I’m at it again. Re-reading Gone With The Wind. The first time I read it I was sixteen, the age of the heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, when the story begins. I was taking a library science course in high school and my mother forbade me to read it. So, of course, I couldn’t wait to snag it off the shelves. Honestly, I have no idea why Mom would issue such an edict – but it worked. I was in it for the long haul and boy, at over a thousand pages, it was a haul for sure. Lasted almost as long as the Civil War itself.
Need I point out that at the ripe old age of sixteen I already knew everything. Like most young people. Right? So I skipped over Margaret Mitchell’s long, beautiful descriptions of life in the pre-war South and ignored the rich history she revealed. Instead I looked for the good stuff, Scarlett’s obsession with romance, Ashley Wilkes and her own very important self. The book struck a chord deep inside my emotional girl's heart and I buried myself in that book every night for weeks. At the end, when all seemed lost for Scarlett, I wept on my bed. My dad found me that way and when he asked what was wrong I nearly took his head off. Little did I know that my mother’s subterfuge had opened a whole new world for me. And at sixteen I now knew what love was all about, clutching my heart each time I thought of Scarlett O'Hara and her one true love, Rhett Butler (not Ashley as it turns out). Sometimes I miss that silly young girl who was me.
TCM featured GWTW late one night a few weeks ago. I was about ready to call it quits for the night when I came across it. There she was, my Scarlett, in her flouncy green dress, flirting with the Tarleton twins like a true Southern Belle. I paused and hung in until the Cival War actually began and then hauled my ancient self off to bed. But it got me to thinking.
Even though this will be the seventh (yes, seventh) time I’ve read the book, this time it will be different. I will go in deep and find new things. I will do some research apart from the book, which was written in 1936, so much closer to the actual war than we are now. I will pay attention to what Mitchell has revealed about those times as she understood them. Will all that’s gone on since then with regard to civil rights, language, cultural sensibilities, etc. make me see this old telling in a different light? What will I gain from this re-read? My younger, by twenty years, sisters think the book and movie are racist. Will I, or can I, or should I see that now? There are certainly stereotypes of all sorts in the story including those relating to southern gentry, the hated Yankee, and slave and master relationships. I’d like to think I’ve gained some wisdom and perspective of my own since I was sixteen when – incidentally – I knew nothing.
There are many other books I’ve re-read, though not as many times as GWTW. I’ve read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy three times and all of James Herriot’s books about being a Yorkshire vet in the 1930’s at least that. I count The Wind in the Willows and The Screwtape Letters among my many re-reads.
I know there are millions of books out there to be read. Some for love, some for increasing knowledge, some for a challenge, some for a thrill and some for a lark. But only a few of them endure in our hearts. Care to share yours?
Image: The book my late mother-in-law gave to me because she knew I loved it.