April 12, 2012

Gone with the Wind

Over the past few weeks I've been reading Margaret Mitchell's famous Southern novel Gone with the Wind. I grew up on the movie; it was given to me as a birthday gift when I was too young to watch it, and I'm sure that the first time I actually did, half of the story went over my head. But I have not read the book before. Last year I began it and then put it down, not being in the mood. This year I picked it up again, determined for one reason or another to plow through.

I'm nearly done with it now with about a hundred pages left - and in the 1000+ page copy that I own, that's not much. I have not enjoyed it unreservedly, nor can I recommend it unreservedly: Scarlett's morals are pitiful, to say the least, and Rhett's are nonexistent. Yet at the same time, there is something more than engaging about the story. Though she shows the world through the cold eyes of Scarlet O'Hara, yet Margaret Mitchell portrays the effects on the South of the Civil War and Reconstruction with a potency that cannot help but stir the reader. I have always been glad that the Union won the war (another bad-Southerner trait!), but still the Confederates engage my sympathies - especially during the horrors of Reconstruction. And, being Southern myself (although not Georgian), Mitchell's descriptions of the South leave me with a sense of pride. Here are a few of the quotes from the book that have left me with respect for the author's powers of description...plus a quote or two for sheer amusement.

"Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything...for 'tis the only thing in this world that lasts, and don't you be forgetting it! 'Tis the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for - worth dying for."

- chapter ii

Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues. The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of the furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf...

It was a savagely red land, blood-colored after rains, brick dust in droughts, the best cotton land in the world. It was a pleasant land of white houses, peaceful plowed fields and sluggish yellow rivers, but a land of contrasts, of brightest sun glare and densest shade. The plantation clearings and miles of cotton fields smiled up to a warm sun, placid, complacent. At their edges rose the virgin forests, dark and cool even in the hottest noons, mysterious, a little sinister, the soughing pines seeming to wait with an age-old patience, to threaten with soft sighs: "Be careful! Be careful! We had you once. We can take you back again."

- chapter i

[Melanie's] heavy earbobs with their long gold fringe hung down from loops of tidily netted hair, swinging close to her brown eyes, eyes that had the still gleam of a forest pool in winter when brown leaves shine up through quiet water.

- chapter vi

Already summer was in the air, the first hint of Georgia summer when the high tide of spring gives way reluctantly before a fiercer heat. A balmy, soft warmth poured into the room, heavy with velvety smells, redolent of many blossoms, of newly fledged trees and of the moist, freshly turned red earth. Through the window Scarlett could see the bright riot of the twin lines of daffodils bordering the graveled driveway and the golden masses of yellow jessamine spreading flowery sprangles modestly to the earth like crinolines. The mockingbirds and the jays, engaged in their old feud for possession of the magnolia tree beneath her window, were bickering, the jays strident, acrimonious, the mockers sweet voiced and plaintive.

- chapter v

What a few short weeks it had been since she was safe and secure! What a little while since she and everyone else had thought that Atlanta could never fall, that Georgia could never be invaded. But the small cloud which appeared in the northwest four months ago had blown up into a mighty storm and then into a screaming tornado, sweeping away her world, whirling her out of her sheltered life, and dropping her down in the midst of this still, haunted desolation.

Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind that had swept through Georgia?

- chapter xxiv

"...I've lived with Melly long enough to know she's sickly and scared and hasn't the gumption to say Boo to a goose."

"Now why on earth should anyone want to say Boo to a goose? It always sounded like a waste of time to me."

- chapter xl

For instance when she decided to change the name of "Kennedy's General Store" to something more edifying, she asked [Rhett] to think of a title that would include the word "emporium." Rhett suggested "Caveat Emptorium," assuring her that it would be a title most in keeping with the type of goods sold in the store. She thought it had an imposing sound and even went so far as to have the sign painted, when Ashley Wilkes, embarrassed, translated the real meaning. And Rhett had roared at her rage.

- chapter xlix

17 comments:

  1. Scarlett's morals are pitiful, to say the least, and Rhett's are nonexistent.

    Indeed. Thus the reason I have yet to read it.

    I am a good southerner...I'm 'fraid. I wear my confederate flag proudly, and salute my ancestors.

    Now I shall go hide my head in a hole for such a rash confession.

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  2. I remember loving Gone With The Wind when I read it, which is odd, because if I don't like the characters then I generally don't like the book. But there must have been something attractive about Rhett and Scarlett, because they held me through the entire thing.

    You chose excellent quotes -- isn't her description enchanting? That's something you can't quite carry over to a film, even when the cinematography is gorgeous.

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  3. Despite living most of my life in the south, I have absolutely no sympathy for the traitorous rebels whose greed and backwardness split the Union asunder; however, as an inveterate Braves fan I always cringe a bit at the thought of the Yankees beating Atlanta.

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  4. It sounds like a nice story...I should read it sometime.. :)

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  5. Ashley - I admit, I laughed to see that someone named Ashley had commented on my "Gone with the Wind" post. Somewhat nerdy of me, I suppose... I can't say I'm a "true" Southerner, nor do I have any Confederate ancestors - my father's family wasn't even in the States at that point, and my mother's side is quite Northern. So by hard-core Southern standards, I'm still a Yankee!

    Megan - Mitchell's descriptions are gorgeous. I am not usually much of one for long descriptive passages, but I don't find myself skimming hers. They're too beautiful. And no, you can't really capture that in a movie, although I do love the part that the picture for this post is taken from. "There's no getting away from it if you're Irish..."

    Chewie - Well, I won't debate with you on that score. I would have to study the Civil War in much more depth than I have hitherto in order to formulate any coherent argument, anyway. As far as baseball goes, I don't know anyone who likes the Yankees and so on the rare occasions when I watch a game, I try to make myself root for the opposing side. (Pitiful.)

    Jenna - I wouldn't exactly call it a "nice" story... I would heartily recommend watching the movie first, as it is rather tamer than the book and gives you a taste of what you're getting yourself in for!

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  6. Caveat Emptorium. How dull the world would be without gullible folks and Latin!

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  7. Isn't that funny? Rhett can be so cruel, but then, Scarlett is so dense... At one point he makes a comment about Indian suttee, and she says something like, "What have settees got to do with it?" Book larnin'. She ain't got it.

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  8. Yeah, I suppose making a baseball joke among this crowd was a bit of a stretch, but it's April and that's where my mind goes. At least you've made a good start on the Cardinal Rule of baseball fandom: hate the Yankees. Hate them all. (Except Teixeira, 'cause he's a Georgia Tech kid.)

    Regarding the Civil War, the matter is a bit more gray (no pun intended) than I made it out to be; certainly the question of states' rights and intrusive central government is one that persists to this day. But the answer is not just to take your ball and go home, but rather to work within the system, even to change the system if necessary, according to the founding principles of liberty and democratic voice. To quote a famous Yankee (penned, ironically, by a southerner), "...my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, mere clothing, and clothing can wear out..."

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  9. I must jump in to keep Chewie company...but he's such a puppy. I was hating the Yankees when he was but a notion in the mind of God. Man, I hated the Yankees (hated 'em all) way back when there was a major league team called the Baltimore Orioles...there's something that goes by that name now, but I'm not sure what it is.

    And don't even get me started on the War Between the States...

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  10. That would be the Orioles of Jim Palmer and the Robinsons Brooks and Frank, no? That would have been a good team to cheer for - if you could make it to the stadium without being eaten by tyrannosaurs, that is. The current incarnation has the misfortune of being the only mediocre team in what might be the best division in baseball, but they've got Matt Wieters (another Georgia Tech kid) and a nice crop of good young players, so they may come around eventually.

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  11. Being neither a Southerner or a Northerner, or an in-between I can't really join the Union-Confederate argument at all! But from my nook here in the Australian 'down-under', I have to say I have been fascinated by the differences of opinion about the cause of the American Civil War, as well as thinking how sad it was that a nation should be torn apart by a war.

    This book sounds interesting, Abigail, unlikely as I will be of ever reading it :). Just because. But the description and the excerpts are really lovely, and so very vivid!

    By the way, April has commented to your guest post comment, so I just thought you'd like to know :).

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  12. Hello, from a fellow southerner! (Who lives not too far from you, I believe; I'm in SC.)

    Travelling in the north I always tell my family, "I can't wait to get home...to those fallen Confederate states!" :)

    I'm certainly Yankee by argument, though if I were born in the time I would have moved to Kentucky post-haste and stayed neutral. I don't believe its exactly Lord-honoring to take up arms against another, or to be involved too much in politics.
    I do have sympathies for the south very much and find the old south still in my blood, as its strongly in our heritage - and its wonderful writing material!
    The Lord Jesus has given me many ideas for stories....as well as a couple already written/in process...set in the CW south.

    I've watched snippets of GWTW, and I picked up the book lately and read snippets of that too. Its a dark, rightly immoral narrative, but catching in its way. I love the depth of passion, and the intense emotion; as well as the portrayal of CW feelings.

    I'm with Joy though, I'll probably never really read it! Just because. :)

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  13. Chewie - Is that the Cardinal Rule of Baseball or the Cardinals' Rule of Baseball?

    Joy - It must seem funny to you that Americans still argue about their Civil War, a hundred and fifty years after the fact! Driving around here in South Carolina, you still frequently see Confederate flags and bumperstickers - the South hasn't wholly gotten over the war, which I find more than a little ridiculous. But then, the United States is so young, relatively speaking, that our history books tend to be split into two parts: the Revolution and the Civil War. No wonder we become obsessive.

    April - I am thankful that I wasn't born into those times. Politically, I agree with the Union; but on the other hand, it's difficult to argue with those men in the South who chose to fight for the Confederacy, not because they believed in secession, but because they felt that their loyalty to their state ought to come first. Even when one doesn't agree with the choice, it seems impossible not to respect it.

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  14. Abigail, yes, it is quite amusing to see the debate going on over the Civil War still between both sides, but I understand that this must have been such a deep wound to the country at the time, that still so many years later, they have not recovered fully from it. Civil Wars are really terrible things!

    Funny you say that the United States is so young, because although it is young compared to England, Australia is so, so much younger! Australia was first claimed by Britain in the late eighteenth century! And we've only been a Federation since 1901!!! So in many ways, Australia has only 200 years of British History to look back on...

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  15. I've never read the book but I love the film.

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  16. I've read the book countless times and seen the movie just as many. It's my all time favorite and one that I am always telling people they should read. Just because.

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  17. I was only 13 when my father took me to see the Movie and I fell like a pinetree as we say in Sweden. Then I read the book in Swedish and in English and i've got a copy of the Movie so I can Watch it whenever i want to. Next september I will visit Atlanta for the first time in my Life and I'm looking forward to it. I've read the book at least 25 times and seen the Movie - how many times? - well I don't know!

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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