Within the space of eighty-nine years, four novelists from four widely divergent national literatures published books focused on a new type of heroine: free spirited, attractive, immoral and totally ingratiating.
In 1847 in England, William Makepeace Thackeray offered the first of the unforgettable portraits, Miss Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair.
In 1857 in France, Gustave Flaubert related the banal yet tragic events engulfing Madame Bovary.
In 1875 in Russia, Leo Tolstoy unfolded a long and majestic portrait of Anna Karenina and her associates.
And in 1936 in the United States, Margaret Mitchell published a novel which was to have a shattering impact, Gone with the Wind, centering upon the fortunes of Scarlett O'Hara. A few comparisons will help the reader already familiar with these books to appreciate their relationships.
The three male authors were proved, professional literary talents when they published their books. Margaret Mitchell was an untested housewife living in what each of the European authors would have described as "a provincial city,"
It is notable that Thackeray, Flaubert and Mitchell published their books when they were thirty-six years old. Tolstoy, having published War and Peace at that watershed age, did not publish Anna Karenina till eleven years later, when he was forty-seven.
The four books are alike in that they deal with liberated women, but Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, faced by the consequences of their radical deportment, commit suicide. The novels named after them are classic tragedies. Becky Sharp and Scarlett O'Hara survive and, indeed, prosper. Their books, not named after them, are certainly not tragedies and might best be considered comedies of manners.
Vanity Fair, Anna Karenina and Gone with the Wind deal essentially with the upper classes of their societies, often with compassionate side glances at the state of the peasantry. Because of this,____________________