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Not so long ago, I asked the question, “The book first, or the movie?” and here I am about to tell you about my experience reading Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell which I know first by movie and then by book.
I must have watched the movie a dozen times or more. My childhood and teens are filled with memories of my mum putting on the double tapes in the VCR for the marathon viewing. When I married my hubby, I coerced him into watching the epic four hour movie (he liked it despite his reservations) and we have watched it a couple of times since.
Then a couple of weeks ago, Mum and I went to see it on the big screen at Cremorne Orpheum in Sydney's North Shore. I found that I understood so much more and noticed much more detail when I watched it at the movies than I ever had before.
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I started the book about a week before I went to see the movie knowing full well that I wouldn't finish it in time. I think I must have reached the part when Scarlett moves to Atlanta after her first husband, Charles, is killed (or more, dies, as he is struck down by disease rather than fire in the war), to live with Melanie Hamilton (the saintly wife of Scarlett's true love Ashley Wilkes) and her Aunt Pitty.
The biggest difficulty I had, having watched the movie so many times over the course of my life so far, was separating the book from the movie. I love love LOVE the movie. It makes me laugh and cry and gives me a sense of loss at the end that rarely happens in cinema, but despite the differences between the book and the movie, I could not get the characters (as represented by the actors, particularly Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clarke Gable as Rhett Butler) out of my head. I could not imagine them any differently to the way they were portrayed in the movie, because they were so strong. In the end, I gave up and just went with it.
I think my absolute favourite part, in both the book and the movie, for different reasons is when Melanie and Scarlett attend a fundraising ball to support “The Cause”. A recent widow, Scarlett is desperately bored of mourning. She is required to wear black, not attend any social functions and live a pittiful life indoors for a lengthy period. I believe at this point she must not be more than 18 years old, so despite the fact attending a ball is outrageous, she goes (and uses “The Cause”) as an excuse. She and Melanie are to serve refreshments and she is absolutely not allowed to dance. When she sees that the charming and dashing blockade runner, Rhett Butler is in attendance, she is agast because he was witness to her true nature before the war. Throughout the whole book we get the feeling that Rhett Butler is the only one who truly knows and accepts Scarlett for who she is, flaws and all. At this point we also know that he is falling in love with her. He is outrageously wealthy and bids on Scarlett for a dance, which causes all sorts of whispers and fainting from the ladies of Atlanta. But Scarlett could not care two hoots, because she is absolutely dying to dance, even if it is with Captain Butler, that scoundrel. It is a funny part of the book, but is also so romantic and this is where Mitchell's writing of dialogue, really shines. It is not so much what he says, but his knowing eyes, his sarcasm, the fact that he knows Scarlett cares nought for the war, or for her dead husband and yet he thinks she is charming despite this.
Clarke Gable reading the book during filming - image via Pinterest
The characters of Scarlett, Rhett and Melanie are much more detailed and well thought out than the movie. Of course, we must understand that the movie is a Hollywood production in the late 1930s so it always had to maintain the glamour. In particular, Melanie, who is portrayed in the movie as innocent, highly regarded and faithful, has much more depth to her character in the book. She is all of those things, but also many more. She cared more for what others thought of her in the book, and also saw some flaws in Ashley (despite loving him anyway).
Rhett and Scarlett's characters were intense. I truly loved Scarlett, right until she married Rhett, and then it all fell away for me. She seemed a bit stupid, senseless, loveless and hardly charming at all. As a mother, she was horrendous. As a wife, she cared little more than for her own aims. This was also one of her charms, in a way, as she always took on responsibility for the wealth and welfare of everyone. Everyone, that is except Rhett, relied on her in some way or another, and this weight caused the downfall in her character. She went from God-fearing to immoral in 800 pages, but in many ways you could hardly blame her for many of her shortfalls. She lived in truly terrible times. I praise Margaret Mitchell for making her heroine such a strong and largely negative woman, but a woman who broke through all barriers that would have been in place for her time. In many ways, it is a feminist piece of writing, dare I say that? But then perhaps we learn towards the end that Scarlett's strength is nothing compared to Melanie's, who seems to get her own way too, only not in a manner which deceives and causes ill to others.
I also loved Rhett until he and Scarlett were married and he had many of the same flaws as she did. We all remember those famous words at the end of the story when he says “My dear, I don't give a damn.” Yes, wonderful words but I suspect, had Clarke Gable not said them so well, they might not be so famous. There are so many other times when his wit and humour are so engaging. Here is an example of his proposal to Scarlett on the day of her second husband's funeral. Hardly a romantic scene, but wonderfully written, nonetheless.
“Rhett Butler, is this one of your vile jokes?”
“….I'm going away tomorrow and I fear that if I wait till I return you'll have married someone else with a little money. So I thought, why not me and my money? Really, Scarlett, I can't go all my life, waiting to catch you between husbands.”
In so many ways, it reads like a modern novel. I was enraptured for about three quarters of the book, despite it's length, however by the end, I really just wanted it to end. Scarlett and Rhett were just so awful to eachother it was beginning to drain me. Perhaps I also knew what was about to happen and so that ruined the experience for me also. In many ways, I wished that Mitchell refrained from writing pages and pages of incredible detail about the war, the politics of the post-war period, etc. It could have been summarised much more effectively, however she was very knowledgeable in that area.
There are so many topics I could talk about, I could go on for three or four posts! Many people have talked about the book being racist. I wont go into great detail but I will say this. When you read a book, it is important to consider two things. Once, the context in which the book was written. It was written in the 1930s by a female who was obsessed with the civil war. It was not written in present day, and perhaps if it had, it might have been different, who knows. Secondly, we have to remember that most history is written by those who win. Hardly any books are written by the losers of wars and therefore we are gaining a perspective which is different here. Most of what we know of the civil war is written from the perspective of the North, however, this is written from the perspective of the conquered. An old society, with its own clans, tribes and structures who abrubtly had to end their old ways at the end of the war. I could go on about this, but I won't because it seems that this discussion has been had over and over.
There were so many things I loved about the book, and a few things that made it drag on too. Should you read it? Yes. Everyone should read the book. Read it with an open heart and if you can without the likes of Vivien and Clarke racing through your mind. Read it once and then you can say you have read great writing, because that is what it is.
What else am I reading?
Each month I also like to recommend some of my favourite books and talk about the other books I am reading:
Fiction: This month I was provided with a copy of Return to Me by Mae Archer by the publisher, Momentum (via Netgalley). I chose to read this book following Gone With The Wind because I was after something shorter and easier to read after committing weeks to the epic novel. Return to Me suited this nicely and although I was a little confused about the storyline to begin with, I quickly became immersed in the romantic novel.
It follows Allanah (or Lana) who after a car accident leaves her own body and enters what is her body in an alternative world. Kind of what she would have been like if earlier incidents had been different. She finds that she is back with her husband (who died in her previous life), and is ecstatic that she is given a second chance, but for some reason he has a different name, and is wary of his wife and her changed behaviour since the accident. Of course, it is a love story and probably suited to reading by the pool or on a plane (beware of blushing during the raunchy bits ).
Non-Fiction: Nell Hill's Rooms We Love by Mary Carol Garrity, also provided by the publisher for review via Netgalley, was also a delight, particularly as we are partaking in a bit of decoration in our home. It provided pages of glorious inspiration for decorating your home using colour, vintage and retro furniture and soft furnishings. It was like turning the pages of a beautiful glossy magazine and I book marked so many pages to apply in my own house. I really would recommend this book if you are looking to redecorate or would like to update a room in your home.
Children's Book: We absolutely love to read Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort in our house. Whether your child is a toddler or school aged, this book is sure to make them ask to a reread. It is the history of the world, where dinosaurs are wiped out after they become obsessed with underpants! When cave men invent underpants to cover their naughty bits, the dinosaurs decide that they need them too and embark on an all our war over underpants of every shape and size. My daughter loved this book, especially when we were toilet training and introducing underpants for the first time. She cackled with laughter!
Oh my goodness, I hope you stuck with me to the end. Have you read Gone With The Wind? What are you reading at the moment?