"'Life's under no obligation to give us what we expect. We take what we get and are thankful it's no worse than it is.'"
I've said this before when I've read giant books, and doubtless I'll say it again and again, but I don't know if it'll ever be truer than it is now: There's so much to say about Gone With The Wind that I don't even know where to begin. My history with the book and (especially) the film is long and filled with love and hate and over-analysis, and frankly there's too much of it for just one blog post. So, instead, I'll try and keep it (sort of) brief and hopefully get across just how truly excellent this book is.
First, my history- I first watched Gone With The Wind with Frances at Christmas 2007- it was the night before we were going home for the holidays and, logically, why wouldn't we watch a four hour long epic movie until 2am when I was being picked up at about 8.30am? Exactly. So we did and it was SO EXCELLENT (and I nearly smacked my mum for calling Melly a drip during the ride home. I mean, REALLY). Then, in the summer of 2008* I read Gone With The Wind and it is by far the best reading experience I can remember- AMAZING book, long warm days, with nothing to do but read and nowhere to go but my nan's garden to read in. It was something like this experience I was hoping to recapture by re-reading it this summer.
I think it's important for you to know that I both love and hate Scarlett O'Hara. This isn't the kind of thing where I can't make up my mind about her, it's that it's impossible to love her wholly when she's such a bitch, but it's also impossible to hate her because she's so bloody awesome. She's so tiny minded and unanalytical, shallow and often vapid and yet. She's also brave, pragmatic, strong and straightforward, and essentially the opposite of everything that she, as a 'Southern Lady', is supposed to be. In other words, she constantly challenges the conventions of the society in which she's been raised, and is capable of doing anything that a man can do, only usually she does it better. Do I almost want to call her a feminist icon? I almost do, you guys, I almost do.
"There was no one to tell Scarlett that her own personality, frighteningly vital though it was, was more attractive than any masquerade she might adopt. Had she been told, she would have been pleased but unbelieving. And the civilisation of which she was a part would have been unbelieving too, for at no time, before or since, had so low a premium been placed on feminine naturalness."Alongside Scarlett, almost constantly, is her sister-in-law and secret enemy, Melanie Wilkes, who is married to Ashley, the man Scarlett thinks she's in love with because, um, he's really pretty? Oh, an rich and stuff too. Scarlett has good reasoning skills. Anyway, the point is that, although the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett is kind of seen as the big draw for Gone With The Wind (and kind of 1) The only thing I knew about it before I saw the film, and 2) The most misunderstood element of Gone With The Wind because this is love? REALLY?) maybe the most rewarding relationship for the reader is the one between Scarlett and Melly- a female friendship of necessity, at first, and constantly beset by jealousy on Scarlett's part, but one of unending loyalty and even, in the end, love.
"She had relied on Melanie, even as she had relied on herself, and she had never known it... She knew that Melanie had been her sword and her shield, her comfort and her strength."But it's possible I just think that because I love Melly- I always place her in my brain right next to Beth from Little Women (Little Women being, of course, almost the other side of the civil war story of Gone With The Wind) as one of those female characters who are shy and quiet, weak in body but so incredibly strong in spirit and in love- both the love they give and how loved they are. Melanie is just so wonderful- just as Scarlett never lets anything beat her, Melly doesn't either but she manages to also retain her ability to be nice and giving to others, mainly because she actually does care about other people. She's essentially the kind of person who you know doesn't think much of themselves even though they're extraordinary, and as a result, people think all the more of her. Especially, I guess, me.
"Melanie had the face of a sheltered child who had never known anything but simplicity and kindness, truth and love, a child who had never looked upon hardness and evil and would not recognise them if she saw them. Because she had always been happy, she wanted everyone around her to be happy, or, at least, pleased with themselves. To this end, she always saw the best in everyone and remarked kindly upon it."The fact that Rhett Butler refers to her as 'A great lady' doesn't hurt either, because if Melly isn't my favourite character (she definitely is) then Rhett is. And it's not just because he's incredibly handsome (he is) and it's not just because he sweeps Scarlett off her feet with a passion she has never known (he does, but only once and way later in the book than you'd expect but MY GOD it is totally hot) but because he's incredibly interesting as a character. A lot of what's interesting about him happens before the book, when he made the decision not to die in a duel to defend a lady's honour (she had to be defended against him, of course) because, in his words, 'I like to live.'
And in that, I decided that I understood his character better than anything because, having realised that he likes to live, and living according to the conventions of Southern society would have meant that he didn't get to do that anymore, he makes the logical decision not to give a shit about what anyone expects of him as a gentleman and I respect that so hard. This willingness to break with convention is also a big part of what makes him so perfect for Scarlett, even though she often tries to cling to the old conventions because they're what she knows and have always worked out well for her. And so she consistently and foolishly refuses to see how perfect he is for her because, like I said, she's not a deep thinker.
And those are basically the main characters (apart from Ashley, but we shan't talk about him because I hate him. Just picture him as someone who, like Rhett, also thinks Southern conventions are sort of stupid, but he still chooses to live by them because something something honour something) but fortunately for us all, the minor characters in Gone With The Wind? So awesome. Given that this is an epic novel in all the ways a novel can be epic, it leaves room for a vast array of characters, but that doesn't mean they have to be as well drawn and engaging as they really and truly are. Every single one of them feels like a real person, with a real history and a real life outside of the book, which I think is really a stunning achievement. My personal favourites are Mammy and Grandma Fontaine, but there's no one like Suellen when you need a character to hate. But seriously- the characters are SO good, and even when they're terrible they're good, and a lot of them are terrible a lot of the time.
Because, also, there's the slavery. Slavery is something it's impossible to ignore when you're reading Gone With The Wind, especially when the majority of characters hold alarming views on the subject. When you read Part One, it's difficult not to be aware that the whole party at Twelve Oaks can only happen because of the hard work of slaves (not that Mitchell makes you aware of this) and while the war is going on, it's difficult to grasp that they're fighting for the continuation of slavery. And then, once the war is lost (oops, SPOILER The South loses) and these characters we sort of like start joining the KKK it's like WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING and WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS and it's difficult to even like them, let alone love them.
And yet, somehow I still do. Not all the time, but most of it, and I guess that's because you can love people even when some of their beliefs are kind of disgusting, especially when those people are also characters in a book and it's easier to compartmentalise the things they say and do. And the thing is, what Mitchell also does is set up her book so that she has characters who are slaves (and some of them are fully realised characters, not just stereotypes, particularly Mammy) who argue amongst themselves about whether freedom is a blessing or an insult. Because, in spite of the fact that slavery is so so SO wrong (seriously, I don't like slavery)** it's definitely an interesting perspective that, when a certain (evil) system has been in place for so long, people who are the most disadvantaged by that system want to keep it in place because it's what they've always known and, what's more, for some slaves, I guess being set free would have been like being kicked out of their family. Of COURSE they shouldn't have been there in the first place, but they are now and have been for all their lives, and they truly are loved. In her darkest hour, Scarlett wants to go home to Mammy, and that's sort of all you need to know about how much she values her.***
I don't know if all of that was just to justify my love for Gone With The Wind to myself or what, but either way, you know what? I love this book. I love it so hard and I love pretty much everything about it (questionable morals aside). I would probably go as far as to say that it's nearly a perfect book, because you know what? It makes me laugh and it makes me cry, I've been angry, frustrated, joyous, horrified and, um, passionate towards it. In common internet parlance, it made me feel all the feels, and I can't imagine a time when it won't do that to me. I know that I'll read it again and again in my life, and I urge you to do the same.
Now let us take to the comments and discuss all the things I missed out! Are you a secret Ashley lover? Do YOU think Melly is a drip? There's practically no end to the things I could discuss about this book, so let's DO THIS.
*A summer where I also read Harry Potter and Bag of Bones, making that 9 rereads this year so far from 2008 and apparently I read in 5 year cycles?
**Really and truly. And if any of this sounds like I am for slavery then I really need to change that because oh my GOD that is so not how I feel.
***Values, I guess being the operative word because she did LITERALLY own her. Ugh, this is such a difficult thing to talk about. And I guess it always should be.
I need to watch/read this! I have it on DVD (one of the teachers I used to work with bought me a copy when she found out that I had never seen it, as its her favourite film) but I haven't got round to watching it yet, because 4 hours is a big commitment, dammit!ReplyDelete
I'm sure that nobody will read this and somehow imagine that you are for slavery, don't worry!
You sooooooooo need to watch this, dude! Four hours is definitely a big commitment (and you really do have to watch it all in one day- once I watched it over 2 days and I was underwhelmed by the experience!) but you need it in your life, I'm not kidding!Delete
And PHEW! I didn't really think anyone would because I've never expressed pro-slavery leanings before, but it's such a tricky subject that I really really wanted to make my dislike of slavery clear!
Ah, I loved this post. I read Gone with the Wind when I was about 15 because my sister was reading it at university and I cried like a baby at the end partly because of the ending itself and partly because I didn't want it to end at all.ReplyDelete
Like you, I both love and hate Scarlett although I find Melanie a bit too grating, too good to be true.
And about Rhett and passion - my sister read this book as part as a module on American Bestsellers and she studied that she in the context of other stories in which the sex isn't quite consensual, and every time I read that scene it is ruined for me.
Ughhh, the end! It is so hard to read, and dude, you have just expressed that so nicely :). Didn't want it to end indeed.Delete
And noooo! Although, I mean, I get what you mean, but I also want to believe that people ARE capable of being Mellys, if you know what I mean? Like, I believe in her character because I want to believe that people who are that wonderful can exist in the world.
I AM SO CONFLICTED WITH THAT SCENE. Because I don't want to call it rape AND YET it sort of starts out as rape. I think I kind of choose to believe that, at some point, Scarlett goes 'oh, alright then' and so it's all fine because the alternative is HORRIBLE.
WE MAY DISAGREE ON MOST THINGS BUT WE SHALL FOREVER BE UNITED IN OUR LOVE OF BETH AND MELLYReplyDelete
We'll always admire the weak of body but strong of heart. I love that about us.Delete
I have watched this on my two-tape (or was it 3) VHS set when I was a wee child. I remember thinking Ashley was cute but falling for Rhett instead (no duh). Still intimidated by the book, though - h-how many pages was it again?ReplyDelete
Woah, wait, hold up- you fancied Ashley IN THE FILM? I mean, one day I'm going to write a post about the movie, and it's going to focus on how badly miscast Ashley was in the film, because dude is CLEARLY about 50 years old! (Nice work falling for Rhett, though. Just... yesssss Clark Gable).Delete
The book is under 1000 pages! It's practically a baby book! (loljk it fully took me about 3 weeks to read, but WORTH IT)
Yup, Leslie Howard was almost 50 when Gone with the Wind came out. It's too bad that Gone with the Wind is most famous role - I think he's fantastic as Henry Higgins in Pygmalion.Delete
You have said all of the things! You know I hardcore love this books and I loved rereading it so much. Rhett and Melly are my favs, but like you I can't help but love and hate Scarlett. It's funny, I'm rereading all of HP right now too and I'm reminded why returning to your favorite books is such a treat. HP and GWTW share an incredible cast of characters, epic plots and stories that you can just get lost in. Books like this are why I love reading so much!ReplyDelete
I tried to say all of the things! But I also missed out SO MANY of the things! I honestly feel like I need at least 5 posts on it to try and get everything in, but... This will have to do! And yesssss Rhett and Melly are the BEST!Delete
WHY ARE WE READING THE SAME THINGS THIS YEAR, THAT IS AWESOME! God, I love Harry Potter so much, and I seriously can't believe I went 5 years between reading it! And the same goes for this, really. But I guess we don't want to spoil them? Yes, that.
I should really read this one. But it's just soooo long.ReplyDelete
I totally agree with you about Scarlett (at least based on the movie version of her) in that she's terrible and shallow and jealous and petty but also strong and kicks ass and HOORAY for multifaceted characters.
I'm not going to lie, the movie did an AMAZING job (I mean, it's four hours long and they still missed loads out, but it's SUCH a long book) with the main characters and main events and everything, so I'd say you have a faiiirly good grasp of everything just by watching the film. BUT you should totally read the book, OBVIOUSLY.Delete
Yes yes yes, I need to both read this AND watch the movie, because I've done neither. But ugh long books and racist Southerners and ugh.ReplyDelete
I WILL DO IT SOMEDAY. I promise.
It's... The racism isn't like overt racism (not that that makes it ok) and I want to say that you sort of love the characters so much you sort of don't realise it and THEN you think about it and go, 'well, shit.' It is preeeeetty long, but also pretty awesome so that's ok? Yes.Delete
DEFINITELY READ IT SOMEDAY PLEASE! If only so you can go 'ugh, racists' and I will go 'yes I know, but also OMG Rhett Butler' and so on.
"I've said this before when I've read giant books, and doubtless I'll say it again and again, but I don't know if it'll ever be truer than it is now: There's so much to say about Gone With The Wind that I don't even know where to begin. My history with the book and (especially) the film is long and filled with love and hate and over-analysis, and frankly there's too much of it for just one blog post."ReplyDelete
OKay, this says one thing to me. READALONG! Amirite?
I've not read this book nor seen this movie since high school, which was a lot longer ago for me than most of your readers BUT I think it would be fun to read together. Also, I read somewhere that this is the most widely translanted English-language novel AND that it may be the only sanctioned english language novel in North Korea. What do you make of that?
YES to a readalong!!Delete
YES READ-A-LONG! I re-read this last year when I was in the Depths of Despair over a guy who was (upon re-reading GWTW) depressingly like Ashley. And at the end, I just could. not. deal. with the last ~30 pages, so it's been sitting on my nightstand ever since!Delete
I'm in, is what I'm saying. I love this book so hard and have so much to say about it.
THIS WOULD BE A VERY GOOD READALONG BOOK YOU ARE SO RIGHT!Delete
But, I mean, can we wait a bit, please? Since I've just read it hahaha. And WHAT is this North Korea thing? I mean I love that! The one book of Western grossness that it's ok to read is GWTW, clearly just because it's AWESOME.
(Tika, DO NOT go out with Ashleys. Ashleys are of no use to anyone. AT ALL.)
This sounds like an awesome read! Onto the TBR it goes!ReplyDelete
Good choiiiiice :)Delete
THIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS. Seriously, top five - top three, maybe. And even AUSTEN has been in and out of my top five.ReplyDelete
It's complex and interesting and YES the slavery thing is an issue, especially with the 80 years of civil rights that we've been working on since the book came out (not to mention the 150 years since the Civil War itself). And Scarlett is hands down one of the most intriguing female characters ever written.
OMG. If we don't do a read-a-long of this, I might just do my own and take it section by section.
This has definitely got to be up there in my favourite books. And the film is DEFINITELY one of my favourite films. I will figure all of this out with lists someday, but just yes, definitely favouritey favouriteness.Delete
I think more than anything, the slavery thing is an issue because Mitchell doesn't make it an issue, and I don't know if that troubles me (MITCHELL IS A BIG RACIST) or if I like that it makes you have to think about it yourself and go 'well... You kind of deserve to lose the things you didn't even earn in the first place' but then I don't think that was her point at all and ARGH I don't even know. BUT I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT ALL THE TIME. And yes, Scarlett and her Scarlettness. So awesome.
I think we're definitely going to have to do this readalong. It's going to be the only way to get Alley to read it, for a start!
I can not praise it enough - I find reading hard work and never tackle big books if i can help it. I friend pursuaded me to try this though and wow. I haven't eaten, drunk or been out in days...I couldn't take my nose out of it. Even better all my 'unbelieving' friends are getting it for Christmas and I know there won't be any disappointment when they start it.ReplyDelete
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