Few can forget the scene; music grows increasingly intense as the camera zooms away from two silhouettes against a brilliant plantation setting, the epic words framing a theme of determination:
"The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it's the only thing that lasts".....Gerald O'Hara, Gone With The Wind.
It's difficult to imagine for our national familiarity now that the literary masterpiece so many continue to embrace as a favorite began as a mere trial to pass the time. A 26 year-old Margaret Mitchell, with an innate love for her Atlanta heritage and an impressive, personal experience in journalism, began the process of writing as a randomly broken leg began the process of healing. The inspiration to write was a two-fold one: first, to convey the taste of the war stories passed down to her from relatives since girlhood, and, secondly, to quiet her husband's agitation at having to bring so many library books home in order to appease her voracious literary appetite. It was in this small space that all of the heart-wrenching, romantic, and even humorous drama was penned.
Margaret, who went by the name of Peggy (after Pegasus, poetry-inspirer) much of her life, in many ways seemed to live as interesting a life as her heroine, Scarlett O' Hara. Though Margaret denied the reality of any of her Gone with the Wind personalities, it would appear upon closer inspection that there existed, after all, at least some notable resemblance between the dark-haired heroine and her creator. On a purely physical basis, Margaret also possessed pale skin and piercing eyes. Regarding temperament, Mitchell harbored ample pluck enough to frequent her name alongside scandal---in which case, which, she almost always met with a sense of welcoming mischief. Perhaps non-coincidentally, both Margaret and Scarlett descended from Irish-Catholic stock. Lastly, it is often contested that Margaret's first husband, called "Red" by close friends, flashed the smile and inhabited the forceful personality of Rhett Butler himself.
Unlike Scarlett, however, Margaret seemed to harbor a streak of modesty; it is likely that Mitchell's novel would have never reached publication had it not been for her second husband's intervention. To Margaret, it had solely been a hopeful channel of warding away boredom. When John Mitchell submitted the manuscript to a publisher's review, however, Miss Mitchell was given $500 in advance and promised 10% in royalties; overnight, it seemed, Margaret had become an instant-celebrity. And on June 20, 1936, Scarlett O'Hara, Ashley Wilkes, Rhett Butler, Mammy and many others were set to print.
The outstanding project had taken ten years to complete. Of its purpose, Margaret later reflected:
"If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don't. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality 'gumption.' So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn't."
While Gone With the Wind remained Mitchell's only published novel in her relatively short life of forty-nine years, it has unarguably to this day left a lasting impression, a a poignant reminder of a southern spirit characterized by a regal people and featuring a sentimental culture truly "gone with the wind." Happy birthday, Margaret Mitchell, born November, 1900!