Monday, March 16, 2015

Review:: Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Title: Gone With the Wind
Author: Margaret Mitchell
Format: eBook
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is a Great American Novel, a novel of manners, a bildungsroman, a romance, historical fiction, and very, very long. It is a tale of the inevitable fall of the status quo, a tale of rebuilding, and a tale of loss once again. But mostly, it's very, very long.

I'm doing a reading challenge that included a "classic romance." Not have any idea what a classic romance is, I quickly summoned my English doctorate-owning mother who told me Gone With the Wind. Now, somehow I had gotten to this point of my life without ever reading this book or watching one of the movies. And when I told myself I'd read it, I assumed it must be about 300 pages.

Oh, how ignorant was I... For those of who also have never picked up this behemoth of a novel, most editions are around or more than 1000 pages. Why? Because the story Margaret Mitchell wants to tell is very, very long. I'm honestly not sure where I would have cut anything, if I wanted to make this novel shorter. Maybe I would have made it into a trilogy.

Gone With the Wind stars one Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern belle with an Irish spirit and a deep, desperate, childish love for one Ashley Wilkes. Unfortunately, their marriage is not to be, and you get to see our desperate, completely selfish, ignorant of all around her, Scarlett ruin her life in as many ways as possible. You get to see her ruin her life antebellum, bellum-bellum, and postbellum, simply because she is basically one of the most self-interested people out there, but too stunted in the manners of social intelligence to realize when she's shooting herself in the foot.

Now, usually I get really stressed and uncomfortable when I'm dealing with a character who clearly doesn't realize that everyone around them is mocking them. Self-delusion and stupidity with a smile make me feel kind of sick. But with Scarlett O'Hara, they didn't. Maybe it's because she's just so gosh-darn unlikeable.

Also, Gone With the Wind is definitely a problematic novel in a lot of ways. Oh, it's not just the racism, the classism, the sexism, the Confederacy... One expects these in historical fiction of this period. The problem for me, having grown up in Texas, was everywhere it felt like Margaret Mitchell herself seemed to show her own racism, and quietly push to point out how much the South suffered from the war. And like I said... I grew up in Texas. I've heard this side of the story a million times. But somehow, it felt like her caricature was even more lopsided than the one I grew up with, and that's saying something.

I think I enjoyed the beginning more than the middle, but the end made me smile the most. O'Hara certainly got an O'Henry finish, which was just lovely, in my opinion. But the first bits of the book were more a novel of manners more than anything else. And a quite lovely novel of manners at that. As the book went on, I started to get tired of Scarlett O'Hara.

Perhaps that's why I liked the end so much.

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