Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
You know Gone With The Wind. Or you know of it at least. Or you think you do. Before reading this I thought I’d better figure out exactly what I knew, and it wasn’t much.
- Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler – I know their names and I know they are probably in love, if not at the beginning the by the end
- Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn
- With God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again (rich girl digs in ground for potatoes or some such)
- Making a dress out of curtains
- It’s in the South, there are slaves
- The film is really long
- Er…. that’s it
I assumed this was a romance story, but it’s much more than that. Spoilers ahead, if you can say that about a book that’s nearly 80 years old. Under a quarter of the way through the book, Scarlett is a widow with a child. What?! I expected her to be single and flirting her way through the whole thing, even if there was a war on.
Instead what I found was almost a story about another world, with its own rituals and expectations and gender roles. Particularly gender roles. Then there’s a war, and the world is turned upside down. Everyone’s training in how to survive in their old world is positively counter-productive in the new world.
If the science fiction or fantasy that I read has as good an explanation of the world in which it is set, I am happy.
I also didn’t expect it to be FUNNY. Rhett Butler is wonderfully sarcastic at all turns. The discussion of how women should pretend to be in order to bag a husband is both painful and hilarious. Sometimes the narration appears to be what Scarlett thinks and believes, other times it’s a general announcement of “the way things are”. I chose to take it as a cutting commentary on the generally-accepted beliefs, in the style of Jane Austen, rather than thinking it being said in an approving manner.
It was all written so smoothly and naturally that it was almost possible to ignore the fact that at no point does any slave say anything or act in any way to suggest that they are not keen on slavery. Seriously. Nothing. They are all “one of the family” or “like children who need looking after”. Slaves are proud of the family that they belong to, house slaves look down on field hands, and they all look down on “poor whites”. The way their speech is written just emphasises the difference between the “white folks” and the “darkies”. If this were a science fiction book I would assume them to be a different species altogether. And most of the scifi that I read has an appreciation that it’s wrong to enslave any sentient species.
“The only difficulty was that by being just and truthful and tender and unselfish, one missed most of the joys of life, and certainly many beaux.”
“A gentleman always appeared to believe a lady even when he knew she was lying. That was Southern chivalry.”
“It doan make a gempmum feel lak mahyin’ a lady ef he suspicions she got mo’ sense dan he has.”
(Remember how I don’t like speech written in dialect? This was too good a line to miss even if it does hurt the brain.)
“After all, she was nineteen and getting along and men had a way of chasing silly young things”
“There was something unbecoming about a woman understanding fractions and business matters… should a woman be so unfortunate as to have such unladylike comprehension, she should pretend not to”