Sunday, June 30, 2013

Eminent Ladies of 1936

I noticed that today is the publication anniversary of Gone with the Wind.

Margaret Mitchell is an interesting person.  She's far more interesting than any of the characters in her book, who are often pretty two-dimensional.  Everyone picks a trait and spends the entire book defending it.  Also, most of the characters are either completely self-serving reptiles, or inhumanly altruistic, good people with no capacity to do harm (except when they marry your fucking BOYFRIEND, MELANIE WILKES!)  jk.  She had him first, since after all they were cousins.  Don't forget, this is a book about the south.  Sorry, the South.

Anyway.  One of the most obnoxious things MM did in her lifetime was make her husband pinky swear to burn all of her letters, papers and probably manuscripts upon her death, which he did.  Unfortunate, since she was mowed down before her years by a car in Atlanta in 1949.  She might've loosened up in her older years.

She should have written more, but I think she was too crippled by depression or bi-polarity or something to manage it.  It is interesting, because she had the natural compulsion to write, which resulted in thousands of typed pages littering her home for years in disorganized stacks and piles - the fetal Gone with the Wind.  She just had to get it out, but was afterward content to let it sit in obscurity save for the private audience of her husband.  She only considered publishing it due to the frantic encouragement of select friends who had been permitted to read it.  She seemed to have zero personal desire to do this and only did so out of weary acquiescence and a "what's the worst that can happen?" attitude.  For those who don't know what happened, it became a best seller and the biggest book in the world for a long time, translated in to a jillion languages.  She won a Pulitzer for it.  It was a really big deal.  And then the movie came out and was even bigger.

Maybe she only had one thing to say, or one story, and didn't want to tell it twice.  Her lifetime very interestingly bridged two American eras.  She was from a fancy Atlanta family whose tree was filled with Confederates and other casualties of the Civil War.  She grew up listening to war stories on the knees of old vets, and she and her cousins would dig cannonballs and other gun fodder out of the grassy fields for fun.  It was everywhere.  It was not ancient history, and it wasn't from the victor's perspective.  Maybe it was a story that needed to be told.  Northern perspectives seem to have the war at the periphery, won and done; for southerners, it was an all together more personal ordeal, probably because they had to live inside the wreckage.

I disagree when subsequent generations take credit for historic events or treat them as parts of their own condition or experience after the reverberations have ended.  Don't say "we".  It was they, not you, who did this thing.  Won that battle.  Overcame some odd.  When Americans look back at WWII and say, WE DID THAT, you really didn't.  People who are dead did that, and I'm willing to bet that whatever qualities got them through those experiences have long since leached out of your high-fructose blood.  It was a different time.  It's not transferable.

Everyone wants to do that and in some part I understand.  Nationalism or whatever.  And we do often exist in the climates created by our predecessors, so maybe sometimes it is more relevant than I imply.  But if you want to take credit for the highlights, then you have to agree to be culpable for the fuck ups too, no?  Americans wanting to feel responsible as a “race” for ending WWII, for example, are also going to have to be the ones who signed off on all the murder & brutality that didn’t happen for a good cause.  I would not recommend that trade.  

So not only because of the overt racism that is tied up in it, this Confederate pride thing that still occurs in the south is totally outrageous to me.  It's such an incredible joke to make a community tie out of.  Especially since it literally amounts to taking personal credit for going to war for a variety of idiot reasons and having an entire generation of people slaughtered and ruined because of it, then not even winning, and then having your home turned into a cesspool babylon that it still kind of is.  So let's fly the flag and remember the lynchpin of that downfall forever.

I mention that only because in Margaret Mitchell's day, it still kind of was "their" war.  Things that had happened fifty years ago still had measurable impacts on the daily lives of those still remaining and on later generations.  Wounds were fresh and personal.  Firsthand war experiences still walked the earth.  I don't think anyone but she could have written that book or anything like it, being at the forefront of that experience, and a sick and sensitive child to begin with, absorbing all those feelings and reflections.

Oh, and she was a super babe, too.

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