today in literature

Gone With the Wind . . . Done Gone

On this day in 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was published. It had been extensively promoted, chosen as the July selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club, and so gushed about in pre-publication reviews — “Gone With the Wind is very possibly the greatest American novel,” said Publisher’s Weekly — that it was certain to sell, though few predicted the sustained, record-breaking numbers. Though she had been eager and active for her fame, Mitchell too was caught off guard. One trip to an Atlanta department store for a dress ended with a clutch of curious women throwing back the fitting room doors to stare at Mitchell in her petticoat: “They wanted to know the size of my intimate wearing apparel. They screamed to one another about me as I stood there like an animal in a cage, one asking the other: ‘Ain’t she skinny?’ while still another observed: ‘I expected her to look more middle-aged around the hips.'”

As Mitchell and her biographers describe it, she was as much a prisoner of her Southern good manners as of others’ rudeness. When plans for the movie were underway, Mitchell opened her door one day to a white woman who felt she could be the ideal “Mammy,” with the aid of the burnt cork in her purse. Mitchell allowed her in for an impromptu audition, though she drew the line at the cork: “I sat on the blackening so she couldn’t put it on her face, and for forty minutes watched her play Mammy up and down the rug.”

Alice Randall apparently wrote The Wind Done Gone in protest over Mitchell’s skin-deep portrayal of Southern reality. Advance publicity, in this case the legal proceedings of the Mitchell Trust to squash the book as an unauthorized sequel, also made The Wind Done Gone a best-seller, and Randall too had people showing up at her door in costume — although in this case they were Confederate soldiers, and they didn’t care much if they got charged with killing the author of a parody or a rip-off. Randall envisions her novel as a “healing belly-laugh” enjoyable by all, though her heroine-narrator, the mulatto half-sister to “Other” (i.e. Scarlett), doesn’t find much that’s funny:

Mammy was my Mama. Even though she let me go, I miss her. I miss her every time I look into a mirror and see her eyes. Sometimes I comb through my long springy curls and pretend that the hand holding the comb is hers. But I don’t know what that looks like. Then I wish I was Other, the girl whose sausage curls I’ve seen Mammy comb and comb. I wish for the tight kinks of the comber or the glossy sausages of the combed. I wish not to be out of the picture. Mammy always called me Chile. She never called me soft or to her softness. She called me to do things, usually for Other, who she called Lamb. It was “Get dressed, Chile!” and “What’s mah Lamb gwanna wear?

— SK

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