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Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Second paragraph of third chapter:
She [Scarlett’s mother, Ellen O’Hara] would have been a strikingly beautiful woman had there been any glow in her eyes, any responsive warmth in her smile or any spontaneity in her voice that fell with gentle melody on the ears of her family and her servants. She spoke in the soft slurring voice of the coastal Georgian, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants and with the barest trace of French accent. It was a voice never raised in command to a servant or reproof to a child but a voice that was obeyed instantly at Tara, where her husband’s blustering and roaring were quietly disregarded.
Having watched the film, it took me ages to get through the book, which at 1056 pages is the longest I have read since A Suitable Boy. I can see why it was such a best-seller in its day (it tops the Publisher's Weekly lists for both 1936 and 1937, and won the Pulitzer Prize); it's a great story of a strong woman in adverse times, which is both very feminist and also thoroughly racist.

Although it's so long, it wears its length much better than the film. The second half in particular, once the war is over, gels much more effectively plot-wise, with Scarlett becoming tougher and tougher to the point where she steals her sister's lover, uses forced labour in her mills, and puts profit above reputation by cultivating the occupiers of Atlanta. The O'Hara family background is given more detail, explaining the oddity of an Irish Catholic immigrant who is also a slaveholder (he won the land in a poker game). There is a lot more about the politics of the time (while making clear Scarlett's own rather limited interest in that side of things). The film jumps between the high points of the second half of the story (skipping only the scene where Tara is raided by Union troops, which perhaps was a bit much for general distribution); it might have been better to concentrate more on a smaller number of plot strands. A couple of really interesting characters in the book are omitted from the film, notably Will Benteen, the Confederate veteran who ends up managing Tara and marrying Scarlett's sister Suellen.

The book's treatment of race and slavery is much worse than the film's. Slavery was a good system, especially for the house slaves, and the field hands were too stupid to deserve anything better. Silly Northerners take Uncle Tom's cabin seriously. The Ku Klux Klan are heroic gentlemen who act only to restore order when the Northern occupiers fail (and Scarlett's carelessness is anyway responsible for them killing people). The end of slavery means a nastier and less civilised society (as personified in Scarlett's journey from Southern belle to hard-nosed entrepreneur); the old days are gone with the wind.

You can get it here.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
resonant
Feb. 28th, 2018 02:13 am (UTC)
Thank you for the warning.
san_valentine
Feb. 28th, 2018 01:00 pm (UTC)
I think you're being a little unfair on the portrayal of slavery in the book. It is, after all, seen primarily from the perspective of Scarlett, who was raised from the privileged side of the system and benefitted from it.

The reality of slavery is, admittedly, largely glossed over. The O'Hara's are benevolent despots, who act more like the squires of a Victorian village than slave owners. This may be a result of Gerald's background, as he was not born to the Southern plantation life so doesn't see his slaves merely as objects. So Scarlett's experience of the slavery system is a somewhat sheltered one.

Although Scarlett is quite capable of thinking that slaves in general are stupid or silly, she also relates closely to the ones she knows personally, and defends them as she would any white member of her family. She is outraged on Uncle Peter's behalf when his is insulted by white Northerners.

It is not only the end of slavery that makes the new south a nastier and less civilized soceity, it's the notherners who move in to exploit the chaos. They don't help the newly-freed slaves to adjust to freedom, and taking care of themselves. They either ignore them or exploit them.

The book certainly doesn't condemn slavery: it presents a Disneyfied view of it as a way of life. It also shows what happens when a system like that is wiped out with no planning for the aftermath, and how one woman coped in the mess and the aftermath of war and all the social changes.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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