Books have a knack for arriving into my life at the right time. Like The Cloister Walk when I needed to be reminded of my silent, sacred writing space and different types of community. A friend delivered A Dog’s Purpose just as I was really missing my family and especially its canine members. I finally cracked open Story at the end of the winter semester when I thought my creative resources were completely tapped–and instead found patterns and rules that could keep me engaged.
There’s a similar story behind what led me to finally read that great Southern novel Gone With the Wind.
It’s been over a month since I finished the book, but apparently some greater plan was also in store for this review. I wanted to review it sooner, right after I finished it. But I couldn’t find the words. It’s a long book and my reactions to it over the month I was reading were so varied, I couldn’t sum it up.
But then when I was in Atlanta, Georgia visiting my sister at Georgia Tech family’s weekend, my mom and I made a trip down the street to the Margaret Mitchell house. It’s a preserved apartment building transformed into a museum of Margaret’s life. It’s also where Margaret Mitchell lived while writing 90% of Gone With the Wind.
. . . and now I have to try to sum up what the book, film, and Margaret Mitchell’s life story mean to me.
Part 2: Visiting Margaret Mitchell’s House
Much like I didn’t plan to really get into Gone With the Wind (or write a two-part blog post about it, I hadn’t thought about visiting the Margaret Mitchell house or even doing serious research into the author of this famous/infamous Pulitzer-Prize winning novel. But when the family decided to meet up in Atlanta for Georgia Tech’s parent’s weekend, my mom’s first thought was, “You and I can go to the Margaret Mitchell house one day.” (Meaning when Emily is at work and Dad is busy so we can go have literary girl’s time without their complaining). So one morning we did.
Before I got to the Margaret Mitchell house, I wasn’t entirely ignorant of her story. I knew that she had been inspired a lot by hearing stories of the Civil War and Reconstruction from her grandparents and other relatives. She had been hit by a car while crossing the street, killed before she could really even consider what else to do now that Gone With the Wind was such a hit novel and film. And I knew that we shared a name, something that I had admired and noted when I was younger. As a little girl with a big old-fashioned name and the first inklings and dreams of being a famous writer, I took note that someone else named Margaret had written something so long and noteworthy. And was from just a state over from my birthplace to boot.
I also knew funny facts about the film version of Gone With the Wind. Like David O. Selznick wrote the film board himself in a two page letter to argue for keeping “My dear, I don’t give a damn” in the final cut of the movie (notice “Frankly” is missing–that was Clark Gable’s addition/interpretation of the famous line). And that George Cukor was fired from the film but kept coaching Vivien Leigh in private rehearsals. Oh yeah, and almost every playwright/screenwriter from the era did some work on the screenplay, although most of them aren’t credited for the final script.
Visiting the house revealed details that are even more meaningful to me, a girl standing on the precipice of life after graduate school. A girl still living in a new country and wondering where in the world I want to be. I learned a lot from Margaret Mitchell’s gumption.
Here are some of my favorite facts:
- At one point she dated the man who would be her first husband and the man who would be her second husband at the same time. They were roommates.
- The junior league of Atlanta denied Margaret an invitation to join because she danced in that scandalous roaring 20s, flapper way. So when they invited her to a costume ball thrown in her honor for the Gone With the Wind movie release, she denied them the honor of her presence. Take that.
- Margaret Mitchell wrote a hilarious story about two ducks when she was a little girl. If I could reproduce it here, I would. Except it wouldn’t be as powerful without the illustrations.
- Margaret Mitchell worked for a newspaper. There were a bunch of pictures of her surrounded by male reporters. She was such a boss.
- She didn’t get the idea to write the novel herself; when she was bored and recovering from an ankle injury, her second husband suggested she write a novel. “In a moment of weakness,” as Margaret said, she did. By the time she showed the manuscripts to a publisher, the pile folders she kept it in were almost as tall as she was!
- Margaret was embarrassed to be writing. So she kept a towel on the back of her chair, ready to be thrown over the typewriter and her drafts whenever a friend dropped by unannounced.
- She wrote the last chapter first. Apparently, that’s how she wrote all her articles for the newspaper, so why do anything different?
I could go on. She’s not without her quirks. She’s not without many flaws. But she had gumption and she made something that lasted for much longer than she did.
So when we were in the gift shop, my mom bought me a button with Rhett’s last line on it. I’ve worn it a lot secretly since I returned from Atlanta. It’s not that I want to hide the way Gone With the Wind and Margaret Mitchell have impacted me this summer and fall; it’s just not appropriate to show one’s gumption off in every situation . . .