages to somehow cram an amazing amount of events while expertly shuffling intriguing inner dialogue and emotional moments that soared without growing boring, dull, or lagging the tale. Her writing style is easily absorbed, she had a natural knack with dialogue, and the scenes merged together flawlessly. She took care to give different insights during the civil war from all sides that I hadn’t considered before.
“No, my dear, I'm not in love with you, no more than you are with me, and if I were, you would be the last person I'd ever tell. God help the man who ever really loves you. You'd break his heart, my darling, cruel, destructive little cat who is so careless and confident she doesn't even trouble to sheathe her claws.”
The ending is haunting. It was the suiting ending that fit the story, summed up the moral lesson, brought to head the tragic tale of a spoiled main character reaping her spoils. But…even so, the romantic in me yearns for a happy ending she doesn’t deserve. I think it’s mainly because my heart laid with Rhett and it was such a bitter turnout. The ending speech and exchange with the light dying from his eyes shook me. In interviews Mitchell was asked if they reunited - in one version she said no, in another she said maybe. Scarlett's determination was fierce, but Rhett's mind was also all his own. The child’s death was painful. The war was bitter and horrible and all that war really is. Society was so twisted and strange back then, which I find with most historical novels. They would hate to be born in our age, and I thank God I wasn’t born in theirs.
“Now she had a fumbling knowledge that, had she ever understood Ashley, she would never have loved him; had she ever understood Rhett, she would never have lost him.”
Gone with the Wind didn’t disappoint me at all. It’s impossible to sum up what makes this book so special. I included just some of the traits and events, but there are so many more, the characters being so rich they easily come to life in the reader’s mind, the tragedy is truly felt, the lessons experienced even if those with a conscience don’t need to experience them. It’s easy to see why this story has become such a legend that holds through the ages. The movie suffered a bit from melodrama, but the book not at all. I can’t recommend the novel highly enough. It is definitely an epic American story as the novel advertises, but I can't agree with the movie and novel advertising it as the best romantic story of all time. Sure, she didn't write this during the civil war, but the age in which is was written was antiquated with its moral outlook. Outstanding work by a talented author trying so many different sorts of viewpoints and personalities, especially in such a sheltered age.
“Dear Scarlett! You aren't helpless. Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless. God help the Yankees if they should get you."
“Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them.”
“I loved something I made up, something that's just as dead as Melly is. I made a pretty suit of clothes and fell in love with it. And when Ashley came riding along, so handsome, so different, I put that suit on him and made him wear it whether it fitted him or not. And I wouldn't see what he really was. I kept on loving the pretty clothes—and not him at all.”
Sure, this is the movie, and the movie is not the book, but I can't help but love these images. They caught the characters so well with their casting, and picturing them as this is a delight.
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