The 15-Minute Pulitzer
In sitting down to write this blog about Margaret Mitchell’s 1937 Pulitzer winner and only non-posthumously published novel, Gone With the Wind, I have grown frightfully introspective, feeling a bit as insecure as Sidney Howard must have felt sitting down to write the screenplay. (Oh. Where to begin?) As film historian Joanne Yeck has written, “Reducing the intricacies of Gone with the Wind’s epic dimensions (to the dimensions of a screenplay) was a herculean task …” Should I have also dared, as Sidney Howard surely did (his screenplay with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara is more than a classic), to feel a Son of Zeus upon finishing Mitchell’s novel? And how should I feel at the end of this post? Herculean once more? Or only Hercule-ish?
Now, part of me believes that Margaret Mitchell needed every one of the 959 pages it takes her to tell the story of Ms. Scarlett, Rhett Butler, and the Confederacy . . . another part of me is sure that she, in the words of Jacob Burckhardt, “forgot the shortness of life,” which is ironic in a book entitled “Gone With the Wind.”
My act of defiance shall be saying very little.
In closing there are three things that I believe I shall always remember about Mitchell’s novel. 1) Scarlett’s icon-creating use of the phrase, “Fiddle-Dee-Dee.” (Perhaps it is only my rather early, impressionable-age type of experience with David O. Selznick’s film that now makes this item jump out at me.) 2) Another Scarlettism, “Tomorrow is another day,” that, in the novel at least, becomes a stimulating, dynamic vehicle radiating subtext. 3) The fact that the universe can be basically observed in its entirety within the pupils of the novel’s characters. (There are sooo many descriptions of characters’ eyes and their emotional content . . .) I mean, it’s like an aleph in there, like looking down the throat of the Lord Krishna or something. The problem with that simile being that it’s much safer to hang out with Krishna than it is to read this book. (Here comes that somewhat taxing introspection again.) I mean, you gotta be careful, if you read Mitchell’s novel, where you direct your gaze, (wait for it) because Krishna, he will reveal to you your true nature, but only if you choose to peek into his mouth. (It’s like April 14 in here!) This book, these characters, will show you yourself if you but meet their steady gaze, (Paid in full!) and you may not always like the return that’s in the mail. (Can I take this Internal Revenue Service set-piece any farther?)
P.S. In this post I’ve quoted Yeck, conjured Howard, cited Burckhardt, excerpted O’Hara, and alluded to Life of Pi. I feel it only proper that I include a little verbiage from Mitchell herself.
“If Gone with the Wind has a theme it is that of survival . . . survivors used to call that quality (that enabled them to triumph) ‘gumption.'”
Dare I hope that by finishing Mitchell’s novel I have earned the descriptive term of gumptious? (Or awesome or neato?) Gone With the Wind is by far the longest Pulitzer yet, even perhaps ever. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweat, that is, until I remember to puff out my chest at the memory of my completion of that final page, 959. Oh . . . Yeah. (Come on. Somebody. Approve of me.)