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Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell
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Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)

American author of the enormously popular novel GONE WITH WIND (1936), story about the Civil War and Reconstruction as seen from the Southern point of view. The book was adapted into a highly popular film in 1939, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. At the novel's opening in 1861, Scarlett O'Hara is a young girl. During the story she experiences Secession, the Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as three marriages and motherhood.

"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white skin - that skin so prized by Southern women and so carefully guarded with bonnets, veils and mittens against hot Georgia sun." (from Gone With the Wind)

Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta. Her mother was a suffragist and father a prominent lawyer and president of the Atlanta Historical Society. Mitchell grew up listening to stories about old Atlanta and the battles the Confederate Army had fought there during the American Civil War. She graduated from the local Washington Seminary and started in 1918 to study medicine at Smith College. In her youth Mitchell adopted her mother's feminist leanings which clashed with her father's conservatism - but she lived fully the Jazz age and wrote about it in nonfiction.

When Mitchell's mother died in 1919, she returned to home to keep house for her father and brother. In 1922 she married Berrien Kinnard Upshaw. The disastrous marriage was climaxed by spousal rape and was annulled 1924. Mitchell started her career as a journalist in 1922 under the name Peggy Mitchell, writing for the Atlanta Journal. Four years later she resigned after an ankle injury. Her second husband, John Robert Marsh, an advertising manager, encouraged Mitchell in her writing aspirations. From 1926 to 1929 she wrote Gone With the Wind. The outcome, a thousand page novel, was not published until 1935. The work broke sales records and was awarded in 1937 the Pulitzer Prize.

"Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them." (from Gone With the Wind)

The protagonist of the novel is Scarlett O'Hara, who loves Ashley Wilkes. However, the reader is soon assured that the most important man in her life will be the strong and shrewd Rhett Butler. Ashley marries Melanie Hamilton and Scarlett marries Melanie's brother Charles, but she is soon widowed. Then she marries Frank Kennedy, her sister's fiancé, to save Tara, the family plantation, her home. Frank is also killed, and Scarlett finally marries Rhett, who walks out on her with the famous words 'My dear, I don't give a damn.'

Although Gone with the Wind brought Mitchell fame and a tremendous fortune, it seems to have brought little joy. Chased by the press and public, the author and her husband lived modestly and traveled rarely. Also questions about the book's literary status and racism, historical view and depiction of the Klu Klux Klan, which had much similarities with D.W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1915), led to critical neglect which continued well in the 1960s. Griffith's film was based on the Reverend Thomas Dixon's racist play; the author was a great admirer of Mitchell and wanted to write a study of her novel. In Atlanta the Klan kept a high profile and had it national headquarters in the 1920s on the same street, where Mitchell lived.

Mitchell sold the film rights to the producer David O. Selznick for $50,000, and later received another $50,000. The film premiered on December 15, 1939. Mitchell did not take any part in the motion picture adaptation but attended the premiere in Atlanta, overcaming her shyness. The film won ten Academy Awards, among them best picture. However, all reviews were not positive. Otis Ferguson wrote in the New Republic (April 22, 1940): "It moves, just as I suspected it would, and it is in color, just as I heard it was, and the Civil War gets very civil indeed and there is a wonderful bonfire and there are also young love and balls and plantations and practically everything... They threw in many good things, and everything else but a towel, and they got them in line and added them all up to one of the world's imposing cancellations." In England the film and the book were highly popular during World War II - perhaps partly because of the theme of survival and reconstruction. After the war the film conquered the rest of the Europe, giving many women comfort and strength in their everyday problems.

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