Travel: Gone with the Wind
If You're one of the folks who loves the movie and has even read the thick book, maybe more than once, this travel story is for you. I thrill at learning more about Margaret Mitchell, the author, and how she ticked, How did she come up with characters like Scarlett O'Hara, a survivalist willing to do whatever it took to get by, and Rhett Butler, the handsome scoundrel who pursued and aided her, and mammy, the no-nonsense nanny and others with just as much passion and appeal. That's why on the day we visited the Margaret Mitchell House I stood waiting for the tour to begin as giddy as a debutante at the Twelve Oaks ball.
The house, on the corner of Peachtree and 10th Street in Midtown Atlanta, was not actually a one-family dwelling, but rather the Crescent Apartment House. Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh rented a one bedroom unit they affectionately named The Dump.
As we stand ready to enter the unit we learn much about Mitchell's life. In 1926, She worked for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine and even before she penned her great novel, her articles generated mail and controversy that didn't fit the accepted standards of femininity.
She quit her job following a sprained ankle that was slow to heal and immersed herself in reading library books her husband brought home until at last he proclaimed she'd read everything they had and she should write her own book. He presented her with a Remingron Portable No. 3 typewriter and she began her work. Mitchell always knew she wanted her book to be about the American Civil War and Reconstruction and in her own words said, "I knew every detail of the book before I ever typed the first word."
As our tour guide opens the door, he tells us sections of Mitchell's epic story were patterned after things in her own life or those of her family. Her mother, after her wedding, changed into a gown of green English cloth and velvet hat to match which reminds me of Scarlett and her gown and hat made from drapes.
Mitchell's first love and fiancee, Clifford West, a Harvard graduate, was mortally wounded in World War I whereas Scarlett's first husband died of pneumonia and measles while serving in the Confederate Army. Her first marriage ended in divorce when her husband beat her badly enough to require hospitalization. Scarlett's second marriage ended when her husband, Frank Kennedy was shot and killed trying to avenge her honor.
Mitchell came from a wealthy and politically prominent family just like Scarlett. Both her grandfathers fought in the Civil War. Afterward, her paternal grandfather made a fortune supplying lumber for the rapid rebuilding of Atlanta. Sound familiar? In the book Scarlett opened a lumber business with money borrowed from Rhett Butler.
Stepping into the kitchen, a tiny room to be sure, it becomes obvious the unit was never a mansion as I always dreamed it would be. With little more than you see here, the kitchen contains only the bare necessities.
The guide continues his story by telling us as a child, Mitchell's family visited the older generations where she sat on knees and listened to Civil War stories. Perhaps Gone with the Wind began forming in her mind even then.
In high school she wrote two stories that were published in the school paper. In one, Little Sister, the young girl hears her older sister being raped and grabs a gun and shoots the man. In Gone with the Wind, a Yankee soldier comes in to plunder and rape Scarlett and Melanie. Scarlett kills him with Charles's pistol, and then sees Melanie, like a little sister to her, holding a sword, ready to fight.
In addition, we learn that Mitchell's mother actually did die after helping nurse some neighbors back to health and then contracted the disease herself as Scarlett's mother did.
Next, we step into the bedroom leading off the kitchen. No wasted space here with a dresser and double bed on one side and a tiny table where they would've taken their meals at the other end of the room. Two large windows bathe the room in sunlight and give it a cozy feel. A candlestick phone sits on a table in the corner.
We're told Margaret Mitchell began writing Gone with the Wind in 1926 starting with the last chapter and then the moments leading up to it with the first chapter rewritten several times. It's said when stacked one on another, the manuscripts comprising the novel towered to just shy of her four foot eleven frame.
In 1935 Harold Latham, a publisher came to Atlanta looking for new talent. He heard about Mitchell's work, but she twice denied it's existence before finally allowing him to see it. Once he agreed to publish it, Mitchell and her husband, a copy editor by trade, edited the final version, 1037 pages long.
Our guide extends an arm and ushers us through a hall about the length of two strides for a tall man. It connects the bedroom with the living room. A bath, leading off the hallway, consumes more space than necessary considering it has only a wall-hung sink, a simple commode and a claw foot tub.
We step into the living room and finally lay eyes on the area where Mitchell sat between two windows and wrote all but one chapter of her novel.
We learn Scarlett's name started out being Pansy, and several titles were proposed for the book including, Tomorrow is Another Day, her last words in the novel. Gone with the Wind, a metaphor for how the South would never be the same, was taken from a stanza in a poem by Ernest Dowson.
The novel was published in June,1936 with sales being beyond expectation, especially considering the cost of the book was three dollars and the nation was deep in the Great Depression. Nevertheless, about a million copies were sold by the end of December and she received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. The book has always ranked popular among readers, even eighty years later.
Upon its release December 15, 1939, the movie broke attendance records everywhere. In Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield led three days of festivities which included a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions and a costume ball with about 300,000 people coming out to watch the parade procession. Governor Eurith D. Rivers declared it a state holiday.
A question often posed to Mitchell about her book was, what became of their lovers. Her response, "For all I know Rhett may have found someone else who was less difficult." Gone with the Wind was the only novel Mitchell published in her lifetime. Two sequels, Scarlett and Rhett Butler's People were authorized and published many years later. More recently a prequel titled, Ruth's Journey was written about the life of Mammy, the beloved house servant.
There have been many parody's including my favorite, "Starlett" on the Carol Burnett Show where she descends a long staircase wearing a green curtain complete with hanging rod. The book has been adapted for stage and screen as well.
There's a group of ardent fans known as Windies. They follow the latest news and events surrounding the book and film much as the Jame Austin fans do her books, films and life.
Our tour guide leads us out of her small apartment and invites us to go upstairs if we wish and view the portraits and memorabilia contained on the top floor.
Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy in the film became the first African-American to win an Academy Award.
Clark Gable and Margaret Mitchell had a private meeting behind locked doors when he arrived in town. Neither discussed what they talked about. All Mitchel would say is, "Isn't he grand?" And, "Just what I expected."
We make our way out to the front porch and sit where Mitchel and her husband may have sat many years ago. Tall buildings loom about the home as traffic hurries past on Peachtree Street. Still, sitting there holding hands, we can imagine Margaret Mitchell and her husband spending some quiet moments there after a long day of writing and editing. It's a place where the sound of a breeze rustling through the trees, a squirrel scampering across the lawn and the sweet scent of a magnolia tree in bloom can erase the cares of the day.
Margaret and John enjoyed a good life here until the evening of August 11, 1949. As they crossed Peachtree Street at 13th on their way to see A Canterbury Tale, she was struck by a speeding car. She died five days later as a result of her injuries. One wonders what other epic tales grew inside her mind that we'll never be able to enjoy.
I love the book because it speaks of unstoppable fortitude and a spirit that couldn't be conquered. What do I think eventually happened to Scarlett and Rhett? I believe she tracked him down, sweet talked him into coming back home and then they fought for control the rest of their lives, that is, between plenty of hot love scenes. How do you think their story ended?