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April 2011 BOTM: Gone with the Wind

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu April 21st, 2011, 5:28 am

I imagine that it's not uncommon for younger readers to be less taken with Melanie. Because the book is, after all, told from Scarlett's POV 90% of the time, and so Melanie's fine traits are somewhat understated. She was certainly far less attractive physically than Scarlett was (and not as attractive as Olivia de Havilland was, either!), so that could also make her less appealing to younger readers. Even as a young reader, though, I was always in admiration of Melanie -- but then it's probably my background. As you say, our reaction to various characters probably has as much to do with us as with them.

I suspect part of the reason Melanie was so drawn to Scarlett was Scarlett's strong personality. Melanie had been raised entirely around quiet, gentle, feminine and bookish people, and so someone as vibrant and energetic as Scarlett probably drew her like a moth to a light. She was just as single-mindedly devoted to Rhett, as well, another vibrant personality.

On another note.... another detail I noticed in my reading today, because as I've said, anything to do with clothing design or construction grabs my attention.... When Scarlett is shopping on her honeymoon, she buys "convent-made" undergarments. Given that convent nuns did fine needlework I can kind of see how undergarments made by them were probably the finest available. But that nuns would be engaged in the enterprise of making and selling womens' undergarments strikes me as a bit incongruous! I am sure it was true, though, something tells me MM wouldn't have made that up.

I am now in the home stretch of GWTW -- this is my least favorite part of the book......
Last edited by Michy on Thu April 21st, 2011, 2:34 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu April 21st, 2011, 3:18 pm

[quote=""Michy""]
On another note.... another detail I noticed in my reading today, because as I've said, anything to do with clothing design or construction grabs my attention.... When Scarlett is shopping on her honeymoon, she buys "convent-made" undergarments. Given that convent nuns did fine needlework I can kind of see how undergarments made by them were probably the finest available. But that nuns would be engaged in the enterprise of making and selling womens' undergarments strikes me as a bit incongruous! I am sure it was true, though, something tells me MM wouldn't have made that up.

I am now in the home stretch of GWTW -- this is my least favorite part of the book......[/quote]
In the renaissance, one of the standard products of any convent was fine needlework. One of my re-enactor acquaintances with elaborately embroidered garb has a standard line when faire patrons compliment her on the dress: "Yes, five nuns did go blind in the making of it."

On the final stretch, that's my least favorite part, too. By then Scarlett's blind stupidities and sinking character, and Rhett's equal stupidity and refusal to try and help his wife be anything but bitchy get so depressing it's hard to keep on.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu April 21st, 2011, 3:42 pm

[quote=""MLE""]By then Scarlett's blind stupidities and sinking character, and Rhett's equal stupidity and refusal to try and help his wife be anything but bitchy get so depressing it's hard to keep on.[/quote] That is how I feel, also. I'm finding it more depressing than I did as a younger reader. They were both so full of pride that they continually refused to do the things that would have made their relationship work. They were at constant cross-purposes, from the time they met at Twelve Oaks until the final page....

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Post by LoveHistory » Thu April 21st, 2011, 8:20 pm

I'm finding myself wanting to slap both of them. If either had been able to get past their pride long enough to say what they really felt, it would have gone differently. And Rhett should have taken some responsibility for spoiling Scarlett into worse behavior than she might otherwise have exhibited. He could have been a good influence on her if he'd tried.

I do love the description of Melanie's taking Scarlett around Atlanta with her "love me, love my dog" expression. That cracks me up.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu April 21st, 2011, 8:43 pm

One interesting irony that I didn't pick up on before.... although Rhett comes to despise many of Scarlett's traits, by spoiling and indulging Bonnie he is raising her to become just like her mother. Whereas Scarlett would have used more discipline and curbed Bonnie's headstrong tendencies (or tried to, anyway).

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Post by Margaret » Thu April 21st, 2011, 8:56 pm

I suspect part of the reason Melanie was so drawn to Scarlett was Scarlett's strong personality. Melanie had been raised entirely around quiet, gentle, feminine and bookish people, and so someone as vibrant and energetic as Scarlett probably drew her like a moth to a light. She was just as single-mindedly devoted to Rhett, as well, another vibrant personality.
Good point, and this adds an interesting complexity to Melanie's character that I didn't pick up on when I was younger.

The first wife in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca also wore fine underclothing made by nuns.

I got annoyed, too, with Scarlett and Rhett behaving at cross-purposes with each other after their marriage, even as a young reader. It was so obvious that the relationship could have been happier, and that both of them were essentially sabotaging it, not just by behaving selfishly but by doing things just to spite the other. Rhett was often as much at fault as Scarlett, and because he was older, one feels less likely to excuse his immature behavior. At least Mitchell didn't make it too one-sided. It would have been much more annoying if Rhett had been a paragon of goodness and Scarlett had been 100% at fault. All too many married people really do behave the way they did - Margaret Mitchell may have been thinking about people she knew when she wrote that part of the novel.
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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu April 21st, 2011, 9:28 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]Good point, and this adds an interesting complexity to Melanie's character that I didn't pick up on when I was younger.[/quote] I find Melanie as interesting and complex as Ashley and Rhett (Scarlett was interesting but not complex). She was every bit as strong and brave as Scarlett but never seemed to realize it; instead, she always felt she had to have Scarlett to lean on. When she is fiercely defending Scarlett to the Old Guard ladies of Atlanta, she cites all the ways Scarlett has been good to her: she stayed behind in Atlanta with Melanie rather than fleeing the burning city; she took Melanie with her rather than leaving her behind in Atlanta at the hospital; at Tara she gave the very ill Melanie the best bed; she gave Melanie the only pair of "whole shoes" that anyone had at Tara. Now, aren't those just things that any decent person would do? But to Melanie, they seemed to constitute selfless goodness.
The first wife in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca also wore fine underclothing made by nuns.
As many times as I've read that book (it's one of my all-time faves) I've never noticed that! I will the next time, though. :) So undergarments made by nuns must have been of the finest quality and very expensive.
Margaret Mitchell may have been thinking about people she knew when she wrote that part of the novel.
I've read that it's always been speculated she based the character of Rhett -- at least in part -- on her first husband. Whom she divorced after a short marriage.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Fri April 22nd, 2011, 1:43 am

When she is fiercely defending Scarlett to the Old Guard ladies of Atlanta, she cites all the ways Scarlett has been good to her: she stayed behind in Atlanta with Melanie rather than fleeing the burning city; she took Melanie with her rather than leaving her behind in Atlanta at the hospital; at Tara she gave the very ill Melanie the best bed; she gave Melanie the only pair of "whole shoes" that anyone had at Tara. Now, aren't those just things that any decent person would do? But to Melanie, they seemed to constitute selfless goodness.
This suggests a more interesting dimension to Scarlett's character than comes through on the surface. Readers are privy to Scarlett's thoughts, so we know she does these things for Melanie reluctantly if not begrudgingly. But she does them, and actually there are a lot of people who wouldn't do them - unfortunately. Perhaps in some ways altruism might be like courage? It's often said that it is more courageous to perform a heroic act despite one's fear than to do it fearlessly. Maybe it is more altrustic to perform a good deed one would prefer not to do?
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Michy
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Post by Michy » Fri April 22nd, 2011, 2:33 am

In Scarlett's case, it's pretty clear from her thoughts that she did all of these things for Ashley. When she last saw Ashley, he had made her promise that she would take care of Melanie. So every time Scarlett wanted to unburden herself of Melanie, she would think "But what would Ashley think? I have to stay with Melanie because I promised Ashley!" So, as usual with Scarlett, it always came back to Ashley. :)

Scarlett did occasionally seem to realize that Melanie was really suffering, just as she occasionally realized that Melanie was truly courageous, but these seemed to be fleeting thoughts that were overpowered by her stronger and baser instincts. If it hadn't been for her desire to be pleasing in Ashley's eyes, I seriously doubt that she would have lifted a finger for Melanie.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
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Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri April 22nd, 2011, 2:42 am

Actually, I think that even though the original motive was her promise to Ashley, Scarlett didn't even know if Ashley was still living when she made the greatest sacrifices for Melanie at Tara. I think that she was one of those people who refused to admit what Melanie was coming to mean to her. On one level, she was annoyed with her. But underneath, all her actions on Melanie's behalf were changing her.

And Mitchell showed that very clearly when she gives the long run up to who Scarlett wanted to scream out for when she was almost dying. the first-time reader expects that it will be Rhett -- but no: Scarlett wants Melanie.

This shows me that the whole process was very intentional on the author's part. She shows us Scarlett's thoughts, but she also shows us her actions, and Mitchell is about to pull a 'switch' -- the kind that our own subconscious can pull on us.

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