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GONE WITH THE WIND

When the editor of the University of Georgia newspaper, The Red & Black, Muriel Pritchett, presented me with a copy of Gone With the Wind, I couldn’t say I was over the moon about it. It was a fat volume of 1,037 pages, and I was battling against time, trying to finish a two-year master’s degree in journalism in a year and a bit. Where was the time, or, for that matter, the inclination, to read such a massive tome?

Cover of Bhimani’s copy of Gone With the Wind that she had with her in Georgia
Margaret Mitchell

Muriel was unfazed. There were three reasons she gave me about why it was essential reading for a nerdy Indian like me. “You are in Georgia, and you need to understand the history and essence of this state.”

Second, Margaret Mitchell ought to be every journalistic aspirant’s ideal, for wasn’t she a prolific columnist who was article writer, proofreader, a substitute advice columnist, book reviewer and occasional hard-news reporter for The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine? Muriel wanted me to emulate her and start my regular columns for The Red & Black.

And most important, this was a The Great American Novel, which had sold more than a million copies in the first six months and just had to be read.

Of course, I did go ahead and read Gone With the Wind. It took a month, but it suddenly brought a whole new saga into my life, taught me to see the vivid outlining of the American civil war and the reconstruction and the totally fictitious characters (at least Mitchell claimed so) who played their parts in it. Like the attractive southern belle Scarlett ’Hara, widowed a couple of times, scheming at times, courageous when necessary, imprisoned in passion by the roughish Rhett Butler, but also seemingly in love with Ashley Wilkes, and the gentle character I always had a soft spot for — Melanie Wilkes.

Then there were the archetypical slaves on the one hand and the moneyed immigrant families like the ’Haras, General Sherman fighting a losing battle, the wounded “flooding Atlanta in trainloads”, the weary sleepless lines retreating down the road to Kennesaw Mountain, near the little town of Marietta.

though we were in academic isolation in Athens, Georgia, these small towns and naturally Atlanta, started taking on a new life for me, post-GWTW.

A BROKEN ANKLE AND GWTW IS BORN

Rita Bhimani in Georgia

What impacted me deeply was the person who wrote the novel. Before I had gone to Georgia, people had talked loosely about this housewife who had written the sole novel of her life, and what a bestseller it had been. But she was no housewife, penning her lonely way to fame. She was the feisty girl who believed in the oral tradition, and would dictate some of the stories that she made up to her women’s suffragist mother. When she did start writing herself, she would create adventure that involved close friends and relatives in which she would also figure. Fortunately, it is believed that a large number of the stories that she spun, including two that were set in the civil war, actually survived, via bread boxes that they used to be stored in.

She always wrote, and directed and acted in plays, first at a private school, Woodberry, and later at a swanky finishing school, the Washington Seminary, where she was literary editor of the high school yearbook — Facts and Fancies — and became the president of the Washington Literary Society.

But wait, more’s the push for her to become the writer she did. She enters the prestigious Smith College and starts writing under a pseudonym, Peggy. Her mother’s influenza and subsequent passing on brings her back home, over which she presides as the mistress of the mansion.

A failed, annulled marriage, and the second one survives, to John Marsh and they entertain the newspaper crowd plentifully in their home. And then the catalyst for Gone With the Wind — a broken ankle.

She writes furiously, on a Remington typewriter, which is set on a sewing table, and with no particular linear plan in view. She does not ever want people to see what she is writing and actually hides the manila envelopes into which she stuffs individual chapters, under a towel.

And thus she produced GWTW. But never did she want a publisher to see it.

WHY SHE PUSHED THE ENVELOPE

It was in April 1935 when an editor for the Macmillan Publishing Company in New York City went south scouting for new work, that he heard about Margaret Mitchell’s manuscript, and asked her to show it to him. She actually denied any “knowledge” of a manuscript. What changed the whole scenario was when a friend commented on the fact that Margaret Mitchell was not serious enough to write a novel, that she decided to push the envelope, literally.

She took her manila envelopes filled with her chapters to him, and he took it with him on the train, reading parts of it on his journey. (Shades of The God of Small Things?) By July, he had offered her a contract, with a $500 advance and 10 per cent of the royalties.

GIRL WITH GUMPTION

Why didn’t she write another novel? It is said that she spent a lot of time working with her brother and husband to protect the copyright of the book abroad, and copiously answered every letter she received about her book. That really ate into her creative time. Then the second World War happened, and she gave all her energies to working for the American Red Cross.

Margaret Mitchell had written: “If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption’. So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.”

Alas, she didn’t survive long enough, and was cruelly taken away when accidentally crossing Peachstree Street in Atlanta with her husband, while going to watch A Canterbury Tale. Who knows what other books might have come from her pen, and not necessarily the kind of sequels that others wrote.

They used to have a term for women who came from Georgia (the Peach State), calling them Georgia Peaches. (Ref: Georgia peaches are soft and smooth on the outside and sweet ’’ juicy on the inside.)

Mitchell would have squirmed at this sticky sweet moniker. She was the aristocrat who wrote because it was the most natural thing to do. But she broke all records in doing so.

A WRITER IN RICHMOND RESPONDS TO THE t2 TOAST TO GONE WITH THE WIND

I just read with great interest the post on The Telegraph website about Gone With the Wind. I am the co-author of a new book about Mitchell’s novel that I thought you might find interesting. It is called “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood.”

If you ever have any questions about GWTW or would care to discuss my work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Ellen F. Brown

2230 Monument Avenue

Richmond, VA 23220

The jacket of the book co-authored by Brown

This, by far, was the most intriguing reader response to our cover story on Gone With the Wind turning 75.

We immediately wrote to Ellen Brown requesting a short write-up on her book.

Hello! Nice to hear from you. Thank you for your interest. Here is a brief overview of my book.

That was the prompt response from Ellen Brown. Here are excerpts from her overview of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood.

In the seventy-five years since Gone With the Wind’s publication, millions of people the world over have speculated about what happened after Rhett Butler told Scarlett ’Hara he didn’t give a damn. Whether author Margaret Mitchell envisioned a reconciliation for her famous lovers is one of many intriguing questions surrounding the legendary novel and its enigmatic creator.

Granted unprecedented access to GWTW records and correspondence, Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, Jr. examine the biggest mystery of them all — how a disorganised and incomplete manuscript by an unknown Southern writer was discovered by a major New York publisher and became one of the most popular, profitable, and controversial novels in literary history.

Various Mitchell biographies and several compilations of her letters tell part of the story, but until now no single source has delved into the full saga. This entertaining and informative account traces Gone With the Wind from its origins in the Civil War-era experiences of Mitchell’s relatives through its status today as a pop culture icon that still generates impressive profits for her estate.

At the core of the story is Mitchell’s struggle to capture on paper the sights, sounds and smells of antebellum Georgia and how she dealt with her book’s stunning success. Mitchell had no affinity for the celebrity status or legal complexities associated with being a bestselling author but accepted them with resignation and went on to build an international publishing empire amidst the Great Depression and World War II. Brown and Wiley answer the question once posed by the author’s husband, “How in the hell did she do it?”

Along the way, rumours are debunked and mysteries are solved — from who really deserves credit for unearthing and editing the manuscript to, at long last, Mitchell’s answer to the burning question of whether Scarlett gets Rhett back.

I am not a fan of classics. I appreciate sci-fi and romance much more. But it was different with Gone With the Wind. Initially it was a challenge, because finishing a 1,000-plus pager was no mean feat, that too a classic! But, after the first couple of chapters, it seemed far from a classic — it was engaging and was fast-paced. It took me all of five days to finish it. Even now I keep going back to it to feel the love, pain, sorrow and the anger that the characters felt.

Tanushree Karmakar

Books are always better than their movie counterparts. Gone With the Wind is my favourite novel of all time. I have always preferred to have feelings, expressions and situations described to me word by word than face the questions about the characters’ mental state when watching a movie. For instance, how am I supposed to know how much Rhett Butler’s heart aches for Scarlett on screen or for that matter, what goes on in the minds of both when he pulls her into his arms?

Shinjini Ghosh

I had tried reading GWTW four to five times earlier but could never proceed more than some 100-plus pages. Then a few months back I started reading it again, determined to complete it. Soon the determination changed to love for a piece of literature that pulls every possible string of your heart. Rhett and Scarlett are irresistible. Scarlett’s beauty and will are a perfect balance for her immaturity and tantrums. Rhett, the “blackguard”, makes his way into your heart with smoothness and nonchalance.

Margaret Mitchell projected a war-torn America, a dismantled and rebuilt civilisation and amidst all this, she gifted the world a remarkable love story. When a book takes over your heart, you can never get enough of it even if it’s 1,000-plus pages of tiny print.

I thank t2 for paying GWTW much deserved respect.

Rohini, Behala

Gone With the Wind made me want to grow up and write a book as iconic as this. It’s a treasure I had received on my 15th birthday and took the longest time to complete — one whole month.

My myopic eyes got worse but solace lay in the fact that it happened because of the best book ever written. My choice in men changed too. The image of a rugged man was embedded in my mind forever and that’s the kind of man I have dreamt of since. I was asked what the book’s last line is at my college interview and it didn’t even take me a second to reply! Anyone who hasn’t read it is incomplete.

Thank you t2 for bringing out such a fantastic issue.

Cynthia Ranjeeta, Behala

What does Gone With the Wind mean to you? Tell t2@abp.in

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