Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Gone with the Wind

Here I sit on a sunny Tuesday morning, eagerly experimenting to see whether or not my technical difficulties have indeed been resolved! My technical support is awesome. Just saying.

Everything is sleepiness around me. My technical support is home sick with a terrible cough, and the creatures are all curled up in various places across the house. Marmaduke went to the vet yesterday and still hasn't forgiven me for it. He's burying his face in his paws, refusing to acknowledge anyone but Rohan. Sigh . . . It really is for your own good, Marmaduke!

Okay, let me see if I can post some thoughts on Margaret Mitchell's famous masterpiece, Gone with the Wind. I am embarrassed that it has taken me this long to get to it!

I confess, I wasn't entirely certain what to expect when picking up this enormous volume. I've seen the movie, of course . . . an impressive piece of cinematography that really couldn't help but be enjoyable to watch when the cast includes Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, and Leslie Howard (dreamy sigh! But don't judge him on this film. Find his version of Pygmalion instead). But everyone knows that you should never, but never, judge a book by its film adaption!

Years ago, I gave Gone with the Wind a half-hearted attempt, but gave it up because I couldn't stand the character of Scarlet. It is so interesting approaching the book now after several years of literary training, one published novel, and a second one about to release. It definitely gives me a new perspective! Scarlet is, of course, a terribly annoying and even reprehensible character. She is vain and selfish, petty and rude, hypocritical and two-faced etc. It's enough to drive a reader up the wall!

But now as I read it, I recognize the genius of what Mitchell was doing with the character. She never intended Scarlet to likable. She intended her to be memorable. Who, after reading of her despairing love for Ashley, her confused hate/love for his wife, Melanie, her strange passion for Rhett Butler, and her heart-rending devotion to Tara, her father's plantation, can possibly forget Scarlet O'Hara? My word, is she flawed! My word, is she difficult to swallow sometimes! But she remains unforgettable.

Compare her for a moment with even such marvelous literary heroines as Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, etc. As much as I adore Jane and Elizabeth (in very different ways, for they are very different heroines as well), there is something about Scarlet that speaks to a deeper place in my heart. A secret place that I don't quite want to acknowledge. That quiet little corner of my mind that says, 'I could be just like her. Change my circumstances only slightly, and how am I any better?' Scarlet, for all she is an extreme, is also a universal. We relate to her even as we despise her . . . perhaps all the more so because we despise her.

And seriously, how can we help but admire her as well? With an admiration that we almost don't want to admit, because who wants to look up to a heart-breaker, a user, a liar, a manipulator? Of course, it's difficult to love her. Not like you can love Melanie, who is strong in her virtue and honest love. But Melanie, as lovable as she is, is not the universal character of Scarlet. We perhaps know Melanies in our own lives, but how many of us would dare to think that we are like her?

After writing a character like Princess Una from Heartless, I've developed a lot more understanding for authors who portray such flawed heroines (not that I would place Una in the same literary class as Scarlet! Heaven forbid!). I've received more than one harsh critique on that character, criticizing her weakness, her selfishness, her petty nature. All or which, are completely true about her! Sadly, many of these readers don't realize that, were she to be the strong and courageous type of heroine, then the whole plot of Heartless would be rendered pointless. And the fact is, a character with flaws as dominant as Princess Una's is much harder to forget. As much as we may despise her, we also see ourselves in her. We'd like to think, "No, I would never behave that way in that situation!" But the fact is, many of us would, have, and will again.

Anyway, I digress. So, halfway through reading Gone with the Wind, this is my opinion of Scarlet O'Hara: an unlikeable character, but so strongly drawn that, once you encounter her, you don't forget. They story is gripping and manages, despite it's incredible page count, to keep up a fantastic pace (due in large part to Mitchell's skillfully handled omniscient narrative). The characters are vivid, the imagery, superb, the depiction of that horrible period of history, breathtaking.

Note: It is painful to read Mitchell's harsh and ignorant portrayal of African Americans. She uses insensitive language and foolish portrayals of the characters (which isn't surprising, considering the time in which she was writing, but doesn't make it more palatable). And while I understand that not all of the slave owners were the evil and abusive monsters often portrayed in fiction these days, I don't think Mitchell presents a balanced picture of what life was actually like for those enslaved either.

Nonetheless, an interesting read so far! I suppose it's silly to post a review on a book I haven't finished yet, so don't count this as a review . . . merely thoughts on a read-in-progress.

And my mug of tea is empty. I think I'm going to fill it again . . . . Then time to get back into my current manuscript. I haven't so much as LOOKED at it for more than a week, and I scarcely remember where I left my poor characters. Someone was looking at some ancient and defaced tombs, someone was lost in an abandoned city, and someone else . . . but that I don't remember. Yes, time to pull up my poor, neglected little draft . . . .


Faith King said...

First off, can you siphon off some of that sunshine and send it to Ohio?

Interesting thoughts! Your "Now and then" perspective of Scarlet reminds me of my staggering change in opinion towards Edmund Pevensie from when I read him as a child to when I read him several years later as a teenager. I didn't understand when I was small about what he represented. He was just the mean one. The one who caused his brothers and sisters so much pain. The one who caused Aslan so much suffering.

Many years later, I realized that I was Edmund. We all were Edmund. It was such a precious discovery, I think possibly the moment when I first realized that books aren't just for fun.

Everytime someone new reads "Awakenings", my coauthor and I are amused by the vast array of reactions to our "brat" character, Anathriel, which can vary from 'can't stand her' to 'I had no clue she was supposed to be unlikeable!' As her author, I love her so much for this, probably the character from whom I've learned the most about crafting layered, fleshed-out characters. My conclusion is that if everyone reacts so differently, then we're doing a good job of making her like a real person! We're not spoon-feeding how the reader is supposed to perceive her.

I recognized quite a lot of myself in Princess Una. I think your portrayal of her flaws and shortcomings was very well done. Not a turn-off for me at all. I can see how, for maybe a younger audience, for whom the world is still a lot more absolute, the "tarnish" to the fairy tale princess would be a disappointment. Much like I felt so soured by Edmund Pevensie so long ago.

(Now he's my favorite) :-)

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

It is nice to know other authors are experiencing much the same issues. Sometimes I wonder how readers can fail to realize that INTERESTING fiction happens when flawed characters are shoved into situations beyond their ability to cope? But, as long as we touch at least a handful of people, we know we're fulfilling our writerly purpose.

Una sends her sympathies to Anathriel.

Thanks for the encouraging note! And I do wish we could send some sunshine your way . . . it was pretty hot in NC today!

Kimber said...

Like you said Miss Ann Elizabeth.. your perception of characters changes as you get older! I too tried to read Gone with the Wind years ago, and could not wrap my head around Scarlett. It wasn't until just a year or so ago, that I read Rhett Buttlers People. It gave me new insight to the depth of the characters, and my own life experiences gave me an added layer of grace twords others!

I do the same when I reread a book. Years will go by, and my life will have changed, and I have a new understanding for a Character that I may have previously "felt challenged to like". I think that is one reason we all enjoy rereading books! They shed new light on the trials we have gone through. And at times allow us to see a glimps of a new perspective in someone else.

I am looking forward to rereading Heartless by the way!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that he never could decide if he truly liked a book until he'd read it at least twice. Not a bad philosophy, really!

I JUST finished reading Gone with the Wind tonight, and now I'm curious to look up Rhett Butler's People ...