Tonight I have Georgia and Atlanta on my mind. I only covered 30 things on my Bucket List because I was trying to stick to a particular number, but the list doesn’t stop there. There are so many author spots all over the world that I would like to visit, and the Margaret Mitchell House is one of them.
Located in downtown Atlanta is a building that once housed a number of apartments, one of which is where Margaret Mitchell wrote her one and only published novel, Gone with the Wind, while recovering from an ankle injury in the late twenties and early thirties; it took her a long time to complete. She is just one of many authors I love, but she is the only one who writes about the south at the time of the American Civil War in so much vivid detail.
I first came across the movie several years ago when VHS was still common, at least in my house it was. I never would have guessed it would become one of my favourites. I received it in the mail, the DVS (descriptive) that Brian and I used to order from a braille catalogue.
My favourite quote of all-time can be found in this movie: “Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars. And when the wars were over, nobody ever knew what they were about.”
This is a story about pride in ones home and in the land on which that home is built. It’s primarily a story about war, but it’s themes cover things such as: old world traditions and southern traditions, and also about coming from a life of plenty and extravagance, all the way to the brink of starvation and the ruin of an old and soon-to-be forgotten civilization. It’s themes are all of these things and of love and rebirth and resilience. Mitchell put down layer upon layer, theme overlapping theme. It is the story which began my interest in the US Civil War, in addition to the two World Wars which I had always associated with relating to my own life.
Sure it was one of those old movies, but I had never before fallen in love with such an old movie until this particularly long one. Some would say it was over acting from beginning to end, but I just found it intensely passionate and moving and touching. I watched it over and over again, as if I were still a child with a favourite Disney cartoon, but this was no fairy tale. I learned all the lines by heart and quoted them along with the actors.
Once I discovered the movie I figured it was time to read the book. I could only find it in audio form at the time, but I read it and discovered so much more, not included in the film. Both had their high points. It is a classic in the truest sense of the term. Tonight I am wishing I were in Atlanta, the city that was featured so prominently in the story and of which was the birth place, incidentally, of the author herself.
Mitchell wrote stories as a child and then in her finishing school’s yearbook, (Facts and Fancies) as the literary editor. She then got a job writing for The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, as a young woman and through two marriages, but had to quit when recovering from her history-making injury.
The lead character of Rhett Butler is the most charismatic and charmingly roguish I’ve ever seen in literature. He is the bad boy all women know they should stay away from, but of whom most women are drawn to. He is selfish and self absorbed, but then again so is Scarlet. I could talk about these characters for hours and hours.
Margaret’s story of publication sounds too good to be true when you read about it. It’s one all authors, myself included, dream will happen to us. She wrote the story over several years, on anything she could find, but didn’t intend on the success it eventually gained. She was out to lunch with a friend and an editor the Macmillan Publishing Company in New York was touring the south, looking for stories to publish. She was bashful about her novel at first, but when challenged by her friend, she showed up with several chapters in envelopes at the editor’s hotel later that night and he had to buy a new suitcase to take them all along with him. He read from the envelopes and loved what he read and soon Gone with the Wind was being published, outselling anything anyone could have ever imagined from a first-time female author, being translated into many different languages, and then turned into the film that would end up as one of my all-time favourites, more than sixty years later.
In the years following her new-found success, Mitchell became so busy with answering her fan mail, every single letter, that she had no time to write anything else of any substance. When World War II came along she felt a great need to help out soldiers and working for the Red Cross probably kept her pretty busy too. Her grandfather did fight in the Civil War, she had relatives who fought in the War of 1812, and all the way back to the American Revolution.
She wrote this highly intense novel about slavery and war, but it was the end of her life that played out just like the tragic ending to a novel. She and her husband were walking together, on the way to see a movie, when she was struck by an off duty taxi cab on Peachtree and 13th Streets. She died of her injuries a few days later. Such a strange way for it all to end, not even 50 years old and she was gone. Who knows what other great and impacting stories she might still have had in her to tell, if it weren’t for the constant demands on her time or the absolutely tragic way in which her life was cut short.
The apartment where she wrote her masterpiece and my favourite southern epic novel was restored, and after not one but two fires that very well could have destroyed this historical landmark forever, has now been turned into a museum and a historical site. I hope to get there to see it one day. I hope to stand in the spot where some of my favourite authors wrote the novels that inspire me every day. I am not one for good luck charms or superstition, but I figure it couldn’t hurt to stand where they stood. A building like this is a little snapshot of history, to be preserved for as long as possible. More than one hundred years after Margaret Mitchell was born and, like that old building she once called home, a little piece of her lives on in this beautiful piece of literature.