For a large and diverse group of people, Gone with the Wind is the epic novel of our time, just as the jacket blurb says. The tens of millions who have read the book and the quarter of a billion who have seen the film more than love it; they own bedside, slipcased editions to which they turn for emotional, nostalgic, and even inspirational purposes. Yet in the teeth of this adoration, literary historians and critics have rarely mentioned it, and little serious academic attention has been paid to it. How did this paradox come about?
In an effort to find out, I have taken the sleuth's route of revisiting the literary scene of the first appearance of the novel, and the resulting essay might be thought of as an illustrated lineup of witnesses and suspects, some of whose academic members are still protesting the brutality of the victim. The trail of this hunt has led me from South to North, from the silence of Chapel Hill to the still deeps of the Sewanee Review, to warmer leads in the popular Eastastern press, to pay dirt in the Saturday Review and its academic hinterland. Motive and modus operandi established, we end where we began, with the verdict of the vox populi.
As an unilluminating false start, I turned to Southern reviews first. The southern academic context into which Gone with the Wind dropped was complex, but, simplified, it consisted of a polar opposition between Chapel Hill and Nashville. Two years before the appearance of Mitchell's novel, the University of North Carolina assembled a fundamentally sociological symposium on the Culture of the South, which downplayed regional distinctiveness and pictured the region as a legitimate part of the large nation. This progressive orientation is to be contrasted with a renewed appeal for regional uniqueness from that constellation of Fugitives, Agrarians, and New Critics hovering around the University of the South in Sewanee and Vanderbilt in Nashville. These writers declared a romantic political separateness in such works as I'll Take My Stand ( 1930) and Who Owns America? ( 1936) and a distinctive aesthetic in, for example, the tenth anniversary number of the Virginia Quarterly Review ( 1935), with articles by John Crowe Ransom on "Modern with a Southern Accent" and by Allen Tate on "The Profession of Letters in the South," that was to mature into the formalism of the New Critics of the Kenyon Review.
Ironically perhaps, the Southern literary establishment actually