This is my favourite book. Ever.
I read it for the first time the summer I was twelve. While other girls my age were discovering boys and make-up, I was at the public library researching the American Civil War.
Gone With the Wind inspired me to begin writing my first novel when I was in grade seven. Ignoring the classic writer-ly advice to write what you know, my novel (Bugles Sang True) was a Civil War epic. Keep in mind I was a kid living in a small mill town in British Columbia. At that point in my life, I hadn’t even visited the US, never mind the South.
My protagonist, a headstrong belle named Erica Stratford coincidentally looked just like me. I was confident Bugles Sang True would be made into a movie and I wanted to ensure I was chosen to play the lead by making her my virtual twin.
I never ended up finishing Bugles Sang True. My first novel is about (wait for it) a Canadian woman who moves to England. Yes, I finally learned to write about what I know.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read Gone With the Wind, but the most recent reading was this spring. As I adult I see past the grand romance of Scarlett and Rhett and I’m appalled by the ugliness of the culture of slavery in the novel. I think it made Margaret Mitchell uncomfortable, too. Ashley shares his plan to free his family’s slaves when he inherits his plantation if the war doesn’t free them first.
Scarlett is a woman ahead of her time. She’s strong, ruthless and intelligent. Although uneducated and bound by the chauvinistic culture of the mid- to late-1800’s, she single-handedly saves Tara and prevents her family from starving and becoming homeless. But for all her street smarts and moxie, she is a deeply flawed character. She doesn’t realize until too late that she’s wasted her entire adult life pining for a man who is totally wrong for her (the aristocratic, intellectual Ashley). Her tragedy is that she doesn’t see that it’s Rhett who could be her soul mate until it’s too late.
Tomorrow is another day, and the haunting conclusion of Gone With the Wind always leaves me hoping Scarlett wins Rhett back.