Wednesday, August 24, 2016

An era, gone with the wind

Many summers ago, I picked up Margaret Mitchell’s epic, Gone With The Wind (GWTW). Boredom had motivated the choice, and the size of the book had added to it. Over the next few days, my boredom had magnified manifold– amidst the description of the war, I had lost track of Scarlett’s husbands. Melanie seemed to be a wimpy,weepy woman, and  the Southern dialect had thrown me off (Fiddle-dee-dee?). But complying with my tradition of never abandoning a read midway, I completed the book and was relieved to put it aside.

One of the first posters for the movie


A few years later, I found myself reluctantly picking up Gone With The Wind again, this time to honor another tradition of mine – never watch a movie adaptation without reading the book. I barely remembered the story, and it seemed implausible that an Oscar award winning movie could be based off merely on a woman’s proclivity for marriage. But this time, the book was different - Scarlett was vain, yes, but smart, and her attachment to Tara was similar to mine with Mumbai. Rhett Butler was a charming man in love. Melanie, the epitome of pure goodness, was essential to highlight Scarlett’s connivance. The film, with its lavish sets and larger-than-life characters, just added to my experience of the book, and Gone With The Wind speedily made its way into the list of my favourite books.

Margaret Mitchell

So when the opportunity presented itself to visit The Margaret Mitchell House, I jumped at it. I discovered that more than one such house existed in Atlanta – the author had apparently shifted 3 houses in her adult life. The one at Crescent Avenue was where most of Gone With The Wind was written –where Tara was created, and where Pansy O’Hara transformed to Scarlett O'Hara. Without further ado, I headed there.




Margaret Mitchell House, Crescent Avenue, Atlanta

The three-storeyed house opens, quite pragmatically, with a gift shop full of GWTW memorabilia –pencils, water bottles, tees and copies of the iconic book as well as a few sequels authorised by the Margaret Mitchell Trust. A portrait of the author hangs on the wall. The guided tour begins in a section of the house behind the gift shop, which has been dedicated to the author’s early life. Amidst the childhood stories that Mitchell penned, to the “ I want to be famous...” quote on the wall, we get a glimpse into Mitchell’s early life, and my, was the lady gutsy ! Not every woman in the 1920s could perform the French Tango with an acquaintance at her own debutante ball, marry against her parents’ approval & become a journalist in times when female journalists were unheard of. Mitchell did them all, with considerable pride.

The ' I want to be famous..' quote


 Peggy Mitchell (Margaret's pen name at The Atlanta Journal) initially began her career by covering ‘softer’ beats like fashion and gradually progressed to more serious beats like crime & woman empowerment. One can only imagine how difficult it was for her to pursue a career in the print media as a married woman in a time where there was no internet, no cellphones and above all, a narrow-minded society. But Mitchell doesn’t seem to be a woman of no gumption. Her 140-odd articles for The Atlanta Journal are housed within an open brick walled section of the museum for all to read.
The section containing Mitchell's articles for The Atlanta Journal


Margaret 'Peggy' Mitchell's desk at The Atlanta Journal


Every story begins with another story, and the story that went behind the creation of GWTW is unusually random. It all started when Mitchell suffered from a leg injury and was forced to remain at home. Being an avid reader, she asked her husband, John Marsh, to bring her books from the library, presumably to take her mind off the injury. Marsh dutifully brought piles of books week after week, and Mitchell devoured them at an incredible speed. Tired of carrying books back and forth, Marsh brought home a pound of paper and asked Mitchell to write a book of her own. Marsh’s idea struck a chord with Mitchell, and she sat to type the book, last chapter first, as was her style. Being extremely secretive about her novel, Mitchell hid each finished chapter in envelopes in various bizarre locations around the house – in pillow covers, under the carpet, even under the sofa! Goes to show that every author, no matter how small or great, has been plagued by insecurity some time in their lives! 

The desk where Gone With the Wind was created
Detail of the desk

In 1935, Mitchell retrieved about 200-odd envelopes from the apartment and sent them to her publisher at Macmillan.The rest, as they say, is history. A literary wave swept through the nation, and Margaret Mitchell found herself in the limelight. Awards ranging from National Book Award to the Pulitzer began to make their way into the apartment. The very society that had once turned up their noses at Mitchell’s French Tango at her debutante ball invited her as a chief guest. But it was David Selznik who immortalized the novel with his film adaptation, thrusting Leigh, Gable & de Havilland into the apex of stardom. The museum dedicates an entire floor to the film adaptation of the novel, and displays everything from the pamphlet for the first premiere to the famous portrait of Scarlett O’Hara in a blue dress.

First pictures from the set of Gone With the Wind


Portraits of the four main leads - (clockwise, from top) Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton & Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes


The painted programme of the premiere of the film in Atlanta, 1939

I roamed around the small museum for a good two hours, strolling through the photo gallery, going through the initial reviews of the novel and wondering how this entire house looked in the 1900s. There is something for everybody here. For GWTW lovers, The Margaret Mitchell House is a must-visit in Atlanta – skip the Coke Factory if needed.  For all who believe in equal rights for women, the Margaret Mitchell House gives a sneak peek into the lives of women in the 1920s,and how Ms Mitchell became one of the few women who strived to break the glass ceiling for us. For all film buffs, the first floor of the museum is heaven ( Clark Gable, seriously!).  And to the rest –frankly, my dear... don’t you want to know what all the fuss is about :-p?



5 comments:

  1. Lovely Mrinalini. Enjoyed your tour of the museum. Interestingly this was one book I was bent on reading just to know why it was a classic. Started off extremely slow. Then decided to give myself 100pages and stop. After about 70 pages or so couldn't put it down till I completed it. Somewhere reading your article refreshed my memory of reading that book.

    Also, I was probably 15 r so, I'd picked up a PG Wodehouse book and couldn't make a head or tail of it. Sort of wondered how ppl read that kind of stories and all. A few years later tried the author again. He's one of my fav authors Today and am a possessive and proud owner of my Wodehouse collection! ��

    Your blog brought back quite some interesting memories.
    Great going Mrinalini! ��������

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  2. Thank you so much - am glad you could connect to the post :-)!

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