Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#35 - "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell

After some feverishly reading yesterday, I was able to plough through the final 150 pages, and have now finished my 35th book from the list, Gone with the Wind.  It took me a little over a month, two days over to be exact, but I'm still happy with my progress.

Being such a popular book and movie, I assumed that it would be a good read and I assumed I would like it.  But I didn't think I would like it this much.  To be perfectly honest, I think this book just shot up to near the top of my favorites from The List so far.  What can I say, I really enjoyed reading it; I loved the stories, the dialogue, the settings, the events, everything.  I don't remember the last time I was into a book as much as I was reading the last couple of hundred pages.  There were times I felt I couldn't read fast enough, and had to police myself to avoid skipping ahead.  I was that into it.

Gone with the Wind  is difficult to classify.  All at the same time, it's a romance, a tragedy, a comedy and an adventure.  It's about war, slavery, money, family, business, and love.  I guess it really would be described as an 'epic.'  It follows Scarlett O'Hara through the ups and downs of her life during the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.  But who didn't already know that?  Besides me of course.

My first thought is that it's the Scarlett O'Hara character that makes this such a great book.  Margaret Mitchell described Gone with the Wind as a book about people with 'gumption,' saying she always wondered why some people were able to make it through tragedy, while others fell apart.  Surely few have the will power and 'gumption' of Miss Scarlet O'Hara, who meets every setback head on, never satisfied to settle or resign herself to a cruel or unwanted fate.  But for all her will and determination, Scarlett is equal parts selfish, bossy, arrogant, greedy and naive.  There are times when I absolutely adored her, but then she'd blindside me, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say I despised her, I certainly found her quite frustrating.

And to further that frustration, there is Scarlett's love triangle with Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler.  Ashley is the man she pines for, but I don't know why; while Rhett is her perfect match, something only she can't see.  Scarlett spends most of the novel chasing after the wrong man, and pushing away the right one.  For the entire book I was frustrated at how Scarlett could not see that Rhett would be perfect for her; even when she was married to him.  And everytime it seemed the two would finally connect, Scarltt's shortcomings would rear their ugly head.

Of course it isn't all Scarlett.  There are so many great characters in this book.  Each with their own personality, their own story, and each so well written.  By getting to know each of these people so well, it allows the reader to fully integrate themselves into their lives, into Atlanta during the Civil War, and into Scarlett O'Hara.  Not only are we privy to her thoughts and feelings, but by getting to know those around her so well, we learn about where she came from, and how she became the woman she did.

Because of the knowledge and intimacy gained with all these characters, the emotion that played out in their dialogue and monologues really shines through.  There were too many instances to list of times I was entirely caught up in the feelings of Scarlett and the people of Atlanta.  This was especially true near the end of the book, as a series of rather unfortunate events occur, each with a lasting impact on Scarlett's life.  When the characters would speak of these events, I truly felt the sadness, the panic, the frustration or the desperation in their voices.  I'm unsure if was because it was so realistic and so impassioned, or because I knew the characters so well, but I simply couldn't avoid getting caught up in all the same emotions; feeling elated when things looked up, and utterly down when they turned for the worst.

Now I can fianlly watch the movie, which I"ve had on my PVR for over a year now.  I'm eager to see it, just as so many must have been in 1939, but I fear it will pale in comparison, as the movie usually does.  I don't see how so much infromation can be packed into a movie, even if it is almost four hours long.

Click to hear my discussion of Gone With the Wind on the CBC Eyeopener, here.

You can read TIME's original review from July 6, 1936 right here.

When deciding what to read next, I chose between The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark and All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren.  When I looked at the two, I noticed one was 171 pages, while one was 590.  After finishing a long book like Gone with the Wind, I picked the shorter one for my 36th book, so The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie it is.

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