After a long, long time I had a marathon-reading-session like this and I never enjoyed this much. After 14 hours of chasing Scarlett O’Hara’s escapades in Gone With The Wind, my heart is still thundering, and I’m still mournfully and gravely shaking my wise old head over the stubborn-est couple I ever met in print.
I’m a big Historical Romance fan and I realized that Gone With The Wind was the mother of all HR’s I’ve read till now, and I don’t refer to its length. The details, the plot, the writing, the stating of the bald truth – it’s incomparable. At the hands of any other writer, I would have disliked Scarlett and would probably have stopped reading. But now, after finding her self-centered and vain, childish, cruel, delusional, and then morph into strong, determined and as modern as one could be in the 1860-70s and then pitying her for never really opening her eyes, I now wonder at Margaret Mitchell’s ability to wrench such intense reactions.
Sometimes Frank sighed, thinking he had caught a tropic bird, all flame and jewel color, when a wren would have served him just as well. In fact, much better.
~ Excerpt from Gone With The Wind
Scarlett was exactly what Mitchell claims – an inexplicable woman, an exotic bird, who was a deadly combination of stubborn childishness and a passionate ruthlessness of a woman who has known her lowest. It was that combination that dragged her out of hell; it was that combination that doomed her love life. She was inherently selfish, but she loved and hated with passion. The stubborn, selfish child refused to distinguish between love and fantasy, while the ruthlessness led her to hide her emotions, driving the nail on her coffin as the universally declared heartless womanMitchell had given us a premonition that this was going to happen to Scarlett:
“Child, it’s a very bad thing for a woman to face the worst that can happen to her, because after she’s faced the worst she can’t ever really fear anything again. And it’s very bad for a woman not to be afraid of something.(…) God intended women to be timid frightened creatures and there’s something unnatural about a woman who isn’t afraid… Scarlett, always save something to fear—even as you save something to love… ”
~ Excerpt from Gone With The Wind
A Scarlett who had faced her worst became a fanatic about making money and securing her future, and that very fearlessness that she had been warned about let her achieve what she wanted, or thought she wanted. She gained universal contempt and dislike for working and going beyond the boundary lines of feminity. She was hated because she succeeded in those endeavors. Her contemporaries failed to understand her like she failed to understand them, and they viewed her ruthlessness with as much contempt as she viewed their wounded pride.
While she succeeded in her business, Scarlett hardly made any breakthroughs in personal relationships. Scarlett was ruthless and cunning yes, but she lacked in the cranial department. Or maybe that can partly be attributed to self-absorption. She didn’t understand a lot of things, and just didn’t care. She didn’t understand herself, she didn’t understand Melanie, she didn’t understand Ashley, she didn’t understand Rhett. However that didn’t stop her from blindly judge people and everyone other than her imagined love fell short of her regard. And some regard it was, with her manipulating him like she did everyone else. She refused to see, preferring to make money to secure her safety. But cash is a cold bed partner, and so Scarlett discovered.
She was a person who was never universally loved; as a young woman she was the country belle and the object of envy for the other debutantes; she was always too beautiful and unconventional thus generating censure; her business venture followed by her marriage to Rhett Butler permanently damned her. But she had never courted public opinion and had never cared, until a tragedy ripped her life away. Or rather, three tragedies that fell one after one. Bonnie’s death, Melanie’s death, death of Rhett’s love. And understanding, as much as Scarlett could be capable of, came too late.
Everybody knew how cold and heartless she was. Everybody was appalled at the seeming ease with which she had recovered from Bonnie’s death, never realizing or caring to realize the effort that lay behind that seeming recovery. Rhett had the town’s tenderest sympathy and he neither knew nor cared. Scarlett had the town’s dislike and, for once, she would have welcomed the sympathy of old friends.
~Excerpt from Gone With The Wind
She was a dynamic woman – her character growing and evolving from vain and pretty to a strong woman, but I wish she had more foresight, or more intelligence. For al her character growth, maybe it wasn’t enough. Or maybe it wasn’t fast enough…
Gone With The Wind narrates two different kinds of strong feminity – Scarlett’s loud one and Melanie’s quiet one. Melanie was a woman who was sheltered, but who refused to balk at the prospect of hard work. She never was loud, but she defended what she believed in. She never courted good favour; she had an innate goodness that looked for the best in others. I’ll let Mitchell describe her:
(…) she always saw the best in everyone and remarked kindly upon it. There was no servant so stupid that she did not find some redeeming trait of loyalty and kind-heartedness, no girl so ugly and disagreeable that she could not discover grace of form or nobility of character in her, and no man so worthless or so boring that she did not view him in the light of his possibilities rather than his actualities. Because of these qualities that came sincerely and spontaneously from a generous heart, everyone flocked about her, for who can resist the charm of one who discovers in others admirable qualities undreamed of even by himself?
~Excerpt from Gone With The Wind
When Reconstruction led to further upheavals in Atlanta, Melanie became a leader without wanting to, without realizing how it happened. It’s even probable that she never did realized exactly how much she meant to the community.
It’s a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.
Maybe it can be measured by the fact that her goodwill outweighed the town’s contempt of Scarlett. The two sisters-in-laws who were strong enough to elicit strong reactions out of people. Melanie might seem slightly naïve, but her genuinity evokes respect, not pity.
Ashley, however, evoked little more than impatience and anger from me. I won’t ask what Scarlett saw in him because it’s perfectly clear: she saw what she wanted to see. Her painted hero was simple in her brain, but the two male protagonists were complex men. Ashley loved his books but knew duty and honour. But I couldn’t respect him much because he didn’t stand by his convictions, not like the other three protagonists. He didn’t realize he had loved Melanie all along till she was in her death bed, and I maintain that Melanie deserved much better. Ashley’s indecisiveness killed the love between two couples – Rhett and Scarlett, Melanie and himself.
Rhett Butler broke my heart. He was another victim of Scarlett, and like all others, broken in the end. He was the swash-buckling pirate, the exciting bad man in a town of gallant gentlemen who like all others, fell in love, and then had his heart broken. He saw right through Scarlett, and still loved her and I respect him highly for that. He loved a woman who loved (or thought she loved) another. I still can’t understand what it was in Scarlett that made him wait for her for thirteen years. How does unrequited love last that long?
But, Scarlett, did it ever occur to you that even the most deathless love could wear out?
That line broke my heart and I cried for these two stubborn people. At first I felt bewildered – I chase this whirlwind of a story for fourteen wild hours and the ending is heading toward a tragedy. And as I encountered this sentence I tried scrolling down to realize I couldn’t:
“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
I felt totally betrayed when I finally realized that the book had indeed come to an end and it wasn’t just that my copy was incomplete or corrupted. I immediately went online to check if there were sequels. There are, but not by the original author. Cheated and betrayed, I find that hope springs eternal. Because I can still look forward to a better future for the stubborn, headstrong Butlers. They are mind-boggling, they are refreshing. And they have left me sated… and hungry for more.