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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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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Tue May 3rd, 2011, 11:01 pm

I've seen people revive threads from several months back so I think it's fine. Lovely to have you with us again, Moppet!

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Post by Miss Moppet » Tue May 3rd, 2011, 11:12 pm

Thank you MLE and LoveHistory!

I am going to do the dishes and then I'll post some thoughts. :) :)

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Post by Michy » Wed May 4th, 2011, 12:14 am

I second their thoughts that it's great to have you back, and your comments on GWTW are most welcome. If you've read the thread then you know we had a great discussion on this one.

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Post by Miss Moppet » Wed May 4th, 2011, 1:32 am

[quote=""Michy""]I second their thoughts that it's great to have you back, and your comments on GWTW are most welcome. If you've read the thread then you know we had a great discussion on this one.[/quote]

Thank you Michy. :) :) I have read through the thread and there's tons of stuff I want to pick up on but I'll start with the beginning of the book and try to put my thoughts in more or less chronological order.

I have very strong memories of reading GWTW for the first time. I hadn't ever seen the film so I came to the story fresh with no idea of how it would turn out. The copy I'm re-reading now (falling apart after years of loyal service) is the one my mother put under the Christmas tree for me when I was fourteen. I had asked for it specially and I remember looking at the wrapped book under the tree and feeling excited about reading it.

I once had a teacher who suggested you should always read at least fifty pages of a book before giving up on it. If I'd followed her rule I would never have finished GWTW, because it took 74 pages to make me decide that this was not a book to put down.

The first chapters seemed slow to me, a little stilted (I've read since that MM had a block about the first chapter, rewrote it numerous times and never felt she got it right) with a lot of background information, and I was only mildly interested in Scarlett's predicament over Ashley. Anyway, on page 74 all that changed.

When Scarlett realised that Ashley didn't know she loved him and decided she would have to find a way to let him know, I expected that somehow circumstances would get in the way of her doing this and he would marry Melanie without ever knowing Scarlett's true feelings for him. The book was a long one and I was expecting Scarlett and Ashley to be kept apart by misunderstandings and contrivances for a lot of it. And then as Scarlett plotted her strategy for the barbecue:
They would swarm around her like bees around a hive, and certainly Ashley would be drawn from Melanie to join the circle of her admirers. Then, somehow, she would manoeuvre to get a few minutes alone with him, away from the crowd. She hoped everything would work out that way, because it would be more difficult otherwise. But if Ashley didn't make the first move, she would simply have to do it herself.
My mouth dropped open, because I'd never met this kind of heroine in fiction before. GWTW was (then) more than fifty years old, but it seemed incredibly fresh and new to me simply because Scarlett seemed like a new kind of heroine: one who knew what she wanted and would do whatever it took to get it.
She raised her chin and her pale, black-fringed eyes sparkled in the moonlight. Ellen had never told her that desire and attainment were two different matters; life had not taught her that the race was not to the swift. She lay in the silvery shadows with courage rising and made the plans that a sixteen-year-old makes when life has been so pleasant that defeat is an impossibility and a pretty dress and a clear complexion are weapons to vanquish fate.
Scarlett's strength of will made her the most appealing sort of character possible to a teenage girl. When I read that passage, despite the very strong authorial foreshadowing, I simply could not believe that Scarlett wouldn't get what she wanted. I could not see how she could fail.

When I'd finished reading the scene in the library, I realised that not only was Scarlett a refreshingly different kind of heroine, Margaret Mitchell was a refreshingly different kind of writer, one who kept her characters apart through genuine differences and not authorial contrivances. I was as bewildered as Scarlett as to why exactly Ashley preferred the paler Melanie but like her, I couldn't read between the lines to understand what it was that he was too much of a gentleman to come out and say:
'Love isn't enough to make a successful marriage when two people are as different as we are. You would want all of a man, Scarlett, his body, his heart, his soul, his thoughts. And if you did not have them, you would be miserable. And I couldn't give you all of me. I couldn't give all of me to anyone. And I would not want all of your mind and your soul.'
In other words, the part of Scarlett that interests Ashley most is her body.

This idea that marriages can only be successful when the two partners are alike is reiterated several times in the book: Gerald, Ashley and Rhett all express the same idea in different ways. Personally I'm not sure it's true. I think marriages between two people who complement each other can be just as successful. But I'd be glad to know what others think.

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Post by LoveHistory » Wed May 4th, 2011, 1:54 am

I don't know if MM really meant alike completely. Certainly opposites attract and complementary partners work well together. My thought is that what she was talking about was that you should marry someone who sees life the way you do and wants the same things out of it that you do. The same values, not the same temperament.

Scarlett and Rhett were not identical in temperament, he rarely let go of his self-control, and she rarely had any self-control. Yet it's clear that they were the ones who were supposed to be together. They had the same values and philosophy of life. They were both able to face harsh realities (except for romantic ones).

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Post by Michy » Wed May 4th, 2011, 1:59 am

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]
I have very strong memories of reading GWTW for the first time. [/quote] My memories of my first reading aren't quite as vivid as yours, although I do remember reading it while sitting in the car waiting for my mom in the grocery store. I also remember a particular lavender floral dress that I made around that time (I was 16 and had already started sewing most of my own clothes).
(I've read since that MM had a block about the first chapter, rewrote it numerous times and never felt she got it right)
MM wrote the last chapter first, the first chapter last (after it had been submitted to the publisher, I believe) and all the in-between chapters all out of order, as well.
When Scarlett realised that Ashley didn't know she loved him
This is interesting, because I reacted to this part quite differently. That is, I've always felt that Ashley did indeed know how Scarlett felt about him, but that when MM said this she was stating Scarlett's own thoughts. In other words, it was Scarlett mentally rationalizing why Ashley hadn't proposed to her. Nearly every other man had, so since Ashley hadn't, it must be because he didn't know how she felt. Scarlett couldn't conceive of any other reason why Ashley wouldn't ask for her hand.
This idea that marriages can only be successful when the two partners are alike is reiterated several times in the book: Gerald, Ashley and Rhett all express the same idea in different ways. Personally I'm not sure it's true. I think marriages between two people who complement each other can be just as successful. But I'd be glad to know what others think.
I agree that both kinds of marriages can work; it depends on the individuals. And MM even shows this in GWTW, despite the fact that she frequently says that only marriages between similars are successful. While Melanie/Ashley is an example of a marriage between similars that works (more or less), Scarlett/Rhett is a glaring example of a marriage between similars that doesn't work; in fact, the very reason their marriage fails is because they are too much alike in all the wrong ways. Gerald/Ellen is a marriage between dissimilars that works.

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Post by Miss Moppet » Wed May 4th, 2011, 4:05 am

[quote=""Michy""]My memories of my first reading aren't quite as vivid as yours, although I do remember reading it while sitting in the car waiting for my mom in the grocery store. I also remember a particular lavender floral dress that I made around that time (I was 16 and had already started sewing most of my own clothes).[/quote]

I finished GWTW in three days. I felt it was the book I'd been waiting to read all my life and it had a huge influence on my own writing, which I didn't shake off for years. As a teenager I wrote a never-ending (literally, I never brought it to a close) saga that was a sort of cross between Dangerous Liaisons and GWTW, supposed to be set in the French Revolution, only the story dragged on so long I gave up on it before the revolution actually started. It's still in the loft somewhere.
Michy wrote:This is interesting, because I reacted to this part quite differently. That is, I've always felt that Ashley did indeed know how Scarlett felt about him, but that when MM said this she was stating Scarlett's own thoughts. In other words, it was Scarlett mentally rationalizing why Ashley hadn't proposed to her. Nearly every other man had, so since Ashley hadn't, it must be because he didn't know how she felt. Scarlett couldn't conceive of any other reason why Ashley wouldn't ask for her hand.
Yes, I think you're right - deep down he did know, but he didn't face up to it, which is part of his shrinking from realities.

Melanie doesn't always face reality either, and I think this is the key to her relationship with Scarlett. She can't face the idea that Scarlett either married her brother without loving him or is having an affair with Ashley, so she consistently interprets her behaviour in the best light possible.

The barbecue scene is a tour de force and at the same time very economical in the way it introduces all of the main characters and many of the minor ones and sets up the main conflict of the plot. All Scarlett's husbands are there. It's also MM's only chance to establish the way of life of the old South. This is hugely important as the characters look back to it with such nostalgia, and yet there's only twenty-four hours to do it in, as the book opens the day before war is declared.

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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed May 4th, 2011, 4:44 am

How fun that GWTW influenced your early writing, Moppet. It did mine too--anything you read that much of (and there is SUCH a lot of GWTW-- it must be 400K words) at an impressionable age is bound to have an impact.

But on reading it this time, I was struck by how tastes have changed, probably by the visual format of movies and television. The long expository passages Mitchell puts in would get edited out, now. She is also guilty of 'head-hopping' now and then, although in her era, third-person omniscient was the norm, especially for historical fiction, and tossing in somebody else's point of view mid-scene was acceptable.

I have to admit that there were times on this re-read that I wanted to get out a red pen and mark some passages as expendable. Can it be that I have a shorter attention span at 58 than I did at 14?

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Post by Michy » Wed May 4th, 2011, 5:11 am

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]
The barbecue scene is a tour de force and at the same time very economical in the way it introduces all of the main characters and many of the minor ones and sets up the main conflict of the plot. All Scarlett's husbands are there. It's also MM's only chance to establish the way of life of the old South. This is hugely important as the characters look back to it with such nostalgia, and yet there's only twenty-four hours to do it in, as the book opens the day before war is declared.[/quote] Excellent points. One thing I noticed in this re-reading was that the scene where Scarlett and Ashley are caught embracing at the sawmill, is the only time in the entire book where Scarlett allows herself to look back and reminisce about the days before the war. She forces herself to always look ahead, never back, because she knows that is the only way she will have the strength to carry on. Besides, she knows that if she looks back she will break down and cry, and Scarlett almost never allows herself to cry. The narrative in that scene was great; the way MM expressed Scarlett's feelings, allowing her to be vulnerable and emotional (for once!) made her very sympathetic.

[quote=""MLE""] The long expository passages Mitchell puts in would get edited out, now. [/quote] I thought of that, too; I doubt if any writer today -- even the most successful -- would be allowed to go into so much detail that wasn't absolutely necessary to the plot. Which is a shame, I think, because the richness of depth and detail is part of the magic of GWTW.

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Post by Margaret » Wed May 4th, 2011, 5:47 am

Can it be that I have a shorter attention span at 58 than I did at 14?
I do! I don't know whether it's the insidious influence of the internet, the effect of having read so many more books by now than I had as a teen, or just the crotchety impatience of impending old age, but I get much more annoyed by exposition and writerly meanderings than I used to.
But if Ashley didn't make the first move, she would simply have to do it herself.

My mouth dropped open, because I'd never met this kind of heroine in fiction before. GWTW was (then) more than fifty years old, but it seemed incredibly fresh and new to me simply because Scarlett seemed like a new kind of heroine: one who knew what she wanted and would do whatever it took to get it.
I was extremely drawn to Scarlett in my teens and twenties, too, and I think it must have been for exactly this reason. At that age, I had read a lot of romantic novels that predictably featured a girl who had to choose between two very different boys (one nice but a bit dull, the other exciting and a bit of a bad boy). Her role was never to actively decide who, out of all the boys she knew, really appealed to her, but rather to passively wait until the boys took an interest in her and then choose between them. Scarlett wowed me.

Plus, it was clear that Mitchell was rooting for Scarlett to get together with bad boy Rhett, because good boy Ashley was all wrong for her. In the tame romances I had been reading, it was obvious the girl would have to end up with the boy who was nice but boring.

I had read the novel several times by the time I saw the movie, and I was very disappointed in the casting of both Scarlett and Ashley (though Clark Gable was perfect as Rhett). It's impossible for me to visualize Scarlett as anyone but Vivian Leigh now, but I remember how annoyed I was that the movie-Scarlett had dark hair instead of the novel-Scarlett's red hair, and that she wasn't tall like Scarlett in the novel (and me). I also though Leslie Howard was too old and unromantic looking to play Ashley. In the novel, Ashley was devastatingly good-looking in a swoony, poetic way, and Leslie Howard didn't strike me that way at all.
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