My guest Beth and Gone With The Wind
Recently I started using Goodreads to keep track of my lists of books. I thought I would do it in other ways, but why reinvent the wheel, you know? I hadn’t anticipated in using as a social media outlet, but I discovered that some of my friends write witty and fun commentary on the books they read. It’s like what I do, except without all the work of hosting a website! How did they get smarter than me? I decided I’ve already put all the work into RHE so I’d just use Goodreads for brazen self-promotion. By the way, if you want to be my Goodreads friend, send me an e-mail. Hint hint.
One of my friends is Beth, whom I know by way of church and a preschool co-op back in Colorado. We haven’t had a face-to-face conversation in a few years, not since she moved and I moved and we stopped bumping into each other at the library. I should have known then how much of a bibliophile she was then, since her family seemed to make just as many stops at the library as we did. When we became Goodreads friends, I noticed in particular a review she did of Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It was such fun to read that I had to have her replicate it for RHE. She agreed to be my guest and sent me this lovely review for your enjoyment. She got me excited to try the book, which has been on my to-read list for a few decades. And enough with my rambling, here is her review. Thanks, Beth!
So many friends and acquaintances had called Gone With the Wind their “favorite book” that I’d put it on my fledgling “to-read” shelf not long after I joined Goodreads, which was a good four or five years ago now. But when it came to actually reading this tome, I kept putting it off. I mean, this is a thick book! A thousand pages isn’t for the faint of heart! “I’ll read something else first, something shorter that’s not so much of a commitment,” I’d tell myself. (That’s right — I’ll think of reading that novel “tomorrow.” Scarlett would approve!)
Well, I decided that 2012 would be the summer to tackle this one – to finally move it from my “to-read” shelf to my “read” shelf. And wow. Part of me can’t believe I waited so long to read this book … and another part of me wishes I could go back a couple months so I could experience reading it for the first time once again! I went into this book with only a vague idea of story, and I loved being swept away by it all.
One of the best things Gone With the Wind has going for it is its characters. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where the characters have felt so real! Scarlett O’Hara is a southern belle, blissfully unaware that the Civil War would soon turn her life upside-down. She loves pretty dresses and looking her best, and she loves being loved by her long line of beaus. But then one of those beaus, Ashley Wilkes, rejects Scarlett to marry the noble but plain Melanie Hamilton. Ever seeking the spotlight, Scarlett continues to vie for Ashley’s affection. She just can’t accept being second-best.
I love the contrast of brassy Scarlett and gentle Melanie. As I’ve discussed this book with friends, it’s pretty unanimous – you really can’t help but love Melanie. Scarlett tries to cast her as a bit of a goody-two-shoe, but it turns out that Melanie is incredibly sincere in her actions. Her soundness under pressure, especially in the second half of the novel, shows real strength of character; the way she loves and defends Scarlett (who really doesn’t even like her!) shows deep integrity. One of my favorite moments of the book is when Melanie literally stands by Scarlett at a party in spite the sullied reputation Scarlett has earned herself.
And yet Scarlett is the character Margaret Mitchell chose for our main character, our protagonist. I think that’s because each of us just a little bit of Scarlett in us, regardless of how we admire Melanie. I don’t think readers universally like Scarlett as they do Melanie, but I really did. As I’d read Scarlett’s inner thoughts, her secret struggles with selfishness, I couldn’t help but identify with that a little bit.
She does end up making some pretty horrific mistakes in the novel, but in spite of all the many wrong turns as Scarlett takes, I couldn’t help but root for her still! She has fortitude and gumption – and she truly does save the day a few times, for herself and for all the people that come to depend on her. So despite her immaturity in matters of relationships, I believe Scarlett is a heroine in her own right.
And then there’s Rhett Butler. Rhett, the scoundrel; the selfish Southerner who refuses to play society’s games. In some ways he, too, is the complete opposite of the beloved Melanie: he doesn’t care about honor or ethics or proper behavior. But still you can’t help but love Rhett, too, because at least he doesn’t pretend. He is sincere and unapologetic as he breaks the Southern mold! I was rooting for him, too. (That’s more than I can say for poor, pitiful Ashley Wilkes. He’s one character I couldn’t get behind … though I did feel sorry for him!)
Finally there is a whole cast of supporting characters with rich backstories that are woven throughout the pages – Mitchell is a master for creating subcharacters who are as interesting as the main ones. Aunt Pittypat is always good for some comic relief even if the darkest of times (how such a nervous soul as her survived the Civil War, we’ll never know!); the iconic Mammy is a great strength and support to Scarlett; and Will Benteen (a noble character who is completely missing from the movie version) is one of the great unsung heroes of this novel.
Equal in strength to the characters is the setting of this epic novel. There’s just some fantastic history here! The Southern perspective of the Civil War – a perspective I haven’t visited in much depth – was both captivating and terrifying. This might make me a bit of a nerd (though I’ll readily admit to nerdiness!), but I was so into the setting that I ended up pulling up Atlanta on Google Maps and followed Scarlett as she ran through the streets searching for Dr. Meriwether, sending for Rhett, and fleeing toward Tara as the city fell to the Yankees. The whole thing was so much more real to me than it ever was in AP U.S. History! This is what I love about historical novels: it brings the human element into otherwise stagnant facts.
I was surprised when the Civil War ended and I was only halfway through the novel — turns out that the rest of Gone With the Wind (500 pages worth!) focuses on the period of Reconstruction. Yes, boring ol’ Reconstruction, that, again, seemed so dull in history class (’cause “carpetbagger” and “scallawag” were just terms to define on a vocab sheet). Well, turns out that this history was just as fascinating as the war part. No wonder the South was a mess for such a long time afterwards!
Yes, Gone With the Wind was, hands down, the best book I read this summer. Months after finishing it, I still am thinking over some of its many great themes: money vs. class; looking to the past vs. looking to the future; homeland; love vs. lust; loyalty; survival. This is a book that makes you think, one that sticks with you — and with a good, romantic, heartbreaking storyline to boot. And I can see why so many have labeled it a favorite – indeed, it’s one of my new favorites, too. I know it’s a long one, but don’t be scared of this “classic” – it’s extremely readable, wonderfully rich, and highly rewarding. Definitely make time for Gone With the Wind sometime in your reading career.