Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

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.)
User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3564
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
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) » Wed May 4th, 2011, 6:11 am

I thought the book said Scarlett had black hair. She certainly had black lashes--and she had many unkind things to say about the Merriwether girl's blonde hair and how it didn't work with green dresses.

Scarlett was okay by me, although not quite right. She seemed too old. But Leslie Howard--ugh! I couldn't imagine anybody falling in love with him.

When I read the book, I didn't know there even WAS a movie. I remember my brother and I arguing about whose novel was better. He was reading 'Bridge Over the River Kwai' , which had just been released by Hollywood, and taunted me that if GWTW was so great, why hadn't they made a movie of it?

At which, to my complete delight, my father looked up from his paper and said, "Gone With the Wind was made into the biggest money-making movie of all time."

So take that, bro!

User avatar
Ludmilla
Bibliophile
Posts: 1346
Joined: September 2008
Location: Georgia USA

Post by Ludmilla » Wed May 4th, 2011, 1:06 pm

[quote=""MLE""]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.
[/quote]

In this case, I think Mitchell's use of expository passages adds something to the story and atmosphere. I have read books where authors provide these details in very awkward and contrived info dumps, but never felt that in this book. There's not much I would edit out of it.

As for head-hopping, when did this become a no no? I see this complaint more and more, and it seems to me that in some cases it's just an automatic response to something people take too literally as something that should never be done and are being taught not to do. No, like any other narrative technique, it takes skill to do it right. As long as I'm not confused by whose head I'm in, I'm fine with it. I think Mitchell used it smoothly and didn't do it often enough that it was jarring.
Last edited by Ludmilla on Wed May 4th, 2011, 1:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Posts: 1649
Joined: May 2010
Location: California

Post by Michy » Wed May 4th, 2011, 2:45 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]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. [/quote] I've noticed that I can't seem to get "lost" in a book (even one as good as GWTW) like I could as a teenager, but for me it is simply the cares of life. As a teenager, once my housework and homework were done I had nothing else to think about so I could sink into a book for hours at a time without coming up for air. Now, when I sit down to read it takes me a long time to tune out all the things that pop into my head that need to be taken care of. I have noticed, though, that over the past year or so, as I've started reading more for pleasure again, it is getting better. But I'll probably never again be able to lose myself completely in a book like I did when I was young. :(


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.
I don't recall anywhere in the book where it says Scarlett was a redhead -- I'm pretty sure it says her hair was black. And I don't recall it saying she was tall - ? Her mother is described as tall (which, by 1860s standards I'm guessing would be about 5'8"), and her father very short, of course, so I've always pictured Scarlett as somewhere in-between. Like around 5'4" or 5'5".

[quote=""Ludmilla""]In this case, I think Mitchell's use of expository passages adds something to the story and atmosphere. I have read books where authors provide these details in very awkward and contrived info dumps, but never felt that in this book. There's not much I would edit out of it.

As for head-hopping, when did this become a no no? I see this complaint more and more, and it seems to me that in some cases it's just an automatic response to something people take too literally as something that should never be done and are being taught not to do. No, like any other narrative technique, it takes skill to do it right. As long as I'm not confused by whose head I'm in, I'm fine with it. I think Mitchell used it smoothly and didn't do it often enough that it was jarring.[/quote] I completely agree with you on both points; there is nothing I would edit out of GWTW. It is a perfect example of how, in the hands of a gifted writer, almost no story is too long or too detailed. While in the hands of a less than gifted writer, just the opposite is true. I didn't feel there was too much "head-hopping"; 90% of the book was told from Scarlett's POV, and when it did shift it was smooth, almost imperceptible, and for only brief passages.

[quote=""LoveHistory""]Scarlett and Rhett were not identical in temperament, he rarely let go of his self-control, and she rarely had any self-control. [/quote] This is a great part of Rhett's fascination; although MM gives the reader plenty of clues as to how he really feels much of the time, he always kept his emotions so controlled behind a veil of cynicism and, at times, sarcasm, that often the reader is never absolutely sure. This is part of why the question of did Scarlett get him back is so inconclusive. How much of the indifference he expressed in the final scene was what he really felt, and how much was Rhett once again hiding behind his habitual front?

User avatar
LoveHistory
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3751
Joined: September 2008
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Contact:

Post by LoveHistory » Wed May 4th, 2011, 4:15 pm

I don't think I've ever used the term head-hopping. Maybe a lot of readers (or a lot of editors) don't like it, but I love to know other characters' take on the story as long as it's well done.

Perhaps the reason it's become an issue is the shorter attention spans we've all developed. When there was no TV and no internet, people could get immersed in the story more easily and thus would not have to go back a page or two to figure out what was going on.

Gable almost didn't agree to play Rhett. He didn't think he could handle the part. Then when they got into filming he and George Cukor didn't get along and Gable threatened to quit if they didn't get Victor Fleming.

I wish they'd made a point of disinguishing between the different drawls in the film. That's a point in the book that really stood out to me. Gable didn't even try for a drawl. Easier on the cast that way though.

I found it interesting in rereading that Scarlett's red dress for Ashley's birthday party was actually not red in the book. Missed that the first time through.
Last edited by LoveHistory on Wed May 4th, 2011, 4:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Ludmilla
Bibliophile
Posts: 1346
Joined: September 2008
Location: Georgia USA

Post by Ludmilla » Wed May 4th, 2011, 5:40 pm

[quote=""LoveHistory""]I don't think I've ever used the term head-hopping. Maybe a lot of readers (or a lot of editors) don't like it, but I love to know other characters' take on the story as long as it's well done.
[/quote]

My theory is that some authority on writing published a writing guide which uses that term and criticizes the technique and it's taken on a life of its own. Just my theory... I have no proof.

It's hard for me to picture Rhett and Scarlett as anyone else other than Gable and Leigh. I saw the film first, then read the book (but within months of one another). The film did shape my vision of them.

Re Scarlett's hair color, I checked and it's black (like her mother's). I don't remember if it says (or implies) she is tall. By today's standards she may not have been, but compared to the dainty and childlike build of Melanie, she probably would have seemed so. Below is one of the early descriptions of Scarlett:
She was glad she had inherited Ellen’s slender white hands and tiny feet, and she wished she had Ellen’s height, too, but her own height pleased her very well. What a pity legs could not be shown, she thought, pulling up her petticoats and regretfully viewing them, plump and neat under pantalets. She had such nice legs. Even the girls at the Fayetteville Academy had admitted as much. And as for her waist--there was no one in Fayetteville, Jonesboro or in three counties, for that matter, who had so small a waist.
I had nearly forgotten this bit of foreshadowing when looking for the black hair. In that early scene with the Tarleton twins, one of them mentions a visit with a fortune teller. Scarlett replies:
I don’t like Mammy Jincy’s fortunes. You know she said I was going to marry a gentleman with jet-black hair and a long black mustache, and I don’t like black-haired gentlemen.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Posts: 1649
Joined: May 2010
Location: California

Post by Michy » Wed May 4th, 2011, 5:52 pm

[quote=""Ludmilla""]I had nearly forgotten this bit of foreshadowing when looking for the black hair. In that early scene with the Tarleton twins, one of them mentions a visit with a fortune teller. Scarlett replies:[/quote]

It's funny the details that stick in different people's minds.... this is one that stuck with me from the first reading, as well as the fact that the dress Scarlett wore to Ashley's birthday party was green taffetta with pink flowers, not red. And also the fact that in the beginning Scarlett was able to cinch her waist down to 17 inches. Has anyone taken a tape measure (the flexible cloth or plastic type that dressmakers use) and looked at just how small that is? It is about how big around a 2- or 3-year-old child would be. Absolutely waspish. Although it was no doubt considered extremely attractive in those days, to modern eyes it would look grotesque.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Posts: 1649
Joined: May 2010
Location: California

Post by Michy » Wed May 4th, 2011, 7:50 pm

Coincidentally, NPR just did a segment today on GWTW on their show Talk of the Nation; I was able to catch it in my car at lunch. If you missed it you didn't miss much; it was pretty disappointing due to the fact that they had a bad phone connection with the guest (writer Pat Conroy) and so he was unable to hear or respond to any of the people who called it. It seemed like they cut the segment pretty short; I'm sure that's why.

User avatar
Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Posts: 1726
Joined: April 2009
Location: North London
Contact:

Post by Miss Moppet » Wed May 4th, 2011, 10:30 pm

[quote=""MLE""]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. [/quote]

Quite. I think GWTW is a great book but it is 75 years old and I found its influence to be a dead weight rather than helpful, because much of its greatness comes from what is unacceptable today: the vast length, the omnipresent authorial voice, the long detailed descriptions. There are writers such as Philip Pullman who use third person omniscient and authorial commentary but it's pretty rare in today's commercial fiction where everything is filtered through the POV of the characters, often only one character. The People's Queen by Vanora Bennett used third person omniscient but it was also in the present tense which made it seem more contemporary.

What's interesting, though, is that even 75 years ago, the style of GWTW seemed old-fashioned. MM was known to say that she hadn't any style - I think it's more accurate to say that she was uninfluenced by the stylistic trends of her day. Earlier this year I read James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce (1941) and I was struck by the similarities between Mildred and Scarlett - both are businesswomen who succeed in a time of great hardship, and Mildred, like Scarlett, attributes her success to "gumption". But whereas Cain's style is modern - pared-down, unemotional and morally neutral - I'd describe MM's style as neo-Victorian.

I broke off from reading Marcella (1894) by Mrs Humphrey Ward to re-read GWTW and noticed the similarities at once. Here's a description from the first page of Marcella:
She looked out upon a broad and level lawn, smoothed by the care of centuries, flanked on either side by groups of old trees - some Scotch firs, some beeches, a cedar or two - groups where the slow selective hand of time had been at work for generations, developing here the delightful roundness of quiet mass and shade, and there the bold caprice of bare fir trunks and ragged branches, standing black against the sky. Beyond the lawn stretched a green descent indefinitely long, carrying the eye indeed almost to the limit of the view, and becoming from the lawn onwards a wide irregular avenue, bordered by beeches of a splendid maturity, ending at last in a far distant gap where a gate - and a gate of some importance - clearly should have been, yet was not. The size of the trees, the wide uplands of the falling valley to the left of the avenue, now rich in the tints of harvest, the autumn sun pouring steadily through the vanishing mists, the green breadth of the vast lawn, the unbroken peace of wood and cultivated ground, all carried with them a confused general impression of well-being and of dignity.
That could almost be taken from GWTW. It has the same long sentences and accumulation of detail and adjectives. I have no idea if MM ever read Mrs Humphrey Ward or not but I would guess her style was formed by the popular fiction and history of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. As such it works very well in GWTW because the setting and much of the subject matter is Victorian too. At its worst it can be redundant and simplistic but at its best it has tremendous power and momentum. This is one of my favourite passages:
All over! The war which had seemed so endless, the war which, unbidden and unwanted, had cut her life in two, had made so clean a cleavage that it was difficult to remember those other care-free days. She could look back, unmoved, at the pretty Scarlett with her fragile green morocco slippers and her flounces fragrant with lavender, but she wondered if she could be that same girl. Scarlett O'Hara, with the County at her feet, a hundred slaves to do her bidding, the wealth of Tara like a wall behind her and doting parents anxious to grant any desire of her heart. Spoiled, careless Scarlett who had never known an ungratified wish except where Ashley was concerned.

Somewhere, on the long road that wound through those four years, the girl with her sachet and dancing slippers had slipped away and there was left a woman with sharp green eyes, who counted pennies and turned her hands to many menial tasks, a woman to whom nothing was left from the wreckage except the indestructible red earth on which she stood.

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3564
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
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) » Thu May 5th, 2011, 12:11 am

I, too love that passage, and many others like it. An I, too, would love to be able to pontificate on the themes of my novels, making sure the reader understands the broader significance the story was intended to illustrate.

But I have learned to keep my opinions to myself. In fiction, at least. :D

To make up for it, I am extra emphatic in other areas. God help my family!

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2475
Joined: August 2008
Location: Arizona, USA

Post by Ash » Thu May 5th, 2011, 12:12 am

I don't think I've ever used the term head-hopping. Maybe a lot of readers (or a lot of editors) don't like it, but I love to know other characters' take on the story as long as it's well done.
I'd never heard the term either; but I for one love that technique, in fact the books that use it are often my favorites. I've always loved knowing how people react to the same events, something in the noisiness in me I suppose. As a reader I get insight into the characters as well as the events in the story that I wouldn't have with just one narrator.

I agree about Ashley in the movie. When I first saw it, I couldn't believe that was the same character I read about! Just not believable that she'd fall for him; anyone know about the history of why that actor was chosen for the role (was there someone else they planned on?)

Locked

Return to “Feature of the Month”