Monday, 7 October 2013

Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

1.5 star
(read in 2012)

About halfway through this book, I started to believe that I had done something to annoy the gods so they'd chosen to punish me a la Prometheus, and I would be stuck reading it for the rest of my life. Epic barely touches it - dealing with the South pre, during and post Civil War this sometimes felt as if it was taking place in real time and, much like I feel when wolfing a massive meal after starving for a while, I started off devouring it but soon passed into feeling completely over-full, uncomfortable and a little bit sick.

With a fabulous grasp on her characters (even if virtually all of them are hateful), undeniable writing talent and an appalling ideology, I don't believe I've ever had such a wildly contradictory and infuriating reading experience.

Scarlett O'Hara is the pampered daughter of a plantation owning family and the belle of the county. Spoilt, selfish, spiteful, shallow, callous, ruthless and possessing a low cunning if not actually very bright, she's also about as subtle as a sledgehammer, regardless of how she rates her own arts. About the only good thing anyone could say about her is that she's a looker, and it's quite a brave move on the part of Mitchell to have her heroine be so truly appalling (quite why anyone would want to identify with her is beyond me) and yet still manage to make you read on. To Scarlett, all the talk of imminent war is nothing but a dull obstacle to flirting and balls, though even she can't avoid her life being touched by events in the aftermath of the South's defeat. Initially this worked really well for me - by the time Scarlett starts being affected things have all gone to hell and the horrors faced by those living through such times were almost more resonant as they were so shocking to Scarlett's previously unseeing eyes. Unscrupulous to begin with, as the book progressed Scarlett didn't so much grow but rather descend ever downwards in her conduct and character - a development which was rather interesting to me.

However...whilst I tried so very hard to simply see the sentiments and views in the book as a depiction of things as they were at that time I really struggled with the incredibly pro-South outlook of the novel, where Mitchell presents the relationship between slaves and their masters as so loving and tender that slaves were virtually dandled on their masters' knees. 

As the book went on, and particularly during Part 4, I felt like I was reading Klan propaganda as Mitchell amplified the views via the narrative voice as well as those of her characters, with no opposing voices, and showed more and more clearly where her own sympathies lay. I cannot find any sympathy for the South's "Glorious Cause", fighting for the right to keep their slaves and mind their own affairs, then nursing their wounded pride when they got their asses kicked in the war they started, and could not join in the author's lamentation at the loss of the old way of life and all of the wealth, luxury, ease and gentility that went with as I see no beauty but rather ugliness, built as it was on the backs of such an abhorrent practice. Bend over, Mitchell, and I'll show you where you can shove that 'gentility'.

It soon got to be that the only bright spots in the book came through the interactions of Scarlett and Rhett Butler (who is a fabulous character, and if forced to choose between he and the wet and weak Ashley, Rhett wouldn't even need to show up to win easily) whose verbal sparring crackled with chemistry, and the fact that the last part of the book brought them to the fore as they tore one another apart almost started to make up for my struggles...but not quite.

If I was rating the book solely on the basis of the story of Scarlett (with the brilliant characterisation and writing talent, although a more ruthless editor would have been welcome) I would have rated it a lot higher but I really couldn't make it past the ideology and attitudes that underpinned it, so I'm giving it 1.5 stars (with that extra half star won through Rhett) and leaving my final thought on Mitchell's "Glorious Cause":


  1. Fantastic review - though you actually make me want to read the book!!!

    1. Have at it! I'd be interested to see what you thought...