Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture

By Darden Asbury Pyron | Go to book overview

Two Gone with the Wind as Art

After the initial round of reviews in 1936 and 1937, Gone with the Wind almost disappeared from highbrow literary consciousness in the United States--except as a negative reference point. Bernard DeVoto's assessment, as cited by Dwyer, conquered the field: "The size of its public is impressive; the book is not." in this context, questions of how the novel works as art became irrelevant. They were indeed rarely asked. Yet by the early seventies, and with increasing frequency as the decade progressed, the novel's art became a lively topic of debate in academic circles.

How does Gone with the Wind work stylistically? How does it function structurally? Where does it fit into literary history or the history of the novel? What are the sources of its dramatic power? Is there any relationship between its literary merit and its popularity? Is it a legitimate part of the Southern Renaissance of the 1920s and 193Os? The record is almost blank. The essays in this section propose some answers to these questions.

Few people know Gone with the Wind more intimately than Richard Harwell. He edited Margaret Mitchell's letters, the film script of Gone with the Wind, and other documents relating to the novel and the film; he has also served as curator of the Mitchell manuscripts at the University of Georgia. His essay in this volume is an examination of Margaret Mitchell's literary style.

One of the general literary criticisms of the novel is that the work has no style. A related assumption is that its author, an Atlanta housewife, whipped off the manuscript between stints of housecleaning and dishwashing. By examining Mitchell's personal biograplay, literary reviews, and the novel itself, Harwell suggests that both assumptions are misguided. However apparently artless the writing in Gone with the Wind, Harwell argues, this was the very effect for which its author strove and she achieved it only through a disciplined, professional sense of the writing craft. Belying the fable of the lucky housewife, the creation of Gone with the Wind ac cording to Harwell, was no more than the culmination of Mitchell's lifetime commitment to writing, as well as the product of native gifts. Finally, in analyzing Mitchell's personal style, Harwell reveals much about the author's character and personality that informs the values in the novel itself.

Helen Deiss Irvin takes on another of the most persistent critical

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