Friday, June 19, 2009

Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With The Wind

Walker, Marianne. 1993. Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With The Wind.

I read this biography back in high school and loved it. I was so happy to get the chance to reread this one. I loved learning in rich detail--it was very rich in primary sources--the story behind one of my favorite books. The book quite simply is the story of Margaret Mitchell, John Marsh, and Gone With The Wind. We see her come-of-age in the Roaring Twenties. We see her in her wild days, surrounded by men--most interested in only one thing, mind you. We're witness to the emotional roller coaster that is her love life as she's pursued by two very different young men: John Marsh and Red Upshaw. We see this strange love triangle play out through a couple of years. She does marry Red Upshaw, and John Marsh serves as best man. But the marriage was doomed from the 'I do's.' Marsh plays hero as he has a calming effect on Mitchell. He's there for her through thick and thin. Through the scandal of her divorce. Through family feuds. He's in for the long haul. Once these two do get together, once they are married, then and only then is there a chance for Gone With The Wind to be born.

The book provides an intimate look at the behind-the-scenes story of how the novel and movie came to be. It's a thought-provoking book. One that challenges readers to see the novel in whole new ways. Guaranteed to have dozens of I-didn't-know-that-facts as well. Why was the novel so popular? Could it be that this novel was just what the Great Depression needed? And how does the novel tie into World War II? Why was this book such a world-wide sensation?

Anonymous L asks, "Has it in any way changed your perception of Gone With The Wind? If it has, has it added to or detracted from your enjoyment in reading it?"

Yes and no. I always walk away with a little something different each time I read it. I notice new things. Process it differently. Make different connections. The book did help me realize a few things. For example, it helped place the book into context. It was published in June of 1936. The Depression was still going on. These weren't easy economic times by any means. Yet this thousand-page novel (priced around $3) was selling like crazy. Over a million copies in six months. Why was it so popular? Is it because it's a great escapist novel? Because it's easy to lose yourself in a great love story? Maybe. But I think it also had something to do with the fact that these characters were struggling as well. The War. Reconstruction. Economic and social upheaval. The book shows characters with fierce determination struggling to survive, learning to thrive despite the circumstances. It's a courageous little novel when you think about it. So maybe just maybe the original readers could identify with this one a bit more than later generations. The book also discusses just how popular this novel was (in various translations) throughout Europe during World War II. Even if the novel wasn't officially allowed--deemed "dangerous" by some, readers embraced this novel and identified with it. Here is a little-long novel about war and all that that means. To readers facing war on their own home fronts, to readers facing their own invading armies, this one hit home too.

One new insight I got reading it this time focused on publicity and instant celebrity. The way the book describes Gone With The Wind's publication whirlwind--it's instant popularity, it's very loud and proud fans, the buzz surrounding the movie (or would-be movie)--reminded me of Twilight and Stephenie Meyer. Here was a novel that everyone had to read. Here was a novel that many loved. Not everyone by any means, but these characters became part of the culture. And surely Rhett is just as appealing as Edward. :) I read somewhere in the book--though I can't find the exact page now--that even before the movie was in production that people were wanting to cash in on the book's popularity and marketing things accordingly.

The more I read about the novel, the more I appreciate it.

Kristen asks, "Is it worth putting in my TBR pile?"

It's an interesting biography. I'd say it was ideal for enthusiasts of the novel. It offers details on the writing, publishing, marketing of the novel. (It took her several years to write--I think it was close to six or seven years. But once she showed the manuscript to the publisher then it all happened very quickly. In a matter of months, they had to prepare it for publication. And it was an instant success. No slow climb to super-stardom.) Including several chapters on copyright battles particularly foreign rights for the novel. Before Gone With The Wind was published--and for several years afterwards really--American authors had no protection against foreign publishers "pirating" their book and publishing it in their own countries without paying royalties to the author. The book also includes chapters on the movie--though Mitchell was not directly involved with the film. We have her correspondence with those that were a bit more inside the production.

Jacqueline C asks, "How much did Margaret Mitchell's real life inspire Gone With The Wind"

Interesting question. I think there are small elements here and there. You can see small traces of real-life people coming to life in the fictional characters. There were character traits of her husband, John, in both Ashley and Rhett. But you can't sit down and play a matching game either. The novel is mostly fiction. But Margaret, like Scarlett, was popular with men and the life of the party in her younger and wilder days. And like Scarlett, Margaret had her own love triangle to iron out. Margaret's grandparents lived during the Civil War. I don't know if all four would have been in or near Atlanta, but at least one or two of them were. I believe it was her grandmother who lived in Atlanta during the war. And I'm not sure if it was her maternal or paternal grandfather, but you can see small traces of one of her grandfathers inspiring some of the details of Rhett. But really all the characters are composites. No one person is the sole inspiration for another.

Kim asks, "Did The Love Story Behind Gone With The Wind make you think differently about the original book? Do you think you need to have read the original to enjoy this book?"

It made me think more about the original readers. It helped place the book into context. It helped me understand where Margaret Mitchell was coming from.

I think it's not absolutely essential to have read the book. But I think it would help tremendously if you would have already seen the movie. You need to know the basics. You need to know who Scarlett, Rhett, Ashley, and Melanie are. You need to have some grasp of what Tara meant to Scarlett.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Thanks for answering my question! I loved 'Gone With The Wind' when I was younger, but haven't read it in a long time. I think this sounds like a cool way to go back to the book again.


Zibilee said...

I have been looking for a good biography for my book club, and think that this one could work, being as so many people in the club have probably read Gone with the Wind. I would have never come across this one on my own, so thanks a bunch!