Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind

Monday, June 6, 2011

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind:
A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr.

I’ve never read a book about a book before. Instead of writing another biography of Mitchell or the making of the movie, the authors have created a nonfiction account of the making of a book. It discusses everything from the writing process to the publisher’s correspondence to selling the movie rights and defending the copyright.

I feel like this book should have been titled “Don’t Ever Write a Book If You’re An Introvert.” Poor Margaret Mitchell spent years crafting Gone With the Wind, only to discover that when it was finally finished her headaches had just begun. This book chronicles the decades of back and forth between the author and her publisher, literary agent, fans, movie producers, etc.

From the moment Mitchell handed the first scattered chapters over to the publisher, her privacy and free time seemed to be “gone with the wind” (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Mitchell’s husband worked with her to manage all of the contracts/letters/lawsuits that went hand-in-hand with her success. It was amazing how one book, even a wonderful one like GWTW, could create such an avalanche of both money and stress.

The fact that the book’s success came in the midst of the Great Depression is a testament to its overwhelming popularity. People were willing to pay $3 for a copy, a huge sum at that time. The fact that America joined WWII only a few years after GWTW’s publication also had a big effect on foreign translations and distribution. Hitler even banned the book because his regime didn’t want people reading a story about strong characters surviving during a horrible war.


I had no idea that Mitchell was hit by a car and died only 13 years after her book was published. I was completely shocked by that. I wonder what other books she might have written if she’d had a longer life.


It is a fascinating read, but I don’t think it would be for anyone who doesn’t either love Gone With the Wind or have a deep desire to get a behind the scenes look at the publishing world. As someone who loved GWTW, I enjoyed the book, but I felt it was bogged down with too much minutia in the middle. But it definitely make me want to re-read the original story again and gave me a deeper appreciation of the phenomenon that was (and is) Gone With the Wind.


Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa -- I read this one, too, and totally agree with your "alternate" title! :)

It made me sad to read that her glorious Great American Novel became more of a burden than a seemed she was completely devoured by the business of protecting her rights and interests in the novel.

I enjoyed your review and insights.

Joanne @ Slice of Life

Swapna said...

This is one I want to read even though I've never seen the movie! I did enjoy the book though.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Joanne - Wasn't that sad! Imagine achieving such success and never being able to enjoy it.

Swapna - You've got to see the movie! I just re-watched it after reading this and remembered why I love it so much.

Teddy Rose said...

I got this book at the BEA. I was very excited about it because I am a fan of GWTW. I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the review!

Melissa Mc said...

This author was at the Arkansas Literay Festival and gave a fascinating lecture. I still haven't read her book though!

Jillian said...

This sounds very fascinating. I might give this a try someday. We'll see when I can actually do that!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I hope the rest of you get a chance to read it if it sounds good to you. It's made me appreciate the work that goes into protecting the rights of a book so much more than I did before!

natalie @book, line, and sinker said...

i had no idea that mitchell died so tragically! i read GWTW last year for the first time and really enjoyed it. i then netflixed the movie and liked that as well. brown and wiley jr.'s book sounds like a saga in and of itself! it's funny to think that so much stress came from writing such a commercial success...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Natalie - I hope you love the movie. It obviously changes somethings, but it's one of the best book to film adaptations I've ever seen.

Bybee said...

I SO want to read this!

*ೃ༄ Jillian said...

The biography by Marianne Walker (on Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh) is EXCEPTIONAL. It reads like a novel. I own this book (the Ellen F. Brown one) and will be reading it soon. :-)

But you must get the Walker one, if you haven't read it!! Margaret comes to life. :-)