Title: Gone With The Wind
Author: Margaret Mitchell
Date of Publication: May, 1936
I've been meaning to review this book for quite some time now, ever since I joined this community in fact, but other reading commitments and, well, real life keep getting in the way. Gone With The Wind, due to its complexity, length, and the number of issues it raises is not an easy novel to tackle, but it really is an amazing work. It's not to be missed out on even if you have watched the film, which leaves out a lot of the original source material along with some crucial character depth and development. For those who might still be unfamiliar with the story, it's about the life of Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern Belle and daughter of a plantation owner, who struggles to live and survive amidst the America Civil War and the aftermath. Along with this she has to deal with her love for Ashley Wilkes, her childhood friend, and her attraction towards Rhett Butler, a roguish man with a notorious reputation. Because of this it tends to be classified a 'romance'; but in reality it is so much more than that.
Scarlett O'Hara's persona gives the entire novel an exquisite sense of life and vibrancy. During the current day and age of Bella Swan and Sookie Stackhouse, Scarlett was, to me, a huge breath of fresh air. She stands out as one of the strongest and most memorable heroines in all of literature. She was a woman ahead of her time and can by today's standards be considered to possess many proto-feminist qualities and ideals: from the very beginning she continually questions and defies society's conventions ("why did a woman have to be so silly to catch a husband?") and disregards the stifling patriarchy of the old South. She constantly stresses that she is capable of doing anything that a man could (she runs her own business and makes her own money) whilst shunning motherhood and saving an entire plantation. Oh, and she also saves and helps her family survive during the aftermath of the Civil War and successfully plots and schemes her way out of the hardships of the Reconstruction. Despite this, she is no Mary Sue; she starts off as a stereotypical Southern Belle and throughout the novel constantly displays flaws such as selfishness, superficiality, a tremendous lack of self-awareness and empathy for other people and unfortunately a strong dislike towards other women; at one point she even seduces and marries the fiancee of another girl simply out of spite and need for revenge. Her flaws do not make her likeable in the strictest sense of the word but they do make her realistic and to a certain degree, very relatable and entertaining.
Scarlett is such a three dimensional character that even the dreaded Love Triangle subplot does not dominate or take away from her own agenda and goals; rather, it enhances the story with its symbolic relevance to the main plot. Her obsession with Ashley is said to represent her subconscious reluctance and nostalgia for the old South and the old way of life, whilst Rhett is said to represent the New South and the changing times; thus making apparent the reason why Scarlett feels such a strong kinship towards him. All in all the love story between Rhett and Scarlett adds very much to the story and has become a staple of classic romantic fiction.
Of course, no book is perfect, and this one does have one huge, gaping flaw: I think some parts of it are heinously, unapologetically racist, to the extent that it even affects its historical accuracy; Mitchell takes an alarmingly apologist attitude towards slavery by depicting slaves as happy and content to serve their masters, whilst even having the "good" characters take part briefly in the KKK (which, at least, leads to very negative results and as a movement comes to be despised by Scarlett and Rhett). Scarlett herself does not hate slaves, but she thinks of them as children to be looked after, scolded and coddled, which of course is just as bad. Yet at the end of the day the novel is of its time, and it is slightly comforting to know that we have thankfully progressed to an age in which a book with such a tone would never end up being published.
So it asks for a bit of a 'take the good with the bad' attitude and in this case, I would say the good does outweigh the bad, although literature like all the other arts is subjective and I understand that there are those who disagree. Nevertheless, I would still very much recommend the book, especially towards those who have watched the film or who enjoy Civil War fiction (just remember that this one carries a huge Southern/Confederate bias). Warning: it is very long, and does contain many descriptive passages, but it is very action packed and ultimately very rewarding. I have also just bought the recently published Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCraig, which is an authorised sequel retelling Gone with the Wind from Rhett's perspective and which is also supposed to give his character more background. I will probably review this book here once I've finished with it :)