It was with great reluctance that Margaret Mitchell gave her unwieldy tale of Pansy O'Hara's tribulations to Macmillan editor Harold Latham. In fact, she telegraphed him the next day requesting that he return the manuscript. He didn't, and Macmillan had its best-seller of 1936. Yet the extraordinary and unique record of popular success and acclaim accorded the novel has not been paralleled by critical esteem. Malcolm Cowley identified the elements that most bothered the critics. "Gone with the Wind," he wrote in the New Republic, "is an encyclopedia of the plantation legend." Unlike other authors, who had used only part of the legend, "Miss Mitchell repeats it as whole, with all its episodes and all its characters and all its stage settings."1 Recent surveys and analyses of twentieth-century Southern fiction have sustained Cowley's judgment by either ignoring the novel or dismissing it as mere "plantation romance," a "highly romanticized portrait of the past that seems hardly aware of its own romanticism."2
In many ways, the film has met a similar fate. Practically ignored in Gerald Mast A Short History of Movies and Robert Sklar Movie-Made America, it has been attacked by both Andrew Sarris and Richard Schickel. According to Sarris, "We can certainly do without the oneliners about happy darkies, wicked carpetbaggers, white trash, and Southern slum clearance, nightrider style. The South of Margaret Mitchell is a still-born fantasy in which blacks lack even the villainous dignity of D. W. Griffith Birth of a Nation."3 Schickel says, "Well, frankly, my dear I didn't (and don't) give a damn about the South's yokel notion that it once supported a new age of chivalry and grace." Since he thinks that the "historical evidence for that contention is slight," he could never join Mitchell in "mourning the age gone with her wind, which seemed to me far from an ill wind."4
The issue raised by such criticism has little to do with the artistic merits of either the novel or the film; rather, the works are criticized because of their thoughtless repetition of the conventionalities of the discredited and self-serving myths of the plantation South and the era of Reconstruction. But how well does Mitchell's work really fit into the literary world of the Southern romance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the obvious frame of reference of the critics? How appropriate is it to dismiss
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Publication information: Book title: Recasting:Gone with the Wind in American Culture. Contributors: Darden Asbury Pyron - Editor. Publisher: University Presses of Florida. Place of publication: Miami. Publication year: 1983. Page number: 153.
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