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Gone With The Wind: Margaret Mitchell

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

WHICH comes first, the chicken or the egg? It's not so very different from asking, what should I do first, read the book or see the film? Although, in the latter case, there might be a solution.

If, for instance, you don't mind seeing the characters through a director's eyes, then by all means, opt for the film. But if you prefer your own interpretation, the book is the answer.

And so it is with Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell's epic novel, set in America's deep south, that centres upon one of literature's most enduring heroines - the young and outrageously spoilt, Scarlett O'Hara who, we learn on the very first page, 'was not beautiful' although 'men seldom realized when caught by her charm'.

In fact, men flock to Scarlett like bees to a honey pot but it's Ashley Wilkes, 'so handsomely blond' and 'so desirable' that Scarlett loves. But for Ashley to return Scarlett's love, it would all be too easy. In fact, there would be no novel as such.

So instead, he marries his cousin, Melanie, a woman dismissed by Scarlett as 'a mousy little person' - though not before she bares her heart and soul to the young man in question. And here, it might do well to remember that what Scarlett wants, she usually gets.

Unfortunately, not only does she suffer the humiliation of rejection but her outpouring is overheard by none other than the dashing profiteer, Rhett Butler - a man who was 'dark of face, swarthy as a pirate' and 'with eyes as bold and black as any pirate's appraising a galleon to be scuttled or a maiden to be ravished'.

Four very different characters, whose lives become inextricably entwined as the winds of civil war sweep aside their old and priviledged way of life, bringing in its aftermath, a new and hateful menace - the dreaded carpetbagger.

Gone With The Wind is written in a wonderfully descriptive prose that transports you to the very heart of 1860's America. The characters too, as we have already seen, leap at you from the pages, and like the story itself, are totally convincing.

It is, though, Scarlett who stands head and shoulders above the rest. And while it would be all too easy to dismiss her as spoilt, selfish and manipulative, there is a vulnerability about her that tugs at the heart strings - never more so than when she returns to Tara after her momentous journey from war-torn Atlanta.

That doesn't mean there aren't times when you'd like to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. But Scarlett is also high-spirited and headstrong - attributes that, in a woman, were frowned upon in the 19th century but which, ironically, are today termed 'feisty' and generally admired by society.

Gone With The Wind is a classic of its time and unlike traditional classics is, for the most part, easily understood. There is, though, one exception - Scarlett's Mammy's dialogue which is written phonetically. Yet how could it be otherwise when she is 'shining black, pure African'.

A wonderful book, it will absorb from start to finish and, quite possibly, leave you wanting more.




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